You Don't Have to Give Interviews, St. Vincent

You Don't Have to Give Interviews, St. Vincent
Photo:Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy (Getty Images)

Musician St. Vincent is currently doing press for her new album Daddy’s Home, a swaggering, ’70s rock album that is sort of inspired, as she said in a profile earlier this year, by her father’s conviction and imprisonment for a stock manipulation scheme. But don’t ask her too much about that in an interview, in case she tries to kill the piece, which she reportedly did to a UK music journalist.

In a now-deleted post to her personal website, writer Emma Madden published a piece titled “St. Vincent Told Me To Kill This Interview,” wherein she described that a 30-minute Q&A rankled the artist so much that the next morning she instructed her publicists to kill the piece for an unnamed publication. (Disclosure: Madden has written for Jezebel.) Her editor, Madden wrote, said that St. Vincent, real name Annie Clark, was “terrified of this interview coming out.” She described being called by a member of her publicity team:

I told him I was confused, I asked him what the matter seemed to be. He wasn’t totally sure, he said, “she found the interview aggressive.” Aggressive? I complimented her and cowed to her and laughed at her jokes. “Well, the message has been passed down a line of many messengers, she might not have actually said that.” The man on the phone said that this—one of his artists demanding an interview to be pulled—had never happened to him before. It hadn’t happened to me either. I felt annoyed by how easy it was for St. Vincent to kill something I had researched and expected money for. But the interview started to seem valuable to me after I was told that she didn’t want it out in the world. “Can we draw a line under this and just kill the piece here?” said the man on the phone.

In an email to Jezebel, Madden writes: “It was not my wish for it to be taken down. Ultimately, it was a pretty innocuous interview, and the fact it doesn’t exist on the internet tonight goes to show that the law and corporations reinforce one another and the law unfailingly permits corporations to win. I am dismayed that truth, even at its most inane, is beholden to these structures of power, but I am more determined than ever to try and rebalance our industry and to get my silly blogpost back on the web.” Jezebel has also reached out to Clark’s publicity company MBC for comment and will update this story if they respond.

There’s nothing particularly egregious about the conversation other than Clark is annoyingly evasive and unforthcoming in answering Madden’s great questions. But she seems particularly annoyed to be asked about her father and his white-collar crimes, which she should be a little more game for since she’s made it a hallmark of this album’s press cycle.

I guess last year’s riots brought abolition towards the mainstream, during the time you were making this record, which is partially about your father’s time in prison. How did that square with your thoughts on prison and the US carceral system?
Well I have plenty of thoughts on it, I’m not totally sure how it’s relevant to this.
Well I was wondering if you have a standpoint on it or if you’d rather just be ambiguous?
I have so many thoughts and opinions, I don’t presume that my thoughts and opinions are relevant on every subject though. I don’t have that much hubris.

Gotcha. This is the same person who told The Guardian that she chose to talk about her family’s story because “while incarceration is an incredibly horrific story, it’s not in any way a unique story.”

The funny thing is, Clark has been unusually hostile to the press before. There was her press cycle in 2017 for the album Masseduction, during which she made journalists crawl into a small, pink wooden box in London for interviews and chose to play prerecorded answers or check her email if someone asked a boring question. After GQ published a profile of Clark in 2019, the writer Molly Young posted a now-deleted addendum to the piece on her own website describing how much Clark seemed to hate the entire process. She reportedly barely looked at Young, gave extremely short answers to her questions, and at one point asked her with “audible hostility” if she “liked doing this.” “Why had she agreed to this story?” Young wrote. “St. Vincent does not need to be in GQ. This is an elective activity.”

Women artists, especially in music, are often penalized for being aloof and cold. Historically, women performers have been expected to entertain audiences, while men get to go off and be sullen geniuses who destroy recording studios and make great art. So I can see Clark delighting in a posture that is unwilling to be forthcoming or cheery. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between being performatively difficult or caustic to make a dramatic point and being, well, an asshole.

Many musical artists don’t like doing interviews, so they approach them selectively, or they don’t do them at all, like Beyoncé. After all, many artists figure, if I can speak to my fans directly through social media and my music or my carefully curated lifestyle brands or feature-length commercials masquerading as documentaries, why do I need to answer questions from a journalist? Maybe because to keep yourself locked away with only those who approve of your message and never question it is the strategy of a self-obsessed tyrant, and we’ve sort of seen how that’s worked out for artists who don’t understand the purpose of a music press (reminder, it’s not to regurgitate your press release).

Unfortunately, spineless editors and publications like the one Madden said she was writing for often submit to artists and their publicists’ insane requests for deleting pieces or interviews because they’re afraid of pissing off artists or publicists who threaten to withhold other talent. Many publicists don’t seem to realize that the bigger stink you make about wanting an interview to disappear, the more attention it draws to the interview. I’m not sure that this Q&A would have been so attention-grabbing if Clark’s PR hadn’t reportedly worked overtime to get it killed.

Clark seems like a confident artist, or at least the sort of artist who wants to project confidence, silly interview games and all. But allegedly calling on your publicist to kill an interview you agreed to that you’re afraid of (for what, because it doesn’t mirror the exact mythology you’ve created for it?) is the antithesis of confidence. Opening yourself and your work up to on-the-record scrutiny and discussion, not belittling journalists or working behind their back to delete their writing, is the power move. But if you’re not up for it, then don’t agree to the interview.

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