Annie Clark has spent a career inventing characters.
On 2011’s Strange Mercy, she was a tranquillised suburban housewife, while 2017’s Masseduction saw her transform into a deranged leather-clad rock heroine. On Daddy’s Home, her sixth and newest album as St Vincent she visits early 1970s New York channelling the grit of the city through funk, proto-punk guitars and jagged rhythms.
Simultaneously, the record addresses her most personal topic yet – her father’s recent release from prison following a decade-long stint for his part in a multi-million dollar stock scheme. “I never really wanted to talk about it in any specific way,” she explains. “To protect my family and also because I never wanted it to overshadow, or put too much of my own autobiography, into the music.
“Because really the music is for the fans. After it is made, it is not really about me at all. It is about their experience with it. It’s not about me and the happenstance of my own life.”
So why has she recorded an album about it? “I was at a place where I was able to write about it with humour and compassion, a sort of sardonic matter of factness, without losing heart. I wanted to be able to tell my story because it had been told without my consent anyway.”
Texas-raised Clark, 38, is retaking control of her narrative. In 2016, when she was in a relationship with supermodel and paparazzi magnet Cara Delevingne her father’s story was dug up by the press and reported far and wide. Up until that point, she had largely avoided that level of public scrutiny, moving through the music industry as a left-field, rather than pure pop, artist. Daddy’s Home takes her challenging personal tale and treats it with irreverence, drawing out the incongruity of the situation.
“I signed autographs in the visitation room/Waiting for you the last time, inmate 502,” goes one line. “I think human nature is absurd,” she laughs. “And I mean that with love. But I think I could be fascinated with humanity and why we do what we do for the rest of my life. I could write about it, study it, think about it [always].”
In trademark style, Clark has also added a dash of disconcerting camp to proceedings. Seventies New York and her father’s imprisonment match, she explains, because “they are both quite sleazy stories.” She laughs. “I wanted to write a record about flawed people doing their best to get by and making mistakes because I can. Because I have been everybody on the record in a lot of ways. The title Daddy’s Home means a lot of things, but also it is intended to be funny and pervy and just absurd.”
Clark makes a dramatic, sarcastic “eugh” sound as she reflects on her choice of album title. But the Daddy in question is not just her genetic father, she says. “There is a transformation. It certainly starts in terms of telling a story that is more autobiographical in terms of, ‘Last time I went to visit my father in prison, signing autographs in the visitation room’. That is hilarious. I’m sorry, that is hilarious.
“But then over the course of the thing transforming, actually I am Daddy now. The title really encapsulates everything.”
Clark may have created a character for the album, but she has still poured herself into it. “It’s definitely inside me,” she replies, searching for the right example. “It’s like a mixing board. If you have a personality and parts of you are this and parts of you are that, it’s just a question of turning up your more masculine side or turning down ego or turning up humour. All this stuff, I think of it as, everybody has faders on their personality traits.”
Across her six studio albums and nearly two decades as St Vincent, Clark has used those faders freely, and each new album has been accompanied by a physical transformation. Daddy’s Home sees her adopt a blonde Debbie Harry bob and razor sharp disco suits. Her shape-shifting has prompted comparisons to David Bowie such that it is now almost obligatory that any review notes their shared love of reinvention.
“Everything I do needs to continue to tell the story of the album and expand upon the story,” she explains. “Because I have been every character on the record in a lot of ways, it is like I need to embody it in a very physical way, instead of just in the musical sphere. To continue to live in the world, continue to tell the story.”
As an artist who believes in gender and sexual fluidity, growing up in Dallas, Texas during the Nineties was, unsurprisingly, a challenge. “I had to leave to figure out where my people were,” she recalls. “And now that I am settled in my self, in a certain way, now I am happy to go back and there are great things about where I am from and I spend a lot of time there. I was self-alienated and strange and was dreaming of the day when I could go and see the broader world, which I knew was out there but I didn’t have access to.”
However, maybe the reason Clark was attracted to the New York of the Seventies is simpler. Like today, that time saw society “standing in the rubble of a lot of structures of power”. “It’s like dispatches from the burned out building.”
Daddy’s Home by St Vincent is released on May 14.