What do you hope to get out of interviews?
“There’s only one real goal I have, which is: I try not to explain songs all that much. Because, I’ve had the experience of thinking a song was about one thing, and being all for it, and then reading something about the artist where they’ve said ‘that’s actually about taking my cat to a vet.’ And I’m like: ‘Oh! Bummer!’ I don’t want to know! So, I don’t want to give too much away with my own music, so as not to kill any enjoyment for other people. Because music will hit everyone’s ears differently, words will have their own associations for individuals. So I try to maintain at least an element of mystery.”
Isn’t mystery nigh on impossible in this online era? As an old person, I remember buying records where you didn’t know anything about the actual people on there: what they looked like, where they were from; all you had was the contents of that record. Now, everyone is so well-researched and so knowledgeable about every minute detail of every artist; hasn’t that spelt the death of mystique?
“Well, 1) I’m sure you’re not as old as you think you are, and 2) I was reading an interview with Stevie Nicks, where she was talking about just that; that back in the day you could be as mysterious as you wanted to be. That was very advantageous, in that it allowed a distinction between private and public personae. Now, you can read about your favourite actor eating a bagel at a café whilst they’re doing it. There’s this weird compulsion to be constantly reporting on yourself, which is strange. I started Twittering, and I wrote a couple of things that were almost personal, and I started feeling really weird about it. It seemed self-aggrandizing and creepy. I felt too… creepy about it. I don’t begrudge other people doing it, but, um, technology. Creepy!”
The title Actor makes me think of what it must be like to have wealth and fame at this point in human history: so that you’re constantly performing, 24 hours a day. Keeping up an act at all times must be beyond exhausting.
“It must be. I’m not anywhere near a level where that enters into my day-to-day life, but I think you’re totally right. For people way, way up there on the fame meter, life must be strange. It’s strange living in these times in general.”
Given the lines of communication are so open with listeners, have you heard bizarre interpretations of your songs? People telling you they listen to you at key moments of their life? Anyone lost their virginity to a St. Vincent song?
“Not that I know of. That’s crazy! On 30 Rock there’s a joke about a character losing their virginity to the My Fair Lady soundtrack! [dissolves into laughter] But, the Marry Me record was actually really touching. Lots of people told me they played it at their wedding, or it was part of these little special moments for them. I played a show in Boston where a man came up on stage and proposed to his wife. Well, I mean, his then-girlfriend. It was beautiful! It was really sweet. That’s a real reminder that, once your part is done, once you’ve released a record, it gets assimilated into other people’s lives, and that’s huge. Huge and totally out of your control. And really psychically rewarding to think about.”
Was it at all difficult to learn that once you’ve made your first record, and handed it over to the world, that it was beyond your control, and people were going to perceive it and portray it however they wished?
“Yeah. I think it’s still novel to me that anyone would ever listen to my music. When I made the Marry Me record, I didn’t have a label, I didn’t have any fans. Anytime anything was written about it, at all, I could only think: ‘Woah, that’s crazy! I made that in my bedroom!’ There’s still that novelty to me: ‘I have fans! People like my music! People want to write about it!’”
But this isn’t an accidental career for you, no? Didn’t you grow up imagining that this would be your life?
“I’m very intrigued by people who are ‘I just fell into this, I don’t really like music!’ They’re amazing to me. Because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to do this. This was always what I had in mind.”
What was your last regular job?
“I got fired from my last regular job, working for a flower shop. I was delivering flowers and I accidentally delivered flowers to a bunch of wrong people on Valentine’s Day, which was horrible. Some people got flowers which they weren’t expecting, which maybe initially was a good thing, until they realised that these secret admirers they were inventing didn’t exist. Then some people didn’t get flowers they were expecting. I’m still personally responsible for the heartbreak of at least three people.”
But didn’t Marry Me’s subsequent betrothals patch up your career as failed cupid?
“I certainly hope that I’ve rectified the harm that I did on Valentine’s Day, 2005. I can only hope. I was such a failure at that job. I was not very good at telemarketing, either. I’m not cut out for too many things other than what I’m currently doing.”