St. Vincent has never come across as an especially confessional musician. Perhaps the psychosexual power-tripping of 2017′s Grammy-winning “Masseduction” speaks to her proclivities, or perhaps not, but like the rest of her imposingly great catalog, it doesn’t purport to collapse the distance between St. Vincent the guitar-wizard art-pop savant and Annie Clark the woman behind the persona. Save for the standard curiosity that any artist has about the world around her, nobody ever expected Clark to mine her own specific biography for material.
Yet there she is on the opening line to the title track of this year’s “Daddy’s Home” — “I sign autographs in the visitation room” — addressing both her father’s time in prison and the weird juxtaposition of her own degree of celebrity on top of that.
“In a small prison community, word gets around,” says Clark by phone early in the tour that brings her to the Boch Center Wang Theatre Oct. 14. “They would watch me on late-night shows, and other inmates would put press clippings on my dad’s bed, if I was in Rolling Stone or whatever. And Kamaru Usman, who’s a UFC fighter — who I love — his dad was in there with my dad, so we were kind of the two belles of the ball. So when I would come to visit, some people would go, ‘Oh, look, that’s Rick’s daughter.’ I have a dark sense of humor, but it was so funny to be signing somebody’s crumpled-up Target receipt in a prison visitation room.”
And so “Daddy’s Home” makes for a bracing shift by centering Clark, the person and the daughter, to an unprecedented degree. Built around her father’s release after serving years for financial crimes, the album references both her family’s troubles and the surreal situations she’s found herself in as a result. But she’s couched it in a layer of concept, from explicitly drawing on a musical palette of sitar-fueled 1970s R&B and funk (albeit filtered through her own sensibilities) to her grubby-chic styling in videos and promotion. Even so, St. Vincent insists that it’s not about keeping personal material at arm’s length.
“No, I don’t look at it as distancing,” she says. “When I was putting my wig on last night before the show in Pittsburgh, [I was thinking] ‘This is fun.’ I’m having so much fun. I look at it as play, I look at it as creating other worlds. I think this idea that if I got up there in my workout clothes and no makeup and saying that it would somehow be more real, I think that’s a holdover . . . [from] punk, but not even. They were hella dressed up, in their way. The Ramones had a look.”
The creation of a distinct performance persona keyed to her latest record is hardly new for St. Vincent, who went sleekly plastic for “Masseduction” and has previously referenced unifying characters for 2011′s “Strange Mercy” (“housewife on white wine and barbiturates”), 2014′s “St. Vincent” (“near-future cult leader”) and her 2012 David Byrne collaboration “Love This Giant” (“a little bit beauty-and-the-beast, but David was beauty and I was the beast”). What makes “Daddy’s Home” different is that, for the first time, it’s someone else’s musical clothes she’s putting on.
“I think part of it was a bit conscious,” says Clark. “His favorite music was Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder and early ‘70s funk, soul, whatever. That’s what I grew up listening to whenever I was with him. So it was kind of like, OK, I’m going to go in and use the musical language of something he loves to tell my own story and tell my own version of events and talk about my own transformation into ‘Daddy,’ as it were. You know, the power dynamic shifted, the story changes, the roles shifted.”
All of which could have made “Daddy’s Home” a scuzzily artificial, if louchely thrilling, ride through dank spaces both physical and psychological were it not for Annie Clark repeatedly poking her head out from her St. Vincent (or Daddy) drag. It’s not simply a matter of biography, either. In “The Melting of the Sun,” she sings, “Brave Tori told her story/Police said they couldn’t catch the man/And proud Nina got subpoenae/Singing, ‘Mississippi, good goddamn’/But me, I never cried/To tell the truth, I lied.” And while it’s easy to read that as an acknowledgement that St. Vincent avoids the candid openness of Tori Amos, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, and others, Clark had a different intent.
“For whatever reason,” she says, “this go-round I found myself thinking about the next generation and looking at the artists who made work that means so much to me, it means so much to so many people, and just saying: ‘Thank you for what you did, because it has moved me deeply. Also, as an artist trying to follow in the footsteps of people who I adore, you’ve made it easier for me to do what I do. And I hope that I make it easier for the next generation to do what they do.’ It was kind of the first time that I had thought about legacy in any real way.”
Adds Clark, “I think personally, to me, there’s an acceptance-slash-generosity of spirit in this record and a warmth to it and something that says, ‘Hey, come on in, don’t worry, I’m not going to punish you. Come on in, let’s just be flawed human beings talking, you know, just having a drink and laughing about the [expletive] that we’ve been through.’”
At Boch Center Wang Theatre Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. Tickets from $35. www.bochcenter.org/events
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.