St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, is on the phone from iconic L.A. neighborhood Laurel Canyon, taking in a scenic mountain view and a well-deserved breather.
It’s been a little over a week since she wrapped her second of two performances at Coachella, and more than a year into lengthy touring schedule in support of her self-titled 2014 album St. Vincent, her most ambitious and acclaimed album to date — the set scored her a plum slot as the musical guest for SNL‘s season finale last year as well as the 2015 Grammy for best alternative music album. “I’m just being a vagabond at friends’ houses right now,” Clark says, who still has a packed summer of tour dates and more festivals on deck in the coming months.
But on Wednesday (April 29) night, the self-proclaimed vagabond will be recognized as another kind of V word when she’s the 2015 recipient of the ASCAP Vanguard Award at the 32nd annual ASCAP Pop Awards at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles. St. Vincent joins the esteemed ranks of Bjork (1996), Beck (1997), Arcade Fire (2005), Diplo (2013) and Kendrick Lamar (2013) who’ve received the honor over the last 19 years. “I couldn’t be happier,” Clark says of the award. “The people they’ve given those awards to in the past are heroes of mine, so it feels very complimentary to be in such good company.”
Billboard caught up with St. Vincent to learn more about her evolution as a songwriter (including regrets over her publishing company’s “riot grrl” name), current musical obsessions and, in a nod to her just-released single “Teenage Talk,” prom memories from growing up in suburban Dallas, Texas.
You’re being honored with the ASCAP Vanguard Award. What does a publishing rights company like ASCAP mean to you?
They make being a professional musician in this day and age a lot easier, because they’re unequivocally on your side. And they’ve all just been really nice to me over the years, putting me on their magazine cover and things like that. I’m just really honored to be recognized.
What did signing with ASCAP symbolize to you?
Back when I was just starting out, writing songs and had no record deal and just working on what St. Vincent would become or whatever, ASCAP was really the first thing I signed up for and got. Even before I had collected any royalty whatsoever, it meant that I was a professional because I had signed up for ASCAP online and I had the little card in my wallet. So yeah, it’s always been my first signpost of quote-unquote “professionalism.”
Do you remember when you received your first ASCAP check in the mail?
It was around my first record [2007’s Marry Me]. I just remember that whatever it was — 4 or 500 bucks a month, and even when it was more some times — what makes the difference between rent and not rent was a big help. I’m not living by those exact same margins now, which I’m glad, but it’s still immensely helpful.
What publisher name did you choose for your ASCAP ID?
Nail Polish Manifesto Music. This was before my first record — I signed up when I was in college, so that’s why I have a very riot-grrl sounding publisher name. [laughs]
If you could, what would you change the name to?
I’m not sure, but I’d at least graduate to krautrock. Anything other than Nail Polish Manifesto Music.
You just released a single called “Teenage Talk” inspired by your high school years that was featured in the new season of Girls. Speaking of high school, do you have any prom memories?
I think my prom was casino-themed, like blackjack James Bond themed, and I just remember going with my date Doug and getting very drunk beforehand. Every dance we would go to, we would decide on a specific drink — the Valentine’s dance was gin and tonics, I think prom was margaritas. Obviously we weren’t talking about Cointreau and fresh lime juice, this was bad tequila and bad margarita mix. So I just remember going to prom with the worst stomachache from binge drinking in car, which you’re wont to do in Texas. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but yeah that’s what you do in the suburbs.
Is “Teenage Talk” about that same era of your life?
The song “Teenage Talk” is really an homage to my three best girlfriends. We were kind of this motley crew of misfits who weren’t shoved into lockers, but we did not fit in. Everybody else was pretty conservative and we were a bit more rowdy and smoking weed behind the bleachers. Our main currency in life was listening to music and movie references. That’s what we lived for, just trying to make each other laugh. And we’re all still really good friends, they’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever encountered. So anyway, yeah, that’s how we protected ourselves our tumultuous high school year — Pink Floyd and Lords of Acid, outside cheerleader practice, kind of rough and tumble.
You also just put out a deluxe version of St. Vincent with extra songs recorded during the initial sessions, but have you given any thought to your next musical direction?
I’m writing all the time. I’m not exactly at the point of knowing what it is, but I’m writing all the time. I’ve lived a lot of life, so there’s a lot of things to write about.
Any music you’re currently digging as a fan right now?
I’ve been on a pretty steady stream of the new D’Angelo record, the new Kendrick Lamar record and revisiting some of my favorites like Can’s Ege Bamyasi, I’m doing more of a krautrock exploration.