Annie Clark’s resume reads like a “who’s who” of the indie rock world. From laying down tracks with the Polyphonic Spree to hitting the road with Sufjan Stevens and collaborating with David Bowie’s pianist, Mike Garson, Clark has managed to surround herself with the best of the best, and it shows. On her debut full-length, Marry Me, the young singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist blends otherworldly arrangements, intensely personal lyrics, attention-demanding riffs, and a voice that sounds like Nico in tone and Stevie Nicks in swagger. The result is a record of delicate pop songs that make you think, so it comes as no surprise that Clark is as witty, cheeky, and well-read in conversation as her songs make her out to be. She recently phoned in to chat about her upcoming spring tour.
You’ve just gotten done with an extensive tour with Sufjan Stevens in Australia. How was it? It was amazing. It was really, really great. I hate to admit the fact that it was kind of easy, but it was like an awesome vacation. It’s summertime there, and I think we played eight shows in two and a half weeks. The touring was really light-we played three dates in Sydney and two in Melbourne, so we were kind of stationary. It was great.
And now you’re hitting the road as a headliner, with Foreign Born opening up for you. Do you approach headlining differently? I approach it completely differently in terms of : when you’re headlining, essentially the stage is your own to decorate and make pretty, and the lights are yours to have fun with. I’ve taken this tour and channeled my inner visual artist, with the help of some really talented friends. We’re going to have a backdrop, and a theme, and, I don’t want to spoil it, but some props. [Laughs.] Props make any show a little more fun.
You’ve been associated with two musical acts that are not only exceptionally popular, but also have legions of extremely dedicated fans. Can you tell me about your experiences with both Sufjan and the Polyphonic Spree? Were the fans as dedicated as they’re said to be? Well, the Polyphonic Spree would sell “fan robes,” because the Spree wore robes, so as part of the merchandising they would sell them. So you would do a double-take if anyone showed up to a gig in a fan robe. That was like the ultimate solidarity with the band, so that was really cool. I think Tim DeLaughter is a really powerful rock frontman. He really goes for it and he’s really great, and I think people emotionally respond to him. And as far as Sufjan, in all my experience, the fans are just ¼ber-sweet. He doesn’t bring out the shitkickers or anything, you know? Everyone is sweet and respectful. He’s really talented and an honest guy.
How did the songwriting and recording process for Marry Me compare to laying down tracks with the Spree? It was solitary for a lot of it. I’ve been recording on computer-based systems since I was about 13, so technology has really been assimilated into my whole songwriting and arranging process. So a lot of times songs would start out with just me in my room, various ideas, laying down demos, and adding things as I went. Then I would send that to my friend Ryan, who would record drums in Alabama, and he’d send it back to me and say, “No, no, no.” [Laughs.] A lot of it was kind of recorded by proxy-it was a lot of meticulous arranging and mixing and writing all at the same time. : Ultimately my musical vision is a lot of sounds and subtlety, and you can do that solo, but it’s just different. You rely on different sources to create that, but with other musicians you can get that in real time.
You’ve been brought on to play Coachella this year. How did that come about, and is there anyone in particular you are looking forward to seeing? Okay. I might have to, umm, consult the list. I know I’m very excited and I couldn’t be more thrilled to go to a weird, trippy party in the desert with a bunch of other trippy musicians. Portishead is playing-I’m looking at the lineup right now-that’s great. Kraftwerk, I totally want to see Kraftwerk. I don’t know who Jack Johnson is, but I’m sure he’s great. Is that rude? The National are playing, and they’re great; they’re friends of mine. I’m excited to see M.I.A., and Animal Collective are very cool. Dan Deacon wears glasses. I know that much. I don’t know his music, but he’s a very cool guy. I have a feeling I’m going to be really pleasantly surprised by a lot of things.
Marry Me is an adventurous endeavor that is beautiful, but also seems to draw from a lot of different places. Where do you look for inspiration? I’ve recently been looking to films to get me revved up. You should see this movie, it’s called Heaven, and Diane Keaton directed it. It came out in 1987 and she’s not in it at all-she just directs. She interviews a really zany cast of characters about what their ideas of the afterlife are. It’s beautifully lit and everyone is framed with this really awesome white and fluorescent light. And what these people have to say-it’s poignant; it’s hilarious. : So things like that, stuff from the Krikorian collection, and books. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Robert Wyatt and Hauschka, who’s great. He plays the prepared piano and he makes these little minimalist compositions that are beautiful and meditative : and Jack Johnson.
How did you manage to team up with Mike Garson? What’s he like? I was recording the last Polyphonic Spree record and we were in the middle of the woods outside of Minneapolis, and it really, really felt like The Shining. We were completely snowed in and we couldn’t leave for three weeks and they brought in Mike to play piano-the Spree had opened for Bowie, so there was that connection there. We just really connected. I would pick his brain about the people he’s worked with and music and philosophy. He’s really a kind of otherworldly type of guy. It’s wonderful when you meet people who are genuine and deeply connected to what they do.
As a “multi-instrumentalist” who has toured with some pretty large bands, have you picked up any new instruments by virtue of hanging out with so many musicians? Is there an instrument that you’d like to learn? Well, in junior high school I played in an Iron Maiden cover band. We didn’t just play Maiden; we played Megadeath and we played a little bit of AC/DC and definitely some Pantera-I’m from Texas, so Dimebag Daryl [Abbott] from Pantera was a pretty big deal. What happened was, there were like three guitar players, so we flipped a coin as to who would play bass. It’s kind of a running joke that nobody sets out to be a bass player : [the guitar] is the show-y, kind of rooster instrument. So I lost the coin toss and, as a result, ended up playing speed metal bass for a while. I’d love to get a lot better at the piano. Even though I get kind of bored with guitar-I feel like we’re an old married couple or something-I feel like I have to honor it.
And finally, you’ve been on the road for a huge portion of your musical career. What’s your worst hotel room experience? Oh, bad hotel rooms. I’ve seen a lot of them. I don’t know if we want to open up that Pandora’s box. [Laughs.] I have a theory that there is a $20 difference between a hotel room where, if you walk in the toilet will be dirty, and a hotel room where you walk in and the toilet will only be marginally dirty. It’s the $20 difference. [In a] $50 hotel room you can count on a whole array of ghastly things, whereas at a $70 hotel room, you will probably only have 55 percent of those ghastly things. We’ve got it down to a science.
St. Vincent will play Velvet Jones (423 State St.) with opening act Foreign Born on Saturday, February 16, at 8 p.m. Visit velvet-jones.com or call 965-8676 for details.