St. Vincent Is Trying to Understand People
5. Maggie Nelson’s “The Art of Cruelty”
This is one of those books that I picked up six times and would get through a few pages and be like, “This is really brilliant,” but it felt impenetrable at first. Then I had this one weekend where the clouds parted, and I just could see it and plowed through it. It talks about the ethics of being an artist in a way that is so brilliant, and so not orthodox or finger wagging. I think it’s one of those books you can revisit at various points of your life.
6. Her Own STV Signature Series Guitar
Part of it was inspired by Klaus Nomi’s tuxedo. And I wanted it to hit my sternum in a particular way. I am cis female, so the way that it hits the sternum and then has a little bit of a cutaway, it makes room for my breast. But just one of them. There’s only room for one! I love it. It’s the only electric that I play, with very rare exception.
I saw people’s pictures of it from the Met [in the exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”], because I never got a chance to go and see it in real life. Most of the time, I just kind of like quietly put my head down and work — and then every once in a while, I look up and see something that I’ve made, and it’s mysterious that it’s in the world.
7. Wim Wenders’s “Pina”
I love Pina Bausch’s work. I was really inspired by “The Rite of Spring,” where the virgin dances herself to death. There’s this one particular movement that was like, drawing your hand above your head, and then when you pull it down, your elbow goes into your stomach — sort of like you’re open and then you’re impaling yourself. It just moved me to tears. So when I worked with my friend Annie-B Parson to choreograph the Digital Witness Tour, I was like, “Can we please incorporate this?” Another big thing: I was obsessed with falling. That was another big part of the Bausch work. How do you fall and make it look violent but not hurt yourself? I’d get a rehearsal room with Annie-B and just practice falling.
8. Vintage RCA 77-D Microphone
It’s an old ribbon mic, and it just sounds so good and warm. I know these are words that might not mean that much — when people describe sound as warm, it’s reductive. But it makes things sound and feel true. I don’t mean that it has perfect fidelity. What I mean is that when you sing into this microphone, what comes back at you feels honest. My friend Cian Riordan, who mixed “Daddy’s Home,” hipped me to this mic.
9. “Hidden Brain” Podcast
There was one recently about the idea of honor culture. You know, if someone is insulting someone’s masculinity and masculinity is tied up with honor, you have to avenge that insult. A lot of these “honor societies” end up with more violence because you have to save face and there’s less ways to assimilate conflict. The premise of so much of “Hidden Brain” is that we live by the stories we tell ourselves. And as a storyteller, that idea is very liberating to me, because if we live by the stories we tell ourselves, it means that when we get new information, we can assimilate that information and tell ourselves new stories.
10. Piazza della Signoria in Florence
The first time I was there was with my mom and sisters. I remember just walking through this piazza and having a wonderful time and wonderful conversation, and really being awe-struck by the architecture and the history, and just that life was beautiful. Another time, a number of years later, I was on tour with David Byrne and we had our last show in Florence, and I remember walking through with band members and then having the best dinner of my life after. It’s one of those places where, at very pivotal points of my life, I’ve been there and only beautiful things have happened to me.