"I wanted to make a party record that you could play at a funeral." hmv.com talks to St. Vincent
Fresh from last year's collaboration and tour with David Byrne, St. Vincent's new album hits the shelves today. We caught up with her on Friday to talk about making the new album, touring and cycling with the Talking Heads frontman.
How are you feeling ahead of the new album's release?
"I’m feeling excited, I’m also kind of confused it hasn’t come out already. I feel like I’ve been at the party for a long time, I’ve set up the table and I have the bowl of chips, the soft drinks, now I’m just waiting for everybody to arrive wearing a party hat."
So has the album been finished for quite a while then?
"Yeah, I finished it after I wrapped up…actually no, I guess before I finished Love This Giant… we did a European tour for that in August / September and I finished the album early August."
You’ve eponymously titled this album, why did you decide on that this time around?
"I was reading Miles Davis’ autobiography and he talks about how the hardest thing for any musician to do is to sound like yourself."
So do you feel like you’ve managed to discover your sound with this record?
"It’s not so much about finding an exact sound and sticking to it, even so I feel like this is a really nice distillation of a lot of aspects of music that I’ve been honing for a number of years. I don’t think you ever really arrive at some ideal creative output, but I think you grow inwardly and then you just become a person that trusts their own instincts and is in control of their own voice."
Where was the album recorded?
"I recorded it in Dallas, Texas with John Congleton."
You’ve worked with John before on several albums, is he now your ‘go-to’ producer?
"Well, I haven’t always worked with John, I worked with Pat Dillett on Love This Giant as well, but I wanted to work with him again because I felt like we could make a better album than the one we did together before. John and I are both Texas freaks, we come from the same place so there’s a kind of shorthand that we share. I met him when I was recording the third Polyphonic Spree record."
Do you write in the studio with him?
"I kind of collect ideas on tour, I started writing this record about 36 hours after I got back from the first leg of the Love This Giant tour with David Byrne, so I’d had about a year and a half of wild nights out and there were people I’d met, books I’d read and art I’d seen that I wanted to put together, so the best thing for me to do after basically working every day for eighteen months to sit down and start pulling out those ideas and everything that I’d collected and go ‘huh, ok, let’s make some sense of this’."
Would you say there are any overarching themes to the songs?
"Well, I wanted to make a party record that you could play at a funeral. I change my writing process because ultimately that changes the results. With records in the past I’ve definitely had some very specific, codified process that I stuck to, but on this record I was feeling very free and very fluid, so I just wrote however I wrote."
"Some things I wrote on the piano, some songs I had all the lyrics written to begin with so then I just had to sort of step back and go ‘ok, well, what does this short story sound like? What could this possibly be in a musical sense?’ The song ‘Prince Johnny’ started that way. And then a lot of songs are just riffing on a guitar and seeing what happens."
How do you feel the music on the new album moves on from Strange Mercy?
"Well, this record is very much extroverted. Other records I’ve made have been slightly more introverted and about shining a spotlight into myself and trying to sort through that, find flaws and explore that inner world. But on this record I’m really extended my arms and looking out, looking at the world and really wanting to connect with people."
You mentioned working with David Byrne on the last record, what was he like to work with?
"Delightful. David is so fun and he always has a field trip in mind, a bicycle field trip, he’s always tremendously positive and just so excited to make art. I mean like giddily excited, like a child still. And that’s the way to do it, you know? You hear about people who’ve been around the block a little and getting worn out, cynical. But I think as long as you keep your focus on the art, the art will keep you young and make you vibrant."
Bicycle field trips? Literally?
"Yeah, literally! David’s big on bicycles so everybody got a little folding bike that we could store on the bus, so we’d get to a new city and just hop on the bikes and go exploring."
Has working with him changed anything about your approach to your own music?
"I wouldn’t say that it’s really changed my process or anything like that, but it was very nice to just share a world with him for a while and create a world - not just on the record but in the shows that we did – and that world, wherever that venn diagram intersected and we met, that world was bizarre, effervescent and really joyful. So that was a real pleasure to experience."
Is there anyone else you’d really like to work with?
"I don’t know, there’s so many people that I admire, but you know, admiring someone’s work and wanting to merge their work with yours is not always the same thing. The next collaboration I do I’d rather it be with someone not in the musical medium, like a choreographer or a visual artist, or a filmmaker or something like that."
So maybe not an album, a different kind of project?
"Yeah, because ultimately I don’t know how anything could top the fun I had with David, so I don’t want to push my luck!"
You’re touring at the moment, what does the rest of 2014 have in store?
"Um, more touring. There will be a number of festivals also."
Can you confirm which ones?
"I know I’m doing Primavera. The other ones…honestly? I forgot. I’m sure there will some in the UK."