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St. Vincent thinks of music in terms of color

St. Vincent has a reputation for being aloof in interviews. I’m not sure where this comes from. It’s likely that she’s just intimidating -- which, I fully admit, is the case. She’s obviously brilliant. Her albums are fully conceived. They are full of Big Ideas like the post-modern Memphis group furniture that inspired her self titled album in 2014. In her new album, “Daddy’s Home” we found out that her father had been in prison for the past decade, and had just gotten out. The truth is nearly pulp fiction. The album is equally full of big ideas including Nina Simone, '70s auteur directors and a lot of influence through color palate.

Her artistic vision is intimidating but I also found her to be charming and insightful.

St. Vincent | Courtesy photo

“Daddy's Home” is out. In listening to the record, I got to the second song, “ Down and Out Downtown” and thought, “This is loose.” It slinks. And I was wondering... in the last couple of albums, those were a lot tighter, was there a moment where you gave yourself that agency or made that decision to give the album more air?

Yeah. I was walking into Electric Lady Studios with Jack Antonoff before the pandemic, and I was working on this song called “The Holiday Party.” I said I want to do a Down and Out Downtown kind of thing. So we started playing that song and we played Wurlitzer and drums, and I played acoustic guitar and all that. And it felt right. So we just didn't question it and we just ran that way.

I just felt like I had way more to say in the brown color palette than I did in the tight one.

So the album and the whole presentation has kind of a New York '70s kind of vibe. Is that what you grew up listening to, or did you grow up listening to something else?

I listened to more Steely Dan as a child than maybe any other child. And there's those early '70s, Stevie Wonder records like "Songs in the Key of Life," "Talking Book" and "Innervisions." Those are just so in me, so deeply ingrained and my favorite music. Music I go back to more than anything.

I think I have so much respect for it and kind of almost didn't feel like I was ready to approach it as a musician until now.

I remember when my dad played Steely Dan, I said, "what is this?" And it was so busy and not approachable to me. What makes it your favorite kind of thing?

For whatever reason it was approachable to me. It was so musical. Those guitar solos should just be etched in stone. They're just perfect. I guess it kind of opened my ears to a lot of sophistication at a young age. I was there for it.

It seems like the color palette is a big influence on kind of everything? Is it?

Yeah. I mean, I think about music in terms of color. I see music as color and texture and that's how I conceive of it in general. You know, I think of music as shape. What's the shape of the album, what's the arc, where's the valley? So I think about it all in those terms. So it's such a far cry to then go when the music is done oh, what does it look like? Because I kind of know. I've already been kind of playing with those colors.

So what are the colors on this album?

Oh God, there's a lot of brown. There's a lot of brown. There's a lot of that baby puke yellow. There's a lot of that green of a '72 American car. It's beautiful but a little sick that green. And again, that's just a Kodachrome or something. I think about color. I think about it like painting or something. Not that I'm a good painter or anything, but just in terms of how to...

And what does that say about the creative space that you were at that time?

I kind of look at this record way more about taking my time and not forcing any little thing. I think about a particular recording a lot. There's a great live recording of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” the Nina Simone song and the singer starts and she stops them. She's like, "no, no, no. Y'all are pushing, you're pushing. Don't put nothing on it unless you feel it." And that was kind of echoing in my head the whole record. It was like, nope, you're pushing. Nope, let's just lean it back, lean it back, lean it back, lean it back. Welcome everybody in. Here look, sit down. Here's the beat-up leather armchair, sit down, let's talk about it, have a drink, have a laugh. That's kind of the feeling to me of this album.

I think on first listen, I was so struck by the song “ My Baby Wants a Baby” because I think it's one of those things where you're like, “oh, I know this song.”

Yeah, you definitely know it.

Yeah because of that... Can you tell me about that conversation that you have with Sheena Easton there on that song and why you brought that in?

Well, I think it was a subconscious thing. So I wrote the song “My Baby Wants a Baby” and for a day or so, I was like, you know what? I am a genius. I have just written the best melody there ever was. And then I was singing it again. And it was like, oh, it's so familiar. It's like it just fell to me from heaven. I was like, oh, it's Sheena Easton “(Morning Train) Nine to Five,” And that's why it's so good. It was a number one hit across the world. But then I was like, you know what? It actually really works. Because that song, my baby takes the morning train. This is that through the looking glass, this is a more transgressive 2021 take on that 1950s waiting for you at home kind of story.

Totally. And I love that and I'm listening to it. I love the conversation that your song has with that song.

Thank you. Well, thank you to Florrie Palmer who is credited on the record who wrote Nine to Five.

And finally before I go, I'd love to know what is the last song that you couldn't stop listening to, or that really got stuck in your head?

Oh, easy. Okay. It's this Russian artist named Kate NV and a song called "Plans."

And what is it about that song or what does it sound like?

It has traces of Stereolab, or Tom Tom Club, but not at all. It's really its own thing. It has a Russian flare that I don't know how to describe. Eastern? Somehow a little Eastern.

I love that. I can't wait to listen to it.

Yeah. Check it out.