Annie Clark has traveled the world, played her music for thousands of people, been mentioned in The New York Times and danced in a room with Bjork. Not to mention that she’s done all of this before the age of 25…and she’s not finished yet. After touring around the world with several different bands, Clark, a 2001 Lake Highlands High School graduate, started her solo career this summer under the name St. Vincent.
Clark started playing guitar when she was 12, and it was love at first strum. At 15, she played her first show at a Deep Ellum bar. By high school, she was playing in the jazz band, singing in the show choir, and had formed a band with her friends.
Her big break came in 2005, when a friend in symphonic rock band The Polyphonic Spree told Clark the band was always on the lookout for new talent and suggested she try out. Since she had been a fan of the group for several years, she jumped at the opportunity and took part in one of their rehearsals.
“I made sure I knew all the songs,” Clark says. “I kind of knew them anyway, but I made sure that I had something to add. I got in there, and it was like a dream come true.”
The dream continued when she was asked to tour with them.
“The next day I came back, and my friend goes, ‘Annie, I’m thinking about taking you to Europe,’” she says. “I was like ‘OK. Yes, please. Sign me up.’”
She jumped on a plane about six days later to perform throughout Europe for tens of thousands of people.
“My first show with them was in Spain,” she says. “I think there were like 30,000 people. It was great.”
Since then, Clark has toured as a guitar player in Sufjan Stevens’ band and played shows with Arcade Fire, John Vanderslice and Midlake, all big names in indie rock music.
“They all bring something to the musical spectrum and the culture that’s really vital,” Clark says. “It was really lucky for me to get to tour with them.”
As for dancing with Bjork, Clark did that when she was on the road with Sufjan Stevens. His band was in Iceland for a show when the group found out that Bjork’s first band, the Sugarcubes, was having its one and only reunion in Iceland that night. So after Sufjan Stevens’ show, the whole band was invited to an after party with the Sugarcubes, where everyone danced the night away, including Clark and Bjork.
Recently Clark launched her solo career with a nationwide tour and a new album called “Marry Me,” released in July. Instead of sticking with the name Annie Clark when she plays her music, she chose the name St. Vincent, a name that doesn’t limit her to playing solo or to one style of music. As St. Vincent, she can play her music and include anyone she wants.
“I think it’s really important to make a space for what you want to do and sort of name it in a way that gives it life and gives it space,” she says. “I just wanted to create a house, a place where I could be a creative person that was different than the normal, boring, numbing things we have to do.”
Clark wrote each song on her album and plays all of the instruments, with the exception of some of the piano, which was played by Mike Garson, David Bowie’s long-time pianist. Her repertoire includes guitar, bass, piano, dulcimer, xylophone and vibes, many of them self-taught.
“I just kind of picked them up and figured how I could make sounds with them,” she says. “I like this quote by John Lennon where he kind of says, ‘I’m not the best guitar player in the world, but I’m an artist, and I can make some music from really anything.’”
And Clark does find music in anything. She pulls inspiration from everywhere when she’s writing her music – newspapers, modern art, Woody Allen films, you name it. Any of these can give her ideas for a song, Clark says.
She took many of these songs, along with a band, on the road with her. Touring is nothing new to Clark. She had a taste of it even before her days with The Polyphonic Spree. Her aunt and uncle, Patti and Tuck Andress, are a jazz duo who travel the world with their music. In 1999, they took Clark on their Japanese tour.
“Her main activities were assisting our tour manager and blowing away all the young Japanese guitarists with her casual virtuosity while sitting around the dressing room,” Tuck Andress says. “Many hearts were undoubtedly broken when we left Japan.”
In 2003, she went on the road in Europe as their tour manager where she learned the ins and outs of touring and how to deal with everything from “uncooperative Russian promoters” to “a lack of language, food and sleep,” Andress says. Not only did this give her valuable experience in the music industry, but it also put her mother’s mind at ease when she struck out in the music world on her own.
“Since my brother’s done it, we knew it was a viable career,” Sharon Clark says. “Music can be a career just like any other.”
Even though touring may not be the ideal lifestyle for everyone, Clark says she loves it.
“It’s not for the person who needs to be in their own bed every night and likes to have their pillows just so,” she says. “There are aspects of it that can be uncomfortable, but ultimately it’s totally exhilarating getting to travel and meet people. It’s experiential learning.”
For Clark, what’s even better than the traveling is the show she gets to put on at the end of the day.
“I have this friend who says being on the road is like they pay you to travel. The show is free,” she says. “I really relate to that. I love playing. You may have spent eight hours driving in a van, driving through craziness, but then you get to play a show and that’s the really wonderful reward.”
Clark’s mother says her daughter’s love for performing really comes through when she’s on stage.
“In her banter to the audience between songs, that’s exactly how she is: warm, funny. It’s natural,” she says. “But when she’s singing, it’s something else. Something takes over. It’s like she’s her normal self but also her creative self.”
Clark says this creativity was encouraged while growing up in our neighborhood. In her travels, she has even run into other musicians from Lake Highlands High School who are making a name for themselves.
“I think that says something about the community being a place where music is fostered,” she says.
ST. VINCENT IN CONCERT
WHEN/ Friday, Sept. 14, 9 p.m. (performing with The National)
WHERE/ The Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville
TO PURCHASE/ tickets.granadatheater.com