Home Entertainment St. Vincent Talks ‘All Born Screaming,’ Co-Writing ‘Cruel Summer’

St. Vincent Talks ‘All Born Screaming,’ Co-Writing ‘Cruel Summer’

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St. Vincent Talks ‘All Born Screaming,’ Co-Writing ‘Cruel Summer’

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“I’ve known I was going to make a record called All Born Screaming since I was 23,” says St. Vincent. “But I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t really worthy of the title, ’cause you have to live a lot to be worthy of a title that really says it all. It’s the beauty, it’s the brutality, and it’s all part of the same continuum.”

St. Vincent’s superb new album of that name is suffused with beauty and brutality in equal measure, with Nine Inch Nails-worthy noise bursts, some elegant crooning, and a few of her most streamlined hard-rock tracks ever, some assisted by Dave Grohl on drums. There are also a few entirely unexpected moments on the album, which is the first the artist, 41, has produced on her own, including the off-kilter dub reggae of “So Many Planets,” which she spiced with a jazzy guitar solo meant to evoke Larry Carlton’s playing with Steely Dan.

“So much of making this record was, like, everything has to be tactile,” she says. “It has to start with electricity and analog circuitry. It has to be touched.” 

This album seems a lot more direct and unguarded than your past work.
In past records, I’ve been very interested in the idea of persona and iconography. I realized I’ve done that in my work because I’m queer. I’ve known that gender is performance since I was a child. But this record isn’t about persona or identity. It’s just about, like, life and death and love, and how in some ways life is impossible but we get to live it. We’ve only got one of them, depending on your belief system. And the only thing worth living for, actually, is love. So much of modern society is designed to belittle us, to fracture us. At the risk of being kumbaya, it’s radical to love thy neighbor. I’m not of a particular faith, but, like, we’re all we got. 

Ordinarily, I might say “Yeah, awesome” to an answer, but I don’t want to underplay what you just said.
[Laughs.] No, that’s OK. I read it off a meme, so don’t worry.

These songs sound like they were created by jamming with a band, but you actually did it on your own, with musicians added later. What’s your secret to that? 
I’ve got a mixer set up with three drum machines, two synths. This was my way of setting up all my machines and jamming with myself for hours and hours. Even if I only used four seconds, it was all worth it. Then you have to go back and go, “But what about songs?” All of the sounds have to serve the song. I could do this for hours, but what’s your heart saying? “That’s cute. That’s clever. Go deeper. Really look in the mirror, really reckon with all this.” And because I produced it alone, there are certain songs I sang a hundred times. It wasn’t about “I need to make this a perfect performance.” It was almost like what you hear David Fincher does to actors. 

Right. You did that to yourself.
I did that to myself because you just do it until there’s no ego, until there’s no pretense, there’s no performing. You don’t have to be it because you are it.

Now that you have a great song called “Flea” with Dave Grohl on it, aren’t you pretty much obligated to write an equally good song called “Dave Grohl” and get Flea to play on it?
Absolutely. That is next on the list. Yeah, absolutely. I played some shows with the Chili Peppers not too long ago, which was so fun. And I love Flea. He’s a great dude. Great bass player.

You must have known that you were in for comments like that when you recorded a song called “Flea.”
I contemplated calling the song “Fleas,” but I don’t sing “fleas.” Again, you know, serve the song and then deal with the aftermath later. 

Would you mind explaining the full story of your involvement with Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer”?
I don’t mind people asking me about the song. I know it’s a ripper of a song. And I am so amazed at Taylor’s fans because they took a song that was from many records ago and they were like, “No, this is a hit.” And they marched it up the charts and made it a worldwide hit. I’m just, like, God bless her fans. That’s the coolest thing. I’ve never seen anything like it, really. Yeah, “Cruel Summer” was a track I worked on with Jack [Antonoff], and it found its way to Taylor, and she wrote it.

When you made the instrumental track originally, what did you think it was going to be?
Oh, I didn’t know. We were just having fun and just making music. 

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I’m a fan of Nowhere Inn, your 2021 movie with Carrie Brownstein. 
Oh, you’re one of five [laughs]. Usually when musicians make documentaries, it’s more or less a marketing tool. We just took all the tropes of the classic musician documentary and did them wrong. I think what Carrie and I were trying to say is that all of this authenticity that gets peddled to us is total artifice. So what if we actually manufactured it, knowing that? But also, people like a story and people like a hero, and [the idea was] what if I made myself so incredibly unlikable? And that’s why no one liked it! [Laughs.

Is there an artist you’d like to play in a biopic?
It’s an interesting genre [but] it’s not a genre I peddle in. Unless you do a Todd Haynes Bob Dylan. That’s the way to do it. I just can’t suspend my disbelief when there’s a scene where, like, someone starts playing a thing, and then the drummer’s like, “Hey, that’s pretty cool” — and the mics are turned the wrong fucking way. I can’t suspend my disbelief. I just can’t. 

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