St. Vincent talks about 'Daddy's Home' and shares a playlist of her favorite songs

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St. Vincent will release 'Daddy's Home' on May 14, 2021, on Loma Vista Recordings. (Zackery Michael)
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As St. Vincent released Daddy's Home, she called The Current to talk about her new album and to share a playlist of 20 of some her favorite songs — from Chaka Khan to Dolly Parton, and everything in between. Listen to an edited version of the interview above, and scroll down to read an extended transcript.

Mac Wilson: Congratulations on the release of the new album Daddy's Home, which is out today. And it's apparently been a very busy day for you. Things are buzzing.

St. Vincent: Oh, yeah, the day's just just getting started, but it's been eventful. It's like having a like having a Bat Mitzvah or something.

Well, it's been an eventful couple of days on our end too as we just did our 893 Essential Albums countdown and going back to the beginning of your career as St. Vincent, the listeners of The Current voted Marry Me to the number 379 spot of their favorite debut albums of all time. So congratulations.

I'll take it. Thank you.

I was thinking about the the title of Marry Me and how the story goes that came from Arrested Development, and how there's that app or you can search the entire history of The Simpsons and if there was one for Arrested Development, I think that at some point, somebody on that show said the phrase "daddy's home," you'd think.

I bet they did. I gotta say I was saddened to learn that Jessica Walter, who played Lucille Bluth on that show, passed away recently, but one of my favorite bits that they ever did with her was, she's I guess sick or something. She has medication and says that she mistook — the narrator says this — she mistook the blinking eye alcohol warning for a winking eye alcohol suggestion. She's hopped up on pills and drinking the vodka and it's just a gas.

Well, that was one of those where it was very sad, obviously, when she passed away — and yet we're recounting our favorite Jessica Walter Arrested Development stories on the air. And I'm trying not to crack up thinking about all the wonderful memories. We ended up playing "The Final Countdown" in her memory that day.

Oh, yeah, that's so great. Yeah, the "Well, kids don't come with a handbook!" "Actually, there are thousands of parenting books." Sorry, go on, go on.

It's fine. I'm content talking about Arrested Development. It's that sort of been one of my comfort objects during the the last year or so. There was there was a bad day I was having a couple of months ago. And I'm like, I'm just gonna come home and watch like four episodes of it in a row. And that did the trick for me.

Oh, so good. So good.

So Annie, you supplied us a list of songs that you've been listening to lately, and I'd love to get into a little bit of the background behind just the the ethos of the list in general. Now, would you say that this is inspirations of stuff for the new record, or is it just stuff that you've had on repeat over the last couple of weeks or months, just because it's what you need right now?

I'd say it's a combo platter of things that I love and have loved for many years. And then also new things that I'm just so excited about.

In the past, on an album, you're like, I've got to have a radio single on this one. This one's got to hit on radio. When you're putting together new music and new records now, do you sort of have in the back of your mind like, well, I've got to have a song in the record that's got to fit the the "happy" Spotify playlist? Or I've got to have, you know, the "contemplative" playlist? Do you have that in the back of your mind when you're composing?

No. Oh, God, no. Maybe I would be better off if I did. But no, I don't at all. Especially with this album, it just kind of flowed out of me. And I just wrote exactly what was in my head and heart. And I really, truly didn't think about, you know, which playlist it might end up on.

So when we started doing these sessions virtually about, you know, a year ago, around the time of the pandemic, we had to ease into having these conversations online like this. The questions that we've asked musicians have sort of gone from, well, how are you doing? And what are you doing right now? to, well, what did you do during the pandemic? So Daddy's Home, the record: can you give us a little bit of an idea of the timeline? Is this something that you primarily composed and then recorded during the last year of the pandemic?

Sure. I started writing it in the fall of 2019. And it was about halfway done. And I at least knew the color palette, I knew the direction. So then the pandemic happened. And I wrote the rest of the album kind of during that time. And luckily, I work with my friend, Jack Antonoff, and he's so great. And between us we have our studios. I spent half of the record just here alone in my studio and and him the same in New York. And we managed to put it all together by proxy.

But yeah, I mean, I was working on this record. I did what I think a lot of people did, which was learn where their hot water heater is, and like suddenly be doing home improvement. And I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials on how to put up wallpaper and how to do plumbing and how to, you know, how to strip a deck. So I will, I'm proud to say that my tool collection is is robust after the pandemic.

And then the other thing I guess I did was, I'm really interested in Russian literature and Russian history, and I realized because I didn't really go to normal school that I just had to kind of educate myself on on things I'm interested in. So I just read a lot of Russian history and Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn.

So was this like, starting with War and Peace and Crime and Punishment versus going much deeper than that?

Oh, God, no, sorry. I read a lot. I've read a lot of history of 19th and 20th century Russia. And I swear this preamble will lead into the music choices...but yeah, Cancer Ward and Gulag Archipelago and Notes from the Underground and, you know, just just kind of brushed up as it were.

Alright, so this is a digression of my own. But I don't know how active necessarily you are on Twitter. There's a bot that takes every country of the world and then it will randomly select a country to conquer, a country that is bordering it. And then it basically simulates this over like weeks and months, and then you to see which countries wind up taking over the world. They've done it a couple of times now. And they're doing the new simulation this time around. So like Russia is doing okay, right now. But you see, like, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has like 15 territories right now.

Whoa. Well, I mean, my God, but their history...they're owed it to colonize somebody! I'm just kidding. That's a joke. But, that's an interesting one. It reminds me of the game Risk. I played a fair amount of that early on in the pandemic on my Nintendo Switch.

So it's one of those where people will go in and they'll devise with the different scenarios are like, well as Italy went into Gibraltar, here's what happened. So I mean, it's a good way for people to nerd out lately.

That is interesting. You know, it seems like you really don't need to actually conquer land so much anymore if you can. If you can do informational warfare, you don't even need to conquer the land.

Yeah, that's sort of its own can of worms. But I agree. That's a different type of world war that's being fought now.

So I picked out three songs from the list that I wanted to talk about. As it turns out, two of them are about falling in love with somebody who is attached to somebody else and the different slants that you can take on how to handle your emotional feelings on that, starting with "Layla" by Derek and the Dominoes.

Well, I have to say I'm not an extensive Eric Clapton fan. I really like Cream. But it's not just like some blanket reverence for Clapton. It's that one this song I think is the best use of music ever in a film, I think, in Goodfellas, then also the end of it is some of the most beautiful music I've ever hear. Gregg Allman was plays guitar slide guitar at the end of this, and I like to joke — this will get me in trouble — I like to joke that Clapton's best solo was played by Duane Allman. Oh, god, I'm just dropping bombs left and right. I apologize. It's a wild day over here.

I think that's that's what makes that Derek and the Dominoes album so special, though, is that it doesn't have to be rooted out of a reverence for Eric Clapton. Like you could be largely apathetic to anything else that he's done in his career...and yet, the folks that he was able to work with as Derek and the Dominoes, it really elevated it to a new thing.

So it's almost like the opposite of the exception that proves the rule with with a reverence towards Clapton.

Yeah, it's just such a stunning piece of music. I mean, the end, the end just pulls my heartstrings every single time.

Now I'm thinking back to Goodfellas, and how that works and how, almost by virtue of Goodfellas, the second half of that song is arguably as famous if not more famous than the first half, and you have to wonder what Clapton thinks of that.

I actually think I think it's probably more famous and more iconic than the first half. That kills me. That just absolutely shatters me.

Well, I saw a year ago there was an interview with Clapton. He's like, oh, yeah, we played the entire album basically live to tape with the exception of "Layla" where we had to overdub, like a dozen different solos, weaving back and forth, so they get it just right.

God, it's stunning. It really is.

So in the case of Eric Clapton, when you fall in love with somebody, you write a song about it. In the case of Steely Dan's "Dirty Work," you do a lot more with that. There's a lot of complicated emotions and a lot of...I guess I'd describe as self loathing going on in the sentiments behind Steely Dan's "Dirty Work."

Oh, yeah. Yeah, this is an interesting one, because it's before Donald Fagan was comfortable singing all the songs himself because he was uncomfortable with his voice. So he had kind of session singers come in and sing a lot of the songs on this album. And this is no no exception. So "Dirty Work" is not sung by Donald Fagan. It's a heartbreaker. I think it can be a sister to "Layla" in that way it just pulls at the heartstrings. I'm a fool to do your dirty work. I don't want to do it no more.

Then there's the the chess metaphor in the song, too. Do you play chess, Annie?

Oh, I do not. I've had people who have tried to explain just to me on a number of occasions, and it just doesn't stick. Do you play chess?

I've played it from time to time. I was in chess club when I was a kid, but I haven't played it a lot then. But as I get older, I've appreciated Steely Dan a lot more and getting into "Dirty Work" a lot. And the metaphor in the song about the rook, the castle in his corner, sort of is staying in his corner the whole time. It's sort of made me reevaluate the way that that piece is used in in a chess game. So I've definitely thought about "Dirty Work" when I've played chess.

Now, this is this shows my chess ignorance. I didn't realize that that was a chess reference.

Yeah, "The castle in his corner in the medieval game. I foresee terrible trouble. And I stay here just the same." I think that as as you play chess, it's possible to sort of forget about those the rooks that are sitting in the corner, you utilize other pieces while meanwhile your rooks just sort of hang back. They can only go in one specific way, but they they do their thing, and they're in their own bit.

See, that's interesting, because I always thought the line was in reference to another song on the album where it's like, "We've seen the last good King Richard, ring out the past. His name lives on..." I thought it was a reference to the English court.

And it may very well be.

No, I think you're right.

I think it's both of those things, too. The thing about that that Steely Dan album is that we were talking about debut albums. It's an instance of a great band, putting out a debut album that really doesn't sound like anything else that they've made because, like you said, Donald Fagen hadn't taken over lead vocals. So it's it's way more chipper in its own way than a lot of the stuff that they would make. So it stands out on its own.

Yeah, yeah, you're right. It does. They hadn't gone full cynicism yet, you know. Lyrically, I don't think the music is cynical at all. But lyrically, you know, extra biting, like Fagen likes to do.

Sort of like we were talking about Clapton: like, that's the Steely Dan album you can, even if you don't listen to anything else that they do, you can appreciate Can't Buy a Thrill in its own way. So it definitely stands out.

Yeah. And a Dylan reference, right? "Can't buy a thrill."

What isn't a Dylan reference?

I know.

We're getting ready to celebrate his 80th birthday and we're diving into his catalogue. We're like, well, okay, today we'll spotlight Desire. Today, we're going to do Blood on the Tracks. And yet, there's probably entire albums that we haven't played anything off by him on the air. So there's still a lot of territory yet to explore with Bob Dylan.

So much, so much. I'm so glad we have him. So glad we have so many greats. You know, I trip out on it sometimes, thinking about how much like how much joy these people have given so many people.

This might be getting off track a little bit, but I saw that John Fogerty is going on the road again this summer. And that sort of jumped to the top of my list like, you know, I think he's still got the energy going. I think that he's got to be on the bucket list. I've got to try to see him.

Yeah. That's the thing, too. You listen back to, like, Creedence Clearwater. And I think as a kid, I would hear it and it was just sort of like, okay, that's in the canon of stuff you hear on a classic rock station, but I went back and like, listened to it. It's soulful and great writing and God, the band sounds so good! Yeah, John Fogarty, amen.

And he was cranking out two to three albums a year to in the late '60s. And then they were done. That's it. They did everything that they did in, what, like four or five years and then that was it.

Yeah, it's crazy. Because people didn't have to do like, okay, we're mounting a world tour. It's just like, yeah, we make records. We stay in the studio making records. I mean, same same with Steely Dan. I was looking at the period of of the early '70s a lot for this record, Daddy's Home, and it was like, I mean, Stevie Wonder was putting out a record every single year that was shockingly brilliant, the best music still that's ever been made, every year. I mean, Steely Dan was putting out a record every year, Bowie was putting out a record every single year. We're slacking. I'm just really slacking. Gotta get in there!

I'm thinking of anybody who is recording at that, at that clip right now. Lana Del Rey is staying at that pace. And you know, even even Billy Eilish keeps recording music at a at a fairly steady clip, those are two that that jumped to mind off the top of my head. But I don't think any of us are necessarily slacking. We've all had a lot on our minds over the last year.

[laughs] What've you been doing?

Yeah, well, that's where when we started doing these virtual conversations about a year ago, one of the questions we always made sure to ask was, how are you doing right now? So I guess, Annie, I am curious. We've talked about a lot of the whats and the whys but how are you doing? How are you feeling right now? This is the release day of the new album, Daddy's Home. And I thought frivolously at the beginning, I'm like, St. Vincent, you're releasing an album in the midst of a global pandemic. Yay or nay? Would you do it again?

Would I do it again? Oh, gosh, I mean, I think it remains to be seen. It seems like we're doing better in America, and that there might be some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of maybe live shows at the end of the year and that kind of stuff, which gives me a lot of hope. Because, man, I've missed it. I've missed, you know, sweating in a room with hundreds or thousands of people singing the same song, dreaming the same dream for an hour and a half. Like, it's the reason why I do it in that there's no analog to it in normal life, and certainly not an analog to it in in the kind of shapeless days that we've been dealing with for you know, over a year. So I'm so excited about that. I also feel like for me, when the pandemic started, I found myself going back to things that I found comforting. And so that was maybe why I was going back and listening to records, you know, that I'd grown up listening to. And I wasn't listening to too much new stuff. Because I felt like I was looking for comfort everywhere, some somehow.

But then I feel like we've maybe have turned a corner and people are I know I'm excited to hear new things again. So maybe other people will be will be too and this is a good time to just say, hey, check this new thing out now that you might have some bandwidth for it.

Exactly. That's a really good way of putting it, Annie, that we do have a little bit expanded bandwidth as we go along. I don't think I could have thought of a better word if we sat here and chatted for another half hour but as we do have the expanded bandwidth we're looking forward to diving into no more new music that is out there — including the new record Daddy's Home, which is out now.

I don't know how much more time you have if you wanted to talk about Jenny Lewis or if you've got to get moving on.

I love Lewis so much. I was feeling so down the other day and I just went and I I listened back to On the Line, Jenny Lewis's latest record. And it just gave me buoyancy again. I love her voice. I love her songwriting. She's a national treasure and a great bro and a great hang. And I'm very happy and proud to say she's a friend of mine.

I've only met her once. She stopped by The Current studio to do a little chat on the air. And that's a good way of putting it. She's a great hang. You're like, you're awesome. I wish that you could just hang out. We could just chat about records throughout the afternoon. So yeah, it's definitely a privilege to call Jenny a friend.

She is so cool. She's the coolest.

She is literally one of the coolest people that that I've met in my life and I think she kind of knows that but she she makes it work really well.

She's humble. She keeps it humble. But she's cool as hell.

One of the details about the tune "Wasted Youth," one of the songs that was on your list is where she has that lyric, "I wasted my youth on a poppy." She sings it to the point where it sounds like puppy so much like, it's an example of an intentional mondegreen. I think it's like she planned for that to be in the song where people, like intentionally thought that it was something else. And they argue over it for years. That's my theory that she planted it in there to keep people talking about it for years.

Oh my gosh, I've never heard "puppy." When I think of it, I always think poppy and then I think opium and I think heroin.

That is the the correct lyric. So I mean, if anybody is listening, that's the correct interpretation of it. But it's still when you hear it, it's like, she's really singing about about a puppy. And then you talk about with your friends like, is this is she saying puppy? Or is she saying poppy the whole time. And I think that that's an intriguing songwriting move to, to have a word that can be deliberately misconstrued depending on what mood you're in at a given time.

I mean, I think now that I think about it, imagining the song and her singing, "I wasted my youth...I wasted my youth on a puppy," is an entirely strange, that is such a weird sentiment. Like, that is such a bizarre sentiment in a great way.

I think that that's the type of lyric that like Elvis Costello, the type of wordplay that he would he used on his first couple of albums and their friends that they they've recorded together. So I wonder if she picked that up from him.

Oh, fun fact, Lewis sang with Steely Dan at the Beacon, and I believe she sang "Dirty Work."

That sounds perfect. Wow, I gotta go find the video.

Yeah, so see? Full circle.


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