St. Vincent Dives Headfirst Into the Darkness

On a recent Tuesday night in a dressing room of the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, Annie Clark, the 41-year-old musician who records as St. Vincent, thumbed through a shelf of secondhand records and sipped a glass of pink champagne. Clark, invited to D.J. the venue’s grand reopening party, was the room’s first inhabitant since a major renovation restored the former movie palace; a pristine, new-car smell lingered.

Holding court among a few members of her team and her 23-year-old sister, Clark was an attentive host in this antiseptic space, ready with a witty remark (the carefully curated LPs were probably “someone’s deceased grandma’s record collection”) or a topped-off beverage. She wore a cream-colored silk blouse, black kitten-heeled shoes and a gauzy black bow tied artfully around her neck.

Even in a moment of relative repose, Clark possessed a feline hyper-awareness of her surroundings. Dave Grohl, who plays drums on two tracks off St. Vincent’s blistering new album “All Born Screaming,” later told me in a phone interview, “When you’re talking to her and you’re looking in those eyes, you can only wonder what reels are whirring in her brain, every second.” He added, amused, “I’ve never seen her with her eyelids half closed.”

Clark is a gifted and nimble guitarist with a dexterously spiky playing style that contrasts with the moony smoothness of her voice. She is also known for the absolute commitment of her live performances. “What she does is so transformative,” said the musician Cate Le Bon, Clark’s close friend of over a decade, in a video interview. “When I see her play, it freaks me out sometimes. I can be even helping her get ready for a show, and it’s like I know nothing of the woman who’s onstage.”

“All Born Screaming” began with a sonic puzzle: “How do I render the sound inside my head?”Credit…Raphael Dias/Getty Images

Seven albums and 17 years into an acclaimed solo career, Clark has eked out a singular space in music, occasionally intersecting with the mainstream but for the most part staying uncompromisingly countercultural. She has collaborated with both David Byrne and Dua Lipa; the riot grrrl pioneers Sleater-Kinney and the post-post-riot-grrrl pop star Olivia Rodrigo. She was one of four female musicians asked to front Nirvana for a night in 2014 when the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “She’s obviously outrageously talented,” Grohl said. “For her to play a Nirvana song was, maybe, a lot less complicated than her own music.”

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