St. Vincent talks about 'Daddy's Home,' and SNL

Interview: St. Vincent on 'Daddy's Home' (MPR)

St. Vincent's Annie Clark connects with Jade to talk about her upcoming album, Daddy's Home, the visual representations that have accompanied the eras of her discography, and putting together the band for her recent Saturday Night Live performance.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

JADE: I'm so excited because I'm joined by St. Vincent, we're looking forward to the release of the new album Daddy's Home. St. Vincent, thank you so much for joining us.

ANNIE CLARK: Oh, thank you!

Daddy's Home

I want to start off by first saying congratulations on Saturday Night Live. That is huge.

Thank you.

I was watching a video and it must have been a behind-the-scenes thing with you and the band getting ready and getting pumped up for the performance. As someone who is so desperate to be back and see live music, I can only imagine what it was like for you to be back on stage and performing. So I was hoping that you could kind of describe that feeling, that energy that you had.

Well first of all, in getting to put this new band together, by the time we hit SNL, we'd been a band for about eight days. So, that shows you how pro everybody was. But getting to be back in a rehearsal room with people and hearing them sing, and hearing them play--it was like a phantom limb, magically reappeared. They're really the best. Then actually, the performance--there's not an analogue in daily life that scratches that itch, you know? So actually getting to do that--feel the energy of like, "3, 2, 1.." The rush and the thrill of the just being in the moment and the crowd, it was thrilling and it made me want to just--why can't I just be on tour right now?

Why can't we all just be on tour right now going to live shows? There is something about that live performance, and you're such a wonderful live performer. The visual aspect is so huge, I was actually really struck by the visuals of this performance, which kudos to you guys for pulling that together for eight days being in a band. There was this really beautiful softness to everything in the performance. The fur coat that you were wearing, and your backing vocalist--everything just had this softness and warmth. It was really different from your last tour, which to me was really like sharp edges, and there was this starkness on the stage. It brought to mind this interview that I had heard with you where you said you had taken angular as far as you could go, and I was really hoping that you could expand on that a little bit.

So much of this new record is 'things that are wiggly' is the only way to explain it, but really just things that move in and out like water and flow and really being way more about that kind of energy than about things that are right angles and clear lines. The music that I was really referencing and really digging into was the music from the early 70s, New York. '71 to '76 where rock and jazz and fusion and all this stuff kind of merged. It was really harmonica sophisticated, but so musical and it was just that kind of vibe. I keep using words like vibe and flow.

It's very 70s.

Very 70s, but it's true, that music had a whole lot to teach me and I've loved it for so long, but I've never really gone there and I learned a lot. The other thing about the performance aspect of the record is, with those singers, and writing parts for the singers like I did on the record--I wanted that to be like--that's a conversation. It's not background singers. It's a real time conversation. I wanted to make sure that was clear with the performance. These aren't background singers hiding in the back making the lead singer seem more competent. It's like no, you're front and center. We're having a conversation here. You're very much a part of it and they were so great.

Yeah, it felt very Bowie and Luther Vandross, sort of that back and forth. But hearing you say the things about, like, the curviness, versus the straight lines, there's this wonderful thing about like the visualisation of music that I find so fascinating. Speaking of Bowie, that idea of the era and it being a certain look or a certain style, and having to have those background vocalists, as opposed to just you know, Annie and guitar, front and center. Is that something that comes to mind when you're putting together the album or is that visual something that comes after the fact?

When I'm making the record I am more just thinking about the music. The visual side of it really comes as a result, and enduring once I know kind of what the music is. Then the visual side can kind of start to bleed in and continue to tell the story. That's what I always want to do with the visual side is just continue to tell the story of the album.

It seems like you're kind of playing around with instrumentation as well, mixing in some synth and everything else. Was that like a kid in the candy store energy going on? Or do you always start with guitar when you're starting to write some stuff?

Oh, no, I rarely start guitar. Honestly, I really rarely sit down with a guitar and write a song. I think I have better ears than I do hands. But as far as--are we talking record making or a live performance? Sorry.

Oh, the record, making the record.

Yeah, I mean, some of the songs came about from me turning knobs and plugging in CV cables to modular syntha. Just doing this for an hour until something sounded cool, then taking six seconds of the thing and being like, "I'm gonna write a song around that." That's definitely how the song "Pay Your Way In Pain" happened. Just, "Oh, cool. I found this modular baseline that is really evocative to me and I'm going to follow that." Same with a song--there's a song on the record called "Down," which was kind of a similar process in that modular world, and then a lot of things were way more--I went back and studied the harmonies: Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, and that kind of stuff, and just went back to school. Like, "Damn, why does that feel so good when they go there? Oh, sh**!" you know, "Damn! So cool."

There's certain notes and certain runs of music that just kind of enrapture you. There's this performance that you did of "The Melting Of The Sun," and speaking of going back and giving a nod of appreciation to people--entertainers who've come before you--that's definitely something that goes on in that song.

But there is a line that really stuck out to me, "To tell the truth, I lied." There's been something in this last year, maybe it's because people are spending a lot more time at home, peeling back of the facade. Both in society in general with social uprisings and the #MeToo movement, but a lot of the musicians I've talked to, because they're not on tour, not doing the thing that really feeds them, it's been a year of a lot of vulnerability and kind of asking those questions of, "What am I doing, and who am I?" That line just sort of triggered that thought in my head. I'm curious what has been on your mind in the in the last year, while you've had some time to kind of pause and reflect?

Well, a few things. I've gotten pretty mediocre at home improvement.

Congratulations!

Thank you. I've really gone from bad to mediocre. So I'm pretty thrilled about that. Honestly, I guess sometimes I take a long way around things, so I've just been looking at a lot of history to try and figure out where we are now and think about some of the biggest mistakes that human beings have made in the past, as far as history goes, and trying to go, "Okay, well, what's what's going on now? Is this--how's this all gonna shake out? How does this remind me of these other these other points in history? So that's kind of, I go the long way around a lot of times of trying to contextualize it, and figure out, okay, if a root of a lot of this is human vulnerability, people feeling scared, people feel feeling unsure, economically, socially. All of the above, like you said, we kind of peel back the veneer of a lot of the ideas of society and expose like, "Oh, wait, these are the real ideas that keep this matrix together." I saw The Matrix for the first time, speaking of.

Did you enjoy it?

Some parts were too gory for me, but it was great. Really oughta see it, you oughta to see this documentary called The Matrix.

It feels real.

I try to figure out where we are now, based on where we've been in the past, I guess.

I've only heard a couple of songs off the album. So I don't want to extrapolate the entire thing, but it does feel like there are some questions about who are we? What do we believe in? The idea of struggle, and who has to struggle and who doesn't have to struggle? That's sort of where we are at right now. And maybe that's not what the album's all about. I should probably just ask you, what is the album really going into?

That's definitely a big part of it. I wanted to write stories about flawed people doing their best to get by. I could write about it because I've been most of the characters on the album. Whether it's the the girl on the morning train with her heels in her hand, from last night, or the girl at the holiday parties being on one. People are looking on in a little bit of horror and concern. I really just wanted to write about the human condition with not a lot of judgment. I don't feel a lot of--I'm more in a place of just trying to understand why we are where we are, what people are feeling, what are the things that people are truly motivated by to try and cut through some of the noise of it. And to try to understand for myself, but I could truly study the human animal forever, and never be bored. I mean, what we do, why we do what we do is pretty endlessly fascinating. I wanted to write about it without judgment, just, we're all here.

There's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, and it's kind of in that vein, it's the idea of family lore, or these stories that we kind of tell about where we come from. And it comes without judgment, because you don't judge yourself, you kind of make it maybe into a joke. For example, my family, the first thing that you find out if you ever get to meet my family, is that we're Sicilian. So that's kind of a warning just in general. Then the second story probably told by my teeny, tiny Sicilian Grandma, is that her father, who was this booze hound bootlegger never murdered a man, he just stabbed him and he died, which is like--a story that I love, and I appreciate because the lens through which you see things and how you're able to describe who you are and what you are in such a simple story. I'm curious if you have a family lore or a story that you have that kind of exemplifies your family.

There's a few--I have a really big family and most--a big part of it is Irish Catholic and the other part of it, my mom's side, were just these angel freaks. I mean, they were just a really bizarre kind of brilliant, very strange crew of people who they--my great grandmother's name was Stella Frankenschtein. She was a Jew who escaped. God, then my great uncle was was one of the lawyers at the Nuremberg trials.

Whoa.

Yeah, and then my mom and her brother are just these like--really kind in a way that is shocking, and super top genius-y people. Then there's the ragtag group of misfits on my father's side. Yeah, I would say if there's a God--if there's a family lore, I mean, my mom used to sing to us girls, she would say, "We girls can do anything," to the tune of the Barbie theme song.

I'm not familiar.

[sings] "We girls can do anything right," but anyway, the Barbie theme song, so that was, I think, her second wave feminist way of infiltrating the mass media marketing. God, I'm sorry. I just rambled, but it's a funny mix. It's definitely a--it's a funny mix. My mother and father, very different kinds of people. So we all, the three, their children all have very--a kind of complicated mix of--

Angel genius and mad cap?

Yeah, and irreverent. God, I'm not being very articulate. Right now. I apologize. I'm still kind of tired because I played the show called SNL this weekend. So it was like--

I know, I feel like I'm taking you right at the hangover of a beautiful, beautiful evening.

It's not actually like a hungover, party hangover. It's like mental exhaustion, which is, usually I can really rattle these things off a little better. So my apologies.

I think you're doing fabulous. Don't pressure yourself. Who was the first person you played the album for after you finished it all up?

Start to finish, I definitely sent my sister the album when I thought I had sequenced it. Then I went back and resequenced it like three times. So maybe my sister.

Is she the person that you typically send things over to, to just kind of see?

Oh God, her favorite band is Huey Lewis and the News. No, I just happened to send it to her.

What was her feedback? What did she say? Was she like, "This does not remind me of Huey Lewis and the News."

Yeah, she's like, "If it could be a little bit more like Huey Lewis then I'd probably like it."

With the idea of those live performances in mind, and I know I'm not the only person who's craving, as people are starting to roll out their tour schedules and things again, is there a particular stage that you just can't wait to get back and to be on and to perform at?

Oh man, I would love to play Radio City Music Hall, and/or I would love to play like a residency in a dive bar.

I would be behind that 100%. Actually with that band, that's such a dive bar vibe.

So fun. Just play like two sets a night, do it old school. Two hour sets, two sets a night, keep them dancin' and keep them drinking.

That's all I want. I want to smell the dive bar. I want somebody sticky next to me, smell the dive bar, and St. Vincent performing.

I won't be satisfied until I can walk off the stage that is just a couple inches higher than the audience and sit down at the table in the front room. Do a little crowd work.

I'm daydreaming about it already. Annie, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us this morning.

Thank you. I will forever remember. He stabbed a man, but he died as a result. He was not murdered.

No culpability, he didn't murder him. Why would you say that? How dare you?

How dare you? He's not a monster.

St. Vincent's new album Daddy's Home, out May 14. Annie, thank you again so much for taking the time to come and talk to us.

You bet. Thanks, Jade.

Thank you to our technical producers Jesse Wiza and Derrick Stevens and our technical director of Veronica Rodriguez. And thank you for watching and check back for more of our virtual sessions.

External Link

St. Vincent - official site

Credits

Host - Jade
Technical Director - Veronica Rodriguez
Producer - Derrick Stevens
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza

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