4-to-Watch: St. Vincent

Out of many, one

Music Features St. Vincent
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Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Sole member: Annie Clark
Fun fact:
Clark began composing songs on music-software package Cakewalk when she was 14.
Why she’s worth watching: Clark sent a few demos to friends once she’d completed her album. The response surprised her, especially when she started getting MySpace messages from Capitol Records.
For fans of: Joanna Newsom, My Brightest Diamond, Rufus Wainwright

St. Vincent, aka Texas native Annie Clark, loves a crowd. The singer and guitarist spent time in The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ backing band before going solo. She’s also one of nine siblings, so it’s no wonder she sees those bands as big families.

“Whenever you get that many people together on stage making music, there’s this transformative thing that happens, just by the sheer volume of heartbeats on stage,” she says while on break from touring with another multi-headed beast, the Arcade fire.

Though the 23-year-old enjoys the group dynamic, her solo debut, Marry Me, also has people excited. It’s filled with delicate orchestration, winsome instrumentation and the kind of sweeping fancy that makes you think Paris, France, not Paris, Texas. Track names like, “Jesus Saves, I Spend,” hint at the record’s dry wit. “I love it when a really macabre or dark lyric is done in a sweet way,” she says. “That kind of frightens me, and I like that.” first single “Now Now” is another example in which a nursery-rhyme-like refrain (“you don’t mean that / say you’re sorry”) turns more sinister through each insistent repetition of the phrase. A cheerful children’s backing chorus only adds to the eeriness.

There’s something disconcerting about the maturity of Marry Me, given Clark’s age. Even more surprising? Clark started writing some of the album’ songs when she was 15. But at 15, she’d already been playing guitar for a few years, and was composing songs on her computer and managing tours for her aunt and uncle, two jazz musicians who took her along on European tours. “Having them be successful working musicians … it’s like anything—your dad’s a banker, so you say, ‘Oh, well, that’s possible.’ They were working and traveling musicians, so I said, ‘That’s possible for me.’”