Headliners: St. Vincent at Outland

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"Whoa, really? Awesome," she said. "Like mall goth or like '80s goth?"

St. Vincent isn't typical fare for a club that trends toward Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy. Clark's music - painstakingly arranged, jazz- and classical-informed coffeehouse pop that falls somewhere between kindred spirit Feist and former Clark collaborator Sufjan Stevens - would seem to fit in better at artsy locales like the Wexner Center and the Southern Theatre, where she's performed in recent years.

Born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas, educated at Berklee and rooted in Brooklyn, Clark began her music career by lending a hand to other singularly creative types like Stevens, Glenn Branca and the Polyphonic Spree's Tim DeLaughter.

Since 2007 debut "Marry Me," her focus has been St. Vincent, making music that's as much a personal portrait as the close-ups that grace her album covers.

"Actor," St. Vincent's sophomore offering, elevates the girlish larks of Clark's debut into maturity without sacrificing the widescreen wanderlust that made her such a captivating songwriter in the first place.

"A lot of the songs for 'Marry Me' I wrote when I was like 17, 18, 19, 20," Clark said. "By the time I finished promoting that album, it was like, 'Oh, I'm 25! What's going on?'"

She moved to New York, where noise restrictions in her apartment building caused her to compose most of the new album using Garage Band. The digital approach removed the visceral experience of writing on guitar or piano, but it also freed her from the limitations of her technical abilities, allowing her mind to run wild.

"I was really inspired by the Disney films from the '30s and '40s, and that sort of Technicolor thing you get from 'The Wizard of Oz,' " she said. "I was trying to make music that was as visual as possible or as colorful as possible."

The end product is orchestral and expansive, making Clark part of a vanguard of New York indie rockers such as Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors that have melded a scholarly approach with good old-fashioned pop songwriting. If these ornate works are "indie rock," they have little to do with the haphazard jangle of Pavement and Guided by Voices.

"It's exciting," she said. "It's not 1992 or '93 or '94 or whatever. We're not steeped in this really austere aesthetic which kind of turns up its nose at musical training."

At the same time, the music-school dropout and self-proclaimed pop musician acknowledges there must still be room for spontaneity.

"I don't know what I was doing in college, but I was not studying," Clark said. "I still can't read music, so clearly I was not a jazz theorist or anything like that. I just approached everything more intuitively."

After touring through the spring, Clark plans to focus on writing her next St. Vincent album. In the meantime, she's composing something special for her March 31 appearance at Cincinnati's MusicNow Festival, curated by The National's Bryce Dessner. And she's collaborating with that patron saint of quirky art-pop, David Byrne.

"We're working on a number of songs together without necessarily a goal in mind," she said, "which I'm really excited about."

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20

Where: Outland on Liberty, Brewery District

Web: myspace.com/stvincents