St Vincent interview: Bonus bits

Last time I interviewed St Vincent, she locked me in a pink box and forced me to listen to ambient music while we talked. 

This time round was more conventional - a phone call, late at night, with her in New York and me in my attic trying not to wake the kids up. 

You can read the full interview over on the BBC - but here's a section of the chat that got cut because (a) it as a massive tangent and (b) the article was already way over the agreed word count. Hope you enjoy! 

In your Audible series last year, you talked about being an outsider. And your songs thrum with empathy for other outsiders and the down-and-out. Is that where you feel you would be if it wasn't for music? 

Oh, I'd probably be dead. I probably would have jumped off the mortal coil. Dead literally or dead inside. 

I mean, no. I'm sure I would have had more fortitude and figured something out. But let me just say I'm very glad. I'm very lucky that I get to play music for a living, which is just absolutely insane. 

When did you realise music would be a lifeline? 

I realised I was obsessed with music when I was really young. It did something to me - and for me - that nothing else in the world did. I knew I wanted to be in it, a part of it, by the time I was nine or 10. Nirvana’s Nevermind came out and the Pearl Jam Jeremy video was on the TV and I was like, “This is it for me”. 

 It's funny now, when I look at other 10-year-olds, I think, “Oh wow, they might know exactly what they want.” Isn't that wild? 

 In one way, it makes perfect sense to me in my own narrative, and then I see it from the outside, how young a 10-year-old is, I'm like, “Whoa.” 

That’s so weird – because my son is 10 and just this morning, he asked me: “What age do you know what you want to do when you grow up?” 

What did you say? 

Well, I was stumped! But my wife said, “Honey, I still don't know.” 

That is fair and true. 

I remember that I wanted to be a pop star, then I wanted to be an astronaut, and then I fell in love with the idea of becoming an historian and shambling around in a crusty old jacket with egg stains on my tie. 

Yeah, being an historian does sound pretty nice, doesn't it? 

I mean it's literally just reading books for a living. 

Yeah, it really is. You're right. That could be lovely. 

Didn’t you start reading books about Stalinist Russia during lockdown?  

[Laughs self-deprecatingly] Yeah I did. I don't really have a formal education [but] I pick up subjects that interest me. 

I’ve always been a big fan of Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, and I guess I was like, “What, happened to the Russian art of the mid-20th century?” And of course the answer is: “Oh, Stalin killed them all.” So yeah I want back and read Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward and Gulag Archipelago; and Martin Amis's book on Stalin and the Applebaum book [Red Famine]. 

And that was purely for intellectual stimulation. You’re not planning a rock opera about Stalinist Russia? 

God no! God no! But there's such cruelty in the 20th Century. I mean, the mentally weakest among us, flushing out all that's good about humanity. And Mao made Stalin look pretty nice, so it's just like, geez, that was really something. 

Was there an aspect in which you were reading this stuff because of the political climate in America last year? 

Oh, sure, sure. Besides the advent social media, human beings have been pretty similar throughout history. So we've seen despots before, we've seen dictators before. We've seen them. And we've seen satanic panics before, we've seen witch hunts before. 

 So, I think going back was helping me understand where we are now. And to have some perspective - to basically try to not get so hysterical about everything and zoom out and go, “OK what what's at play here?” because I kind of doubt that the predominant narrative was the most accurate one.

St Vincent's new album, Daddy's Home, is out today and it is as brilliant as everyone says it is. 


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