Mon panier

0 Articles dans votre panier

St. Vincent

With her literate, emotionally intricate songwriting and inventive guitar playing, St. Vincent has become an unapologetic force in rock and pop. She introduced her genre-blending abilities on 2007’s ‘Marry Me,’ and has gone on to achieve a rare balance of critical and commercial success. In this episode, we speak to St. Vincent about her experience tour-managing as a teenager, her intense focus on making good art, her songwriting process, and much more.

LISTEN:
SHARE:

Transcript

Evan Ball
Hello, I'm Evan Ball. Welcome to Striking A Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. Today I'll be speaking with critically acclaimed, Grammy winning, super artist St. Vincent. We're going to talk about her formative experience tour managing and roadie-ing for her aunt and uncle when she was just a teenager and other events that led her to where she is today. She discusses how her career has been driven by staying focused on making good art. Other topics include her influences, how to properly roll a cable, songwriting and more. So without further ado, I present guitarist, songwriter, director, actor, designer, producer, and probably much more Annie Clark, AKA St. Vincent.

Evan Ball
Annie Clark, welcome to the podcast.

Annie Clark:
Thank you.

Evan Ball
So when did you start playing guitar?

Annie Clark:
I started playing guitar when I was 12. I played violin first, but I found that I was just trying to learn like Peter Frampton songs on violin. I was like, "Oh, maybe I'll just go straight to the source instead of trying to play rock songs on violin."

Evan Ball
What drew you in more? Was it the guitar itself or the prospect of the guitar as a tool to be a singer songwriter guitar player?

Annie Clark:
I think it was the sound of the guitar and the power and everybody has that sort of lightning bolt moment when they hear Jimi Hendrix for the first time, they're like, "Wow, this is lightning in a bottle. I want to be involved in whatever is making this sound."

Evan Ball
Was singing songwriting part of the vision early on?

Annie Clark:
Always, yeah. I started writing songs right when I started playing guitar. I would go to my local guitar shop and take lessons and everything from a really, really sweet guy who's since passed away, this guy named Tommy Hyatt who was a great guitar player. And I would go and learn songs that I liked, but kind of halfway through learning the songs, whenever I would take my tablature back home, I would just start making up my own things. So it was just instant.

Evan Ball
Yeah. Would you perform as a kid?

Annie Clark:
I did. Oh God, recently a friend of mine sent me something I did at the ninth grade talent show. I remember, I think it was eighth grade talent show, I played bass in a kind of hard rock cover band and we did Back In Black for the eighth grade talent show. So yeah, I would perform.

Evan Ball
Yeah, okay.

Annie Clark:
Yeah, sheepishly of course, at first.

Evan Ball
Yeah. All right. So you mentioned Jimi Hendrix. I want to fact check Wikipedia real quick, it cites the movie La Bamba as a big influence.

Annie Clark:
Oh, that's right. what? Yeah, I think about it, so it's like music is so... it's inextractable as a part of my life. It's just so in there that, yes in fact, I saw La Bamba when I was five and begged my mother to buy me this little cheap plastic red guitar that looked like the Ritchie Valens Strat from Target and it took a lot of trying and we didn't have any money, but she saved up that $20 and bought me that guitar. I remember thinking it was the most expensive gift I'd ever heard of.

Evan Ball
Pretty early on, did you know that you wanted to make this a career, your livelihood?

Annie Clark:
It's funny, I don't think I'm particularly great at the idea of career. I have a smart brain, but not necessarily a brain that is calculating. And again, I don't mean calculating in a bad way, but I'm not calculating in the way that probably-

Evan Ball
You have a master plan [crosstalk 00:03:56].

Annie Clark:
Yeah, probably that way more successful people are, frankly. I was just like, "I'm going to do this thing that I love, but I'm going to give it my all. And slowly but surely, one thing will lead to another thing will lead to another thing." And that's kind of how I've always approached it. And I think in some ways that my heart and my actual attention is always about just trying to make the best record, make the best movie, I just made a movie, just make the best things that I possibly can. I think if I was smarter, I would have a lot more stock options or whatever the fuck people do. But I'm an artist first.

Evan Ball
One thing I came across, Tuck & Patti.

Annie Clark:
Yeah.

Evan Ball
So Tuck is your uncle, is that right?

Annie Clark:
Tuck is my uncle. He's my mom's brother and Patty's my aunt. They've been married for, oh man, like 30, 40 years, something like that. When I turned about 15 or 16 they saw that I was obsessed with guitar and obsessed with music and they wanted to show me what it was like to be on the road. So I went with them to Japan as their tour manager/roadie and-

Evan Ball
Wait, how old were you here?

Annie Clark:
15 or 16, it's thrilling to go to a place that was so culturally different and see the world and get a sense that the world is massive and you too can travel the world and meet people and do this thing that you love. There's an example laid out for it. And my job was real, every time we got to new hotels, I'd have to go in and test all the equipment after every flight and make sure that it was all good, because my uncle's a genius, he just is, he's got a real engineering brain. So I would go in whatever club we were at, I would test the power to make sure the voltage was right to make sure that the pedal board would the right amount of power. He's very fastidious. I think honestly, one of the best things I learned, he taught me how to roll a cable the correct way.

Evan Ball
Very practical.

Annie Clark:
He taught me how to roll a cable the correct way and I feel so grateful for that.

Evan Ball
So what is the key to properly rolling a cable?

Annie Clark:
Any sound engineer at a club who picks up a cable and starts rolling it over their forearm and bicep just should be spanked. The way to roll a cable is you hold it but it's not just making the loop, you also have to twist at the top so that while you're doing the larger loops so that when you roll them out again, they don't get all spaghetti.

Annie Clark:
They really got me thinking about EQ and reverb and all the kind of stuff that to have a language for that, especially when you're talking to two engineers or you're trying to talk to somebody and explain to them what kind of sound you're after, knowing what you're talking about, it just makes things easier. It just makes the process faster is all.

Evan Ball
How great you had that experience early on and you were undeterred by road life. You were maybe encouraged?

Annie Clark:
I loved it. I loved it. I toured again with them in my, what it would've been, I was 19 or 20, something like that, and did a European tour with them where my aunt tells the story of me being so tired that I asked them if it was okay if I took a nap on the floor of the Milan airport. I would never think of touching an airport floor now with my head, but I learned that it's hard work and I loved that about it. I still do, but I spent all of my twenties and most of the first part of my thirties on the road. So I'm a road dog.

Evan Ball
Well that's amazing. Yeah. Early on in high school I was in a duo where I played guitar and I had a female vocalist. So Tuck & Patti were on our radar. I remember he's such an amazing guitar player.

Annie Clark:
He's crazy. It's unbelievable.

Evan Ball
Okay. So you went to Berklee College of Music. What do you see as the benefits of formally studying music? And also, I think you left early, so maybe were there things that bothered you about it too?

Annie Clark:
Again, I think it's nice to have a vocabulary. It's nice to know what a minor six chord is. It's nice to know what an augmented whatever flat nine chord. That I find helpful. With few exception, none of my favorite musicians and artists went to music school. With the exception of Donald Fagan or I know I'm missing people.

Evan Ball
So what were your goals going into the school?

Annie Clark:
Well, I thought I wanted to be a musician, so I thought, "Okay, this will be, I'll get to go and really specialize." But frankly, as an artist, I'm coming into this strange period of life where I do a lot of other things that are artistic but that aren't necessarily sitting in a room and shedding on guitar, it's like I do creative direction and design and write movies and shit.

Annie Clark:
So my point in that isn't to be self aggrandizing, it's just to say that most of my inspiration from music doesn't really even come from music. It's a funny thing. Berklee's a very... it's very much a jazz school or at least it certainly started that way, and there was lot of threads of that when I was there. I love jazz, but I don't want to be a bebop guitar player. I couldn't if I tried, that's not-

Evan Ball
So was guitar your focus at the school.

Annie Clark:
Yeah, I was a guitar major. Yeah. But I got very low marks.

Evan Ball
Really?

Annie Clark:
Yeah. Totally. I got super low marks. But I don't know, I think there's technicians and athletes and I think there's artists and sometimes they meet up and sometimes tremendous skill meets tremendous artistry and that can become transcendent. And then I sometimes think that there's a lot of amazing technicians, but who don't necessarily move me to hear them play.

Evan Ball
Right. Yeah. So your music is a mix of electronic instruments and good old fashioned guitar and drums.

Annie Clark:
It's everything, yeah.

Evan Ball
What does your writing process look like? Are you more likely to start a song on a guitar or maybe on a computer with electronic instruments?

Annie Clark:
I just start really anywhere. I'm lucky enough to where melodies just sort of come to me walking down the street or waking up from a dream and you just have made something in your head and you just rush to capture it. To me, now more than ever, I think that the things that last, at least in the genre of music with lyrics, the things that really last are songs and great songs and things that move people's hearts. And that's really my focus now is just writing the kind of songs that people will still want to hear in 30 years, the stuff that that might outlive some of the extra noise.

Annie Clark:
So I start anywhere. Honestly, I've written some of my favorite things on an app in my phone. If you have ears anything can happen. I'll start a song on a modular synth and go, "Okay cool. I tweaked around for three hours and got some really rad loop," and then go, "Actually that would be cooler on guitar. I'm going to transpose it to guitar." It's just most of, I think, my better guitar parts started as melodies that I heard first and then figured out how to play.

Evan Ball
Do you prefer writing music or lyrics? Maybe not prefer. Does one come easier to you, writing music or lyrics?

Annie Clark:
Frankly, and again I'm not being self aggrandizing, it's just I could write music all day long. You can be really, really generative. But I think that having the marriage of music and a lyric that means something and at least has a real focus and a cohesion, that's the holy trinity and having something to say or being able to say that thing in some kind of way that's poignant and interesting, that's the thing that truly just takes a lot of time. That takes a lot of the effort. I could write music, I could churn out shit all day, and in fact I just scored a film and that's basically what I did. Just like, "Okay, this has the logic of water. This doesn't have to be a chorus that you want to hear three times or whatever it is." I'm like, "Okay, well." I don't know that I necessarily have a natural talent for film scoring, it's very tedious, but making things.

Evan Ball
Yeah. Are there things that you look back on and say, "If this didn't happen, my life would look completely different"? Maybe it's a connection you made early on or a decision.

Annie Clark:
There are a lot of things. I think if I hadn't had someone so close in my family who did music, I wouldn't have known that you could just do that, really do it. It would have, I think, seemed really elusive or pie in the sky. I think if I hadn't dropped out of Berklee when I did and gone with my tail between my legs back to Texas and lived with my mom in my childhood bedroom at the exact time when The Polyphonic Spree was touring and were looking for other members, I wouldn't have gotten that opportunity to play in The Spree. And then I wouldn't have met Sufjan Stevens and then I wouldn't have opened for him and toured for them. And if that hadn't happened, I wouldn't have gotten signed while I was on tour with him. And then if I hadn't gotten signed to a good label that was right for me at the time and who was supportive of I got to just...

Annie Clark:
I've always just made whatever I wanted. If I hadn't had that first record out, I wouldn't have played a show in New York where David Byrne was and gotten to meet him and become close with him and make a record with him. And then I wouldn't have toured. It's a lot-

Evan Ball
Good old butterfly effect. That's how it goes.

Annie Clark:
Yeah, it really is. But also, I had maybe 18 hours notice between, "Hey Annie, they're looking for new members. You should come and try out for The Polyphonic Spree." If I hadn't sat there and shedded all the songs and known everything and every B-side and walked into that place prepared, I wouldn't have gotten the opportunities.

Evan Ball
All right, let's take a quick break and then come back and talk about some of your music.

Speaker 4:
Have you heard about Ernie Ball's new Slinky sets? Introducing Primo Slinky, Ultra Slinky, Mega Slinky, Burly Slinky, and Mammoth Slinky electric guitar strings. Find your perfect gauge. Maybe it's Primo Slinky with a 9.5 on the high E and a 44 on the low E. Or maybe you're a drop tuner, check out Mammoth Slinky, the 12 to 62 set. Ernie Ball's got Slinkys for everybody. Learn more by visiting ernieball.com or your favorite guitar retailer. Get yours today.

Evan Ball
Looking back at the albums you've done, do you have a favorite?

Annie Clark:
I don't know that I have a favorite. I think there's certain things on each record that I'm really proud of. And again, it's always a funny thing where a lot of times your favorite moments as an artist in no way coincide with other people's favorites. I look back on a record like Actor, which was my second record, which I guess came out 10 years ago now, which is crazy, but I'm really proud of the arrangements on it, like, "Oh, those are really beautiful." I look back on some of the songs on my last record and go, "Oh, that's the best song I've ever written to date."

Evan Ball
Anything that jumps out?

Annie Clark:
I think New York's a great song. I think that's a moving piece, there's hardly any guitars on it except for some pretty swells in the background. Or Smoking Section, I'm fond of that song quite a bit. Happy Birthday Johnny is a really solid song. Yeah, I don't know. But again, those are more songs with a capital S than I think anything I'd done before.

Evan Ball
So Jack Antonoff, you've written with him, you guys shared a Grammy for Masseduction. What does that look like, your co-writing process with him? Is there a separation of duties or how do you guys co-write?

Annie Clark:
No. And it's funny, it's funny too because co-writing is such an interesting thing and it's a funny thing because you see people's names, but you never really know what if that was 95% or 5% or whatever. And I've been on every single side of that in writing with other people. No, Jack is just a... he's such a wonderful guy and I really think he gets the best out of people and is such a songs guy.

Annie Clark:
There would just be little things, I think his contribution to New York was... I had those verses and everything and I was like, "God, I don't know, maybe it should just be a tight little song. I don't know what a chorus would be." And he sent it back with these really pretty chorus chords and I was like, "Oh wait, I have a melody from another song that I think could really work well and this other lyric," and put those things together. And then other times it's an all-in just amorphous process. I would just say the process is alive and however you get there, you get there. And not to be afraid of going down different rabbit holes because the worst that happens is you don't like it and you come back.

Evan Ball
How about co-writing with Taylor Swift? Cruel Summer. Is it a remote process?

Annie Clark:
No, I was in the room.

Evan Ball
Is it like a music/lyrics split or is it all-

Annie Clark:
No. On that one, yeah, I'd worked on that track with Jack first and then Taylor was really excited about it and wrote a bunch of stuff to it and it turned out great. I love that song. It's very loose in this way. It's not some Elton John, I'm so spacing on his writing partner's name. I'm so sorry. But it's not where Elton writes the music and that dude writes lyrics. It's just-

Evan Ball
Yeah, definitely more of an open process. Cool. Well, so you've collaborated with a lot of people, anyone you're collaborating with now or plan to in the future?

Annie Clark:
Yeah. What am I doing? I produced a Sleater Kinney record, which is so fun. I've been produced another record that I think maybe will come out next year. Yeah, I'm doing some creative direction for people who I adore and shit again that'll come out next year.

Evan Ball
Are you working on a new album right now?

Annie Clark:
Yep.

Evan Ball
Yeah. Any plans for release? Is it far out?

Annie Clark:
Nothing. No, nothing concrete that I can... But yeah, I'm always writing.

Evan Ball
No breaking news right now?

Annie Clark:
No, no. I'm never not doing something. And I actually find that the more you're doing, the more the ideas get to cross pollinate and open up and you would think, "You just have to do one thing." I think that's true for a certain amount of time, you have to be good at one thing. But a lot of the skills and a lot of the ideas can be transferable and transposable and really generative.

Evan Ball
Yeah. So aside from music, what do you like to do? I know you're busy, very busy, movies and-

Annie Clark:
No. I love making things and that's kind of all I do. It's kind of all they do. And luckily I get to do it in a lot of different facets, so it never gets tedious. I went on one vacation recently, I went to Berlin and the first thing I did was go to the Stasi prison, now defunct, but go see a bunch of art.

Evan Ball
Do you get to sightsee when you're touring?

Annie Clark:
No, not really. Not really. I had been to Berlin a lot of times and never done anything.

Evan Ball
Do you want to pursue movies further? Is this something that you think will be a big part of your future?

Annie Clark:
I acted in this movie for the first time.

Evan Ball
What is it called?

Annie Clark:
Oh no, I can't talk about that. Sorry. But I did make a movie. But I've also directed a couple of things, way more way more recently directed. And to be honest with you, I prefer being behind the camera. I think you have more agency and creative control and everything like that. I did like acting, but I can see why it makes people crazy people. It makes people deeply body dysmorphic, you have to look at yourself and realize like, "Oh fuck. I didn't realize that's how I talked or I didn't realize that from that angle, this is what... " You totally understand why people-

Evan Ball
Yeah, you're under a microscope that normal people are not.

Annie Clark:
Yeah. It's like fuck. But so I like it, but it's more painful to the ego, I think, than being behind the camera.

Evan Ball
Who have been some of your favorite bands or artists through through time?

Annie Clark:
Oh geez. I mean, I'm pretty catholic with a little C in my taste. I mean, one day I might just throw on War and really just vibe to War. Kendrick Lamar, Joni Mitchell.

Evan Ball
Are there some growing up that you can think of?

Annie Clark:
Oh, growing up. Yeah, Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Kate Bush and Tori Amos and Stereolab and the list kind of does go on forever. John Coltrane, I was really into Miles and Billie and Ella, Steely Dan I love forever, Hendrix.

Evan Ball
Would it be possible for you to pick three albums that'd be your favorite or most influential?

Annie Clark:
It's funny, there's a difference between a record that can be the most influential and records that you've listened to the most. I specifically remember hearing A Love Supreme for the first time and feeling that transcendence. I specifically remember hearing Talk Talk Spirit Of Eden for the first time and just going so, so deep. And that's not a record I've listened to 7 million times. It's like you put this on and it's your religious experience. So it's hard, there's a quantity and then there's a depth, I've probably listened to Steely Dan more than any other band in my life and people will have a lot of strong feelings about that one way or the other. I realized they're divisive and I love that music. But when I think about stuff that has moved my heart in ways that are just shattering, I think of Joni and I think of Leonard Cohen, I think of Nick Cave, I think of writers who explain to you the things that you have always felt but never had words for.

Evan Ball
Right. So you have a fantastic signature, Ernie Ball Music Man guitar. How did that come about?

Annie Clark:
Well, I came up to San Luis Obispo to see the factory probably four and a half years now.

Evan Ball
So were you already playing strings? There's a relationship there?

Annie Clark:
Oh, I've been playing the strings for my whole life. My uncle plays those strings and it was just like, "Obviously I'm going to play Ernie Balls." They gave me an Albert Lee signature series, which was so cool and I'd never seen anything like it. I love the angularity of it. I really just fell in love with that guitar. And then they reached out and said, "Why don't you come on up to the factory and see and let's talk about maybe doing something together." Sterling flew me up in the plane and we just chatted and he really just reminds me of family, just funny and engaging and the whole Ball family is just a joy and it sounds like the catch phrase of the Olive Garden or something, but it's like, "When you're here, you're family." And I feel so happy to be part of the family.

Annie Clark:
So came up here and what the signature St. Vincent guitar ended up being was actually something based on an original sketch I did just riffing on ideas and then with all the expertise and resources here, we just refined, refined, refined until it was like, "This is rad. Other people should have the ability to play this because this is rad. This is everything that in my whatever, however many years, 20-plus years of playing guitar." But more than that, like decade-plus more of being a touring artist, these are the things that I want in a guitar that other guitars don't have all in one package.

Evan Ball
So you brought that body shape over, roughly?

Annie Clark:
Yeah, it was, based on initial sketch. I love those old Teisco Japanese guitars and I love the Ks from the '60s, those kind of just angular bodies. I was coming from a place of obviously already having some favorites.

Evan Ball
Yeah, such a cool shape. We were talking earlier how it's deceptively comfortable too.

Annie Clark:
It's really comfortable. Yeah, it's really comfortable. Everything about it's very ergonomic. It's not heavy, you're not going to have to go to the chiropractor all the time.

Evan Ball
No way. Annie Clark, thanks for being on the podcast.

Annie Clark:
Yeah, thank you.

Evan Ball
Thanks for tuning in to Striking a Chord and big thanks to Annie Clark for being on the show. If you're enjoying the podcast, why not take a few seconds to give us a review? No pressure. As always, you can reach us at strikingachord@ernieball.com.

Annie Clark:
As much as so much of the culture and the mythmaking is about propping up one person and saying, "This person is the heralded genius" or something, really I think so much of the battle and the excitement is the teamwork, whether that teamwork means you and one other person or you and a hundred other people. It's like you might be the captain, but everybody's rowing the ship in their own particular way.

We use technologies, such as cookies, to customize content and advertising, to provide social media features and to analyze traffic to the site. We also share information about your use of our site with our trusted social media, advertising, and analytics partners. You indicate your consent to this use by clicking “I Agree” or by continuing to use this website. View details.