St Vincent's fourth album is designed to be played live, writes Lydia Jenkin.
Annie Clark is a formidable musical talent. Not that she's anything but lovely, chatting from New York on a brief stop home - she's articulate, thoughtful, and appreciative - but her output as St Vincent is undeniably impressive, and just became even more so with the release of her fourth (self-titled) solo album this week.
She drew plenty of accolades for St Mercy, released in 2011, and even more international attention for her collaborative album with David Byrne, entitled Love This Giant, released in 2012, but instead of taking a break when she returned from 18 months of touring, she started on a new record immediately.
"I was really inspired by playing the Love This Giant shows because the audience would get up and dance. When the collective consciousness of a room decides that their bodies are all compelled to move at the same time, that's like a whole new level of human connectivity.
"So I approached this record with the idea of wanting it to be danceable and I almost sort of reverse engineered the writing of the record, in that I was thinking about what would make a great live show, and what would be really fun to play for an audience."
She's been called a 21st-century Jimi Hendrix, so unique are her talents on guitar, and yet Clark's abilities with a huge array of electronic instruments, and of course her compelling voice, leave her with a wide array of sonic choices. But she knew this time around, the groove "had to be paramount". That didn't necessarily mean writing with a formula though.
"The more I play music, the more it is totally mysterious to me," she laughs. "I really demo-ed very extensively before I went into the studio, making sure songs weren't just skeletons, that they had a heartbeat too, but to be perfectly honest, I imagine it might be something like how people can kind of forget pregnancy or childbirth, you know, all of a sudden this thing exists that didn't exist before."
One thing she is sure of is that spending time both on and off the road with Byrne helped her to jump straight into writing with no hesitation.
"David is a very fearless person and I became more fearless, I think, by proxy. I approached this record with a lot of confidence in general; it's a more extroverted record I think, like holding out your hand and wanting to connect with people instead of just looking inward."
Indeed the album's brilliant blend of funky and crunchy, groovy and fuzzy seems to hold nothing back, celebrating as much of Clark's inner world as we've heard. It defies genres and traditional song structures, yet all 12 tracks could be considered pop songs, albeit pop songs that juxtapose beautiful melodies and effervescent rhythms with sometimes quite grim and visceral imagery, or even a disturbingly dark view of humanity. "A party record that you could play at a funeral" she has called it.
"The harsh with the beautiful, the macabre with the funny, that's just natural to me I guess. It takes some time to craft and figure out what the right balance is, to make sure it doesn't feel like pastiche, and to give it a heart. But it is just what comes out."
The live show will have a similar feel for Clark.
"It's very well-considered; we've thought about it a lot, and it will be a very live energy show. Not completely choreographed or anything, but definitely there will be movement involved, hopefully from the audience, too."
New Zealand tour dates have yet to be announced, but Clark hopes to return here after her Northern Hemisphere commitments.
Who: St Vincent aka Annie Clark
What: New album, St Vincent