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"To say one of the corniest things you can say about an artist, [Clark] is a storyteller," says Ann Powers. "I am always curious to follow where her songs go, because they go farther than most by current artists in terms of creating worlds. . . . It takes the listener outside of herself, and I think that makes us less interested in Annie's personal details, too; we want to go on the trip she's charting, which is about dreaming and thinking big, not getting stuck in autobiography."
"As St. Vincent, Annie has very much done this seemingly impossible thing of getting over the women-in-rock hump by being bulletproof; it's allowed a post-gender freedom," says Rookie music editor and frequent Voice contributor Jessica Hopper. Hopper has interviewed Clark (often the subject of agape "women in rock" trendpieces) many times since 2007. "And I think, in some regards, that was her mission: not to be the exception but to be the new rule."
Everything you ever need to know about Annie Clark, the artist reckons in an email a week later from Europe, is already being sung by St. Vincent.
"There is so much autobiography contained within the songs that I don't see the need to deflate them with the mundane," she writes. "I'm not very interested in the 'behind-the-scenes' sacrifices at the altar of the god of content."
Not that there's much room in Clark's schedule for a personal life even if she did want to spill her guts. Twelve-hour practices, all-day photo shoots, days of national and international press, and, presumably, sleep seemingly dominate her life. (Our two-hour conversation will be the only time we'll be able to meet.) It's been this way since at least 2011, she says, when she embarked on the Strange Mercy tour. From there, it was straight into Love This Giant and that tour; throughout that year and a half, she picked up the "experiences, images, ideas, and people" that became St. Vincent and came to life in longtime producer John Congleton's studio back home in Dallas in the fall of 2013. If it were up to her — and for the most part, it is — this is how life would be all the time: consume art, make art, discuss art, perform art, repeat ad infinitum.
"I used to think, at some point, there would be one day when I would learn how to be a well-adjusted person with a home," she says. (Her New York apartment, she says, is full of "deeply uncomfortable, horrifying art" — it's the only thing she likes about it.) "But then I made peace with the fact that I'm not interested in that. I'm not excluding it for the future, but [right now] I would rather be making records."
And at the moment, with a new label, different resources, solid sales (by the end of 2011, Strange Mercy had sold over 50,000 copies), and the potential for massive visibility (she's now been on the Colbert Report twice, and has appeared on Gossip Girl, Comedy Central's @Midnight, and friend Carrie Brownstein's Portlandia), she's gearing up to be able to do that for a long time — far longer than many of her '00s indie-rock compatriots, anyway.
"To come from the world she's come from and to be able to make four albums is almost unheard of nowadays," says Adam Farrell, creative director at Loma Vista. Though now a part of her new label home, Farrell has worked with St. Vincent since her debut, formerly as vice president of creative and marketing at Beggars Group. "Annie fits perfectly with what we are trying to do as a record label. [She] is a unique talent and a vanguard across art and culture."
What's more, Farrell says, Clark understands what her success means to the people who see her succeed.
"She's inspiring to anyone, women and men both, and she knows that," he says. "My seven-year-old daughter is obsessed with her. She saw the photos we took out in L.A. and, from that point on, called her the 'rock-star lady Daddy works with.'"
"The first conversation I ever had with Annie, when I was potentially interested in becoming her agent, was the first of a series of very long phone calls that were absolutely a joy," says David "Boche" Viecelli, president of indie touring agency Billions and senior partner at Lever and Beam, Clark's management company. Boche, like Farrell, has also worked with the guitarist from the beginning. "She was so intelligent and expressive and inquisitive and everything about it just struck me as, 'This is the kind of artist I want to work with.' Now I think she's learned what to pare away as unimportant and what to emphasize as the absolute essence of what she does."
For her fourth album cycle (fifth, if you count Love This Giant) she's wielding that essence and the power that's come from boiling it down in a new way: to create a "stylized," "intentional," and "heavily referenced" experience that's far more incisive than ever before. (Don't call it her Ziggy Stardust, though; "I think it's cohesive but I wouldn't call it a concept album," she says.) Perhaps in part thanks to her work with Byrne, she's intentionally left most of her "orchestral" instrumentals behind, in favor of more angular guitar and synth distortions.
It annoys me when people say dumb things on the internet about subjects that they know little about.
Why should they feel shame in giving her a plug? She's actually an incredibly talented songwriter, musician, and performer.