Strange Days

18 March 2012 | 2:56 pm | Scott McLennan

Annie Clark will do almost anything to be involved in the new Arrested Development movie, promises to one day record a “Madonna-sounding sludgecore record” and wouldn’t be opposed to releasing a split 7” with Slayer

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When geeky actor Michael Cera confirmed last month the cast of Arrested Development would reconvene in 2012 to film a new series of the cult program, the announcement left one fan gasping with joy. Annie Clark, the 29-year-old guitarist behind the St Vincent moniker, was such a fan of the cancelled Fox show she named her 2007 debut album Marry Me after one of its catchphrases.

“Oh my god, I'm so glad it's coming back,” Clark admits. “They've been teasing us with that for five years, so that's going to be great. My favourite character is the mother Lucille, since she's got that dismissive WASPiness.”

Clark has a message for Arrested Development's creator Mitch Hurwitz: this gal wants in on the soundtrack.

“I will do my damnedest to be involved in any way I can, short of turning up to the set and waving a placard or something. It will be like that scene in Say Anything – I'll be courting Mitch Hurwitz, just sitting outside his office with a boombox.”

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After growing up in Dallas, Clark dropped out of her course at Boston's Berklee College Of Music and briefly worked as a touring guitarist with Oklahoma's joyful hippie choir The Polyphonic Spree. Marry Me's release in 2007 was followed by 2009's rapturously received Actor, leading to Clark's collaborations with respected US artists including Bon Iver, David Byrne and The National. Rumour has it that Clark's latest collaborator is none other than Madonna, who reportedly eyed off a St Vincent partnership for her new album MDNA.

“William Orbit, who Madonna works with, is a fan of mine and basically there was talk of her recording a song I had worked on. I actually don't know what's up with it now, but it might not have happened. At least I can die happy knowing that Madonna at one point tried to record a song I wrote.”

Have you met her?

“No! If you're born in the '80s Madonna is epic, so the thought of meeting her actually terrifies me. What could you say? My golden memories of Madonna are making up dances to Lucky Star – that was the soundtrack to my life for a long time.

“Her first album is actually a great record and was produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic, who is a great guitarist and producer. That record is really syncopated and really cool, so recently as an exercise I wanted to learn how – like a meth addict who takes apart the toaster and thinks he can make it better – I could take apart a Madonna song and figure out the mechanics of it so I could use the ideas in my own material. What I ended up doing actually was just transposing all the parts and putting everything in a minor key. So at some stage I'll end up with a really messed up Madonna-sounding sludgecore record.”

Packing an impressive artillery of guitar pedals along with a vocal love of metal acts such as Slayer, Clark isn't ruling out freaking out fans with a metal venture.

“If Slayer wanted to do a split 7” I wouldn't be opposed. I have some of that metal geek in me to the point where I will probably make a heavy EP, but I'd still release it under the St Vincent name. I feel that the metal communities and the indie communities are disparate enough that I could just introduce myself as St Vincent to the metal scene. I'm just going to meld it to the point there'll be people saying, 'Oh! I thought St Vincent was a metal band?'”

Although her impressive guitar skills are often suppressed on record by layers of effects, Clark warns that the live performance is a rousing experience.

“St Vincent shows are pretty dynamic and they're definitely more of a rock show than you'd necessarily expect.”

A mix of lethargic beauty and woozy space rock, Strange Mercy was initially borne of grief.

“I lost a few people in 2010 and it was a very sad year. It's nice to be away from it now and have some distance from it, plus also have a record that's resonating with people. Although nothing can rectify what's absent or gone, it's nice to have some tangible, positive by-products. It's good to be out of there.”

Strange Mercy's Cheerleader features one of the most intriguing lyrics on the album, detailing the tale of a former party girl who now feels drained by the hedonism, decadence and debauchery of her past. It's a beautifully poignant exposé, but is it autobiographical?

“If you think the original sounds drained then wait until you hear the acoustic version we recorded recently!” Clark giggles. “I have certainly felt all those feelings expressed in the song, but the cheerleader role was more of a character. I'm probably more hedonistic now than ever. I'm not really a drug person, but I'm probably more social and fun now than I've ever been. Which is to say, I have a great time.”

Set to celebrate her 30th birthday this September, Clark is proud of what she's achieved so far in her career.

“I feel there's always more to do, but I think that mostly I am grateful to have a career and be in a place where I get to make music for a living. I get to make music with people I admire and sometimes I just pause and go, 'Whoah! Look what music has given me!' Being a suburban kid who loved to play the guitar has given me my whole life, so I can't help but be really grateful for everything.”