Trying to catch Annie Clark, who performs under the name St. Vincent, in one place is difficult these days. In fact, the multi-instrumentalist was at JFK International Airport awaiting a flight to Europe when Pollstar talked to her about her growing popularity and the path she’s taken to earn it.
The Texas-raised performer isn’t new to juggling hectic tour schedules by any means. She’s had first-hand experience of being on the road and all its rigors through her aunt and uncle, jazz duo Tuck & Patti, since her early teens.
“I started what would be a long string of summer tours with them when I was 16. The things that really motivated me about it and really opened my eyes was seeing these true examples of very hard-working musicians who were responsible and making a living making music,” Clark told Pollstar. “I saw that being a professional musician was not only a viable career option but also saw the ins and outs of the road. It’s not really what people think in terms of glitz and glamour.
“It didn’t deter me whatsoever from wanting to do it. It made me want to do it more.”
Clark said the training she got from seeing Tuck & Patti in action was priceless.
“They’ve been a massive influence on me personally and musically. As a guitar player, there’s no better study than watching my Uncle Tuck play night after night after night. He’s one of those guitar players that you see and you can’t imagine how he’s doing what he’s doing,” she explained. “And it’s the same watching my aunt sing every night. There’s no better internship for musicality.”
Clark’s own instrumental versatility and performance style, which varies from sounding intimate and almost fragile to intense and aggressive, eventually landed her an unexpected opportunity.
“I had just moved back to Dallas after trying to live in New York City. My friend was playing theremin for Polyphonic Spree and told me they were looking for a guitar player,” she said. “I showed up at the tryout and then the next day, they said they wanted to take me with them to Europe. It was pretty amazing.
“It was three weeks and I’ll never forget that up until that point, the biggest date I had done was a club with maybe 500 people. The first show we played was the Primavera Festival for 30,000 people. It was surreal.”
That connection led to a tour with Sufjan Stevens’ band around 2006. Opening slots with bands including Death Cab For Cutie, The National and Arcade Fire helped to build St. Vincent’s fan base and catch the attention of the industry.
The Billions Corporation’s Dave Viecelli said he first heard about St. Vincent from Brian Teasley, drummer for Man or Astro-Man?, who worked with Clark on recording her 2007 debut, Marry Me. Viecelli said Clark’s uniqueness grabbed his attention.
“Two people had mentioned [St.Vincent] to me and because one of them was Brian, whom I know and trust, I started listening to some of the MySpace tracks for Marry Me,” Viecelli told Pollstar. “I decided right away that it was something pretty special, so I started up a conversation with Annie.
“She’s a quick wit, she’s very smart, unassuming. She has expectations and she’s willing to work hard and be organized. She’s the whole package.”
Viecelli also alerted Alex Kadvan of Lever and Beam, with whom he co-manages acts such as Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, to another opportunity that Clark’s talent presented – a flagship artist to launch a long-discussed partnership.
“David and I had been talking for some time about working together and starting a management company. One of the things we were trying to do was find an artist we can work on together … that will become the one we can build a company around,” Kadvan told Pollstar. “The first time I saw [Clark] was at South By Southwest in 2007 and [Viecelli] had been talking about her for some time.
“Her show is powerful even though in speaking with her, or in her talking to the audience, there’s this very fragile element to it. The music is powerful and her playing is strong.”
Both men agree that Clark’s versatility, whether playing solo or with a full band, keeps evolving and drawing a varied fan base.
“She did a promotional tour before [current release Actor] and it was a solo tour. She played piano, she was looping effects with a drum stick, doing stuff with a foot pedal and even looping vocals,” Kadvan explained. “And still … she was not in any way being overpowered by this effects stuff.
“In the end, the purity of her voice and performance [would] really connect.”
Viecelli agreed, but added that bringing in a full band has given Clark the ability to elevate her performances even more.
“I think the people who really fall in love with [St.Vincent] appreciate the duality, the inventiveness, the lack of predictability,” he said. “[Clark and the band members] really are built to do this, they really are enjoying themselves and what’s coming back from the audience.
“That’s the holy grail of live performance.”
Tour slots with Andrew Bird and Grizzly Bear will keep Clark and St.Vincent on the road through late November. Plans for another headlining tour are also in the works.