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Saintly Pop: Catching Up With St. Vincent

The last thing you would expect from small-framed, sweet Annie Clark, is the way she handles a guitar.

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Annie Clark

Annie Clark

Photo By Annabel Mehran

The last thing you would expect from small-framed, sweet Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent — with her dark Botticelli curls, flawless porcelain skin and soulful eyes — is the way she handles a guitar. Aggressive, physical and unrestrained, Clark can rock out with the best of them. “I feel like I’m always trying to keep this struggle between order and chaos,” says the singer-songwriter, who counts Prince, Frank Zappa and David Bowie as influences. “The guitar is sort of the realm in which I can go a little bit spastic and crazy and get a little bit out of control.”

But contrast is the name of the game for Clark, who was raised in suburban Dallas and now lives in Brooklyn, and chose a long-ago family middle name as her stage moniker. “I thought it was a nice way to honor where I came from,” she says. For her 11-track sophomore album, “Actor” (4AD), which hits shelves May 5, she pairs breathy, Sleeping Beauty-like pop vocals with powerful guitar riffs and stomping board beats. The record, a follow-up to St. Vincent’s 2007 quiet hit, “Marry Me,” is inspired by an assortment of films, including “The Wizard of Oz” and “Badlands,” and was conceived when Clark was trying to avoid writer’s block. For distraction, she took to watching movies with the sound turned down and “ended up trying to score some of my favorite films and scenes, and it became something that really informed the whole record.” Most of the songs, such as “The Strangers” and “Actor Out of Work,” are studies in opposition, such as facing love and disappointment. “On one hand there is a belief in romance and idealization and on the other hand there is a sardonic undercutting of that idea,” Clark says. “I think they are intertwined inextricably.”

While Clark works a quirky, experimental range in her music, she showcases more “austere, buttoned-up” choices in the fashion arena, favoring cool labels such as Chloé, Acne and Opening Ceremony. She cites Diane Keaton’s Seventies “Annie Hall” look as similar to her everyday uniform, which consists of black tights, high-waisted skirts and white button-downs topped with a short trenchcoat, saying, “It’s a little bit nerdy, a little bit whimsical.” But thanks to touring with her uncle and aunt, jazz duo Tuck and Patti (Tuck Andress and Patti Cathcart), as a teenager, Clark subscribes to the dressing-to-the-nines policy when she performs. Stage favorites include a Mayle black tuxedo dress accented with houndstooth and a David Szeto sun gold silk top she describes “as being spun from the heavens.”

“It’s old-school,” Clark continues, “but I think you should really be impeccably dressed and put some thought into what you’re going to put on when you go out on stage just as a show of respect. It’s like putting on your Sunday best.”

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