"That was one of the biggest places I had ever played!" Annie Clark says, recalling an early show at the defunct Nanci Raygun, now Strange Matter.
A lot's changed for the woman behind St. Vincent since she last played Richmond in about 2004. The multi-instrumentalist toured as part of the curiously robed Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' band before stepping forward as a jaw-dropping solo artist. Three acclaimed indie-rock albums later, her virtuosic playing and astute songwriting are in top form. Recently she's been jumping into everything from superstar collaborations to sweaty crowds head-first, and stopped long enough to tell Style Weekly about it.
Style: Let's talk about the new single "Krokodil." Is that indicative of your sound going forward?
Clark: It's nice to have written a song that really unleashes from start to finish. I honestly don't know what the next record will be like though until I sit down to write it, which probably won't be until January. Who knows how I'll feel then? (She laughs)
You debuted that song at Coachella last month with a stage dive that made headlines. The aggressiveness of that performance surprised a lot of people. What are the biggest misconceptions about you?
That St. Vincent is precious and twee. You know, shoe-gazing indie. That's increasingly not true. I've done more orchestral, methodical records lately. The live show is not a place where I hold back. It's certainly not cute and sweet.
Let's take a step back to your last album, "Strange Mercy." You traded New York for Seattle to write this record. Why the lack of inspiration in a such a creative place?
I wasn't uninspired, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to write in my apartment and the walls were just so thin. I could hear people fighting, having sex and the constant smell of pot. I just had to get out of there and go to a place where I could just work with no social commitments and no objectives other than waking up and going to the studio.
A lot of these lyrics mention dirt and you get buried alive in the video for "Cruel." Do you have a secret gardening obsession?
[Laughs] No, I actually have the opposite of a green thumb. Black thumb, I guess? Every plant that I've ever owned except this one amazingly resilient succulent has died.
You just wrapped up some work with David Byrne. Tell me about working with one of your heroes.
Yes! That comes out in the fall and I think we're going to do some touring to support it. It's centered around a brass band. When people hear that they think it's some kind of esoteric art project, but it turned out more accessible than David or I anticipated.
You also wrote a song for Madonna's new record, but it didn't make the cut. What happened?
One of the songs I wrote with a producer friend of mine for fun made it into the hands of Madonna and I think she recorded it, but it didn't make the record. I'm a child of the '80s, that she heard of me or something I've done was enough for me.
The live show is definitely what you do best. Are your fingers a bloody mess by the end of the night from playing so hard?
I'm mostly a finger-styled player and my fingertips are usually fine, but because I hit the guitar quite a bit for a particular sound I'll bruise my palm. Sometimes in doing that I'll also cut my hand on a screw or I'll pull off strings and that will kind of lacerate me. I guess I am sometimes covered in blood.
Some artists forge a bond with their instruments. Is that something you're into?
I have tremendous gratitude for everything music has given me, but you hear people talk about a guitar being an extension of a phallus or that you should play a guitar like a woman's body. I think all of that stuff is really cheesy (laughter). A guitar is special enough. You don't need to name it or sexualize it.
You appear to be a confident lead guitarist when playing live. Is there anything you fear on stage?
No, I mean any live show that travels there are new variables every night that you have to get under control, but that's why you have sound check. I don't have a lot of fear.
Hence the stage diving?
I just fractured my foot in Oakland. It's the kind of thing like when you are a kid and climb trees. You have no idea that you would get hurt and are fearless almost based on ignorance, not on knowledge of consequence. I'm like that when it comes to jumping off of the stage. I can't wear heels for the next few weeks which is a real bum out. S
St. Vincent will perform with Shearwater on May 24 at the National, 708 E. Broad St. Tickets $15-$18. For information, go to thenationalva.com.