St. Vincent's Annie Clark on Recording With David Byrne: 'There Were Growing Pains in the Beginning' - Rolling Stone
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St. Vincent’s Annie Clark on Recording With David Byrne: ‘There Were Growing Pains in the Beginning’

Duo’s album ‘Love This Giant’ is released next week

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Annie Clark of St. Vincent

Tina Tyrell

Three years in the making, Love This Giant, the fabled collaborative album between indie ingénue/shredder Annie Clark and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, finally sees the light of day on September 11th. What began as a one-off gig borne of mutual admiration of each other’s work became a fabulously strange pop album comprised of tracks ping-ponged back and forth via email while the two were touring and working on other albums. A curious, horn-driven affair, it works in remarkably unexpected ways, sounding like a true meeting of minds between the two icons.

Rolling Stone caught up with Clark last week amidst rehearsals for the forthcoming tour.

Youve been in other people’s bands but youve been solo and the captain of your own ship for years now. How was having a collaborative partnership?
It’s a trade-off in some ways. It’s great in that the whole reason you collaborate with someone is that you get to come up with ideas that you wouldn’t on your own. In the logistical regard, with rehearsal, there’s another boss – a co-boss (laughs) – to bounce ideas off of and David’s very… Well, there is just no point in doing a collaboration if you don’t like and trust what the other person does. Working with him, it’s a relief.

Also, he is very organized. (laughs) Like, three-ring-binder organized. I like to think I’ve got it together, but he kind of takes it to another level. (laughs)

Creatively, did you have any parameters from the outset?
We did. You have to. With this, it all started with us thinking we would do four or six songs one night at Housing Works [in New York] and I suggested we use a small brass band. I was thinking, logistically, acoustically, since we are performing in a small bookstore with no P.A., if we just sing with the brass band, a small ensemble, we can get away with it. I suggested that very early on, and he was into it, and so we ventured forth.

Were you friends before this?
No, I didn’t know him. We met at the afterparty for Dark Was the Night; he had come to a few of my shows around the time of the first record. I remember I was about to go onstage at the Bowery and [a friend] came bounding up the stairs and goes “David Byrne is here!” I wish she had told me after I’d played. (laughs) A few days later, we met at this party and there was a collaboration between these other artists and we thought we might like to do something like that.

Was it easy working together? Natural?
There were growing pains in the beginning; it was just a matter of learning how to write together. David had done it before, but I think in situations where there had been more of a clear division of labor, or just him writing over a track someone sent him. We were really both all over everything and so it’s a true collaboration in that sense.

How did you orchestrate it? He’s obviously a busy guy and you have been on tour for much of the last few years.
We are both accustomed to writing on the computer and writing arranged pieces of music, so it worked a number of ways. I sent him music I was working on with no melody and then I would add another section or he sent me [a] simple chord structure and melody and I would deconstruct and make a horn arrangement and invert something and make it minor. We would just fuck with each other’s parts and pieces and it was good, working that way. I think we approached it in the analytical and also an architectural way. Neither one of us was ruffled by that, so we could just cut things up. It didn’t feel precious and it never felt like there was a minefield in the other person that had to be watched for.

Was there any point where you had to subvert your ego?
My instinct was to put a lot of guitar on things. It’s a vice and it’s also what I am known for, and so when we were in the studio, I was thinking a lot about what guitar should go here and here… and David said “Lets keep this about the horns.” Which was a good call because it gives the record its own identity rather than sounding like St. Vincent with David Byrne.

The horns push both your voice and his to places you haven’t really gone before.
There is something funny about it – in this way that horns are aping the human voice, but when you end up playing with horns, you end up aping the horns. It’s meta-music. The way I was envisioning it, I was imagining we will sing together, not one would sing the harmony and the other lead. And how it turned out, how I think of it now, is like a Greek chorus. David is Lazurus and I am the chorus. (laughs)

What are your favorite duets?
Favorite? Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane. Ones I have listened to recently? Oh… that Frank and Nancy Sinatra one that goes (sings) “Duh duh duh duh… something stupid and I love you!” It’s just so creepy and awkward. It’s like that scene from Arrested Development when the uncle and the niece sing “Afternoon Delight.” There’s also that Frank and Barbra Striesand duet from when Sinatra didn’t travel anymore, so it’s unlikely they were in the same room and you can really tell. It’s about the little cottage in the woods, that one. It’s a love song, and he sounds like (tentative) “I’ll call you!” but she sounds like she has already named their future children.


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