“Can we talk Curb for a second?”
The catalyst for our call with St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) is a 2021 recap, surveying her mountain of accomplishments over the past year: releasing her sixth LP, Daddy’s Home; staging a U.S. tour and several festival spots, covering Metallica and remixing Paul McCartney, earning a Grammy nomination. But the art-pop maverick is most excited to discuss the social misadventures of Larry David.
“Here’s the thing,” she tells SPIN, her voice lighting up with excitement. “I know the premise is that, ‘Oh, Larry’s such an asshole,’ but I feel like I agree with him most of the time.”
As should any rational human being. And it makes sense, at least creatively, that Clark appreciates Curb Your Enthusiasm: The HBO comedy originally emerged from a sort of meta mockumentary special — a framework not dissimilar to her recent film The Nowhere Inn, a surreal project she co-wrote with good friend Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia).
“I didn’t want to manipulate people into liking me,” Clark says, detailing its evolution from a typical music documentary into something more experimental and Lynchian, exploring darker ideas about celebrity and identity. “In fact, the contrarian in both me and Carrie was like, ‘Let’s become incredibly unlikable. That’s more fun.'”
SPIN spoke to Clark about The Nowhere Inn, Daddy’s Home, her busy year — and, of course, Curb.
SPIN: It’s been a pretty hectic 12 months for you. Are you getting a minute to pause?
St. Vincent: It’s going good! Everybody’s kind of wrapping up for the year, I guess. I’m working on my studio, which is fun. Lots of plugging in cables.
How far along are you? And how did that come about?
I’m nearing the end of the process. I’m here for the “If you build it, they will come” kind of thing. I needed a space to work that was more customized to my own workflow, a place that would be inspiring and cozy and all the things. And also a place where other people could come. [Before] I had a place that was great for me to work but trickier to have other people come in because of the way the space was laid out. I hope I get to do more producing of other people — and producing myself and writing.
You recently earned a Grammy nod for Best Alternative Music Album. A lot of artists try to act too cool for these big ceremonies — people won’t attend the Grammys or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I get the impression, at least based on your Twitter feed, that you don’t feel that way. Do these awards feel validating?
I shudder to think what’s been on my Twitter feed. [Laughs.] [Editor’s note: just a tweet of some exclamation points.] The Grammys are not a popular vote. It’s a vote from people in the Recording Academy. It’s a vote from the engineers, the songwriters, the composers — not just the performers and the people you see onstage. It’s all the many craftspeople in my arena. It’s really cool that these same people who do a version of the same thing I do, and we’re all in this weird hustle together, are like, “We like it. We appreciate what you did. We respect it.”
All of your albums are kind of a departure from the one before, but Daddy’s Home is more of a left turn than usual. It’s been interesting to watch how critics have responded. And now that you’ve lived with the album for a while (and even toured behind it), how do you feel about it? Have you listened to it in a while?
I rarely go back and listen to any of my own records, but just a few days ago, for whatever reason, I was like, “Huh, I want to go back and listen to this.” I played some of the songs live but not all of them, and obviously, those evolved and were so fun to play. Also, I was wondering what choices I made. That’s what a record is: a series of decisions you make in the moment. The special thing is that they happen in that moment, and they aren’t the decisions you would have made two years ago or the decisions you’ll make in a year or 10 years. I went back and listened, and I love it. It’s like a cozy, beat-up, leather armchair of a record — it says, “Come in.” And that’s what I intended to make. I was approaching the whole thing with a generosity of spirit, whether that’s to myself or to others, and I think that’s beautiful. It’s hard to make something beautiful, and I think I made something beautiful. I’m glad.
I really enjoyed your version of “Sad But True.” Did you have much or any interaction with Metallica about your cover? How did that all shake out?
It was very cool of them to do. I’d gone to see them do their orchestral gig in San Francisco a couple of years ago and got to talk to [guitarist] Kirk [Hammett] and get to know him a little bit. He’s lovely. They just let me do my thing. It’s not like I had to send them spec demos and then they gave me a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. I just did it. It’s funny: As a guitar player, you think you know a solo — then you sit down and put it in your body and learn it, and you’re like, “Whoa, this phrasing is not instinctual to me. It’s very cool. Let me figure out how to do it.” So I did my version of the Kirk solo, and then I did what I would do — my own kind of version — in the second part. It was a lot of fun.
I recently watched this interview with Larry David, and he talked about how Curb Your Enthusiasm began as a documentary — like, “Let’s show him behind the scenes, and then it all builds to a comedy special.” But he thought that would be boring, so he fictionalized the behind-the-scenes stuff, essentially making it a sort of mockumentary. It reminded me of how The Nowhere Inn blurs the line between fiction and reality.
I think that’s really interesting. I wasn’t aware of that being how Curb came to life. But that’s one of the things that Carrie and I bumped up against when we were conceptualizing how to make a music movie. That was my original idea: “It’ll be a concert film, but Carrie can help me write little interstitials to tie it together because…my life is boring!” Not all the time. But we realized that the conceit of pretty much every documentary about a musician is “Hey, I’m just a normal person, but I also happen to be massively famous and successful.” There are all these tropes that they hit: They [might] have trouble finding love. They always go back home to where they came from, so there’s this jarring contrast.
We hit all these tropes, but we just did it in a scripted way because, ironically, it felt more authentic to script it than to take actual footage of me and construct a narrative around it. When you back up a few steps from that, you give people propaganda. [Laughs.] I’d have final cut of it. I wouldn’t let out things that I didn’t want people to see. So ultimately I’d be making a big propaganda promotional piece to make people like me. I was like, “Nah!” [Laughs.] One of those would have probably gone over way better. It would have been like, “Wow, she’s just really nice and normal,” which I actually happen to be! But that’s not art, I don’t think. We wanted to explore a bunch of other ideas. I didn’t want to manipulate people into liking me. In fact, the contrarian in both me and Carrie was like, “Let’s become incredibly unlikable. That’s more fun.”
It’s definitely more unique!
Also, can we talk Curb for a second? I’m obsessed with [Sofia Maria] on Curb. She just makes the craziest acting choices in the whole world. [Laughs.] She’s so good at being so bad at acting. [Larry] had a good piece in the New Yorker — “Notes for His Biographer.” Check that out. And here’s the thing: I know the premise is that, “Oh, Larry’s such an asshole,” but I feel like I agree with him most of the time.
Same, at least 90% of the time.
Absolutely. The handshake thing alone — I think, if my history is correct, we used to shake hands to be like, “Hey, I’m not armed. I’m not gonna hurt you. Let’s meet in the middle to prove that neither of us are armed.” In today’s world, it’s just a filthy, filthy thing to do.
Moving away from handshakes is one of the only pandemic-era developments I can get behind.
I’m so for it. But hey, listen: I was wiping down airplane seats with Lysol long before the pandemic. I’d like that to be clear.
This is random, but I recently listened to Love This Giant, your collaborative 2012 album with David Byrne, for the first time in forever. I’d forgotten how great it is. Have you talked about doing another one?
That’s one of those experiences and tours where I genuinely wish there was a break in the space-time continuum and I could go back and relive it. It was so much fun. We haven’t talked about doing any other things, but I did [recently] get to have lunch with him, and he’s just the best. I haven’t listened to that record in a long time.
Besides touring, what do you have planned for next year? Any idea what the next sonic move might be?
Usually, the music will tell me what’s next — I just follow the threads. I don’t mean to be so opaque, but you can think you’re going to do one thing and then…You start at A and end at Q. But I’m always working and collecting — kind of like being a bowerbird or something.