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St. Vincent On The Sleazy '70s Sounds And The Background Stories Of 'Daddy's Home'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Depending on the album, St. Vincent might inhabit a persona. Near-Future cult leader, dominatrix at the mental institution - that's how she's described some of them. On her new album, she's going for a time and place.

ST VINCENT: My specific references were music made in New York City from 1971 to 1976, which is...

CORNISH: That is very specific (laughter).

ST VINCENT: Yes, it is after very specific. Yes. It's after the, like, flowers-in-your-hair idealism of the flower children, but it's before the escapism and ecstatic excess of gay disco or the nihilism of punk.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Tell me who hurt you. No, wait. I don't care to hear an excuse why you think you can be cruel, cruel, cruel, cruel.

CORNISH: St. Vincent is the singer and multi-instrumentalist Annie Clark. And the sounds on her new album "Daddy's Home" are a nod to her father's record collection and the lyrics to her reckoning with the decade or so he spent in prison for financial crimes. He was released in 2019, and we'll talk about that in a bit. But first, how she nailed that sound.

ST VINCENT: You had the combination of rock, jazz, blues, funk, soul in a way that was very sophisticated, but you didn't know it. It just sounded good and when artists, writers, people like Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan and Lou Reed were speaking to the specific human condition at that time, which seemed to me, even though I didn't live through it, like life was bad but music was good.

CORNISH: What song nailed that for you or kicked that off for you in this album?

ST VINCENT: I would say a song like "Daddy's Home." It's a slow reggae.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY'S HOME")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) I signed autographs in the visitation room.

It's this very sleazy reggae with a very sleazy story on top. Everything physically to me on this record is like, yeah, you're just flicking a cigarette. The ba, ba, ba, ba (ph) - you know, it's just, like, in and out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY'S HOME")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Daddy's home.

CORNISH: This is the one, I think, that also gets a lot of attention just because of the title, the lyrics and the background of the history, the idea that your father had been in prison for a time. Were you tempted not to do a song like this, right?

ST VINCENT: (Laughter).

CORNISH: Like, because I'm seeing a person who was very tight-lipped during the time - right? - who did not talk to the tabloids when this was revealed - totally understandable - but some years later is on "SNL" with "Daddy's Home" on the back in sequins.

ST VINCENT: (Laughter).

CORNISH: That's - you know, it kind of says to the world, OK, I'm ready to talk.

ST VINCENT: Oh, gosh. You know, I was - both of my parents and my brothers and sisters came to "SNL." And I was joking with my parents and saying, yeah, how are you guys going to feel with, you know, your daughter in a blonde wig on live TV screaming, I want to be loved? How is that going to feel for you guys?

CORNISH: I haven't even gotten to that lyric.

(LAUGHTER)

ST VINCENT: And, you know, I laughed. I'm not sure that they did. But no. I mean, yes, the title "Daddy's Home" to me means a lot of things. I mean, one, it is, yes, my literal father was released from prison after 10 years, you know, and...

CORNISH: And this was fairly recently, just so people have some context. This was 2019.

ST VINCENT: Yes, this was the fall of 2019. My real, literal father was released from prison after 10 years, so there's, you know, that. But then also, "Daddy's Home" to me is really marking my own transition into very comfortably taking up space. Like, I'm daddy now. And just literally - like, I have responsibilities (laughter), you know? I'm taking care of my parents now (laughter). So in a funny way, those tables have turned.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY'S HOME")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Daddy's home.

CORNISH: Does it also give you control of the story? Like, I've been very intrigued watching various pop artists in particular in this space - and I think we're talking more about it also as we talk about women in pop - of an ability to be in control of a narrative that can get out of your control very quickly.

ST VINCENT: Yes. It's - to be honest, I don't think it's anything I would have put out there except that it was put out there without my consent. And so when the time kind of came and he actually was released and I realized I was writing some things that were about that experience, I thought, well, I mean, Daddy's home. It's already out there. But if I tell the story, I can tell it with humor and compassion and not the kind of salaciousness, I guess, that it would be told in a tabloid story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY LIKE ME")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Does it make you a genius or the fool of the week to believe enough in somebody like me?

CORNISH: Has it ever made you rethink the balance between how much of your work does have autobiographical elements versus storytelling - right? - just kind of storytelling about imagined people?

ST VINCENT: Well, all of my work is so autobiographical, and I realized that that might not be obvious to the listener sometimes or that lyrically it might not seem exactly literal. But it doesn't make me go, oh, I should be less vulnerable in my work.

CORNISH: I guess that's what I'm asking. Yeah. Like, do you just want to protect yourself more?

ST VINCENT: No, I don't because actually I think vulnerability is a superpower. And if I let the idea that this might get misconstrued or, oh, shoot, I'm going to have to talk about something in the press, stop me from going to very deep places, that would be - that's the tail wagging the dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF ST. VINCENT'S "PAY YOUR WAY IN PAIN")

CORNISH: Well, I probably shouldn't let you go without asking. How are things with your dad, if I can ask?

ST VINCENT: Oh, no, you can totally ask. You know what is hilarious? My dad is in Los Angeles visiting me, and he is currently painting my deck. If you had said to me three, five, 10 years ago, what do you think life is going to look like right now, I would not have said, oh, my dad will be here painting my deck. It's a funny world. And I think it's been heartening to know that life is long and people can redeem themselves. And you really don't know what the future's going to hold. It might just surprise you. So that's my Hallmark moment.

CORNISH: (Laughter) Listen. Take it where you can get it, right? These days, it's rough out here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAY YOUR WAY IN PAIN")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Pay your way in pain.

CORNISH: Annie Clark, thank you so much for speaking with us. This has been really a pleasure.

ST VINCENT: Oh, my pleasure - any time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAY YOUR WAY IN PAIN")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) Pay your way in shame.

CORNISH: The new album from St. Vincent is called "Daddy's Home," and it's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAY YOUR WAY IN PAIN")

ST VINCENT: (Singing) You know what I want. What do you want? What do you want? You know what I want. Keep the rest, baby. I want to be loved. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.