Annie Clark at the September 13, 2011, record-release party for Strange
Mercy in Hollywood. Photo by Danny Duarte
It’s pretty rare for a bona fide guitar-nut—we’re talking Berklee
College of Music-level guitar-a-holic—to rack up interviews
on NPR, rave reviews from indie music mags like NME
, and guest appearances on the IFC’s hit comedy Portlandia
But Annie Clark, the singer/guitarist who performs under the name
St. Vincent, isn’t your typical guitar geek. In fact, she’s sort of a guitar
hero for people who hate the whole idea of guitar-hero worship.
If that last statement—as well as the revelation that Clark dropped
out of Berklee in her third year—inspires you to roll your eyes and
start skipping to the next feature faster than you can mutter, “Oh,
she’s one of those artsy ‘indie
’ guitarists,” you owe it to yourself to
visit YouTube and check out her harmonically captivating and ultra-badass
playing first. Go ahead—we’ll wait.
Back? Okay, now that you’ve witnessed Ms. Clark and her vintage
Harmony Bobkat conjuring mesmerizing hammer-on riffs and
corpulent 6-string glory, let’s delve into the delicious details. Like
how her uncle, Tuck Andress (from the jazz duo Tuck & Patti),
inspired her to consider a career in music. Or how the multi-instrumentalist’s
love of harmony, Steely Dan, and Iron Maiden culminated
in the rich compositional tapestry that has made this 29-year-old
from Dallas, Texas, one of the most talked-about renaissance
women in modern music. Or how her new album, Strange Mercy
was at No. 19 on the US charts at press time.
We recently spoke to Clark about all these things, as well as
her reasons for quitting music school, her complex-yet-liberating
MIDI-controlled pedalboard, and her thoughts on guitardom’s
What first got you into playing guitar?
I was obsessed with it from a pretty young
age. I was, like, 5 years old and saw La
—the Ritchie Valens story—and
I was captivated by that, and then I just
started playing when I was 12. My uncle is
an amazing guitar player, and we had some
of his old guitars around. I was big into
classic rock—Jethro Tull and these more
guitar-y bands—and I thought, “I want to
do that—I want to know how they’re getting
You probably get questions about Tuck
all the time, but how instrumental was he
in you getting hooked on guitar?
They were on tour forever
—from, like, ’88
to ’96. So, he was this distant figure who I
didn’t see very often but who was a famous
musician. I’d see him maybe
two years, but I think even just having his
spectral presence around was really powerful,
because I saw him and thought, “Oh, I
could do that.”
Who were some of the first guitarists that
you remember really getting into?
Probably the really obvious ones—Hendrix
… the Doors … I really liked Jethro Tull
… I really, really, really loved Steely Dan.
To have that kind of harmony in your ears
from a really young age—I mean, Steely
Dan was my favorite band from age 8 until
… well, I just saw them two nights ago
here in New York!
Were you more into the bands as a whole
or the guitar playing?
I was into the bands as a whole. I was really
into lyrics and melodies. But some of the
solos on the Steely Dan records are rock-solid.
Denny Dias and Larry Carlton…that stuff is great.