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St. Vincent’s Family Ties

With her new album, Annie Clark finally comes to terms with her father’s white-collar prison experience — all thanks to the healing power of Seventies rock

Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent

Erik Carter for Rolling Stone

One of the last times Annie Clark went to see her father in a Texas prison, a fellow visitor asked her to autograph a receipt — the only paper they had on hand. “You can’t bring phones in, so you can’t take a normal selfie. I guess I’m glad that a selfie of me in there doesn’t exist,” Clark, 38, says. “I find it very darkly comic. It’s obviously very sad, but it’s also incredibly funny.”

Clark saw her father taken away by the U.S. government in May 2010 for what she describes as “white-collar nonsense.” Over the next near-decade, she visited him in between releasing four albums of increasingly acclaimed art rock as St. Vincent. She performed with Nirvana at the 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony … and was forced to go to Walmart more than once to buy XXL sweatpants when the prison deemed her clothing too tight for a visit. She won Best Rock Song at the 2019 Grammys … while the massive collection of books she brought for her dad to read behind bars was confiscated and replaced with various editions of the Bible. Now, two years after her father was finally released, she’s making sense of it all on her seventh studio album, Daddy’s Home, out May 14th.

If her 2011 breakthrough, Strange Mercy, reflected the “pain and ambivalence” of her father’s arrest, as she writes in a comic that accompanies the new album, then Daddy’s Home is about coming full circle. Zooming in to chat about the record, Clark has ditched the super-streamlined aesthetic that accompanied the sleek pop of 2017’s Masseduction, instead opting for a head scarf and Seventies-style tinted glasses.

“I think that with my last record, I had gone as far as I could in a certain way with fly-out-of-the-speakers-and-grab-you-by-the-throat kinds of sounds,” she says. Daddy’s Home feels more human and lived-in, with echoes of Bowie, Sly Stone, and other Seventies artists. That era, she says, was “post-flower-child idealism, but it’s pre-disco. It’s this period of time that I feel like is analogous to where we are now. We’re in the grimy, sleazy, trying-to-figure-out-where-we-go-from-here period.”

The record careens from Prince-esque stompers like album opener “Pay Your Way in Pain” to the title track, which brims with bluesy jazz — especially with the addition of backup singers Lynne Fiddmont and Kenya Hathaway (daughter of late R&B legend Donny Hathaway), who croon on the chorus. “I’ve never done a record where I wasn’t singing my own backups,” Clark says. “I feel like there’s a specific meaning behind that, if you were the only one doubling your own voice or harmonizing. This record is way looser, way more about just performance.”

She found the album’s sound while working with producer Jack Antonoff in New York before the pandemic began. “I was walking down the hall at Electric Lady Studios with Jack,” she recalls, “and I was like, ‘I want to make this down-and-out, downtown kind of record.’ ” Antonoff then sat down at the studio’s Wurlitzer to record “At the Holiday Party,” which recalls a woozy catch-up with a washed-out star. “I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it,’ ” she says. “ ‘These sounds are warm, and they’re literal, and they’re evocative.’ “

New York is a main character on the record — the mysterious Johnny, a rough-and-tumble friend whom she’s mentioned on several past albums, makes an appearance as “Bowery John” — but Clark’s part-time home of L.A. turns up too. On the psychedelic “The Melting of the Sun,” she muses on women who have been crushed or otherwise mistreated by the entertainment industry, Joni Mitchell and Marilyn Monroe among them. “People tried to quiet them when they were saying something that was righteous or true or hard to hear,” Clark says. “[That song] in particular is a love letter to strong, brilliant female artists. Each of them survived in an environment that was in a lot of ways hostile to them.”

Daddy’s Home is an album that’s teeming with life and loss, backup vocals and brass sections — which, naturally, leaves Clark dreaming about how it will all work onstage, whenever touring is possible again. “The last record and the tours I did were full multi-media assaults,” she says. “[This time], I will be excited to just play. Just people onstage playing music and killing it, without all the spectacle.”

From Rolling Stone US