On the Road… with St. Vincent

The 2022 Pirelli Calendar aims to capture the atmosphere for a musician on tour. For the artist St. Vincent, performing live is a vital part of life and one that makes the world “a better place”

From the age of four, Annie Clark, known as St. Vincent, was obsessed with guitars. She made her first one out of cardboard and rubber bands and began lessons – on a proper guitar! – aged 12, excited to be able to emulate the sounds of grunge heroes ranging from Metallica to Robert Fripp – and many points between and beyond. For her Pirelli Calendar photo shoot, Bryan Adams was keen to reference her talent for skilled, inventive guitar-playing, so, for one shot, he photographed her with a guitar pick (plectrum) on her tongue. “I’ve got a feeling that might be the cover of the calendar,” Adams said after the shot was taken.

For a second round of portraits, Clark was photographed in a hotel room at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, a series of contemplative shots “to capture the feeling of the loneliness of being on your own in your room” after a show, Adams said.

Clark, who grew up in the Dallas suburbs, has an extensive history as a touring musician. She first performed live as a teenager and played with choral rock group The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Steven’s touring band before forming her own band in 2006. Since then she has released seven studio albums including a collaborative album with David Byrne called Love This Giant (2012). Her fourth solo studio album, St. Vincent, released in 2014, won her a first Grammy for best alternative album. She won a second Grammy for best rock song for Masseduction, the title track from her highly acclaimed 2017 album. Known for her sophisticated song writing and ever-evolving aesthetic, she has embraced rock, pop, art rock and indie; Daddy’s Home, her 2021 album, has been described as an “album-length tribute to Seventies’ rock’n’roll”.

After the shoot she talked about giving her all to her performances, the “sacred bond” she shares with her fans and the power of live shows.

Let’s talk about the shots. Can you describe them?
The first shot was as if I was in my hotel room alone before or after a show, just those little moments that you get as a musician of solitude and a little bit of cinematic loneliness. And then I started moving around the space and was looking through the blinds, and it was sort of like a 9½ Weeks lighting, and it was really beautiful and fun.

How was working with Bryan?
He’s lovely. And I’m a big fan of his music. I was telling him that his voice is truly unbelievable. It chokes me up every time I hear it… and he’s an incredible photographer so he’s a real double trouble.

What does it mean for you to be part of this Pirelli Calendar?
I’ve loved Pirelli Calendars for a long time; I mean I’ve been aware of them since when Helmut Newton was shooting them. It’s iconic, it’s classic and I was so glad to be involved.

Tell us about your relationship with your fans?
When I think about music and what it has given me and the way that I get to make music that I love and connect with people in such a deep way through the music that I love – and, I don’t mean this in a self-aggrandising way, change their lives and inspire them to be the best version of themselves that they can be and inspire them to follow their dreams and everything just by virtue of making the music that I do that I think tries to speak honestly about the human condition – I just mean it’s a really sacred bond.

You tour a lot, how do you stay close to the people that you love?
Touring is like some alternate reality. Touring is like being suspended in air. You’re living in some kind of a bizarre dream and I love it. I’ve spent a lot of my life in that bizarre dream, but I think it’s really important to make sure you make the time for the people who you love or have them come out on the road and hang with you or else you’re like a hot-air balloon that could just float off into outer space.

What are the challenges of being on the road?
I think the challenges are that you sort of have a licence for whatever it is, a six-week tour, an eight-week tour, a six-month tour, to be a little bit insane because it takes a crazy person to do this. I don’t mean that pejoratively, it’s just only a job for an insane person. So I think you have to balance your innate insanity with having some things that ground you and surrounding yourself with people on the road who are like family and friends… people who are pretty grounded and can make you feel safe and pull you back down to earth if you start floating up into the ether forever.

What’s the feeling you get after a live show?
The feeling that I get after a live show is as if I’ve emptied out everything in me and it’s a desperate satisfaction, it’s a purging and there’s no substitute for a live show. There is no greater feeling of high stakes, connection, a room full of people sweating, screaming and dreaming the same dream for an hour and a half, there’s nothing like it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share – memories, thoughts about life on the road as an artist?
I do have something. The reason we need live shows is because they increase our empathy, and I don’t mean that in an esoteric way, I mean literally, neurologically, the feeling of a bunch of people in one space listening to music creates dopamine and creates a level of empathy that wasn’t there before. There’s something about the crowd being altogether that actually creates empathy and if you create empathy you create less human suffering and less judgment and less demonisation of others and you actually, literally make the world a better place.