Musician Annie Clark, who records and performs under the name St. Vincent, joins Chicago-based writer Jessica Hopper in conversation about David Bowie’s influence on her work as a songwriter and performer.
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Jessica Hopper: So in the exhibit there's this green jacket. It's sort of in the first room. Has everyone here been to the exhibit or just show of hands? Clapping works. Ok. So there's this jacket that Bowie wore in one of his early bands as a teenager that he meticulously hand painted stripes on. He clearly had an idea of what a rock star looked like. Do you ever remember doing something like that and who was the performer that gave you the template for what a rock star looked and acted like?
St. Vincent: I do remember doing something like that.
Jessica Hopper: Can you tell us what it is?
St. Vincent: My execution of it was less graceful than David Bowie's. But I was 18 and I was playing in an original band in Dallas, Texas and we got a gig at a place called Mable Peabody's Chainsaw Repair.
Jessica Hopper: You're making this up.
St. Vincent: Which was a queer bar in Denton, Texas. And I got a gig opening for Bonfire Madigan who was on Kill Rock Stars.
Jessica Hopper: That's a big deal.
St. Vincent: Yeah. It was a big deal. I had already seen Tracy and the Plastics at this place before and so we got a gig and I – my parents went on a – well, not my mother and stepdad but my dad and stepmother who are more prone to insanity went to Italy and they brought back a pair of leather pants. And so I wore this pair of sort of low waisted boot cut leather pants to my big show at the Denton queer bar. And my mother who is very sweet and very obsessed with capturing every moment – not unlike the Zeitgeist of this time. She videotaped it and I remember watching the tape afterwards and realizing that during my big first gig rock performance I had a really hideous camel toe.
Jessica Hopper: A little different than the jacket.
St. Vincent: But –
Jessica Hopper: What made you think that that was like what – or who was the person that made you think that leather pants were like the uniform or part of conveying who you were at this bar were these pants?
St. Vincent: Well understand that I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. And so even now I have a saying that goes like "Is this attractive or is this like cute for Dallas?" Just a thing I have to – criteria.
Jessica Hopper: I mean but was there like – who – in your mind what did someone – what was someone supposed to look like when they were on stage? Who gave you that idea?
St. Vincent: At that point when I was 17 and 18 I mean the big things in my life were Solex and Chibo Matto and Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill and all these things that were very like riot girl in late '90s which you know nothing about. And –
Jessica Hopper: You can fill me in later.
St. Vincent: And all of that was very much about I guess austerity and oh it's all about the music. But I mean leather pants, when you think of leather pants I've –
Jessica Hopper: They're not very Olympia.
St. Vincent: No, they're not. Maybe they were pleather. I don't know. I don't know. Probably a lot of animals were harmed in the making of that camel toe but – but so my idea of what it looked like to be a rocker was more about riot girl and punk rock and that kind of thing. So I wasn't so concerned with the aesthetic although I think we can all agree I should have been.
Jessica Hopper: So you weren't like channeling Jim Morrison?
St. Vincent: Yeah. That's probably what it was.
Jessica Hopper: Ok.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Don't say The Doors didn't matter to you. All right. So one of the more obvious parallels between your work and Bowie's is a certain theatricality maybe. When I first interviewed Annie like eight or nine years ago – it was a long time ago. You were opening for John Vanderslice.
St. Vincent: Yeah. At Lincoln Hall?
Jessica Hopper: No.
St. Vincent: Ok.
Jessica Hopper: It wasn't built yet. It was like that theater. It was like – it's like over by the old Reckless. I don't know.
St. Vincent: Yeah, Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Ok. But I interviewed you and we were in this little like back – I just remember we were in this back stage and you were like in somebody's office chair. It was very rock and roll. And you were talking very animatedly about the Nina Simone version of Pirate Jenny and Cave and how much you loved all this like really dark theatrical music. But it seems like since then to now you've I don't want to say internalized but it's become much – that theatricality has become more like a parcel of how you do your music and how you express yourself as an artist. And I want to know what fostered that love of dramatic music?
St. Vincent: Well, I mean I guess when you're talking about Nina Simone and things like that I mean we're talking about the great American songbook which is Gershwin and people who were, that was essentially show tunes. So I have a great affection for some, for some show tunes. But I guess I was –
Jessica Hopper: Did you do musicals? Be honest.
St. Vincent: I did. Yes. But I was always in the chorus. So I didn't really do musicals 'cause I couldn't dance and I wasn't –
Jessica Hopper: You weren't a triple threat? You weren't the Ciara of your school?
St. Vincent: I did not theater in high school. I did a lot of things growing up that were I guess somewhat theatrical and I more than – more than being theatrical myself and being good at being theatrical I was kind of more on the theoretical side and was very interested in Stanislofsky and Strasberg and the Actor's Studio and I got very into, very into that as a kind of intellectual exercise. But I was very shy and so I didn't – I wasn't good at being in theater because I would sort of skulk to the background and have to wear black 'cause I had so much anxiety that I had a sweating problem. So real talk.
Jessica Hopper: What's your favorite musical? Is there a musical that –
St. Vincent: Ok. I have to say I have an appreciation for – as a musician I have an appreciation for show tunes. I don't listen to show tunes. Like that's not like a thing. I mean I can listen to Sarah Vaughn doing Gershwin or whatever whatever. But I don't – I'm not like a show tune musical theater nerd.
Jessica Hopper: Ok.
St. Vincent: I feel like you don't believe me.
Jessica Hopper: I mean I know you have no reason to lie to all of us.
St. Vincent: I just told people about camel toes and sweating problems so I feel like I'm being pretty transparent.
Jessica Hopper: Let's just go deep. Just going right to the rawest point right off the bat. Let's see. Well, here's something that I know we both like to talk about. So I don't know if everyone remembers this from the show but this sort of first publicity photo of Bowie and I think he's sitting on a bass drum just looking like so coifed and very mannered and like he has practiced this pose within an inch of his life. And there's a lot of – clearly a lot of forethought in his presentation which in terms of rock and roll we typically think anything that's had like a modicum of rehearsal is inauthentic and sort of not very rock and roll because rock and roll is very visceral. So let's talk about authenticity.
St. Vincent: Let's talk about it.
Jessica Hopper: And drink up. And let's talk about fake.
St. Vincent: Well I am curious –
Jessica Hopper: I saw your notes.
St. Vincent: Yeah. I am curious to unpack this idea of authenticity. And when did it become more authentic to just stand up on stage with no lights or costume or theatricality and just stand up there with a beard and your feelings?
Jessica Hopper: And emote.
St. Vincent: I mean I have to say like looking back, Bowie's heroes were people like Little Richard who did '50s queerness with a wink and a smile because that's all that was really palatable for the times. He got away with as much as he possibly could in that regard and for the times and being in America which is quite puritanical. And so you look at Bowie and he's just the natural extension of these soul showman, James Brown and Little Richard. It's who I feel like – I feel like when we're talking about authenticity there's sort of a specter in the room of white privilege because the soul singers and Chuck Berry and just – they were entertainers as well as incredible musicians. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, incredible musician, showman.
So I'm not really sure – I mean maybe the '70s were such a decadent time that people had the luxury of money and to be able to just go oh it's not authentic unless we snorted it up our nose and sang it in Laurel Canyon. I don't really know what – I don't know what we're talking about when we talk about authenticity. And I'm very curious. You as a music and cultural critic to kind of unpack the roots of what we think of as authentic.
Jessica Hopper: Well, I think when we're talking about Bowie I think he came right at a time where people were interested in things that were not – I think in a lot of ways were sort of dovetailing out of the very like earnesty of folk music and that he and the feeling he brought was sort of also as you're saying maybe reflective on the drugs of that time and the feelings that one might want but also like that sort of turning away from that like California feel good, that kind of freakiness. Like the straight hippiness to something that was like gender bending, death.
We talked about his background in mime and like the comedic arts and all the sort of stuff that was like more traditional theater rather than just about like what we're getting from like Neil Young or Jonie or somebody that just very straight ahead like my feelings. Very like post Dylan in that he was much more about like a show and dazzling and being an entertainer. And that I don't know if people necessarily thought about that as being like fake or like less real at the time. I think those debates about authenticity have come much later. But I don't think anyone ever thought of him as being like inauthentic because he was so – I don't know. Because of the scale of the theater and what he was doing in this work was so transfixing.
St. Vincent: Also he had a myriad of aesthetics and was constantly changing. But it was always rooted in music. If David Bowie wasn't a great song writer we – none of us would be here today sitting, talking about either authenticity or as a guise or – have a retrospective. He has great – if you look at – if you think about England at the time and you think about probably his influences. I mean I know certain songs or references to _____ and there's a certain amount of sort of dry British satire that you hear in Bowie's delivery that can be sort of arch and debonair but it ultimately is trenchant and speaks to people's hearts even when it's a little bit – even when there's a wink and a smile. And I think even if you heaped all of the really brilliant aesthetic in the world onto what someone is doing, songs or musicians in musicians world it wouldn't have any resonance unless it was integrated and integral to the music.
Jessica Hopper: Do you – how about this. What is – what is the role of fake in your work?
St. Vincent: I mean –
Jessica Hopper: Or is every part of it a visceral expression of who and how you are?
St. Vincent: I would say it's probably a combination of things. Everything is multifaceted. I mean if you have the choice why wouldn't you insert a bit of make believe? Also I think in the times that we're in austerity is not – there's so much austerity even economically and socially right now it's like why wouldn't you want a little bit of magic and a little bit of mystery and something to feel elevated out of the mundane?
Jessica Hopper: Maybe if you're an emo band you don't want those things.
St. Vincent: Well, I have an emo haircut so yeah.
Jessica Hopper: I wasn't going to say it. You look lovely. I mean because it seems like there are certain things like the say watching your SNL performance and some of the choreography that you have and the way that your live show has changed and the different ways that your live show can be like your SNL performance, something that was for TV and also you have this choreography. Has everyone seen – does everyone know what I'm talking about? I'm not going to make you like get up and do a dance or anything. Unless you want to. And but something that's sort of like mannered and practiced and it's very – but it's very much as much an expression of who and how you are as an artist as when you were like destroying your guitar on stage at Pitchfork and probably I think you sustained a few little injuries is my guess from –
St. Vincent: I seem to remember a black eye.
Jessica Hopper: Yes.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: But that's like this huge spectrum and it's like we would typically think of you getting the black eye or your post on Instagram with your like half bloody hand print on your face from your skinned knee or whatever happened that that’s like the true rock and roll Annie Clark right there and that maybe the dance is the fake part. But it seems like they're both just equally you.
St. Vincent: Well, I think –
Jessica Hopper: Is this my perception? Is it correct?
St. Vincent: I think that you can communicate so much with your body. And part of the thought of going into the Digital Witness tour was ok, we have this disconnect between our actual selves and then we have this other world which is this idealized digital realm in which we create our avatars and who we wish we were on some level. And we spend a lot of time trying to make those things look interesting and compelling. And in some ways as very dada it's like ok, let's elevate the mundane to the realm of art. Everyone's a performance artist in their own way.
And so I guess I was thinking about how to root a performance in that which is doesn't rely on a screen or a projector or pyrotechnics and so I thought well, I would like to do some choreography because it's ultimately this other language and this sort of thing that speaks as much as music to directly to your subconscious especially because I was working with a choreographer named Annie B Parsons who is – it's not expressionistic choreography. It's very – it's very clean and it's very – even if she's referencing certain things she will abstract them from the source to the point where they're unrecognizable but still evocative.
So there will be something that she took from Beyonce quoting Bob Fosse but then you slow it down and then it just looks absolutely bizarre. And so that's what I was trying to do with the show is to not just give myself a challenge of being able to sing and play guitar and do these motions at the same time but also to root everything back to a human element in the performance.
Jessica Hopper: I mean does it – did it – did you have any – I mean I think I know what the answer is. Did you have any reluctance in doing something that was more performative or having things that were more like fancy sets or lights or anything like that? I mean did you feel like now I'm just supposed to be out here with my guitar? Did you have that, that debate inside?
St. Vincent: I feel like I certainly had moments before because we spent a long time in production rehearsals to mount it which is very counter to your –
Jessica Hopper: Idea of what visceral rock is.
St. Vincent: Idea of what visceral means. And it's also not very sexy to be like "Well, yeah. I rehearsed that show for four weeks so I hope you fucking like it. You better like it." So I know it's not sexy and mythological to admit to a lot of hard work and sort of banal execution of vision but there is – there was a lot of like trepidation on my part in terms of like will this work, will this translate, does this – does this communicate what I want it to communicate. But then also having a sense of like I'm just following my micro instincts at every point and making little decisions that will end up being a whole.
I've picked people who I think are really great collaborators, Annie B Parsons, Susan – Susanne Sosick, my lighting engineer, and kind of going ah, cross your fingers. I think if you're – I think if you think something is going to just be a shoe in and a hit you're doomed. Like I don't – I just don't – I don't think that that's the way to approach anything. There should be an element of like I'm going out on a limb here and I don't know if it's going to work. And I remember our friend Allan who you've known forever. He's my best friend. He was the production rehearsals and he was like "It's a thing. It's a thing."
Jessica Hopper: Did you get scared when he said that?
St. Vincent: Yeah, I mean a little bit. He said it was crazy but affectionately. Ok. Well –
Jessica Hopper: Ozzy crazy.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: I think it was maybe in an interview with The Guardian recently you were talking about sort of maybe having a fear at times of it looking like too intellectual or some aspect of it being, seeming too intellectual. Am I remembering that?
St. Vincent: I think that's always the – that's always the sort of dichotomy that you're trying to bridge all the time is like how, what's the balance between visceral and cerebral.
Jessica Hopper: It's funny. And there's even a David Bowie quote in that. Has everyone here seen the footage of Bowie on Dick Cavett? Ok. Some. Thank you hands. Everyone go home and Google it up. It's really, really excellent for a million reasons. But in it Dick Cavett's asking him oh, is – what is this about? And he kind of has these theories and Bowie is insisting over and over there's absolutely nothing intellectual to my music which you wouldn't think stepping –
Even when he's doing Young Americans and he has this whole suit and here's Luther Vandross who was at the time singing back up for him. And just this huge production and you're like "No. You've totally thought about this. This is intellectual." _____ of speaking to our guts. David Bowie. So we were just talking about communicating, the various ways that you use to communicate. How important is what you wear on stage in terms of what you're trying to communicate to your audience?
St. Vincent: Well, for this recent tour I guess I was going for a little bit of a Daryl Hannah, Blade Runner head with a masculine '40s shoulder.
Jessica Hopper: What were you trying to tell us with that?
St. Vincent: I was just –
Jessica Hopper: Or were we just supposed to intuit it?
St. Vincent: I was just trying to be an '80s power bitch. That's it. Just like business bitch.
Jessica Hopper: I think that's a tight look. I think that's a tight look for you. I mean is that what – is that what – is that how you were trying to present like a certain kind of power to go with your songs of power, your riffs of power, your feminist expression of power Annie?
St. Vincent: Well, I think we should probably take the next seven hours to unpack what it means to be powerful and what power looks like on different –
Jessica Hopper: You guys got a night?
St. Vincent: You guys, yeah, you're not busy, right? You don't have dinner plans? Cool.
Jessica Hopper: Let's take it there.
St. Vincent: What does power look like? How do different people wield power? What does power look like on you? That's a question all of us must ask ourselves.
Jessica Hopper: Is that what you – do you feel like that's necessary to project that, to remind people that you are the boss bitch in charge when you're on stage?
St. Vincent: I mean no. My MO is like sexy baby.
Jessica Hopper: You're missing the mark on that one. Sorry. What Bowie costume in this exhibit do you wish you had? And would you perform in it?
St. Vincent: I would say unequivocally the Yamamoto. You know what I'm talking about?
Jessica Hopper: Yeah.
St. Vincent: No. It's so incredible. Also this is a brief aside but I was thinking about it. Because I recently went to go see an exhibit of Japanese designers in Dallas. Rei the woman behind Comme Des Garcons and the Yohji Yamamoto and someone else who was also great. But I find – I find that the Japanese silhouettes are very almost androgynous by nature and I don't know if that speaks to because Japan was so isolationist for a long time that there wasn't a whole lot of biological evolutionary intermingling. So for a long time a Japanese form was relatively – this isn't racist is it? It's not. I'm just saying like they were. Look it up. They're isolationists and so Japanese form is quite slight and small build.
Jessica Hopper: And Bowie had a 24 inch waist for the entire duration of his career. Did anyone else notice that?
St. Vincent: 24 inches.
Jessica Hopper: That's like that's a teenage girl, like a really small teenage girl waist or boy.
St. Vincent: I feel like that's a prepubescent waist.
Jessica Hopper: Yeah. That's a high school waist and only a high school waist.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Maybe if you're already a preexisting tiny person.
St. Vincent: Yeah. With a preexisting tiny condition. Yeah. No. So the in terms of Japanese fashion there tends to be a sense of boxiness and proportion that can kind of flip on their head because they're not dealing with a body that's T&A. That's tits and ass for anybody who doesn't know.
Jessica Hopper: It's a scientific term.
St. Vincent: Down with the lingo. And so I think it worked. I think that Bowie's collaborations with Japanese designers worked really well because he was – he was right in that intersection of effeminate and masculine and this very – this very, very, very sexy confluence of gender that I don't – I can't think of anyone who has straddled that line or just embodied it so naturally since.
Jessica Hopper: Well, and also it's hard to imagine looking at some of those costume where they're like – they are like basically a bathing suit, like a women's bathing suit cut with like some kind of like kooky decals and like a puffy shoulder.
St. Vincent: Yeah. Absolutely.
Jessica Hopper: And who could wear that? Ariel Pink might try. He has. But like what, what man that could sell out like a small stadium, current pop star today do you think could pull off more or less a leotard?
St. Vincent: Ok. Yeah. Fair enough.
Jessica Hopper: Still a band? Ok. That was a rhetorical question. Ok. I see – don't touch your notes. I'm still talking.
St. Vincent: I have notes. I have notes.
Jessica Hopper: Hold on.
St. Vincent: One of my notes is just cocaine underlined.
Jessica Hopper: Ok. Cocaine's on like note 20 for me. Just slow down. Yesterday you tweeted – that was my newscaster voice. David Bowie's mutating aesthetic and persona are as much an instrument as his voice or guitar, sound and vision hero, icon, alien. Let's start with this. What is your favorite incantation or incarnation of Bowie or Bowie character?
St. Vincent: I might say Ziggy Stardust, not actually for the aesthetic because I feel like it's – it's a difficult one to pull off. I mean it's – it only ages well on Bowie. You know what I mean? Because I feel like that was his original –
Jessica Hopper: Big idea?
St. Vincent: Yeah. His original big idea. And also it was so, it was so kind of locked into like you could see his Lou Reed and Iggy Pop influence. And it was the first time he really went really out there with the persona.
Jessica Hopper: Could you ever see yourself doing a big persona like that?
St. Vincent: I think that I dipped my toe into it this last go round. Yeah, a little bit.
Jessica Hopper: It worked. I'm teasing you. You yourself have described yourself as at times as in the context of being a young Texan as being an alien and a freak yourself. Do you think that your adult freakiness, your present day artistic freakiness is that a distillation of who you were as a teenager? Do you feel like emboldened as a grown up musical artist to be who you are now? Does that make sense?
St. Vincent: It does make sense. I would say that if we're lucky it's always a process of like growing into one's self and being more comfortable in one's skin. And I guess all of the elements, the embryonic freak was there as a teenager. I mean I spent a lot of time in my room reading and writing and being sort of antisocial and dreaming about what life would be like outside of the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. And so I feel at this point like I've been very lucky to get to realize a portion of those dreams that were _____ as a kid.
Jessica Hopper: What is your favorite Bowie song?
St. Vincent: It's No Game Part 1 off of Scary Monsters and Super Creeps. Why? Because Robert Fripp's guitar playing is so sharp and insane and it creates this menace and anxiety over the entire track that makes me feel alive and feel emboldened and feel as insane as I feel on a daily basis. Like I can always go back to that track and just be like – it's so full of like rage and pathos and everything. It's perfect. It's a perfect song.
Jessica Hopper: What's your favorite Bowie song to dance to?
St. Vincent: Let's Dance.
Jessica Hopper: Literal choice but I respect it. Has there been an evolution in your understanding or appreciation of Bowie? Like did you immediately get the depth of Bowie when you were introduced to his work? And how were you introduced to his work? Do you remember?
St. Vincent: When I was a kid I knew the hits because I was a kid in the early '80s and so there are certain songs that just everybody knows, sort of inherits when they're in the womb. But it wasn't until I was probably late teens, early 20s that I really dug into Bowie. And it's one of those things. It's one of the best kinds of music as I'm sure you all know where the more you listen to it the more you get out of it and it becomes this never ending source of exhilaration or joy or all those things that reaffirm your humanity. So I go back to it. I mean I probably listen to David Bowie every day easily.
Jessica Hopper: Someone thinks that's funny. I just forgot what I was going to ask you. Where does – I mean maybe this is a really painfully obvious question. Where does Bowie's influence show up most do you think? I mean you always seem super – you always seem super self contained to me in a lot of – like not impervious to influence but like –
St. Vincent: In my own work?
Jessica Hopper: Yeah.
St. Vincent: I think the big banner bold headline in everything that I have learned from Bowie is just that it has to be rooted in a song. He always manages to add some element that makes things a little bit uneasy or a little bit alien or whatever. But the fact is that they are great songs and you could strip them of all of their accoutrement and still have an excellent song. And that, that I think is the lesson. I mean again I said it earlier in the talk but if he didn't write incredible songs that touched people's hearts and were visceral and were rock and roll with lipstick on as John Lennon famously said about Bowie. Like we wouldn't be here talking about it. It just, it wouldn't matter. All of the aesthetic in the world won't make a mediocre song a great song.
Jessica Hopper: If there was going to be some time in the future an Annie Clark retrospective here what artifacts of your career do you think we would see here? Are you sentimental? What do you save? Do you save anything?
St. Vincent: What would you have here? You might have – I don't know. I feel like my mom should maybe curate that. I don't know.
Jessica Hopper: She's got some boxes in her garage.
St. Vincent: She's got some boxes. She has every –
Jessica Hopper: Your retrospective.
St. Vincent: Yeah. I mean I think I did –
Jessica Hopper: Michael?
St. Vincent: An interview with the AARP and she's got that. I mean every interview you could imagine she has them all.
Jessica Hopper: Do you have much – I don't want to say like have you accumulated like ephemera of your success? Like is there – like are you keeping like "This is my special outfit that I wore this one time for this one thing."
St. Vincent: First of all I'm not rich enough to have like a special outfit that I only wear for one thing.
Jessica Hopper: I don't know.
St. Vincent: But if I did I would. No. Yes, I do keep costume – I do keep things that I've worn on stage for sentimental value, not with the idea although we should talk Michael about having a retrospective.
Jessica Hopper: You don't have an archive yet?
St. Vincent: I mean unless I die tomorrow which who knows – I don't think there will be a retrospective for a very long time if ever so. But I do keep, I do keep stage clothes and I do keep fan gifts and I usually give fan portraits to friends and family because I feel like –
Jessica Hopper: It would be weird if you have them.
St. Vincent: Well, I just don't ever want to be one of those people to where you walk into their house and they have pictures, like just lots of pictures of themselves. It's like a very Paris Hilton thing to do.
Jessica Hopper: Given how digitally you operate in this world and as a artist do you think that there will be like – I mean I feel like Bowie existed in obviously so much of his work is like pre-digital that of course he has all of these scraps of paper or coke spoon or crazy shoes or the little Kleenex with his perfect little like lipstick blot on it. I mean that seems like something we could probably get out of your trash. But I don't know if you're – I mean what would even be I don't want to say like do you anticipate having some ephemera but like I would imagine that there would even be like less and less that we could even sort of collect of evidence of you as time goes on. What do you think?
St. Vincent: I mean that's probably true. I mean it's probably true of all of us. Just less and less evidence that we even existed.
Jessica Hopper: This is taking a grim turn. All right. Let's bring it up. All right. Who is your Iggy and where is your Berlin? Or who is your Eno?
St. Vincent: Who is my Eno?
Jessica Hopper: That's actually two totally separate questions. Who is your Eno?
St. Vincent: Ok. My Eno at this point would be producer I've worked with for three, four records John Congleton. He's a Dallas boy.
Jessica Hopper: Lovely guy.
St. Vincent: Lovely guy, very brilliant. He's a stone cold weirdo as am I and so we've – I've probably spent more time with him than I've spent with my own like nieces and nephews in the studio just working on songs. We at this point have a sort of shorthand in the studio that I'll say like "I don't know. I feel like this is a little bit too Manfred Man" whatever and he knows what that means and vice versa. So he's been a great collaborator over the years for sure.
Jessica Hopper: And who is your Iggy and where is your Berlin? Where are you going to run off to to escape it all?
St. Vincent: I feel like my Iggy is Carey Brownstein because I was writing my last record when she was writing the new Sleater-Kinney record and also writing a book. And so we would have constant dialogue about like I'd send her things and play her things and she would play me things and we really sort of R&Ded each other's and critiqued each other's work in a way that was so helpful.
Jessica Hopper: Had you had that before?
St. Vincent: No. I'd never had it where I would send someone ideas and they would send me feedback except for John or whatever or David Burner or whoever I was collaborating with. This was – this was sort of an outside person who had no vested interest in the project except coming in as like an intellectual and a writer and kind of and a musician and kind of thinking about ok, how does this all fit together.
Jessica Hopper: Where would you run away to? Do you have any interest in running away?
St. Vincent: I don't know. I don't know where I would run away. In some ways I feel like as much as place is very exciting the past year of my life I've probably spent – I've spent maybe 250 days on the road and 24 hours in cities that you could spend a lifetime in. So the idea of traveling to a place isn't as exciting to me also because I feel like because of the internet a lot of places have a ubiquity in terms of culture that any big city you go to is going to have like their really good coffee and their thing which is great and I enjoy all of those things. But I feel like we're more global now so I don't feel as connected to place.
Jessica Hopper: Ok. In your equivalent to your mid-'80s sort of corny pop crossover era that maybe you will hit like 13 records in what pop song of your youth will you cover as your sort of comeback single?
St. Vincent: Wait, I'm sorry –
Jessica Hopper: That was a really complicated question.
St. Vincent: Wait. Ok. So a song that I wrote that I would cover?
Jessica Hopper: No. Like what's – not of your actual, your own personal youth?
St. Vincent: Everything would be very meta at that point.
Jessica Hopper: But I'm specifically – I'm specifically thinking sort of like for your Dancing in the Street and Mic.
St. Vincent: Can we talk about that for one quick second.
Jessica Hopper: It's so corny but yet it's still kind of good. I don't know.
St. Vincent: It's totally good. You know what? That's the reason why I have cocaine written on this piece of paper. It's like what, what?
Jessica Hopper: So what's going to be your retro comeback hit? Who will you duet and like jauntily dance down the street with? Like whoo old guys.
St. Vincent: You know what? Probably a cryogenically frozen Madonna and we'll just – we'll do Borderline.
Jessica Hopper: She will be like 80 and look younger than you.
St. Vincent: Absolutely. She would. She will. And she'll always have better arms. Right? Am I right ladies? But no. Funny story though about Madonna.
Jessica Hopper: Here we go.
St. Vincent: The song Borderline which was, is a great song. Nile Rogers, commonality Bowie. The folklore has it that it was written by a Long Island couple who was just kind of – Broadway writers and pop writers and cranking out the hits and that the original demo of Borderline was sung in a super intense Long Island accent like Borderline, big bar, seems like I'm going – you know?
Jessica Hopper: Yeah.
St. Vincent: I can't hear that song anymore without thinking about that.
Jessica Hopper: Would that be the song you do?
St. Vincent: Yes.
Jessica Hopper: Ok.
St. Vincent: In that accent.
Jessica Hopper: You would take it back to its more authentic roots.
St. Vincent: Yeah. Authenticity right?
Jessica Hopper: It will still –
St. Vincent: Am I right?
Jessica Hopper: It will super matter. So Bowie, particularly as he went on in his career came under so many spells of influence particularly when we start looking at like – specifically I'm sort of talking Young Americans. Comparatively you seem very self contained as I mentioned earlier. What or who are your obsessions, your private obsessions. Tell us.
St. Vincent: Let me think. It's been a little while since I've had private obsessions.
Jessica Hopper: Or just like who are you obsessed with other than Bowie? But like what influences you? Because I feel like I can pick up some little hint of Prince here and some little like teeny tiny Bowie over here. And like little –
St. Vincent: You're asking me an influence question.
Jessica Hopper: Sort of. But like what are you obsessed with? What obsesses you? Who obsesses you? When you get obsessed with something do you go like – what is your digging tool? Do you just go down like a YouTube hole with things or do you read?
St. Vincent: I do. Yeah. I can.
Jessica Hopper: You are a triple threat.
St. Vincent: Not very well but I can. Well, like right now?
Jessica Hopper: Yeah. Like what do you do when you're like oh fuck, this is my jam. Ok. I'm going to watch every single – like are you Beyonce watching like every YouTube video about feminism? Like what – do you know what I mean?
St. Vincent: Is that how she learned about it?
Jessica Hopper: Supposedly. Supposedly that's how she found out about – she was watching YouTube videos about feminism.
St. Vincent: Do you just type in feminism? And that's what happens? You get –
Jessica Hopper: You might get some great results. I don't know.
St. Vincent: I've never done it.
Jessica Hopper: I've never done that. Maybe we can start. Maybe that's your next record, YouTube video about feminism. No. What do you do when you're like "I want to know more about this" other than Google it? What do you do?
St. Vincent: I apologize for being a little bit of a tour brain but all my main source of inputting information is to listen to podcasts so like physics podcasts and radio lab and things that are – things that are edifying with the least amount of effort.
Jessica Hopper: So when you get obsessed you just sort of go there. You're like yes.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Ok. All right. Next question.
St. Vincent: Did you see that – I just saw this yesterday, the Beyonce performance at was it the VMAs or AMA, whatever, one of those televised shows and it there was a big thing that said feminism.
Jessica Hopper: You just found out about this?
St. Vincent: I don't know how I just found out about it. Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Yeah. It was kind of a big deal this year, earlier this year she was on an awards show and that was behind her. I feel like there were all these people making every single news cycle like is Beyonce a feminist? Well, she can't be because she made this video or this song about giving her husband a blowjob or like whatever makes you not a feminist supposedly. And then people constantly argue yes she is, no she isn't. And so she was like we're just going to put this to bed. Peace. Here's like this 12 foot high LED screen that says it. All y'all out of a job. But yeah. And then everyone still continues to argue. Well, she might have had that song or that sign or whatever but she's still not a really good feminist or whatever.
St. Vincent: Oh ok. Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Are you familiar with some of these styles of internet discourse about feminism?
St. Vincent: I don't go – yeah. At the point where – at the point where other women use feminism as a means of just insulting other women I kind of go like I don't know.
Jessica Hopper: Not my thing.
St. Vincent: I don't know about this.
Jessica Hopper: Not my thing.
St. Vincent: Maybe that's not the point. Maybe we miss the point.
Jessica Hopper: I agree with the clapping people.
St. Vincent: Thank you for that. Thank you ladies, sisters. Sisterhood is powerful front row.
Jessica Hopper: Let's see. How close to time are we? 'Cause we're going to – I don't know if you guys heard. So while part of this is about me being in conversation apparently we're also going to take questions from you guys. Just, I'm just – not yet. Not yet.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: I'm still doing my job. I'm just telling you guys now so that you think of really good ones. Ok. Just prep. So I'm going to ask you this question on my card. I only have like nine cards left. I'm not going to ask all of them, just some. You appear alone on your album covers unlike a lot of people who put like bears and nature scenes and like Instagram-y cute photos on it. It's kind of an old fashioned thing to do. It is something that David Bowie has done on almost every single one of his covers. Some of them are like drawings but he is always like alone and iconic and communicating I am David Bowie.
St. Vincent: Yeah.
Jessica Hopper: Is that something you always like when you started making records you were like this is what I'm going to do. This is going to be my head. I'm going to – I'm going to – but your albums communicate such different things musically but also just in the covers. Can you talk about why you are alone on your album covers? Has that always been the plan? Sorry. That's a boring question.
St. Vincent: No. I was – I did it because I was looking at all of the – I was looking at Bowie and I was looking at Dylan and I was looking at heroes and things like that and I just thought ok, well, this is what – this is what my heroes do. They put themselves on the record cover. My first record was a very botched Robert Mapplethorpe attempt. I mean if you've seen the first record cover you can –
Jessica Hopper: Oh I was thinking maybe like there was a different Mapplethorpe-ian theme that you went for that didn't work out.
St. Vincent: Yeah it was a real – I was going for fisting and I ended up just with a face.
Jessica Hopper: And then you ended up – it was different. I didn't – I mean I don't – maybe that's like the inside and I missed that part. No, but like and you have this like little like – I don't know if I'm remembering it wrong, like Peter Pan collar and a lot of like your early videos and sort of like this innocent and austere almost like girlish thing. And then here you are on the new album cover and you were like I am in charge of you. I am like – you're like on a throne with your like magic hair, you know? It's like a big crown. All right.