St. Vincent says 'All Born Screaming' is an album of tension and release "I'm not playing with persona," St. Vincent says of All Born Screaming. "It's a really a record about life and death and love. That's it. That's all we got."

St. Vincent offers tension, release and sonic 'jump scares'

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest is the musician known as St. Vincent. She's a singer, songwriter guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and a three-time Grammy winner. Her songs can go pretty dark. Her guitar playing can be shredding, but her lyrics typically read like good poetry. New York Times music critic Jon Pareles described her as, quote, "a grown-up, fascinated by personas, gender roles, connections, obligations, self-destructive behavior and looming mortality" unquote. In addition to her own albums, she co-wrote the Taylor Swift song "Cruel Summer" and the Olivia Rodrigo song "Obsessed" and recorded an album of duets with David Byrne.

St. Vincent has a new album called "All Born Screaming." Two musicians featured on the album have played in bands that deeply influenced her in her formative years, Nirvana and David Bowie.

Dave Grohl, who was Nirvana's drummer and later co-founded Foo Fighters is featured on drums. Mark Guiliana, who played on Bowie's album "Blackstar," is also featured on drums on some tracks. When Nirvana was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, St. Vincent sang lead on the Band's performance of "Lithium." Let's start with a track from St. Vincent's new album "All Born Screaming." This song has been released as a single, and it's my favorite track from the album. It's called "Broken Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BROKEN MAN")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) On the street, I'm a king-sized killer. I can make your kingdom come. On my feet, I'm an earthquake shaking. So open up, my little one. Hey, what are you looking at? Who the hell do you think I am? And what are you looking at? Like you've never seen a broken man. Lover, nail yourself right to me. If you go, I won't be well. I can hold my arms wide open. But I need you to drive the nail. Like, what are you looking at? Well, who the hell do you think I am? Hey, what are you looking at? Like you've never seen a broken man.

GROSS: St. Vincent, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's such a pleasure to have you on the show. This is a terrific album. The song that we just heard, those lines, what are you looking at, who the hell do you think I am, it just reminds me of what happens on the street sometimes when you accidentally look at somebody and they get really upset and start hollering at you. What were you thinking when you wrote those lines?

ST VINCENT: You know, all the songs on this album are very lived experience. In times past, I've certainly played with persona. But on this record, I would say that this is just pretty close to the vest, pretty cut to the pink meat, as it were.

GROSS: So were you looking at someone or was someone looking at you?

ST VINCENT: You know, I think that there are these kind of frequencies that we can tune into in our brain that are, like, you know, whether it's deep ego stuff that underneath that is really just a whole lot of pain. And you're walking down the street and you feel like you could fall in love with somebody or kick over the trash cans, and if someone looks at you the wrong way, you just could explode. I just - I have that feeling. I mean, not every day. Like I said, it's a frequency you can kind of tune into when life takes you there. But art luckily is a safe place to explore all emotions, all ideas, no matter how dark or complicated.

GROSS: And you're not saying haven't you ever seen a broken woman, you're saying haven't you ever seen a broken man?

ST VINCENT: Yeah. Why did I say it like that?

GROSS: Was it because of the number of syllables you needed, or was it...

ST VINCENT: You know what...

GROSS: ...Something deeper than that?

(LAUGHTER)

ST VINCENT: You know, sometimes it really is as - well, that's - just sings better. It sings better, and it makes me feel a certain kind of way. And so, therefore, that's what it should be.

GROSS: The chorus of the song after what are you looking at - and I think this is on the second chorus - there's this really buzzy, dirty chord, and I'm not even sure if it's your guitar or are you playing synthesizer or what. What is that?

ST VINCENT: Oh, Terry, that's a combination of my guitar completely blown out and then also, just white noise going, (imitating white noise).

GROSS: Oh. I love that because that is the about to unravel, explode feeling that you're conveying through the song. I just think that chord gets it perfectly. And I love that it's used as punctuation. It's like the exclamation point in the song. And it's not happening throughout, so it's so effective because you use it so sparingly.

ST VINCENT: Thank you. Yeah. I look at music sort of like architecture, you know, and call and response and tension and release. That's the whole game - right? - in music is tension and release. So you get these little just explosions of release, and then it goes back to tension. And then an explosion of release and then tension. But it's this simmering, creeping dread, I guess. I - on this record, I swear, I - some moments are almost like horror movie jump scares. Like, I think...

GROSS: Yeah.

ST VINCENT: ...Of that chord...

GROSS: No, definitely.

ST VINCENT: ...As, like, a jump scare. Yeah.

GROSS: So I mentioned that, you know, Dave Grohl, who was in Nirvana before co-founding Foo Fighters is on drums and that you played at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - that you sang at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction of Nirvana. What did Nirvana mean to you in your formative years? How old were you when you first heard them?

ST VINCENT: I was 9 years old. I was in my best friend Doug's (ph) front yard. He and his brother Paul (ph) had built a half pipe. We were learning how to skateboard. And Paul, who always had cool taste in music, you know, who was, like, on to DC Punk from an early age was like, brought out the boom box, put in Nirvana "Nevermind" and played it for us for the first time, and we were floored. And it was the first music that I heard that I went, this is my music. This is the music of my generation.

GROSS: I'm wondering if Kurt Cobain's suicide had a big impact on you. You referenced suicide and some of your songs. I think it's fair to say you've done, you know, you've dealt with anxiety, judging from your songs, you've dealt with anxiety and panic. And I'm wondering if his suicide was a kind of frightening thing for you. And also a kind of wake up call that really talented people could go that far, could be in such a state of despair that, you know, end their life.

ST VINCENT: Well, I've certainly dealt with a combo platter of depression and anxiety in my life. You know, I had my first panic attack when I was 8. So that was always part of my consciousness, you know? But I think that I had seen, you know, the mythology of the rocker and rocker lifestyle ending in tragedy. That wasn't a completely new, you know, idea, unfortunately. But I certainly remember the day he died. And I remember me and all my friends getting together and writing Kurt lives on our faces. And, I mean, we were children. I mean, I was 12.

GROSS: So moving on to another influence...

ST VINCENT: Sure.

GROSS: ...I want to ask you about David Bowie and the influence he had on you. And I'm wondering what it meant to you when you first heard him or over time that he performed in persona, like you sometimes had, and that he - you know, we didn't use the word then, but he was genderqueer. And he was called androgynous in his time. So as a performer, what influence did that - what impact did that have on you?

ST VINCENT: Well, I think Bowie even went so far as to say that he was bisexual in the '70s, which, I mean...

GROSS: And that was shocking in his time.

ST VINCENT: Right - mic drop. Like, that...

GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah, I know.

ST VINCENT: ...Was dangerous then.

GROSS: Yeah.

ST VINCENT: You know, now that's a feather in your cap. Then, that was - you know, daggers were out for him. So...

GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.

ST VINCENT: Yeah, you know, I'm queer. So I've always felt like gender and identity were a performance. I've been aware of that since I was a young child and learning how to code switch growing up in Texas and everything. So it kind of makes sense for me to deal with all of that, to deal with persona, to deal with identity in my work. And as far as David Bowie, I mean, gosh. He was just an artist. He was just an artist with a capital A. He took us so many places.

GROSS: In terms of persona and David Bowie and yourself as a performer, did or does performing in character or in persona liberate you in a way? Is it easier to do certain songs if it's not you? I mean, even having the name St. Vincent, which is clearly not your birth name...

ST VINCENT: (Laughter).

GROSS: ...But, you know, even having, like, a stage name, is that - like, some people might think, oh, she's hiding behind that. But is there something actually liberating about it?

ST VINCENT: Well, I mean, so my name is Annie Clark, which - you know, it's a lovely name. It's a just fine name. But there's also - there was already an Anne Clark, who's a great artist, and so that name was sort of taken. So I thought, OK, I need to - I want to have a moniker, because I felt like it would give me license and freedom to do - to be bigger than Annie Clark, I guess.

I think there is a tendency to look at, you know, people performing with theatricality and think of it as inauthentic. But I find that, you know, sometimes people who are selling you authenticity are - (laughter) you know, are lying to you. You know what I mean? It's like art, to me, is a place where I get to take everything that's happening in my life at that moment in my internal world, in the external world and play with it and make sense of it and go, there's chaos, but somehow, if I sit in my studio for long enough, I can alchemize that chaos into something that makes sense to me.

And so whether it's putting persona on top of that or getting at truths through exploring identity, sure. I will say on this record, "All Born Screaming," I'm not playing with persona. It's really a record about life and death and love. That's it. That's all we got.

GROSS: Well, we need to take a short break here. So let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is St. Vincent. Her new album is called "All Born Screaming." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE POLYPHONIC SPREE SONG, "LIGHT AND DAY")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with the musician known as St. Vincent. She's a three-time Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Her new album is called "All Born Screaming."

You mentioned you had your first panic attack when you were 8. What set it off?

ST VINCENT: Well, Terry, the world was ending. You didn't know?

GROSS: (Laughter).

ST VINCENT: I'm sorry. You - oh, Terry. Of course, all the air in the world was getting sucked out, and I couldn't breathe. So...

GROSS: I'm sorry for laughing.

ST VINCENT: (Laughter) No.

GROSS: Where were you?

ST VINCENT: It's good. Where was I? You know, I was at a Texas Rangers baseball game.

GROSS: Outside.

ST VINCENT: I was outside, staring at this massive Texas sky. And I thought - and I was not with - I had some, like, separation anxiety from my mother. So I think I was with friends. And that was a big thing - to be out and about and not within a 1-mile radius of my home. And yeah, and I was looking at that sky and just thinking, well, it's coming. It's all coming for us (laughter). And, of course, I had no lexicon for, you know, panic or panic disorder or anxiety. That just wasn't part of the cultural conversation. I just thought I was a tiny, crazy person. So I just lived with immense anxiety for years and kind of kept it - kind of just kept it to myself because I thought if I shared these feelings, then people would know I was crazy, and that would be more shameful than just suffering in silence. So (laughter) I wasn't the most fun at - I couldn't do sleepovers. I was far too anxious. But I did play a lot of guitar in my room. So there's a silver lining.

GROSS: So your style of guitar playing - I mean, you have many different styles, but you do some great, you know, dirty-sounding guitar, like - and you played in a noise band. That kind of shredding guitar style has mostly been associated with guys, especially before the riot grrrl feminist punk movement. What kind of bands were you in as a teenager? And did you play with other girls or did you play with guys?

ST VINCENT: There weren't many girls who were playing instruments back in Dallas, Texas, and in my little neighborhood in the '90s. But my friends and I were all very culture vultures in that way, very into music. I played bass in a metal cover band as a junior high student. So that was like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera. That was that kind of music, and I've always really liked heavy music. But a lot of my time, being about 14 on, was kind of spent in my room recording myself. First, it was, like, TASCAM, four tracks and stuff like that. But then - my uncle and aunt are a jazz studio called Tuck and Patti, who - my uncle's one of the best guitar players in all of the world. He's a finger-style master. But he's also an engineer, and my stepdad was an engineer, and saw that I was really into recording myself and music and with the help of my Uncle Tuck and my stepdad, you know, facilitating it on the ground in Dallas, he helped build me a little early digital recording studio in my bedroom.

GROSS: Wow. That's amazing.

ST VINCENT: Yeah. So - and it was PC-based. It was called Cakewalk Pro Audio. I'm not sure if it still exists, but I could close the door to my bedroom and record myself. I could sing along to Billie Holiday, and I could try to learn how to arrange and try to write songs. And I had this mirror, which is recording, to kind of listen back and go, ooh, I know how my heroes sound, and I don't sound anything like them yet. I better keep going. And that's - that sort of mirror of recording, because, you know, the recording doesn't lie - was really, really helpful, I think, for me in finding my voice, getting better, learning how to arrange, learning how to think about music and learning how to be, you know, a songwriter and an artist. And I'm so grateful to my stepdad, rest in peace, for seeing that and supporting those dreams, even though he didn't know anything about music. You know, he called himself a cultural desert, but...

GROSS: (Laughter).

ST VINCENT: He - you know, which I mean, was not wholly inaccurate, right? He'd drive me to school and we'd listen to Rush Limbaugh and then my mom would drive me to school, and we'd listen to you, you know, so it was a very, very, very different kind of experience, right? But I do, I credit him with really giving me the tools to learn how to be an artist and giving me the space to do it.

GROSS: Alright, we're going to take another break here. So, let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is the artist known as St. Vincent, and her new album is called "All Born Screaming." We'll be back after a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLEA")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) I'm just like a hungry little flea, jumping on somebody's warm body. When you start to itch and scratch and scream - once I'm in you can't get rid of me. Once I'm in you can't get rid of me. Drip you in diamonds, pour you in cream - you will be mine for eternity. Hair in my shears fall at your feet - you will be mine for eternity. When you're walking down your sunny street - I got it - thinking of your bills or what to eat - I got it, I got it - and you feel a little prick from me - I got it, I got it. I look at you, and all I see is meat.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with the musician known as St. Vincent. She's a three-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Her songs tend to go dark musically and lyrically. Her lyrics read like poetry. Her new album is called "All Born Screaming." In addition to her own albums, she's recorded an album of duets with David Byrne and co-wrote songs with Taylor Swift and with Olivia Rodrigo.

I want to play another song of yours. And this goes back to an earlier album, and the song is called "New York." And it's among your best-known songs. And before we hear it, I want you to say a few words about writing it.

ST VINCENT: Sure. It actually started as a text message to one of my best friends. I actually just, you know, texted him New York isn't New York without you. And I thought, oh, wait a second, I could use that (laughter). That's a nice sentiment but let me just squirrel it away and use it in a song. And I think - you know, I lived in the East Village for 10 years in a rent-controlled apartment that was - I was completely illegally living there and was unceremoniously evicted. Anyway, but I was - you know, when you're walking around the East village, you're like, oh, man, that's where Arthur Russell used to hang. And, oh, that's probably where Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, you know, used to sit in Tompkins.

And, you know, you're surrounded by not just the ghosts of your heroes but also sort of the ghosts of your former selves, right? Like, oh, that's the bodega where I fell in love. Like, oh, (laughter) you know, that's the bar where we broke up - whatever. You're just completely surrounded by memories on every single street corner. So, yeah, that's New York.

GROSS: So on the unfriendly radio version, which we cannot play because of the expletive, the expletive is - rhymes with sucker and begins with mother. So it's, you're the only mother-expletive in the city who can handle me. So let's hear "New York.".

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) New York isn't New York without you, love. So far in a few blocks to be so low. And if I call you from First Avenue, well, you're the only other sucker in the city who can handle me. New love wasn't true love but to you, love. So much for a homerun with some blue bloods. If I last-strawed you on 8th Avenue, well, you're the only other sucker in the city who can stand me. I have lost a hero. I have lost a friend. But for you, darling, I'd do it all again. I have lost a hero. I have lost a friend. But for you, darling, I'd do it all again. New York isn't New York without you, love.

GROSS: So that's St. Vincent's song "New York." It's a great song. It's lyrically interesting, musically catchy. What did it do for your career?

ST VINCENT: You know, I think that "New York" was a song that resonated with a lot of people. It was the first single off of "MassEducation. " And it - I mean, I think it - let's be honest, Terry, if it didn't have the F word in it (laughter), you and I probably would have been talking five years ago, you know? Like, it's...

(LAUGHTER)

ST VINCENT: But it just, you know - the F word, it was the exact word that needed to be said, so I did not pull any punches on the record. But I think it resonated with a lot of people. I think a lot of people, whether or not that city is New York for them, they have that place that is just never going to be the same if, you know, that person they love is not right there with them.

GROSS: I want to talk about your aunt and uncle, who performe under the name Tuck & Patti. A Jazz duo, your uncle plays acoustic guitar.

ST VINCENT: My uncle Tuck plays a 1947 and 1948 Gibson L-5, which is an electric guitar, but it's kind of a hollow body jazz guitar.

GROSS: OK. And your aunt sings.

ST VINCENT: Yes.

GROSS: And they're pretty calm performers. They're kind of on the other end of where you are as a performer. You toured with them, I think, after high school. I think you made sure they had what they needed in hotels. They had a decent room. They had food. They had tuned guitars. What was it like as a teenager being on the road with professional musicians who were also your aunt and uncle? So did that kind of dispel any ideas of how touring is, like, a really glamorous thing?

ST VINCENT: Oh, I would say yes. Touring with Tuck & Patti - and I don't mean this in any sort of slight to them - but just the amount of work that it takes to travel, put on a show, check all the gear, make sure that you've eaten - you know, I had stuff like a little head counter. So I would walk around and count heads in the room so that when the promoter would come back and say, oh, we sold this many tickets, I had a count (laughter) to compare it to. So I could find out if the promoter was trying to stiff them on any tickets because I said - because I had, well, no, actually, my count says we had, you know, 350. And you're only trying to pay us for, you know, 297.

That's not - you know, so all this stuff, like, really learning the ropes of the road - and really caring about sonics, too. They really care about sonics and taught me to care about sonics. And they really impressed upon me not everybody has to like it. That doesn't matter, but you have to be excellent. You have to be excellent. You have to be as good at your craft as possible.

GROSS: Watching and participating in your aunt and uncles' tours, did it make you think - when you became a professional musician and got to go on the road, did it make you think, I don't want to do that? Like, I've been there.

ST VINCENT: (Laughter).

GROSS: This is, like, really hard.

ST VINCENT: No. No. I was hooked. I was hooked. I - the first tour I ever did with them was - I was 15. I'd never been anywhere, except maybe, I think, to New Mexico on a vacation and, like, maybe Cancun or something. They took me to Japan.

GROSS: Oh, wow.

ST VINCENT: And I saw the world. I mean, I was - music has given to me my whole life. And I - and, yeah, it was hard work. But it's worth it because every night, you get to spend 90 minutes with people and go someplace completely out of this world. And I saw them move people's hearts - and they moved my heart, of course - but move people to tears every night and really give people a place to lay their burden down. And it matters. And it's so beautiful. And so, yeah, of course, you're tired, and you're jet-lagged, and you're whatever. But the second - for me, the second it's showtime, it's like, let's go.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is St. Vincent. Her new album is called "All Born Screaming." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with the musician known as St. Vincent. She's a three-time Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Her new album is called "All Born Screaming."

In 2021, you made an album called "Daddy's Home." And the title of the album, which is also the title song, refers to your father getting out of prison after serving, I think, 10 years for a series of financial crimes, including in 2010, he was convicted of - a federal jury found him guilty on one count of conspiracy, seven counts of wire fraud, five counts of securities fraud and one count of money laundering. He was 62 at the time. Did you even understand the crimes? I was reading about this and thinking, I'll just say financial crimes. (Laughter) It's so complicated. Like, did you understand what he did?

ST VINCENT: No. I mean, I don't really understand, like, the stock market in general or that. So no, I'm still a little bit unclear, but that might be also a question of my own financial literacy (laughter).

GROSS: Were you shocked? Did you know that he'd be capable of this?

ST VINCENT: Well, I mean, I think that my father got caught up in some stuff, some unscrupulous situations. And I don't - he's not - I mean, I've seen the man try to figure out email on an iPhone. He's not a criminal mastermind (laughter), I can assure you. But I think that he was caught up in some unscrupulous stuff. And everybody else pled out. And he was the guy - he and his partner were the guys still holding the bag, right?

I remember being with my older sisters and going in for some of the trial. And then being called in, you know, because they call when there's a verdict. OK, they've called in the verdict. And I just - we - it just didn't ever occur to us that - you know, that anything but, like, OK. Go on home. I don't know. I just was so naive about so many things. But I - my sisters and I were in the courtroom when they called the verdict and said guilty, and they took him away. And, you know, we got to give him a quick hug. And then they took him away in front of us. And we were all just devastated and confused and shell-shocked and then trying to help pick up the pieces.

And he's got seven kids. So, you know, I have four little brothers and sisters, who were - they were kids. I mean, they were kids, and now their dad's gone. And I do have to say that we all did manage to stick together as a family. And I'm so close with my younger siblings, and I'm so close with my sisters. And he was released. My dad was released in 2019, kind of just before the pandemic. And, yeah, I mean, we'd go and visit him in prison. And there's a line in "Daddy's Home" about going - signing autographs in the visitation room, which is just, like - it was sort of known that, like, oh, Rick's daughter. You know, she's a singer. And if I was on a TV show, if I was on, you know, "SNL" or, you know, "Fallon" or whatever, it'd be like, all the inmates would (laughter) gather and watch.

So it was sort of, like, me and Kamaru Usman, who's a UFC fighter. We're sort of - whose dad was also in prison at the same time as my father. We were sort of, like, the (laughter) pride of the prison camp. So, you know, so if Kamaru was fighting or if I was on TV, you know, playing a late night show, like, everybody would rally together and watch and - so anyway, I'm waiting for my dad to, you know, go to see him for an hour - couple hours or whatever it is. And I'm, like, signing autographs on, like, the back of someone's Target receipt, you know, in a prison visitation room. I'm just like, (laughter) what?

GROSS: Yeah. That sounds like...

ST VINCENT: Oh, God.

GROSS: ...A strange experience. But, you know, I'm thinking if your father has fellow inmates all watching you on TV, sometimes on TV and in your videos, you'd be wearing very sexualized clothes.

ST VINCENT: Terry, I prefer not to think about that part of it (laughter).

GROSS: No. But I mean, a men's prison - that must have really been a thing. Like, that's your daughter.

ST VINCENT: So (laughter) - I know.

GROSS: Did you think about that?

ST VINCENT: Well, I mean, I'm only thinking about, you know, I'm - what I'm wearing is going to be some kind of a thoughtful rendering world creation of the music that I've made. So I'm not thinking about the fact that it will probably also be seen at the men's prison. If I, you know, if I did that, I - maybe I would have worn more burlap, but, you know...

GROSS: (Laughter).

ST VINCENT: ...Whatever. Yeah, I wasn't thinking about that. But yeah, but, you know, he's out, and life is long. People are complicated. You know, I love my father. My father gave me grit. He taught us to be tough. He instilled in me, like, a love of literature and films and foreign films and music and was a cultural kind of guy. So I really appreciate the gifts that he gave me. And we're all still trucking.

GROSS: In those 10 years, a lot changed in your life. You became kind of famous in the 10 years that he was in prison. It must have been so odd for him to see what was happening in your life while he was behind bars.

ST VINCENT: Yeah, it's funny. I mean, again, it's whether it was like - the late-night appearances were kind of a thing that - you know, or getting "SNL" was - that was a thing that was - I almost, like, looked at it like throwing little paper airplanes over the prison walls or something. Like, at least he could see, you know, that sort of we were doing all right?

GROSS: Yeah.

ST VINCENT: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, let's take another short break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is the artist known as St. Vincent, and she has a new album called "All Born Screaming." We'll be right back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ST. VINCENT SONG, "WE PUT A PEARL IN THE GROUND")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with St. Vincent. She's a three-time Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Her new album is called "All Born Screaming.".

So I want to play another song. And this is a song called "Smoking Section." And this is an example of, I think, how really good your lyrics are. And it's a song about - well, how would you describe it?

ST VINCENT: I would say that's a song about toying with the precipice. You know? I would say that's definitely - I was quite bereft writing that song, and it's about kind of just going right up to that edge and looking over and going, huh. What if?

GROSS: Yeah. And let me quote a couple of lines to call our listeners' attention to. (Reading) Sometimes, I sit in the smoking section hoping one rogue spark will land in my direction, and when you stomp me out, I scream and I shout, let it happen. Let it happen. Let it happen. And later, you sing, (reading) sometimes, I stand on the edge of my roof, and I think I'll jump just to punish you. So let's hear the song. And here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMOKING SECTION")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Sometimes, I stand with a pistol in hand. I fire at the grass, just to scare you right back. And when you won't run, I'm mad. But I succumb - let it happen, let it happen, let it happen. Sometimes I go to the edge of my roof, and I think I'll jump just to punish you. And if I should float on the taxis below, no one will notice, no one will know. And then I think, what could be better than love, than love, than love? And then I think, what could be better than love, than love, than love? It's not the end. It's not the end. It's not the end. It's not the end.

GROSS: So, that's the song "Smoking Section" from, I think, the 2017 album "Masseduction."

ST VINCENT: That is, and fun fact, that's my Aunt Patti singing. (Vocalizing).

GROSS: So she's singing with you on it.

ST VINCENT: She's - yes, it's my Aunt Patti singing on the little (vocalizing).

GROSS: Ah. OK. Yeah. You asked her to do it.

ST VINCENT: I did.

GROSS: What were you going through when you wrote that?

ST VINCENT: I had been just burning that candle. I - let's see. You know, I started touring really hard at "Strange Mercy," which was 2011. And then I went straight from that into making and touring "Love This Giant" with David Byrne, which was one of the most joyful experiences of my life. And then the day I got back from being done with the Byrne tour, I started writing my self-titled record. And then from there, I went on a tour that just lasted forever. And I had breakups and new relationships and breakups. And I was just out of my mind. I was so just burnt, you know. And I had lost kind of my center. And I think when I said before that I'm so lucky I've always had my family, the other thing I've had and the thing that's always truly saved my life is music. I always had a place to go or a goal.

So making "Masseduction, " for me, was like the train had finally ground to a halt. I was looking at myself and going, What am I? What have I become? What -where have I been? Where have I even been? And so I went totally sober. You know, I went sober in every sense of the word, you know, no sex, no drinking, nothing - just went full nun mode and was like, this music is going to save me. That was my lifeline. That saved me. I knew if I had a record to make, then I could keep going, you know.

But also, I - you know, I'll quote Brian Eno and probably misquote Brian Eno here. But, like, you know, music is a car that you can crash over and over again and walk away safely. Like, it's a place for me to explore and figure out all that is chaotic and brutal in life, but put it and make some sense out of it.

GROSS: Musically, and maybe lyrically, but musically, I think of it as being very influenced by Leonard Cohen.

ST VINCENT: Oh, I love Leonard Cohen.

GROSS: I thought you would.

ST VINCENT: Speaking of poetry...

GROSS: Yeah.

ST VINCENT: Yeah.

GROSS: And transcendent, oh, but also...

ST VINCENT: Oh.

GROSS: ...Really not. (Laughter) Like, he has the sins and the transcendence worked into his songs.

ST VINCENT: Absolutely. But I think you don't get one without the other. You know, I think that's - like, the human condition is so many things. It's - I just don't think you just get the joy without kind of knowing how lucky you are (laughter) to be joyful, you know? It just - it's - life is funny like that.

GROSS: Well, St. Vincent, it's really been a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much, and thank you for your music.

ST VINCENT: Thank you so much, Terry. I'm a massive fan, and this was a real pleasure.

GROSS: It's such an honor to hear you say that, and I have become a big fan of your music.

ST VINCENT: Thank you.

GROSS: The new St. Vincent album is called "All Born Screaming.".

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about Barbara Walters with her biographer, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page. After co-hosting "The Today Show," in 1976, Walters became the first woman to co-anchor a national TV news show, and she faced extraordinary sexism. She's also famous for her celebrity interviews and for creating "The View." I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our engineer today is Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Thea Chaloner, Susan Nyakundi and Joel Wolfram. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL BORN SCREAMING")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) I climb power lines and mountains just to feel above the ground. I crawl out your hallowed houses just to feel my headache pound. I feel like I'm free (ph) and [inaudible] and, yeah, that's why - well, it goes and it goes. I can't stop my legs. I can't feel my feet. I own nothing, and nothing owns me. We're all born screaming. We're all born screaming. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I have climbed into open arms. They turned into a stranger, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLEA")

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