St. Vincent "Cruel"
Annie Clark isn't one to look back in her art.
"I find nostalgia cynical," says Clark. "It assumes the best happened in the past."
Clark, who performs under the name St. Vincent, is definitely part of the future. Her songs and arrangements blend elements of several eras, but remain very modern. With three albums under her belt, including 2011's "Strange Mercy," Clark seems to gain depth and earn a larger audience with each release.
Clark grew up in Tulsa, Okla., and says the first piece of music that had an impact on her was Traffic's "Low Spark of High Heel Boys," which she first heard at the age of 5 when her parents were driving back from the beach.
"It was an eight-hour trip and I made them listen to it on repeat over and over," says Clark.
She began learning guitar at an early age. Musical proficiency runs in the family; Clark is the niece of Tuck Andress, guitarist in the duo Tuck and Patti.
"From the time I started playing guitar I wanted to be a (working) musician," says Clark. "And it helped to have Tuck and Patti in my life to know that to be a musician was possible. It wasn't just a pie-in-the-sky kind of dream."
After graduating high school Clark enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston but left before graduating. She followed that by joining the group Polyphonic Spree.
Clark says her tenure with that act was fun.
"It was more like a rock summer camp. I got to be 22, tour and do all the festivals in Europe ... and I was also playing so many St. Vincent shows in between. It's kind of a distant, fond memory now."
As her St. Vincent career was taking off, she also performed in Sufjan Stevens' band. However, when her debut album, "Marry Me," was released in 2007, St. Vincent became a full-time gig.
She says a music career today does not involve just "waiting to be discovered."
"It's not one lucky break. It's like any career, just years of concerted effort. Not everybody gets to have a career. A lot of talented people will never be heard, and that's unfortunate. And some people who really aren't that great are very successful. It's a particularly strange business. It's not necessarily a meritocracy, but very few things actually are. But that's OK. I feel very lucky that I get to do it. I don't know what else I would do if I didn't do it. I didn't have a Plan B ... I guess in some ways it is, if you put it on paper, it does sound kind of dreamy: 'I don't have a college education, but I'm a successful small business owner.'"
She considers her slow, steady career to be asset.
"I've had the chance to develop as an artist. My first record didn't take off to the point that I was playing to more people than I could entertain or suddenly having to play games at radio and there's no, 'Oh, her best work is behind her.'"
She says it isn't just the music of others that informs her own music.
"I tend to think about music in visual terms," she says. "I use film a lot."
Clark began her most recent album with a song called 'Chloe in the Afternoon,' inspired by the film of the same name by director Eric Rohmer.
While she seems happier to play her new work, Clark recognizes that fans are attached to her older material.
"There are certain songs on my first album that I still like to play live. Others are like historical markers," says Clark. "But it's not about you and your feelings when it comes time to perform a show. You play for other people and it's about how those people feel about those songs and use them in their lives."
As for her own future, Clark says she isn't one to set lofty goals.
"I have a one-day-at-a-time approach. That's how I kind of think about making records, too. It's not some grand overreaching theme that I'm trying to get at, but rather making little micro-decisions. I don't set goals on things I have no control over. Like, I wouldn't say 'I'm going to be at the top of the Billboard chart or have a No. 1 hit. That's not really where I'd be anyway. I'm on tour right now, and you do the best show you can tonight and do another the next night."
She's also been working with former Talking Heads leader David Byrne on a new album.
"David is always lovely and looking toward the future of music. He's never a person who thinks the past is the best era."
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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