St Vincent shares the story behind her new record All Born Screaming

St Vincent shares the story behind her new record All Born Screaming

Triple Grammy Award-winning star St Vincent, aka Annie Clark, is returning with her newest record, All Born Screaming, on April 26 via Virgin Music/Fiction Records. 

The album follows St Vincent’s 2021 record Daddy’s Home, which went to No.4 in the UK albums chart. As her first completely self-produced project yet, All Born Screaming also promises to be her rawest. 

St Vincent released the first single from the album, Broken Man, on February 29, which has racked up more than 400,000 streams on Spotify so far. The album is set to feature collaborations with artists including Dave Grohl, Cate Le Bon and many more. 

Here, St Vincent meets up with Music Week to reveal the story behind her most vulnerable album yet, and to talk about the ups and downs of self-producing, working with friends and sharing her life through music…

Let’s go back to the beginning of the new record. Was there much overlap with Daddy’s Home?

“No, there wasn’t much overlap. I’m always making things so I never sit down and go, ‘Today I’m starting a record’. I’m always just making things and what I put out is two percent of what I make. A lot of the genesis of this record was me sitting alone in a room with my drum machine and my modular synths and honestly just playing, moving electricity around, for hours. There’s hours of music, but distilling and refining it into a cohesive vision that says ‘This is where I am, this is what I’m trying to say’, that’s a long process.”

What is that vision?

“I think the record sounds like black and white and all of the colours in a fire. It’s the rawest thing I’ve ever done and simultaneously the most sonically pristine.”

What prompted that approach, is it that you were producing this record yourself?

“Yeah. Me really honing my lexicon as a producer, doing some of the engineering on the record and just making sure that every arrangement and everything is purposeful and intentional and powerful.”

What was the best and worst thing about producing yourself?

“The best thing is that it’s all the sound of the inside of my head and I’m the first and final filter on everything. The best thing is also what I’ve discovered making it and the way that there’s some things you can only get to if you are putting in the hours and walking into the woods alone. There’s a place and a realness that you get to because you’ve exhausted yourself, which is also the worst thing about producing – that you drive yourself crazy. You have to be the person who’s not just performing it all but also saying, ‘Yes, that’s good enough’ and just not stopping – this is not the worst part – until you feel like it’s absolutely excellent.”

From a listener’s point of view, it feels like your most emotional record. Not in the lyrics or even the vocals necessarily, but there’s more of a poignancy in the chord changes and the overall sound. 

“Yeah, one of the things about producing was, even though I could do it in my studio, there was something about going to a studio, I went to Electric Lady to cut a lot of the vocals because something felt final if I did it [there]. I’d be in Room B for hours alone into the night. There are songs on the record that I could tell you I sang 100 times. I just did them over and over again, because I had to get to the point where where everything was real and wasn’t performed.”

Really? That sounds like a one-way ticket to a nervous breakdown. 

“Yeah, absolutely! That one is in the category of the hardest part of producing, because there’s noone in there going, ‘Yeah, that one was good enough’. It’s you, and you’re the one saying it’s good enough or it’s not good enough. But you also hone your antenna because when you believe and you know that it is actually finally good enough or it’s the vision that you’re going for, you go, ‘OK great, all it takes is time and effort, all it takes is the process,’ and you get there."

How did you know when it was finished?

“How I knew it was 'done-done' was that, [although] I obsess over the work, I’d made a couple of slight adjustments to the master and it was a palindrome – 41 minutes and 14 seconds. The record is a full meal and it was very important to me, like, ‘OK, how do the songs flow into one another and how much of a breath do you have in between songs?’ So, when I had made my final tweaks and I got the master back and it sounded correct and I looked at the timecode and it was a palindrome, I was like, ‘That’s a sign’." 

Who was the first person you played it to who wasn’t involved in the creation of it?

“Steve McQueen, the British director. I played it for him first. He was incredibly supportive. He was such an inspiration for this record in ways that he might know and other ways he might not, so I played it for him.”

How was he an inspiration?

“Well, periodically we would get on the phone and talk about art, talk about what it means, what’s the real meat of something. We would just rap about it.”

Tell me about some of the collaborators on the record. Dave Grohl is a big name, and Cate Le Bon and you go back a long way as well. How did you go about choosing your team?

“Well, I’m lucky to call Grohl a friend and I had a couple of songs on this record where I was like, ‘This doesn’t need somebody playing like Dave Grohl because nobody can play like Dave Grohl except Dave Grohl – this needs Dave Grohl because this needs thunder’. He brings thunder. I called him over to my studio and first of all, it was a fun experience because we’re sitting and chatting and trading stories and he’s smoking Parliaments and then it’s like, ‘Alright, let’s go’ and he played through the songs, which he’d heard maybe three times but knew every twist and turn because he’s a great songwriter. This was on the songs Flea and Broken Man.”

And neither of those are just a straightforward, ‘play a four-beat for me’ type of track, especially Flea…

“No! I sent Flea to him the night before and he came in and played everything perfectly. We had a hell of a time and he drove away in his truck and it was just electric to hear him play. Cate is one of my best friends going back years. She’s a great producer in her own right and I pretty much called her in at the point of tip-toeing towards that nervous breakdown that you talked about. I played her some things and I was like, ‘Hold my hand and tell me everything is going to be OK’. I love her ear, I love her aesthetic.”

How was it after being friends for so long turning that into a working relationship, was it seamless or was there any adapting needed?

“Oh no, easy breezy. I think telling somebody the truth is a sign of respect, so I don’t keep people around who won’t tell me the truth. It doesn’t mean being mean or lacerating or needlessly cruel but ‘Hey, what’s the truth?’ or ‘What’s the truth as you see it and I will assimilate some of that information and take what I agree with and lose what I don’t.’ I find Cate’s presence in general to be very soothing and she came in at a point when I was spinning my wheels.”

How do you look back now on the whole era of Daddy’s Home? It was a strange time to release a record, post-pandemic, in an uncertain world…

“You know what I loved so much? It was the Daddy’s Home shows. The luxury of having background singers and a band of rippers, I think those shows were some of the most irreverent fun I’ve had. I think that every single record and every single piece of art put out in the pandemic needs to be looked at with an asterisk, which isn’t to say it is lesser, it just needs to be viewed through a very specific lens because artists couldn’t do what they normally do, you have a lot of work that’s very internal.”

Yeah, it was a very weird time, like we should either study it through that lens or never talk about it again.

“Exactly. Even the state of everyone’s mind or the state of discourse, just put an asterisk next to that period of time.”

That record was built up around the theme of your dad being released from prison and opened up a doorway for people to ask you about your personal and family life in a way that none of your records ever had before. How did that feel?

“In the words of Paul Simon, the listener completes the song. I mean this genuinely and not as a way to deflect, but I think it’s about the work and if the work moves people. We’re definitely in an era of people always wanting an autobiography or wanting to [know] the context of what an artist is going through, but I think if the work is good enough and it reaches people, it doesn’t matter at all what is going on in the artist’s life.” 


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