Daddy’s Home: St. Vincent breaks down the ‘70s, familial trauma, and four songs that move her

Written by Andrea Domanick

St. Vincent stops by Morning Becomes Eclectic to talk her new album, “Daddy’s Home.” Photo by Zackery Michael.

St. Vincent’s latest album “Daddy’s Home” is what we at MBE like to call “butter on the pancake”—it just all falls into place, girded by a great groove, a time-hopping presence, and the bare elegance of lyricism and storytelling for which fans have come to know and love St. Vincent. Oh yeah, and plenty of that sweet, sweet guitar virtuosity. 

Fresh off of the record’s release—her sixth studio album—the Grammy Award-winning artist also known as Annie Clark joins Morning Becomes Eclectic co-host Anthony Valadez to talk the new album, the unsung genius of the ‘70s, and reckoning with her father’s incarceration. She also lets her inner music fan loose to break down an exclusive playlist of some of her favorite songs and how they moved her. Daddy’s home, indeed. 

KCRW: Talk about the era that you draw inspiration from on this album.

St. Vincent: “I really drew inspiration from the music that was happening in downtown New York from 1971-76. So it was after the kind of psychedelic flower children thing, although there are definitely psychedelic moments on the record. But also, it was before the escapism of disco, and I guess the nihilism of punk. It's just this little period of time where people like Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan were making great records that were really harmonically sophisticated and everything, but really, really, so musical and so, so inspired. And so kind of speaking to the hearts of people.”

Do you think in the overall conversation that the ‘70s gets lost, because it was sandwiched between the psychedelia of the 60s and the hip-hop, punk, and new wave movements of the ‘80s?

“I think what happens is that musical references skip generations, because kids are born and then they grow up listening to the things that their parents listened to, so there's kind of this 20 year  hopscotch of references.

I honestly think that some of the best music that will ever be made was made during that period of time. And I mean in all different mediums, too. Some of the best films ever made were made in the early ‘70s. So I don't know if something was in the air. I think politically, a lot of things were going on. I can certainly speculate—maybe that's for the historians to do—but it was just a really ripe time.”

How do you know when a song is done? Your song “...At the Holiday Party” gives me everything I need as a music lover, but yet makes me want more. How do you work with that balance? 

“I think usually music is best when you kind of get it out of the way. I find that the more I do and play, the less I feel like I have control over music. I feel like I'm sort of chasing it around the room half the time. 

With ‘...At the Holiday Party,’ to me, that was kind of like a feminine sister to ‘You Can't Always Get What You Want’ by The Stones. I was thinking of the ways that we try to hide ourselves but actually ended up revealing ourselves in the process. And I've definitely been on both sides of the story in ‘Holiday Party,’ with the person who's in pain, and the person who sees the pain, despite the best efforts of she who is in pain.”

There's a line on the song “Daddy's Home” that hits me personally, in reference to your experience of visiting your father in prison. I had a mother who was incarcerated. I developed a lot of inspiration waiting to visit my mom, but also found a lot of role reversals in my situation. Is that something you can relate to, where you kind of felt like you were the daddy?

“I’m sorry about the situation with your mom. It's kind of just terrible. There's not another not another word for it. It's akin to death. But, you know, with less sympathy.

But yes, definitely, that actually happened. I was visiting my father, one of the last times I saw him before he got out, and I was asked to sign autographs on the back of a Target receipt, because you can't take cell phones in. So the next best thing, besides a selfie, is a little autograph. And I just thought, ‘Oh my God, what a sort of confluence of two worlds.’ Just so wild. He was in there for 10 years. And over the course of those 10 years, the roles really reversed, and I kind of came into my own and very much am the daddy now.”

Is it easier to talk about other folks’ music than your own? 

“Absolutely. Because I think that I'm better at making music than explaining music. Sometimes I don't even know what it is or what it means until years later, when I go back and I go ‘Oh my god, I was going through that. That's interesting.’ Time will tell you all things, but with talking about other people's music, I just get to be a fan.”

Let's talk about some records that moved you.

Elastica - “Connection”

“I just remember being so into Britpop and thinking that Damon Albarn and

Justine Frischmann were the coolest couple on the planet. This is such a cool song. It's an homage to the band Wire. And I don't know if it was an homage in the sense that they knowingly rip it off or what, but it's just such a cool song. It's like getting in a boxing ring for like two minutes, and then you're done. It's this quick punch of a song.”

Erykah Badu – “Penitentiary Philosophy”

“Erykah Badu is one of my favorites. She is a Dallas girl, I'm a Dallas girl. I feel some kinship with her that is probably unwarranted, but I love her. And this is the first song off of her second record, ‘Mama's Gun.’ And whereas ‘Baduizm,’ her first record, is so cool and so pocket but kind of chill, she opens with Questlove on the drums, of course, and it's this heavy funk.

She also references this great Stevie Wonder song from the early ‘70s called ‘Ordinary Pain.’ The first part of the Stevie Wonder song is his point of view. And then the second part is this outro from the woman's point of view, and she's like, ‘You’re just a masochistic fool.’ And on ‘Penitentiary Philosophy,’ Erykah Badu references that melody.”

Depeche Mode - “I Feel You” 

“I mean, who doesn't love Depeche Mode? They make perfect goth pop songs. Maybe you could throw The Cure in there, but I don't know anybody else who threaded that needle until Nine Inch Nails. ‘I Feel You’ is like a blues. Those drums come in and you're just like, ‘Okay, I am on this ride. Yeah, I'm so on this ride.’ The vocals really get me. They could sing anything and I would be so on board. There are just some voices that are cool, and sexy.

I would put this record on to seriously clean my house. Not just the little cursory put-the-laundry-away. I'm talking about, I'm scrubbing the f***ing floors. A vigorous cleaning. That's what I would do well listening to this.”

Roxy Music - “In Every Dream Home a Heartache”

“Oh man. I love Bryan Ferry. This song, to me, is one of the scariest, creepiest, perviest songs I've ever heard. I'd like to think so. standards of living they're rising. You can just picture this slow camera creeping through the dream house and getting to the plastic woman. This song is creeping dread to me. And I think you can compare the texture of ‘Penitentiary Philosophy’ to the end of ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache.’ 

I think about things like the shape of a story or the shape of a song, and the color. I do associate certain sounds with certain colors. I just think about the texture, something very smooth next to something very rough, and playing with all that as if it were a physical object.”

St. Vincent Guest DJ Playlist