Ten minutes with St. Vincent

St. Vincent has earned her stripes as a polymath. The multi-instrumentalist and singer, née Annie Clark, has released four albums—not including her collaborative album with the Talking Heads’ David Byrne—and won a Grammy for her 2014 self-titled release. She also made her filmmaking debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival with her short The Birthday Party as part of the XX horror film anthology, and is now directing a female-led adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

One week before the release of her highly anticipated fifth album Masseduction (out tomorrow, October 13th), Clark designed and curated the second annual U.S. installment of House of Peroni. The three-day installation—inspired by the Italian Memphis design movement—featured work by choreographer Annie B. Parson, artist Robert Montgomery, set designer Lauren Machen, and David Byrne, among others. Interview caught up with the musician-turned-curator prior to the exhibition’s opening, in a room complete with fanciful cloud-painted walls. Asked what inspired her to curate the installation, Clark explained, “It just seemed like such a fun opportunity to combine a lot of people from various disciplines,” adding that it was opportunity to “showcase how talented my friends are.”

NATALIA BARR: You said that the show pulls from the surrealism of Fellini, and you just released a series of film vignettes with Carrie Brownstein a few weeks ago. Is surrealism something that resonates with you?

ST. VINCENT: I think the Memphis stuff definitely has an absurdist sense of humor and a playfulness and whimsy. I don’t know that I would classify that as surreal. The stuff I did with Carrie was certainly playful, maybe a little bit more like Dada, or something. It’s nice to dig into that aesthetic.

BARR: I loved those vignettes, in addition to the mock press conference you did on Facebook for your album. I’m kind of answering my own question by asking this, but how have these videos about the press impacted your actual interviews?

ST. VINCENT: People are afraid of me now, which I have to be honest, I don’t wholeheartedly dislike. [laughs] I’m kind of into it.

BARR: The title of your new record is Masseduction, and in that mock press conference, you described the record is, at its core, about love. How are the seduction, referenced in your album’s title, and love related?

ST. VINCENT: The seduction part references the kind of forces in people or in nature that can swallow you whole, that are standing just outside the reach of the black hole. When I say the album is about love, I just mean that seduction, power, all that stuff, are the things we kind of reach for when what we’re really looking for is love.

BARR: In your New Yorker profile, you said the record is about “sex, drugs, and sadness.” Which comes first; the sex and drugs, or the sadness?

ST. VINCENT: Right, chicken or the egg. It’s probably just a continuum. [laughs] It’s probably just a circle.

BARR: You’ve said that you did not listen to any music except your own in the process of writing this album. In that case, where does the inspiration for your new music come from, if not from other music?

ST. VINCENT: I don’t know. I just wake up with melodies in my head. I just feel like sometimes one of those people in the machine, where they pump dollar bills into it and they let the wind blow it around. I feel like just a person desperately grabbing for the ideas, because they’re in the ether, and I’m trying to hold onto them.

BARR: You worked with Jack Antonoff on this album, who has become known for giving artists like Taylor Swift and Lorde more of a “pop” sound. Is that a direction you felt like he was leading you towards?

ST. VINCENT: No, my decision to work with Jack Antonoff was emotional and instinctual. We sat down, we had dinner, we told each other everything that was going on in each other’s lives, and then I just knew that he was the right person to be a partner with, to bring these songs across the finish line.

BARR: Do you think his signature 80’s pop sounds influenced Masseduction all?

ST VINCENT: Well, there’s no LinnDrum. But yeah, his heart is in the ’80s in a lot of ways, but I don’t think it sounds nostalgic. I just think there are certain things that we reference that are from those years that we were first hearing music, because we were both born in the ’80s.

BARR: You have several collaborations taking place on this record, like the indie-pop singer Jenny Lewis and Kamasi Washington. How did those collaborations come to fruition?

ST. VINCENT: Kamasi I am such a fan of; his record The Epic and I love the stuff he did on Kendrick [Lamar’s] To Pimp A Butterfly. Also, I have a soft spot in my heart for jazz, because my aunt and uncle are jazz musicians. Not that I ever tried to have the chops to be a jazz player, but it’s a big part of the formative music for me. He’s our Sonny Rollins, he’s one of our greats. Anyway, I had him over to the studio and he just laid down an incredible solo. Jenny Lewis, she’s my bro. She was just living at my studio for a minute. It was all pretty organic.

BARR: What can fans expect from your tour?

ST. VINCENT: It’s adventurous, I would say. There’s a narrative to it, and it traces my artistic trajectory from the very early days to now. There’s a story that unfolds in chronological order.