Published Aug 09, 2018"I used to have friends whose biggest fear was to be misunderstood," reflects Annie Clark. "Who cares? What's so great about being understood? Maybe it's great to be enjoyed, and maybe it's not about you anyway."
The singer-guitarist, professionally known as St. Vincent, says this between sips of unsweetened iced tea in a Toronto hotel restaurant, and it cuts to the heart of what makes her such a compelling and inscrutable force. Between her wildly unpredictable catalogue and her futuristic aesthetic, she's difficult to pin down, and happy to keep it that way.
"I think it's good to be polarizing," she says of her radical artistic choices. "I would rather have someone love it and somebody hate it than people just collectively shrug their shoulders."
Part of what makes Clark such an enigmatic, fascinating figure is that she's notoriously cynical about press: when she released her 2017 album, MASSEDUCTION, she mocked journalists' vapid questions by pre-emptively issuing a series of clichéd stock answers. It's not so much that she's cagey — rather, she thinks that her personal life is irrelevant to the enjoyment of her music.
"To me, as a listener, personally I don't care what Tom Waits was going through," she reflects. "The emotion of it resonates all the same. I don't know who Joni Mitchell was seeing when she wrote Hejira. I know how it moves me, and that's the important thing."
She may consider her personal life to be beside the point, but it's easy to see why fans' fascination with St. Vincent extends beyond the music. She's a wildly talented polymath who has dabbled in film directing, is the face of a Tiffany & Co. campaign, and who has been romantically linked to Cara Delevingne and Kristen Stewart.
When I meet up with Clark, she exudes a quiet, magnetic charisma. She's dressed in an oversized purple trench coat (despite it being the middle of summer) and enormous sunglasses (because it's the middle of summer), bearing a distinct resemblance to Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. She's friendly and quick to laugh, although she speaks carefully and with long pauses.
So what does Clark think of the tabloids that pry into her private life and the sleuths who analyze her lyrics for clues about her relationships? "I mean, with affection, that I don't care," she says with a light chuckle." I'm going to try to make music that moves me and is honest, but it's storytelling. It's what we do for a living — we tell stories."
Ultimately, she's only interested in following wherever her musical whims takes her, resulting in an eclectic catalogue full of intriguing contradictions. She's arguably the best guitarist of her generation, and yet she rarely flaunts her virtuosic chops, preferring to play tightly controlled robo riffs with occasional bursts of violent noise.
Some of her best songs are her starkly emotional ballads — like the tender "New York" from MASSEDUCTION or the aching "I Prefer Your Love" from 2014's St. Vincent — but much of her catalogue is skronky and loud. She initially made her mark with ornate chamber pop, but more recent records have ventured into glitzy art-pop.
Her output has become increasingly diverse: she recently issued an official remix of Maroon 5 and Cardi B's "Girls Like You"; she is directing a Lionsgate adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray; and she tells me that she is currently working on producing albums. It's too early for her to reveal for whom, but she tells me "it's a real childhood dream come true."
You can read interviews and analyze lyrics to attempt to understand the mysterious woman behind these many endeavours, but you won't get closer to knowing her as a person. No mater how big Clark's star gets, St. Vincent still feels like the same pet project that she launched more than a decade ago. "I always feel kind of insular," she reflects. "It always starts with music and then just builds from there. It feels very close, still."