Inside a dim, cavernous studio space in Manhattan’s SoHo district, the world’s fashion elite jostle for rickety chairs while Annie Clark, 31, the singer-guitarist known as St. Vincent, fixes owl eyes on the runway. Recruited by Diane von Furstenberg as musical accompaniment for her Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week show, Clark eases into captivating renditions of “Every Tear Disappears” and “Prince Johnny” from her self-titled album (due Feb. 25 on Loma Vista), as models Karlie Kloss and Karen Elson bobble down the catwalk. She’s never performed at a fashion show before, but you wouldn’t know it: Clark’s cool and fluid, with a shock of wild silver hair. Like the amazons parading around her, she wears a signature Furstenberg wrap dress. Fittingly, however, Clark’s version is customized.
“I had it hemmed,” she says backstage after the show. “It makes it a little less disco and a little more rock’n’roll.”
Four albums in, with a growing reputation as one of alternative music’s most reliable agitators, Clark knows what she wants — and what she doesn’t. She was thinking about the latter, in a dopamine hangover after her 2012 tour supporting “Love This Giant,” her collaborative album with David Byrne, when the embers of her new material first started to catch.
“I started writing [‘St. Vincent’] about 36 hours after I got back from a year on the road,” says Clark days before the show, from her East Village apartment in Manhattan. “I always have these illusions that one day I’m going to take time off to learn how to cook soup or try organic farming or whatever people do. But I realized I don’t care about any of that stuff. I just want to make music.”
It’s hard to imagine an artist less sure of her raison d’etre recording an album like “St. Vincent.” It bobs where fans might have expected Clark to weave, beating with the pulse of previously untapped source material — Parliament, Pantera, psychedelic Turkish folk music — and bowing away from the artful indie rock she’s known for.
In keeping with the theme of reinvention, “St. Vincent” is Clark’s first album not to be released by indie stalwart 4AD. Following the end of her 4AD contract last year, she signed to Loma Vista, the 2-year-old joint venture that former Warner Bros. Records chairman/CEO Tom Whalley formed with Republic. Clark says there are no hard feelings, but the optics of that switch, from indie to major, seem to make her a little uneasy. She’s quick to dismiss the notion that there’s any deeper meaning to the move.
“The music industry is the wild, wild west now. The labels ‘indie’ and ‘major’ don’t mean the same things they did 20 years ago,” Clark says. “If people think they still do mean those things, they’re working off an old paradigm.”
Back at the Diane von Furstenberg show, Clark hangs with her friend Carrie Brownstein, star of IFC’s “Portlandia” (she’ll guest-star on an episode this spring). She’s in a bespoke wrap dress today, but tomorrow, when Clark jets off to Europe for a short tour before a longer North American run, her style, much like her music, will take a more cerebral turn.
“My fashion icon is Albert Einstein,” she says. “He wanted to conserve his brain space, so he would just wear a uniform and go about the day. When I’m on the road, I look up to Einstein and wear the same thing every day.”