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Music as a play

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | FEBRUARY 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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mp3 sample: St. Vincent

"The Strangers"

Annie Clark wanted to be among her own — the freaks.

“I’m, in some ways, really glad I grew up in the suburbs, because if I hadn’t, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to move to New York City,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to go off to the big city and be around a real arts community, be among the freaks. There aren’t that many freaks in suburban Dallas.”

The multi-instrumentalist, who goes by the stage moniker St. Vincent, will perform at 6 p.m. today with Wildbirds & Peace Drums at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave. Admission is $12 advance, $15 at the door.

After moving east to escape, Clark attended Berklee College of Music for three years before heading to New York to pursue her dream of making music. But, after a string of bad, low-paying jobs, she moved back to Dallas, where she found more luck. She joined pop collective the Polyphonic Spree (a group known to have at least 10 members at a time) and worked with indie-famed musician Sufjan Stevens.

Clark then released her début album, Marry Me, to critical acclaim (the title based on the character Maebe on the cult show “Arrested Development”). Her second LP, Actor, released last year to more success. With all the positive energy surrounding her music, she began playing for sold out shows and bigger venues.

Despite the rapid growth — which she is humbled by and thankful for — the reality of touring keeps the 27-year-old in check.

“It’s all very exciting, and I hate to draw the curtain back from the wizard, but being on the road is not necessarily as glamorous as you think,” she said. “Except for that hour and a half or so that you’re on stage and playing for people — that makes it all worth it.”

And she does, indeed, says KRUI’s music director and self-proclaimed “huge fan” Drew Ingersoll, make it worth it.

“She’s extremely innovative,” he said. “I don’t know too many other people who are doing the things that she is. Her voice. Her arrangements. They’re so original.”

Lyrically, Clark’s music is open for interpretation. Although the songwriter is known for her love of literature (the lyric “paint the black hole blacker” in Actor’s “The Stranger” is a direct line from Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America), she doesn’t want to spoil anything for her listeners.

“I’ve had the case where I’ve been a fan of a band or artist, and I’ve loved their song and it’s really spoke to me on a personal level, and I hear them say, ‘Oh, it’s about their dog’ or whatever,” she said.
However, critics do often point to her lyrics as dark, which play against her upbeat, poppy sounds. The artist, who has a theater background, said she wants to “write music like people write plays,” going against traditional norms.

“I think a lot about song structure, but not in an arbitrary way,” she said. “A lot of this record [Actor] was propelled by the idea of what drama is initially — what do characters want and what happens when they don’t get it.”

But between all the syllables and syntax of storytelling, she hopes to leave a listener wondering just enough to get to the finish.

“You sort of ramp up to a dramatic ending with fireworks, you know?” she said.


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