St. Vincent Breaks Down Her Most Iconic Songs

Annie Clark, also know by her stage name, 'St. Vincent' shares how she started making music and breaks down some of her most iconic tracks.

Released on 1/22/2019

Transcript

00:00
The name St. Vincent is a reference
00:01
to a Nick Cave song where he says,
00:04
And Dylan Thomas died drunk at St. Vincent's hospital.
00:07
And I was like, ugh, sounds about right.
00:10
[Surgeon by St. Vincent]
00:14
Surgeon.
00:16
Surgeon is a song I wrote that references
00:20
Marilyn Monroe's diary.
00:22
In it she was talking about Lee Strasberg,
00:25
her acting coach.
00:26
She wrote, Best, finest surgeon Lee Strasberg
00:31
come cut me open.
00:33
And I was, like, wow that's great.
00:34
The solo at the end is not a guitar.
00:37
It's a synth played by my friend Bobby Sparks.
00:40
And he just, like, ripped that solo.
00:42
And then live I learned the solo
00:45
and I would play a variation of it every night.
00:49
Cruel. [Cruel by St. Vincent]
00:51
During the making of the Cruel music video
00:54
I was buried up to here in dirt
00:55
and then there were these massive walls
01:00
that were covered in dirt and trees
01:02
and all this stuff.
01:04
But I had to be on a pulley and a lever system.
01:08
So, there were these giant walls of mud and trees,
01:13
like three sided box.
01:15
And then another piece here
01:18
that was also covered in dirt and all that.
01:22
And then it had a little cutout for where my head would go.
01:25
But at the end of the shoot, the special effects makeup girl
01:29
asked if she could take the walls home.
01:33
I was like, whoa.
01:34
I've still, I'm so curious
01:37
to know what she did with those walls.
01:39
I think they smelled like cow manure.
01:41
[New York by St. Vincent]
01:43
New York.
01:44
The song New York is, I took the inspiration
01:48
from when I was just walking around
01:50
my East Village neighborhood.
01:51
You know, you live so much life in New York
01:52
and you live so much like, life in like
01:55
these very small blocks
01:57
and these kind of routes that you take every day.
02:00
I was thinking those things
02:02
and I was thinking about a friend
02:03
who had moved out of New York and had moved away.
02:06
And I Just texted him, like,
02:07
New York isn't New York without you.
02:10
And then I was like, huh, hmm,
02:13
maybe we'll squirrel that away for a song.
02:16
And that was the kind of, genesis of it.
02:18
You grow so much when you think about
02:21
who you've been in this tiny amount of space.
02:28
It's sweet.
02:28
Your living with the ghosts of yourself.
02:30
And of all your heroes.
02:33
Smoking Section.
02:34
[Smoking Section by St. Vincent]
02:37
Real pop banger, that one.
02:39
I started writing Smoking Section
02:42
on a ferry from Sweden to Poland.
02:46
Now, who goes from Sweden to Poland do you think?
02:48
Not people vacationing, I can assure you that much.
02:53
It was all, like, truckers.
02:54
Like, kind of, burly polish truckers on this cruise.
02:59
I was kind of walking around.
03:02
I saw, oh they have a spa.
03:04
Great, I'll, you know, I could use a massage.
03:06
And so, I go in and it was clearly, like,
03:10
not like a traditional massage parlor.
03:14
I think that it was more like a, for the truckers,
03:20
you know what I'm saying?
03:21
I came in completely oblivious.
03:22
And this woman just proceeded to, like,
03:24
look at me kind of confoundedly.
03:26
And then pinch me for about 30 minutes,
03:29
just like this, kind of like.
03:31
Like, okay this is a very bizarre experience.
03:34
So, I was like, well I guess I'm gonna go hide in my room
03:39
and avoid the sort of, like, leering
03:42
of increasingly drunk truckers.
03:45
So, I started writing those lyrics, which are deeply sad.
03:49
Los Ageless. [Los Ageless by St. Vincent]
03:52
They call Las Vegas, like, lost wages, I think.
03:59
Or maybe they just do it in a Steely Dan song.
04:01
But Los Ageless looked right to me.
04:06
And felt like it captured a certain aspect of this city.
04:11
The Peter Pan quality I think
04:12
that a lot of people who live here have
04:14
and certainly, like, a fear of getting older.
04:18
A fear of decay.
04:20
For that song for me I was always just picturing like,
04:25
a wave that kept building and building and building
04:27
and just never broke.
04:29
And like the kind of people,
04:30
like salty kind of characters you meet.
04:32
The person who never wrote that memoir.
04:39
But wants to tell you all about it.
04:41
Just broken dreams and decay.
04:48
But it's a love song.
04:50
My aunt and uncle are a jazz duo called Tuck & Patti.
04:52
They're wonderful.
04:54
And I had them come down to my studio
04:56
and just play around for a few days.
04:59
And I had my aunt singing on the,
05:03
How could anybody have you.
05:05
she does a great line there
05:06
and my uncle's just kind of riffin' all over it.
05:09
It's very cool.
05:10
[Interviewer] So you grew up in a very musical family?
05:12
No. No?
05:13
No.
05:14
I mean, my sisters like to sing.
05:16
And we would, like, go on car trips
05:19
and my mom and my sisters and I would all
05:21
sing and harmonize.
05:22
But nobody, like, did it past kind of
05:26
casual or choir in school.
05:30
I learned all kinds of things, technical and esoteric.
05:34
They played me John Coltrane's Love Supreme
05:36
for the first time.
05:37
I mean, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing
05:41
if they hadn't truly showed me how.
05:43
And kicked my ass frankly.
05:46
Pills.
05:47
[Pills by St. Vincent]
05:50
Cara is singing the pills line.
05:53
She sang, The pills to wake, the pills to sleep.
05:55
Yeah, I needed, like, a very posh British voice.
05:59
I tried my friend Kate who's Welsh.
06:01
And that was really nice but a little too serious.
06:04
And then Cara ended up singing it
06:06
and it was great.
06:07
It doesn't remind me of The Real Slim Shady
06:10
but I love that song and I love the kind of
06:13
Willy Wonka Land aspect of it.
06:18
And it's nice to kind of have this
06:19
like, nursery rhyme feeling and on top of it
06:22
you're saying some like really dark shit.
06:24
Like, I need help, you know?
06:28
That I was kind of definitely going back to old Eminem
06:34
when I was thinking about that song.
06:35
Mm hm.
06:36
What's it like working with Sounwave?
06:37
He's great.
06:37
He's such a great dude.
06:38
Yeah, we've done a couple things.
06:41
He kinda came over before they had finished
06:44
Kendrick's DAMN.
06:45
And I was just like playing a bunch of guitar riffs
06:48
and we were just kind of vibing
06:49
and seeing if anything was interesting.
06:53
And then I heard, dun dun, Humble.
07:01
And I was like, I got so excited
07:03
and I thought maybe that's my guitar.
07:04
And I texted him and he was, like,
07:06
No, sorry that was our tech Brian.
07:08
I was like, dammit!
07:10
Dammit, I was so close.
07:13
Hang On Me.
07:14
[Hang On Me by St. Vincent]
07:18
Hang On Me was a song that on Mass Seduction
07:23
I kind of couldn't figure out
07:25
what sonic space it was supposed to live in.
07:27
There was something that felt endemic about the
07:31
[Annie singing notes]
07:34
like, that it could be a big like rock kind of song.
07:38
But it just never like, I tried to kind of cram it
07:41
in that space and it just was, like, nah.
07:44
No, sorry.
07:45
So, that one ended up being small and intimate
07:49
on Mass Seduction.
07:51
And then same with on the Piano album.
07:54
Everything on the Piano album
07:55
just gets like 45% sadder.
07:58
I spent so long working on the songs for Mass Seduction
08:02
and I just wanted to get to live in them
08:07
in a way that had nothing to do with my guitar,
08:10
had nothing to do with production or anything
08:14
and just like sing them and play them live.
08:19
It was like, it was a way of, like,
08:21
closing the chapter for me on Mass Seduction.
08:27
It was solidifying them in this really sweet and small way.
08:33
Happy Birthday, Johnny.
08:34
[Happy Birthday, Johnny by St. Vincent]
08:39
There's like a Johnny trilogy at this point.
08:42
'cause there's a Marry Me, John on my first record
08:44
and then there's a Prince Johnny
08:46
on the St. Vincent self titled one.
08:49
And then there's Happy Birthday, Johnny on this one.
08:54
This song is, you know, I think everybody has
08:56
like that person.
08:57
They simultaneously, like
09:02
just completely fill you with joy
09:03
and then also completely break your heart in so many ways.
09:09
And that's the Johnny character for me.
09:12
He's like lovable, troubled, like lost soul.
09:18
Savior.
09:19
[Savior by St. Vincent]
09:24
[Annie singing]
09:29
That I wrote when I was 16.
09:31
I was listening to a lot of,
09:34
I would, like, listen to Billie Holiday
09:35
and I had a little Karaoke kind of machine
09:38
and I would just practice her licks and her runs.
09:41
That was, that
09:46
melody was kind of born of
09:49
trying to follow along to Billie.
09:52
The song had tension and it needed release.
09:55
And I was like, oh yeah, what about Please
09:58
from, you know, X number of years ago?
10:01
And it just fit perfectly into the narrative
10:06
and was the release that the verses and frees needed.
10:12
Slow Disco.
10:13
[Slow Disco by St. Vincent]
10:19
The first version of Slow Disco
10:22
was the kind of pretty string version
10:25
that's on the Mass Seduction record.
10:29
And then I recorded the soft, pretty version
10:32
on the Piano record.
10:33
Oddly enough it was Taylor Swift
10:37
who works with Jack Antonoff all the time and said,
10:41
Jack, please you guys gotta make
10:43
a pop version of that song.
10:45
So, we did.
10:47
And it yeah.
10:47
'Cause I always felt like that song
10:49
it could just wear a lot of different suits
10:51
and still be solid.
10:53
So, we did three versions of it.
10:55
Very postmodern.
10:56
Look out Kanye.
10:58
[Interviewer] Do you have any song that, like,
11:00
you've written or any particular song
11:01
that stands out to you as your favorite?
11:03
I'm really proud of the color palette
11:06
on this song called The Bed.
11:08
It was not a top 10 hit.
11:10
I can assure you.
11:12
It's probably one of the darkest in my catalog.
11:15
But I'm really proud of the composition.
11:19
It's really, like, pastel and pretty.
11:23
I think that was the most, like,
11:25
Debussy I ever went.
11:29
Not comparing myself to Debussy, I mean,
11:30
just some of the colors are similar.
11:33
I start anywhere I can.
11:35
Sometimes it's a lyric, you know, song like
11:38
Happy Birthday, Johnny was, that was just a,
11:40
like a shirt story pretty much.
11:43
It didn't have a melody at first.
11:45
And other songs come from really technical ways
11:50
like, you know, converting a bunch of MIDI notes
11:53
and tweaking them and then running them through synths
11:56
and then, you know, kinda going like,
11:58
what would Skinny Puppy do or what, you know?
12:00
It's like there's a lot of ways to get into,
12:03
get into a song.
12:04
And then sometimes it's melodies.
12:06
I guess I sing in my sleep.
12:08
And so, I'll wake up with melodies in my head
12:11
and just record them really quickly
12:12
and then go back through
12:14
and they just suggest words
12:17
and then you just kind of put it all together.
12:19
Really you're just looking for a thread.