Annie Clark is done with personas.

Though she still intends on keeping the St. Vincent moniker, the indie rock darling has become recognized for her colorful ensemble of characters throughout most of her career –– with each personality adopting a carefully crafted image, both in sound and imagery that is tailored to whatever record she’s working on at the moment. 

Just two years ago, we had the New York vixen ‘Candy Darling’ embodying the glitz, glamour, and grime of 70s New York, while 2017 had the sleek, latex-bound dominatrix pop star persona that critiqued modern pop art as we know it. Perhaps even more significant is that of her most theatrical to date –– which was 2014’s alien cult leader personification, recognized for the outlandish get-up, complete with dyed, frazzled hair, together with wacky clothing choices that still looked absolutely chic.

But even with more than ten years of adopting such distinct personas, it seems as if Clark is finally doing away with this tried-and-tested methodology of hers. For her recently released record, All Born Screaming, the multi-Grammy Award winner has embraced new looks, new sounds, and new roles that ultimately feel a lot more authentic to who she is these days. 

As I meet up with Clark, she’s coming off a performance high from her ‘secret’ show in preparation for her ‘All Born Screaming’ Tour in support of the record. With a sort of exasperation and relief to her candor, she tells me all about how excited she is to get back on the road.

“Yeah, I’d probably say I’m gearing up. I played one warm-up show last Saturday night at The Paramount [here] in LA, which was so much fun. It’s been some time since I’ve played live, but it really is an experience, isn’t it?” she mentions.

st. vincent

Photographed by Alex Da Corte

With her renowned status as one of the greatest living guitarists, I ask her about how she plans on adapting the record to the live setting – considering the many intricacies of the record’s instrumental techniques. “There’s obviously going to be a lot of guitar live [for this tour],” she jokes. “But my approach to the guitar is that while it always happens, it also has to be purposeful in serving the song.”

Clark adds, “Sometimes, my guitarist ego wrestles with my songwriter and producer mind. Then I realize –– oh, actually, this song doesn’t need guitar! And that’s absolutely one of the hardest things to come to as a guitar player, because you are so tempted to put it on everything. But sometimes [you realize], the song just doesn’t need a guitar.” 

“What matters most is that you make sure that you’re never getting in the way of the emotion of the song,” she says.

Such sentiments are evident in the final result of her latest record, which channels an entirety of emotions into one glorious, if cathartic, body of work. As it grapples with themes of death, loss, and the mortality of human nature, Clark’s musings demonstrate a raw, and unfiltered perspective on such topics –– which vastly differs from the other projects in her discography.

“I just write my life with every record. I write about exactly what’s going on [around me] and my world, yet sometimes I’m writing through the lens of a different identity and persona — but I’m not doing that on this record,” she tells me.

With All Born Screaming’s ten tracks, it features Clark at her most vulnerable and direct, even foregoing the use of any stylized character as the vehicle for her songs to come through. “This record is really just sort of raw and emotional and about trying to unpack the idea of identity. It has this sort of this idea that the human condition is very complicated and fraught –– yet still filled with both beauty and brutality,” she mentions. 

In translating such thoughts into the music, Clark finds herself questioning just how exactly she can put such existentialism into words. “Like how do I talk about that honestly? It’s kind of like the record is black and white and all the colors in a fire all at once –– because that’s exactly what the nature of life is.” 

st. vincent all born screaming

Photographed by Alex Da Corte

She recognizes just how familiar the struggle has been for other songwriters aside from herself, even pointing out; “As songwriters and artists, sometimes [we’re] writing about the same things over and over again. Yet you realize it’s like we wouldn’t have to write about them if we had figured them out already.”

“Right now, with this one, it’s really about life and death, you know? I realized that we’re either alive or we’re dead. And there’s not a big in-between, unfortunately. So if we’re alive, we have to really live our life to the fullest –– because life is very short. And I’m kind of very aware of that more so now than ever before.”

Amidst the timing of everything going on in the world and its post-pandemic landscape, Clark notes how such realizations have brought forth a willingness to speak them into the existence of her work. “I think there’s kind of an urgency to this record, and also with the feeling to accept life’s nature as both beautiful and brutal at the same time. But also that we’re all in it together. And that’s something that gets lost a lot within our culture and in our lives, realizing that this crazy existence involves all of us,” she states.

Yet aside from that, embracing this candid nature and form of authenticity without the guise of a persona aren’t the only new aspects to her approach with this album. In fact, All Born Screaming also marks the first release under her newly-formed record label, Total Pleasure Records, and the first project to be solely produced by Clark herself.

“I always like to think of my work as very DIY in a certain way. I’ve had amazing collaborators in the past, but I’ve always kind of done things myself. Whether it’s putting together bands, tours, or the records themselves, I look at it like you have to maintain control over your creative life.”

Helming Total Pleasure Records since its inception is a dream come true for Clark, as she mentions how launching her own label gives her (and her music) an independence of its own –– allowing her the room to experiment and try new things out however way she wants them. 

“Total Pleasure means total creative freedom for me, and really being able to find my voice as a producer to go deeper as an artist into my own work. That’s something that has always been the goal for me and is something that I’d love to continue exploring further,” the 41-year-old singer mentions.

As Clark moves towards this evolution, she recognizes the ways in which her process has changed and adapted to the challenges imposed by her newfound freedom –– including the roles that come with it. “This is the first time that I built a real studio, and it’s so different from what I’ve been used to. I’ve been recording myself in my bedroom since I was 14, But in this case, I built a real place to work, one that would sound really authentic to what I was trying to do here.”

“I even took engineering lessons from my [mixing] engineer!”, she quips. ”I really tried to hone in on my craft, like, okay –– what is my sound as a producer? I already know that I have a sound as a songwriter, as a guitar player, and as a singer. But what do I sound like as a producer? So it’s what I needed to find out with this record.”

She discusses upon how taking on that role has led to a newfound awareness that pairs well with the themes running throughout the record. “The past number of years that were lost, it’s something that we’ve all collectively gone through. Just grief and loss –– and I think that is quite clarifying in many ways, because it puts into focus all that really matters in life. To cast out anything that isn’t essential, basically kicking out anything that isn’t needed.”

“So in that same spirit of acknowledging which is essential, that’s what I kept going for the record. Whether it was from a lyrical standpoint, a sonic standpoint, or an arrangement standpoint, I [as a producer] made it fit as if only that which is essential gets to stay.”

st. vincent all born screaming

Photographed by Alex Da Corte

Judging by the final result of the record, it’s evident that Clark made the right choices as both the artist and producer –– given its glimmering praise and universal acclaim from critics all over the world. With some even touting it as her best record to date, it’s inevitable that the world is looking forward to whatever’s up next for Clark’s career as St. Vincent.

Yet for Clark herself, she isn’t quite sure as to where she’s headed or just how far she’ll go beyond what she’s accomplished with this record. “You know, I think that music is infinitely smarter than I am,” she tells me.

“Anytime I try and say, oh the next thing I’m going to do is going to be this –– I’m wrong because the music, if you listen to it intently, you show up for it, and you honor it, will be the one telling you what it wants to be and who it is.”

Speaking on it as if it were a living, breathing thing of its own, she divulges further upon her fascination with music as its own entity, even exclaiming; “It’s like a child that already has a personality, and you just have to make sure that you don’t mess it up. And that’s the truth about music for me.” “I personally have no idea where the music will go, but that’s the most exciting part for me,” she adds with a laugh.

st. vincent all born screaming

Photographed by Alex Da Corte

As the fresh notes and sounds of All Born Screaming continue to resonate with more listeners worldwide, Clark’s decision to forego the use of personas or characters in crafting the album becomes increasingly evident. She presents her authentic self, stripped of any veils or masks, inviting her audience to connect directly with her music on a personal level. 

Whether it’s the emotional release she intended it to be, or the fresh sonic exploration of the progressive and industrial rock genres that others may immerse themselves in, it’s up to anyone’s interpretation as to what they’ll find in her latest body of work –– just as she intended.

“Everybody comes to a different realization with art. The beauty of music is that everybody comes at it, and brings their whole self –– with whatever role you play to it,” she states.

“If you bring your whole self to it as an artist, then the audience will bring their whole self to it. It gets to live on with its intention, and [also] what it means to them. And it gets to be as specific to their life as it was to mine in the making of it. So truly, I hope it gives them whatever they need when they hear it.”

Listen to St. Vincent’s seventh studio album All Born Screaming in its full glory below: