Sometimes, a band or artist picks a name that gives you some clues as to their sound, attitude or approach. Sometimes, though, an artist gives you nothing to go on. St. Vincent, the moniker chosen by Annie Clark, could be referring to any number of things (but probably not the college where the Steelers practice).
“It’s a reference to a Nick Cave song, where he says, ‘Dylan Thomas died drunk/In St. Vincent’s Hospital,’ ” Clark says.
St. Vincent performed before a packed Stage AE Friday night.
The wildly eccentric, exciting music of St. Vincent doesn’t really have a ready-made category to place it in. Clark cut an album with David Byrne (Talking Heads) recently, “Love This Giant.” It turned out much better than these sort of meeting-of-the-equals collaborations sometimes do, but Byrne, for his part, professes to know just as little about her now, as a person, than he did before the project began.
“Mystery is not a bad thing for a beautiful, talented, young woman (or man) to embrace,” Byrne said in an interview with the Village Voice.
This is a recurring theme with St. Vincent — the elaborate, intricately constructed layers of artifice in her music and the opaque, discreet personality behind it. It leads to assumptions that she’s a bit detached from her music. Her acclaimed 2009 album, “Actor,” seemed to indicate that she was playing a role or assuming a character of some kind.
Clark insists that this perception isn’t accurate.
“This music is deeply personal to me,” she says. “I’m not entirely sure where this idea of detachment comes from. I’m interested in exploring all the intricacies of what it is to be human. Not just butterflies and rosebuds, but what about all the other stuff? How do we relate to each other? How do we construct meaning out of seemingly random events?”
Her music ranges from placid, lullaby-like prettiness to panic-attack meltdowns — with every instrument, every sound, every breath locked precisely in place. At times, it falls somewhere between the aggressive sex and danger of PJ Harvey and the ethereal, otherworldly weirdness of Bjork. Sometimes, it leans toward high-concept art, then it leans toward rock and roll.
Clark’s guitar playing, in particular, has a spiky, minimalist streak to it that aligns perfectly with her oblique writing style. It avoids just about all the usual rock-star cliches.
“All of it is played by humans,” Clark says. “It’s just made to sound inorganic, so it has the feel of humans and the sound of machines.”
Her new album, self-titled “St. Vincent,” comes with a new sense of style, a new level of theatricality — even a new haircut (bleached white, frizzy).
“I dyed my hair about a year ago, for fun,” Clark says. “I started conceiving of an archetype for this new record — and I’m very interested in power and unpacking what power means and how different people wield power.
“The archetype is a ‘near-future cult leader.’ What does that look like? Even in a pose, what does power look like? We built this throne and this dress, and I was perched atop this massive chair. What does it look like if my legs are to the side? Like a demented Golden Age Hollywood starlet, queenly and imperious in an unfortunate way.”