Last year, at an age when many folks are looking for that all-important first real job, Annie Clark was playing in Sufjan Stevens’ touring band. Not a bad gig, and hardly her maiden voyage: In 2005, she joined the robe-laden Polyphonic Spree just in time for a whirlwind European tour. Now 23, Clark, recording under the name St. Vincent, has just released her solo debut, an eclectic triumph called Marry Me that bursts with orchestral depth and Technicolor beauty.
The siren-voiced singer, who is equally at home helming a breathy jazz ballad or a thumping rock song, took a few minutes out of her current national tour schedule to call into the PopWatch offices and give us the scoop on her budding solo career. (Check out a YouTube clip of one of her performances, after the jump.)
Entertainment Weekly: You’re best known for playing in other people’s bands. Were you always hoping to go solo while you were playing with Sufjan and the Polyphonic Spree?
AC: The end goal was always to make music. I’ve always been working on writing songs. I have some friends in New York who are horn players –- session guys –- and we’d always laugh and say, "it’s good to have a gig."
EW: How did you get involved with the Spree?
AC: Someone said "Tim DeLaughter is looking for fresh faces,hey you should try out." I tried out on a Tuesday, and was on tour inEurope on Saturday.
EW: What’s your status with the Spree now?
AC: I’ll always be supportive of the band for sure. I wouldlove to collaborate with any of those bands and more, absolutely. I’llcertainly always be a fan. Sufjan is a genius, he gets my genius stamp.
EW: I hear a lot of jazz in songs such as “What, Me Worry?” Who are some of your influences as a jazz singer?
AC: It might be a disservice to jazz singers everywhere tocall myself a jazz singer. What I did with something like “What, MeWorry,” it’s sort of a gushing love letter to Billy Strayhorn andJohnny Hartman.
EW: On your album, a lot of the guitar-driven songs are noisy and hectic, andthen the piano-based songs tend to be ballads. Do you find yourself writingdifferently for different instruments?
AC: I always looked at any instrument as just a tool, anexpressive voice to write with. It even differs from guitar to guitar.Some guitars demand that you play them delicately and really respectthe instrument, and some beg to be abused. Same with piano. I know withguitar, I’m intimate with it enough to know when I put my fingers here,it will sound like this. I prefer writing on piano because it’s alwaysa surprise.
EW: You’re only 23. Is “Marry Me” a serious proposition to someone?
AC: No! [Laughs.] First, I like the [tradition] of, in the ’70s, naming a record after one song. And also, a lot of the songs have a duality about them; one part is totallysincere, and there’s another part that is kind of smirking and makinglight of it all. Or there’s a very dark streak about it. So calling [the album] Marry Me, I thought was kind of funny. I’ve heard interviewers say Marry ME. They’ve put the emphasis on "me" and that always makes me laugh. There’s no exclusivity agreement. No one has to sign anywhere!