St. Vincent discusses death, Dave Grohl, and splitting her fanbase, stating that she prefers to confuse rather than bore her audience.

Estimated read time 10 min read


During my interview with Annie Clark, also known as the acclaimed, Grammy-winning, avant-garde artist St Vincent, a thumbs up emoji suddenly appears beside her image. We are communicating through Zoom, and Clark is in the middle of speaking passionately about her emotionally-charged new album, All Born Screaming, which she produced herself. The timing doesn’t seem quite right for an emoji. Clark lets out a sigh, mentioning a computer setting that she is unable to change. She tests it again by giving an exaggerated double thumbs up, reminiscent of Paul McCartney, but the screen is then filled with poorly animated fireworks. It all feels quite surreal. “Maybe next time I say a really good quote, like a ‘Let’s make it the pullquote’ one, I’ll just use two thumbs up,” she jokes.

Clark, who is 41 years old, has a history of trying to disrupt the traditional interview process, although this particular instance was unintentional. When her fifth album, Masseduction, was released in 2017, it was described as “morbidly funny,” and contained a mix of sadness and sexiness. During that time, she invited journalists to enter a freshly painted neon pink box in order to ask her questions. Despite the seeming sadistic nature of her request, she insists it was actually more masochistic as she spent 12 hours sitting in paint fumes. She jokingly refers to this time as her “latex era” because of how strict she was with herself. This unconventional approach was an attempt to maintain the intense theme of the album, which was a response to the intense scrutiny she faced from the media following her well-known relationship with model and actor Cara Delevingne in 2015. This highly publicized romance caused a major disturbance in her carefully constructed public persona, and Clark’s alternative approach was a way to incorporate both the album’s seriousness and its postmodern sense of playfulness.

“To do interviews and to do press is a construct,” she says in her glaringly white LA office (she splits her time between there and New York), looking like “goth Grey Gardens” in black silk headscarf, thick-framed sunglasses and a vintage Maison Margiela trenchcoat I initially mistake for a dressing gown. “Like I’m playing a role of this person and you’re playing a role of that person and wouldn’t it be interesting if we both acknowledge it was a construct and went from there. Maybe it would be more pure and more true if we did that,” she continues before adding with a delicious cackle: “But then I think people were like, ‘Oh she’s a cunt’.”

Clark’s versatility in both her music and personal interactions can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. She has moved away from her earlier “asexual Pollyanna” image seen in her first two albums, Marry Me (2007) and Actor (2009), and instead has incorporated elements of art-rock, funk, electropop, psych, and 70s soul and glam in her more recent work, such as Daddy’s Home (2021). She has collaborated with various artists, including David Byrne on Love This Giant (2012), Taylor Swift on her hit single “Cruel Summer”, noise band Swans, up-and-coming pop star Olivia Rodrigo, and rapper Kid Cudi. Even during her teenage years in Dallas, Texas, she was able to transition from singing Jewel covers in high school bands to playing Sonic Youth-inspired music in her college band, Skull Fuckers. In addition, her latest singles have included covers of Nine Inch Nails’ “Piggy” and Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown”, the latter of which was featured on the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack.

Clark’s latest album, All Born Screaming, is her seventh and features a more stripped-down sound that leans more towards Nine Inch Nails than Minion-friendly. The album explores themes of decay, brutality, and loss, gradually transitioning from a raging, thrashing first half to a glimmer of hope in the second. “Death has a way of clarifying what truly matters,” says Clark. “The first half of the record delves into themes of destruction, death, and self-loathing, while the second half is a reminder to seize life and make the most of it.” Despite the heavy subject matter, Clark’s album is a powerful reminder to live life to the fullest.

Efforts to further explore the details of matters as serious as life and death are dismissed. The person adds, in a respectful but resolute manner, “I am not intentionally keeping information from you. However, we all cope with the loss of loved ones and the profound pain that comes with it. Therefore, I believe it is irrelevant who or what the songs are about because the emotions are relatable to everyone.”

Clark, who is often found lingering around the edges of her father’s influence (she appears to be truly amazed by the widespread popularity of Cruel Summer, even referring to it as a “phenomenon”), is not a supporter of the current focus on hidden messages in lyrics: “I don’t believe that songs are meant to be cryptic personal puzzles for listeners to decode. It’s for others now, not for me. I poured my heart into it, I adore it, it’s a reflection of my authentic self, but the details are irrelevant.”

After promoting her album Daddy’s Home, which reveals the effects of her father’s conviction for stock manipulation in 2010 (he was released in 2019), you may notice a slight bruising. Along with discussing her inspiration for the album, this led to some tense encounters with journalists. One interview was even canceled at Clark’s request after it was considered too aggressive. The album’s aesthetic, featuring Clark in a blonde wig imitating Warhol’s muse Candy Darling, took away from the music. Despite reaching high rankings in both America and the UK, Daddy’s Home seemed to be Clark’s first mistake.

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According to the artist, the album was a result of the chaotic time of the pandemic during which it was made. While other artists focused on small details of their lives, Clark took a broader approach by aiming to become someone her father would admire through her 70s-themed album. It was a personal attempt at finding healing and empowerment. She would rather have people be confused by her music than be uninterested.

“She describes her new album’s visual style as stark and contrasting, with fiery colors.” Taking a sip from a large mason jar, she adds, “I’m not trying to be overly cute with my handlebar mustache.” Then, with a mischievous smile, she shares a fun fact about herself: “I have a strong affinity for water and on a good day, I can finish five of these jars.”

While both Masseduction and Daddy’s Home had contributions from the ubiquitous producer Jack Antonoff, All Born Screaming marks the first St. Vincent album that Clark has personally produced. She explains, “There are certain places that can only be reached on your own.” She spent a lot of time in the studio by herself, experimenting and tweaking the controls until she found the perfect sound. She also mentions having “hours and hours and hours” of “industrial dance music, or weird jams” stored on her hard drive. I jokingly suggest that she could release it all in an expensive box set. She responds with a sly smile and a raised eyebrow, “Yes, can’t wait to just milk the fans.”


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Working by herself also meant she could pore over her vocals, likening her obsession with getting it just right to that of director David Fincher’s notorious fondness for doing endless takes. “Like nope, sing it again and again and again until there’s no bullshit,” she says. The album’s opening two songs, the Tori Amos-esque mood piece Hell Is Near and Reckless, which has its early fragility swallowed by stormy electronics, took ages to perfect.

“[Reckless]” had to be authentic and accurate, not just sung but genuinely felt. I sang it countless times and I refuse to have anyone else present in the studio while I did it. Absolutely not.” However, she did have some company in the studio. Dave Grohl, with whom she performed in 2014 for Nirvana’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, played drums on the fierce lead single “Broken Man” and the twisted desire of “Flea.” “Since our first jam session, I always hoped that we would have the opportunity to collaborate again,” Grohl shares with me via email. “She always takes you to a new place, and she does it with such power and grace. A total badass.”

Flea, I tell Clark, makes me think of flies feasting on a corpse. It’s gross, both lyrically and musically. Another raised eyebrow. “That’s you, and I’m so glad for your feelings and interpretation,” she says with a grin. “Gross is the right word. The anthems in my head growing up were ‘I’m a creep’, ‘I’m a loser’, and were in touch with a baseness that we all have.”

We recently discussed both of us reaching the age of 40, with the hope that she would have some wise words to share. “I’m not sure what you mean, since I’m only 27…” she chuckles. “I don’t really think about age in such a literal way because as a musician, you have the opportunity to remain youthful. Your job, especially in the studio, is to continue to play and dream, so I don’t feel cynical or worn down by experience. I’m excited.” As for her personal life, which she keeps a closely guarded secret, she is currently content and fulfilled. “All that truly matters is love and the people we love. That’s it. It’s the greatest thing and the only thing worth living for.” When asked if she is in love, she responds with a smile, “Of course, yes. I have found the greatest love of my life.”

One of the standout moments on the album is the lively track “Sweetest Fruit,” which begins with a tribute to the late electronic artist Sophie, who tragically passed away in 2021. It is evident that Clark struggles with whether or not to share the inspiration behind the song and even jokes about keeping it as a “fun Easter egg.” She expresses concern about the potential misinterpretation of her intentions and emphasizes that she was simply an admirer of Sophie’s work from a distance and never had the opportunity to meet. The inspiration for the song came from Sophie’s untimely death, which was a result of trying to catch a glimpse of the full moon. This act of chasing transcendence is both beautiful and poetic and serves as the thematic inspiration for “Sweetest Fruit.” In essence, the song celebrates those who take a risk and strive for something truly remarkable.

Clark’s pursuit of beauty in harsh situations can be felt throughout All Born Screaming. The track “Violent Times” has a reminiscent style of a sophisticated yet intoxicated James Bond theme, emphasized by a poignant lyric that captures Clark’s state in the year 2024. She clings onto love with a firm grip, refusing to let it slip away. The words, “All of the wasted nights fighting mortality / When in the ashes of Pompeii lovers discovered in an embrace for all eternity,” paint a picture of a couple preserved in the layers of ash from a volcanic eruption. While this may seem like a dark image, Clark sees it differently. To her, it is the epitome of romance. She explains, “I just think of it as the most romantic thing in the world.” I now picture a large black heart emoji replacing the thumbs up if it were possible. “It’s like the ultimate expression of love – two people embracing each other.”

The film, Born Screaming, will be available on April 26th.


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