For Annie Clark, be­ing a pop su­per­star just isn’t enough. She re­veals her plans for world dom­i­na­tion.

Q (UK) - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy: Colin Lane

We are liv­ing through the first flush of what in the fu­ture will be known as The Era Of ST. VIN­CENT. NIALL DOHERT Y steps out into the cold of the Mid­west with Annie Erin Clark to hear how her al­ter ego re­designed pop and per­for­mance in her own im­age, and has de­signs on the film and art worlds in mo­tion too. “I got all that shit done,” she says. “Did all of it.”

One day back in March, Annie Clark stood on Sev­enth Av­enue in New York and con­sid­ered walk­ing into the near­est emer­gency depart­ment. The cre­ative dy­namo be­hind St. Vin­cent was near­ing com­ple­tion of her new al­bum at the same time as writ­ing one film and pitch­ing two oth­ers. She was also over­see­ing an art in­stal­la­tion and had videos to shoot and con­cepts to come up with. Ev­ery­where she looked, dead­lines loomed and, now, in the mid­dle of one of the busiest streets in one of the busiest cities, she was hav­ing a mon­strous panic at­tack. But Clark didn’t go to hos­pi­tal that day. She did what she al­ways does: she took a deep breath and made a plan.

The thing the 35- year-old Texan is best at is get­ting things done. She knows how to make things hap­pen. Clark has spent much of her life feel­ing shy and ner­vous, but over the course of her ca­reer, she has learnt to take charge. She likes mak­ing de­ci­sions be­cause it al­le­vi­ates the stress and anx­i­ety of not hav­ing a plan. “I fuck­ing got all of that shit done,” Clark says now, eight months later. “I got through it. I got all of it done. Did all of it.” In­di­anapo­lis, Novem­ber 2017. The sec­ond big­gest city in the Mid­west is an ur­ban sprawl of anony­mous blocks that stretch into the dis­tance, with a strik­ing mon­u­ment and some big ho­tels in the mid­dle of it and not much else. It’s for this rea­son that the Old Na­tional Cen­tre sticks out. A venue sit­u­ated in the Down­town area, it be­longs to the Mu­rat Shriners of the An­cient Ara­bic Or­der of the No­bles of the Mys­tic Shrine, a freema­son or­gan­i­sa­tion who recog­nised that, even in the late 1800s, In­di­anapo­lis needed some­thing. It’s now a venue and tonight it’s play­ing host to St. Vin­cent’s Fear The Fu­ture tour, a run of dates named af­ter one of the tracks from Masse­duc­tion, her ex­cel­lent fifth al­bum. Clark has ap­peared in many eye­pop­pingly flam­boy­ant out­fits over the past year or so, wear­ing thigh-high leather boots and a cone bra with duct tape over the nip­ples while per­form­ing on Ellen, join­ing Judi Dench and Ken­neth Branagh on Graham Nor­ton’s sofa while wear­ing a PVC bunny out­fit and dress­ing up as a toi­let for a show in New York in 2016. Deep within the bow­els of the Egyp­tian Room, an 1800- ca­pac­ity venue inside the Old Na­tional The­atre, though, she’s curled up on a sofa in her dress­ing room in her py­ja­mas, eat­ing from a bunch of red grapes big­ger than her head. “It’s so big, it’s heavy. I’m gonna eat it like a Ro­man,” she says, cran­ing it above her, pick­ing at them with her mouth. Masse­duc­tion feels like a cul­mi­na­tion for Clark, the main­stream break­through her decade-long solo ca­reer has been shim­my­ing to­wards. Each of her records has been a leap for­ward and 2014’ s Grammy Award­win­ning self-ti­tled fourth sug­gested she could be a gen­uine star. Masse­duc­tion is her most ac­ces­si­ble al­bum yet, fold­ing the ex­per­i­men­tal­ist in­die quirks of her early work into so­phis­ti­cated and catchy twisted pop. She’s like a cross be­tween Prince, Lady Gaga and PJ Har­vey, an arch con­cep­tu­al­ist who knows that if the idea is good, the songs have to be bet­ter. The al­bum’s cen­tre­piece track New York, ei­ther about her ex-girl­friend Cara Delev­ingne, or David Bowie dy­ing, or a friend mov­ing away from the city, or all three, is one of those songs whose warm, melan­cholic fa­mil­iar­ity makes it feel like it’s been around for­ever. Like Lorde, Clark is em­blem­atic of a new wave of artists for whom there are no bound­aries. Clark can cut it with the fusty old rock­ers (she’s ap­peared on­stage with Pearl Jam, stood in for Kurt Cobain when Nir­vana were in­ducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and made an al­bum with David Byrne), the fusty new rock­ers (she’s col­lab­o­rated with The Na­tional and Bon Iver, and used to be in Suf­jan Stevens’s back­ing band) at the same time as be­ing one of the faces of Tiffany’s ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign and cu­rat­ing House Of Peroni, a pop-up art in­stal­la­tion in New York. Her he­roes aren’t the usual roll call of rock or pop icons, but French-Amer­i­can artist Louise Bour­geois and in­flu­en­tial chore­og­ra­phers Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa de Keers­maeker.

Clark is on the road on her own at the mo­ment. The cur­rent show, which fea­tures her singing and play­ing along to a back­ing track in front of sleek vi­su­als, re­quires no band and so her long-serv­ing group are sit­ting this stint out. They will be back in the spring for the sec­ond leg of shows. Clark misses them but has more than enough to keep her oc­cu­pied. On the road, she wakes up at 9am, trawls through her emails, heads out to get cof­fee, and then gets to work, plan­ning out “all the lit­tle mil­lion things to do.” The show is be­ing re­fined from day-to-day. When that’s done, Clark puts her di­rec­tor hat on and con­tin­ues her notes on the script for The Pic­ture Of Do­rian Gray, her first fea­ture film. It will star a fe­male pro­tag­o­nist and it’s be­ing writ­ten by David Burke, a screen­writer who has worked with Paul Ver­ho­even. Clark co-wrote and di­rected her first film, a hor­ror short called The Birth­day Party, last year and loved it. Di­rect­ing is about vi­sion, she says. “It’s about hav­ing ideas. If you have ideas, you can fig­ure out how to make it hap­pen.” She says film-mak­ing and mu­sic are about team­work and as­sem­bling great peo­ple around you. “It’s know­ing when to push your ideas and in­sist on them be­ing ex­actly so and know­ing when to let re­ally tal­ented peo­ple run with it,” she says. Clark has no mis­giv­ings about en­ter­ing an in­dus­try en­gulfed in sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals. She bris­tles at the men­tion of it. “You mean, am I wor­ried some­one is go­ing to mas­tur­bate in front of me?” she snaps. “I’m the fuckin’ di­rec­tor, man. I’m the di­rec­tor. Act­ing is a re­ally tricky pro­fes­sion be­cause it only ex­ists in re­la­tion to other peo­ple. The dy­namic for ac­tors of­ten­times is be­ing de­pen­dent on peo­ple to give you a job and

with preda­tory peo­ple in places of power, look­ing at peo­ple who are de­pen­dent on them for work, it makes it eas­ier for preda­tory peo­ple to prey. But I want to di­rect, and usu­ally it’s di­rec­tors ex­ploit­ing peo­ple.” She says all the peo­ple she’s met in the film in­dus­try are in­tel­li­gent and not sleazy. She can’t imag­ine a time where she would make films and not make mu­sic, though. “I’d never not do mu­sic,” she says. “I have to. It’s like when you walk around and you’re like, ‘Why am I so an­gry to­day? Oh, I haven’t come in three days’ or what­ever. I have the same thing about mu­sic.” Also keep­ing her busy on the road are her “sound­check par­ties”. These in­ti­mate mee­tand-greets with fans en­tail a short acous­tic per­for­mance and a chat af­ter­wards. Clark loves do­ing them as much as do­ing the gig. “I’ve never done any­thing like that be­fore,” she says. “It’s a nice counter-point to the very stylised na­ture of the show.” Clark wanted to per­son­ally in­ter­act with peo­ple and find out how they’re feel­ing “be­cause the state of the world is so in­sane.” She says that peo­ple are very raw but there are “ker­nels of hope.” It’s been en­light­en­ing for her to see how broad her crowd is. “It’s dudes in their 60s to 15- year-old girls to, like, ev­ery­one in-be­tween. It’s re­ally rad.” She’s de­signed her own cock­tail, The Slow Disco, for the oc­ca­sion. It’s her take on Ranch Wa­ter, a drink orig­i­nat­ing from west Texas, sil­ver te­quila mixed with Topo Chico, chile para fru­tas and lime. But Clark doesn’t par­take her­self. She has a shot of te­quila be­fore show­time but she can’t “throw down”. There’s too much to do. “I’m on­stage for two and a half hours a day, so it’s not like a thing I can af­ford to be hun­gover for,” she says. She does Pi­lates ev­ery day. “I’m in a pink bunny suit,” she says. “I gotta keep that shit tight.”

Clark is a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter but it takes time to ad­just to be­ing in her ether. She’s friendly and funny – her hu­mour is of­ten de­liv­ered like it’s in a noughties in­die film – but there are a se­ries of quirks and traits to nav­i­gate be­fore you feel to­tally at ease. There are the “ah-a”’s, the “uh-uh”’s, the “aaah­h­h­h­h­hhh”’s, the voice that can lower it­self to a whis­per. She is ex­cru­ci­at­ingly fine with long si­lences as she pon­ders to her­self. You could go off and make a casse­role in the time it takes her to an­swer some ques­tions and she of­ten screws up her face as she’s think­ing, like some­one’s in there tweak­ing her brain with a screw­driver. She doesn’t have a Texas ac­cent in the way Bri­tish peo­ple imag­ine that ev­ery­one who’s from there should speak, like they’re chew­ing gravel. In­stead, she of­ten sounds oddly an­gli­cised. She has a lovely, wel­com­ing laugh, and can be steely, soft, eru­dite and filthy. Her favourite joke is “what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween jam and jelly? I can’t jelly my dick down your throat.” Clark has three modes, turn­ing from one to the next de­pend­ing on what’s go­ing on at the time. There’s Monas­tic Mode, the her­mit-like ex­is­tence she went into to make Masse­duc­tion, which in­volved record­ing, tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion ev­ery morn­ing, Pi­lates, lots of cof­fee, and not much else. Do­ing “TM” changed Clark’s life, she says, and a lot of the best ideas for the al­bum hap­pened as she was med­i­tat­ing. “It’s re­ally cre­atively gen­er­a­tive,” she says. “I was also able to deal with my life emo­tion­ally a bit bet­ter and keep my head on.” Then there’s Ath­lete Mode, her cur­rent set­ting. “It’s reg­i­mented and func­tional,” she says. “I’ll talk to you, I’ll do a bunch of other shit, get my record­ing rig set up, ex­er­cise. Dur dur dur!” she says, map­ping it out with her hands. Af­ter Ath­lete Mode comes the most dan­ger­ous, and fun-sound­ing, mode. “Once you start to go a bit stir crazy and you get tired of ath­lete style, there’s Ma­nia Mode, where you’re look­ing for “some dis­trac­tion… give me a party, give me some­thing seedy, some­thing I can do that’s a re­bel­lion. Those are the three modes: let’s go bananas, let’s be an ath­lete, or get thee to a nun­nery.” She isn’t in a re­la­tion­ship at the mo­ment, and isn’t the sort of per­son who feels like she needs to be in one when she’s not. “Some peo­ple are like, ‘Oh, I re­ally want a part­ner,’ but I don’t,” she says. The thing that ir­ri­tates Clark the most is “when peo­ple are in that line where in­de­ci­sive­ness meets in­ef­fec­tive­ness. It drives me crazy.” Re­cently, there was some­one in the tour crew who did not meet her high stan­dards. “I can’t stand it when peo­ple’s first in­stinct is to say, ‘Nooo, I don’t think that’s pos­si­ble,’” she says. “He drove me crazy and I fired him.” Pity the tech­ni­cian or en­gi­neer who talks down to her. “Some­times you walk into a sit­u­a­tion with new en­gi­neers and peo­ple will treat you as if you don’t know what you’re talk­ing about, like a pat on the head, ‘Oh, poor thing, she doesn’t know what she wants.’ That, I can­not abide. I evis­cer­ate peo­ple who do that.” You have been warned. Now, though, it’s time for her af­ter­noon Pi­lates and, de­spite the kind of­fer to join in, there’s a bar round the cor­ner that is more suited to our present mode.

Head over heels: the sleeve for this year’s Masse­duc­tion al­bum.

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