St. Vincent Interview: Annie Clark, Shredding To 'The Wizard Of Oz' Songwriter Annie Clark, who records under the name St. Vincent, is known for combining prodigious guitar technique with cinematic, orchestral pop. But on her new album, Actor, she actually turned to films for inspiration.

St. Vincent: Shredding To 'The Wizard Of Oz'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Well, reimagining great works of art can take many forms. You know the way a stellar movie leaves you feeling once the credits start to roll? Weren't you all twisted up inside at the end of "Casablanca," overjoyed after "The Wizard of Oz," floored by "Chinatown"?

Songwriter Annie Clark took those emotions and put them to work. Clark records under the name St. Vincent, and her newest collection sprung from the way her favorite films made her feel. The CD is called, appropriately enough, "Actor."

(Soundbite of song "Save Me from What I Want")

Ms. ANNIE CLARK (Singer): (Singing) Keys are in my pocket and they're rattling away. Some floral and a fiery escape.

LYDEN: Annie Clark, St. Vincent, joins me here in the studio. This is such a treat. Welcome.

Ms. CLARK: Thank you very much. I'm very happy to be here.

LYDEN: I've got to know about your inspiration here. How did you come up with this plan, to use movies to influence your songwriting?

Ms. CLARK: Well, the truth is I had come back from a pretty long, you know, about a year-and-a-half of touring, and so my brain was sort of all circuit boards that were a little bit fried. So I started watching films as sort of a way to get back into being human, and then it started to just really inform the entire record, and I started to score individual scenes from movies.

LYDEN: Could you give me a little example?

Ms. CLARK: Sure. I love the scene in "The Wizard of Oz" where Dorothy first sees the Technicolor.

(Soundbite of movie "The Wizard of Oz")

Ms. JUDY GARLAND (Actress): (As Dorothy) Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

LYDEN: I felt like I could get the connection and make out that influence in the song "Marrow." Is this the track that you were referring to, Annie?

Ms. CLARK: Oh yes, actually. Yeah, I felt like I wanted to create something that was Technicolor, was visual as much as musical, and it's - and also, lyrically, it's this person, you know, wishing they had a spine made of iron and sort of along the thematic lines of "The Wizard of Oz."

LYDEN: And, honey, can you reach the spots that need oiling and fixing?

Ms. CLARK: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song "Marrow")

Ms. CLARK: (Singing) I wish I had a channel line (unintelligible). Mouth connects to the teeth and teeth to the love and the curses. Honey, can you reach the spot that need oiling and fixing?

H-E-L-P, help me, help me. H-E-L-P, help me, help me.

LYDEN: When the emotion of the movie gives way to the song, it's - not all these songs follow the storylines. I mean, you've composed your own - you're known for taking things outside the box and making them a little darker, a little edgier. At some point, they just take off and have lives of their own, don't they?

Ms. CLARK: They do. I think because I got so obsessed with the idea of being a filmmaker who was making music, I started to think about casting in terms of the instrumentation and started thinking, oh, well the woodwinds will be this thing that represents this absolute purity and whimsy, and then the guitar will be this sort of scary monster that comes in and threatens to topple the entire piece.

LYDEN: Yeah, I heard that in "The Strangers." You're known as being quite the shredder (unintelligible) the guitar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLARK: Well, thank you.

(Soundbite of song "The Strangers")

Ms. CLARK: (Singing) You showed up with a black eye looking to finish a fight, and lover, I don't play to win for the thrill until I'm spent. Paint the black hole blacker. Paint the black hole blacker.

The passages with the woodwinds and the vibrato voices, I was inspired by the scene where Snow White is singing at the well, and I just have such a soft spot for those Disney films, and I feel like I felt when I was five when I first saw them.

(Soundbite of song "The Strangers")

(Singing) Water that (unintelligible) from all the strangers (unintelligible) I have seen.

LYDEN: Do you think you would ever score a film? Would you like to do that?

Ms. CLARK: Oh, I would love to. I often wish not that I was an actress, but I often wish I was actually just in a Woody Allen film.

LYDEN: You look like you could be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLARK: Oh, hey.

LYDEN: He should invite you.

Ms. CLARK: Thank you. Put in a good word for me.

LYDEN: I will, if I ever get to talk with Woody Allen. But you've described yourself as a composer who's really intertwined with the computer, and when you think about scoring films, would you do it the way you've done with the computer, or would you work with more traditional instrumentation, do you think?

Ms. CLARK: Well, I've been recording myself on a computer since I was about 13 or 14. So it's completely entwined with my creative process, but - yeah. And essentially, it allows you to kind of make music that's better and smarter than you are, by using your ears to lead the way and so you're not limited by your own physical abilities. If you don't have the muscle memory to move your hands that fast, it doesn't matter. You can still create something that your ear wants to hear.

LYDEN: Do you think it might be more intimate because it's just you alone with a computer instead of you in a studio with musicians?

Ms. CLARK: It certainly is. It certainly has been a really good template for me to flesh out ideas because I'm not very good at reading, writing traditional music. That's a very, like, painstaking process for me. So if I can score it on a computer first and then hand it to musicians and say, play this (unintelligible).

LYDEN: Let's see if any directors call up before the end of this interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLARK: Fingers crossed.

(Soundbite of song "Laughing with a Mouth Full of Blood")

Ms. CLARK: (Singing) And I can't see the future but I know it's watching me.

LYDEN: Annie Clark is St. Vincent. Her new CD is titled "Actor." It's available on 4AD Records, and you can listen to her in concert at

Annie Clark, thanks so much and good luck.

Ms. CLARK: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song "Laughing with a Mouth Full of Blood")

(Singing) And all my old haunts are now all haunting me. All of my old friends aren't so friendly. And all my old haunts are now all haunting me.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.