St. Vincent’s Annie Clark specializes in a sort of blissful anxiety, creating songs that hide sharp daggers behind their frilly exteriors—like a Judy Garland musical as directed by Fritz Lang. In that sense, “Surgeon” (off the recently released Strange Mercy) is a perfect distillation of St. Vincent’s approach: It’s a melancholy yet hummable portrait of loneliness as seen through the eyes of a quietly desperate woman straight out of a Richard Yates story. Or, if you want to go the more obvious route, through the imagined eyes of Marilyn Monroe, whose desperate diary entry formed the song’s genesis and refrain.
But as anyone who’s ever read an interview with Clark already knows, she’s not nearly as grim or intense as such descriptions of her music make her sound. And even if she admits to coloring “Surgeon” and the rest of Strange Mercy with her own loneliness—a by-product of isolating herself in Seattle while she was writing it—Clark is hardly the tormented shut-in. In fact, she’s social enough to be a semi-regular at Williamsburg’s Hotel Delmano, our chosen meeting place, where a recent Yelp review even calls her out as the “hipster celebrity sighting” that heralds the faux-1920s speakeasy’s assured ascent to hotspot status.
Presented with that review, Clark remarked that it’s “kind of sad” if she’s what counts as the bar’s token celebrity, but she did cop to stopping by pretty often to take advantage of its “Three Amigos,” a flight of tequila, sangrita, and beer that she says reminds her of her Texas home. And in between talking about tequila, our mutual Texas backgrounds, David Mamet, and the continued awesomeness of Nick Cave—none of which made this video, unfortunately—during our chat, Clark couldn’t have been anything less like the wounded feminine protagonist of “Surgeon.” As she keeps reminding us, that’s just one of Clark’s many narratives. Watch the video to get the whole story.