Tue 21 Jul 2009
Staying Healthy At All Times
After playing eight successive nights Annie Clark had one rest day before getting back on the road. She really didn’t want to spend her day off talking to foreign journalists but she was kind enough to give me fifteen minutes of her time.
Texas born musician Annie Clark (St. Vincent), is in high demand. Her second full-length album Actor has just landed in record stores and it’s already been hailed by many leading music critics as one of the best albums of the 2009. Right now she is mid-way through a massive world tour (including North America, Europe and the UK) in support of the album, during which she gets very little time to relax, but when she does she likes to sit down in front of the television, not talk on the phone. When I spoke to her she was on the front lawn at her sister’s house in Atlanta, exhausted from days of driving, sound checking and performing.
Clark has labelled her current tour ‘The Health and Fitness Tour’, with the aim of staying healthy and maintaining a sense well-being in order to perform night after night. However, she admits just eight dates into the tour that it’s been tough, for a very different reason. “On multiple nights on this tour we’ve been up against Animal Collective playing in the same town.” Forget the economic crisis, that is just bad luck. But while on the road, she wants to remain as healthy as possible. Sitting in a van all day, most days, puts a lot of stress on the body, so Clark is making sure her band gets plenty of exercise. “We bought a bunch of balls and we’re exercising at truck stops,” she says. “I’m making the band run laps around the van.”
Some other bands have even gone a step further, calling their entire tour a ‘green tour’. Okkervil River recently encouraged fans to bike to their shows. While Clark is very liberal (we shared a joke about Sarah Palin), she isn’t quite prepared to tackle the green tour just yet. “I wish I could, I’ve got a lot of friends doing the green tour. The thing that sort of grossed me out about the green tour, although it’s not that gross on the grand scheme of things at all, is my friends telling me about finding grease behind McDonald’s and having to filter it through an old sweat sock.” She is referring to the process of gathering vegetable oil to use as fuel to power the band’s tour van.
“… I rented a bunch of movies from the Criterion Collection, a lot of Woody Allen, and I just scored some scenes from those films…”
The whole process for the current tour and the album Actor, started as a result of being exhausted after her last major tour. Returning home after touring her debut album Marry Me, Clark had lost the drive to write music. To get back in the zone, she hired some of her favourite movies and started writing songs to fit with certain scenes. “It was really just a way to trick my brain into working. I rented a bunch of movies from the Criterion Collection, a lot of Woody Allen, and I just scored some scenes from those films and drew a lot of inspiration from that.”
“For the song ‘Marrow’ I was watching The Wizard Of Oz and I was watching Sleeping Beauty for the song ‘The Strangers’. There’s a lot more but there’s kind of too much detail to go into.” Clark recorded the basic structure for most of the songs on her Mac computer, using the programme GarageBand. “It was actually quite a silly painstaking process for me, because I couldn’t make any noise in my apartment. I had to do a lot of it through headphones. So what I would do was just draw, I wasn’t playing any instruments or anything. What I would do was just draw in notes until it sounded like I thought it should sound. There was a lot more mathematical thinking than musical thinking in making it.”
As a former member of psychedelic rock outfit The Polyphonic Spree, Clark has now put that well in her past. Her solo career has surpassed her previous band’s cult following and she is now one of the most recognised independent solo artists in the world. She may not be enjoying the attention all that much, but having the opportunity to live off her music is very rewarding. She’s made some dear friends along the way, including Amanda Palmer, whom she describes as “such a curious person and such an uncompromising artist,” and being in a band with one of her dearest friends, Daniel Hart, makes her musical experience all that much more enjoyable. She signs off with an apology for missing me the first few times I called, blaming her extremely busy tour schedule. Hopefully by the end of this tour the health and fitness regime will have worked and she’ll be feeling inspired to continue writing new music.