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St. Vincent became one of the unexpected success stories of indie rock with the release of her second album, Actor, in 2009; the literate, emotionally intricate songs and rich, beautifully crafted pop melodies made her an immediate hit with critics, but few expected her music to cross over to mainstream acceptance. However, St. Vincent's beguiling sounds helped Actor rise to number 90 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts, and its follow-up, Strange Mercy, confirmed her newfound stardom by debuting on Billboard at number 19 in the fall of 2011.
St. Vincent was born Annie Erin Clark on September 28, 1982; she was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and spent most of her childhood in Dallas, Texas. Clark began playing guitar at the age of 12, and she picked up some valuable lessons on the life of a touring musician as a teenager when she joined her uncle Tuck Andress on the road with his popular jazz duo Tuck & Patti. After graduating from high school in 2001, she studied at the prestigious Berklee School of Music, and recorded a self-released, three-song EP with fellow students in 2003, titled Ratsliveonnoevilstar. In 2004, Clark left Berklee and joined the extra-large Baroque pop group the Polyphonic Spree as a guitarist and a singer; she would tour with the band, and appeared on the sessions for their 2007 album, The Fragile Army. In 2004, Clark briefly worked with another unusually large group, performing with Glenn Branca's 100 Guitar Orchestra for a recording of one of his avant-garde symphonies. In 2006, Clark left the Polyphonic Spree and joined the backing band of like-minded pop composer Sufjan Stevens. She recorded a three-song EP to sell at her shows with Stevens, on which she adopted the name St. Vincent (inspired by her grandmother as well as the New York hospital where poet Dylan Thomas breathed his last.)
In 2007, Clark stepped out on her own and signed a deal with Beggars Banquet, which released St. Vincent's first full-length album, Marry Me. The album was well received by critics, and in 2009, Clark moved to the celebrated British independent label 4AD for her second album. Teaming with producer John Congleton, St. Vincent's sophomore effort, Actor, was a musical and lyrical step forward from her debut, and strong reviews coupled with St. Vincent's impressive live performances helped the album rise from the indie ranks to the mainstream charts. In addition to her busy touring schedule, Clark found time to make guest appearances on albums by the Mountain Goats and the New Pornographers, and in 2011, she appeared at a special concert paying homage to the pioneering indie rock bands chronicled in Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life, where St. Vincent performed a striking version of Big Black's "Kerosene" that earned praise from group founder Steve Albini. In the spring of 2011, Clark was reunited in the studio with producer Congleton, and the third St. Vincent album, Strange Mercy, was released in September 2011.
The following year, Clark embarked on a collaboration with Talking Heads musician David Byrne after the two met at Radio City Hall in New York City for AIDS/HIV charity Dark Was the Night's benefit concert in 2009. The initial plan was to play a one-off show together; however, after the pair began to trade ideas, the project snowballed into a full album. They incorporated horns into the sound and traded lyrics via e-mail until Love This Giant was realized and released in 2012. Clark spent much of that year and 2013 touring in support of the project, which was a critical and commercial success. Late in 2013, Clark began work on her fourth album, once again working with Congleton. St. Vincent, which boasted some of Clark's most accessible songwriting and challenging sounds, appeared in early 2014.