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F45: A Few More Thoughts from St. Vincent, Curiosities and Leftovers from a Magazine Article

By Gregg LaGambina; photos by Brantley Gutierrez on September 22, 2011

 

F45: A Few More Thoughts from St. Vincent, Curiosities and Leftovers from a Magazine Article

Shortly before the release of Annie Clark's third solo album, The illustrious, (in)comprabable Gregg LaGambina gave us "Sister of Mercy: A Short, Curious Tale of St. Vincent," the entirety of which you may find and read in Ye Olde Goode FILTER 45 (on stands now). Below, we are proud to present "A Few More Thoughts from St. Vincent: Curiosities and Leftovers from a Magazine Article." Without further ado...

Photo by Brantley Gutierrez


On Tom Waits and performing his music at Rain Dogs Revisited…

I just bought this book that I haven’t read. It’s called Tom Waits on Tom Waits. It’s all of his collected interviews. I was thinking I would read it for some method-acting research, but I didn’t end up actually reading any of it. It’s a funny thing. When I first got asked to do [the tribute shows], Rain Dogs is the album I’m most familiar with and love. A funny thing happens when you really like something and it’s really great. When I hear it in its fully realized form, I think it’s magic and I can’t imagine all of the components that it would take to make it or learn it. I get very daunted by, like, “Oh, I don’t know what these changes are. What are these chords? I’ll never figure it out.” I kind of go through that same rigmarole every time [I cover a song]. But then I sat down to listen to it and really learn it, and was like, “Oh my goodness. These are pretty straightforward, constructed songs.” So the first part was a mystery, then it was a process of demystifying it, then the third part is this other plane of appreciation where I was like, “These words are so rich and these characters are so alive.” The second I started to open my mouth and sing the words, it went straight back to being totally mystifying. The prostitutes, the bookies, the carnies, and the midgets. They’re all so alive. They kind of just jump out of your mouth. I think everybody who did the project was approaching the stuff with the same kind of humility, wonder, and mystery.



On Eric Rohmer’s 1972 film Chloe in the Afternoon and its inspiration for her song of the same title…

I thought it was the sexiest title I’d ever heard. I just took the title and then thought, “OK, I’m going to build my own narrative based on this title.” I saw [Rohmer’s] Paris trilogy about a year ago. No disrespect, but it’s not as sexy a movie as you’d think it is by the [DVD] cover. It’s a morality film. How sexy is morality?



On whether or not the face screaming through latex on the cover of Strange Mercy is her face…

Oh, I’ll never say. But I will say that the person on the album cover did actually have to be totally asphyxiated to get the shot.



On the inspiration for the cover art of Strange Mercy that may or may not be of her being asphyxiated by latex…

I don’t know, really. I was working with this photographer Tina Turrell and we share a similar dark sense of humor. She shot the cover and she shot some of the disturbing press photos [laughs]. I just thought it was funny. There’s only so many ways you can play with your image. I’m a really big fan of [photographer] Roe Etheridge. I love his photos because there’s something… It looks like it would be a nice, normal photo but then there’s something that makes it slightly askew and just a little bit disturbing. Almost in the John Currin way, except that he’s a painter. “That’s a beautiful… ewwww.” [Laughs] I just like that sort of thing. I don’t know why. Part of it was also an homage to Can’s [1978 album] Out of Reach. If you know that album cover.

On why the sparkling alcoholic beverage champagne is mentioned prominently in two different songs on Strange Mercy

I think I talk about them in completely different ways. One song, “Champagne,” means quite literally, being drunk. And then in the other song, “Year of the Tiger,” I remember sitting down with a friend who was really into astrology—and I mean the Chinese zodiac—all that stuff. She told me, “Oh, the year 2010, February starts the year of the tiger. It will be really difficult and really turbulent.” Lo and behold, it was. Probably the worst year of my life. So I thought of this phrase “champagne year”—Next year’s gonna be a better year, a champagne year. Then, I wrote the song.

On whether or not “Cheerleader,” with the lyric, “I see America with no clothes on,” is her first overtly political song…

Overtly political? No. I mean, I’m only overtly political in so much that I think all government anywhere is corrupt. I really don’t discriminate [laughs]. The song is only overtly political in so much as we have a really strange system here as every government everywhere has a strange system. I actually don’t really know how to answer that except to say that all government everywhere is always corrupt at some level and to some degree.

photo by BRANTLEY GUTIERREZ

On why she decided to record the album in Dallas, Texas…

One of the reasons I am standing before you today is because of [producer] John Congleton. He has a wonderful studio in Dallas. When it came down to it, the way we worked, which was pretty much non-stop for almost two months, it just made the most sense to be in his great studio and his domain. No distractions. No social life. Just me and John in the studio, for the most part. I really honestly could not say enough good things about him as a producer, as an engineer, as a mixer, and as a person. If there was a parade… There should be a John Congleton parade [laughs]. I love him very dearly. 

On the meaning of the phrase “strange mercy”…

The song “Strange Mercy” was the first song that I wrote for the album. I had it that long and I was kicking around that line, “I’ll tell you good news that I don’t believe/If it would help you sleep…” I think a lot of the time we find ourselves a in those moral conundrums, where we go, “OK, my goal is to cause less suffering than more.” I looked at all of the songs through that prism. Some mammals, when they give birth to a litter of kittens, for example, the mother can sniff out which kitten is too weak to really make it. And sometimes will kill or eat their young. You look at it in the context of nature; there are plenty of analogues to human beings. Because we are nature, we’re not… different [laughs]. We’re not different from the natural world, we are the natural world. To think otherwise is crazy. But, this idea of sometimes having to be cruel to be kind is a tough one. And I don’t have the answer!