A Gentle Mind And An Iron Spine: St. Vincent's 'Actor' Turns 10


A Gentle Mind And An Iron Spine: St. Vincent's 'Actor' Turns 10

On Annie Clark’s second album, her occasionally orchestral weirdo-pop was as fully formed as it would be on 2011's slower 'Strange Mercy' and 2014's hard-rocking 'St. Vincent,' and 2017's GRAMMY-winning 'MASSEDUCTION'

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2019 - 01:22 am

Annie Clark is one of those people so talented it seems besides the point to mention it. But why shouldn’t we? She's so demure; let’s embarrass her. Not one of her five albums as St. Vincent (nor her undervalued David Byrne collaboration) ever sounds less than in complete control of its vision. Not one ever comes off like her uncanny, 12-dimensional chops need a lift from a sideperson. Not one struggles to get to where it appears to be going, which is all we have to go on, really. Clark is definitely the only person with the map to her art.

Those looking to retrace her steps could start with 2007's Marry Me, a more than respectable debut that leads with maybe her prettiest song, the guitar-harmonic hall of mirrors "Now, Now." And certainly anyone looking to dive in should know 2017's GRAMMY-winning MASSEDUCTION, which was as shiny and kinky as a pair of vinyl boots, the closest thing she could conjure to a pop record, and endearingly twisted for such a prospect. But her second album, Actor, which just turned 10, is probably where to acquaint yourself with one of the most prominent architects of both alt-rock and art-rock alike in the past decade.

Clark gets compared to Björk plenty in her, shall we say... iconoclasticity. But it took even Björk a bit longer to arrive at her true home planet. On Clark’s second album, her occasionally orchestral weirdo-pop was as fully formed as it would be on 2011's slower Strange Mercy and 2014's hard-rocking St. Vincent, all works of an artist constantly progressing but never clearly towards what. A lavishly arranged symphonic like 2009's "The Party" normally takes alt-rockers much longer to work up the sophistication for. But Clark navigates it without breaking a sweat, which is in jarring contrast to two lyrical themes constant throughout her career: the twin phantoms of helplessness and, if you can believe it, impostor syndrome.

Actor's "Save Me From What I Want" didn’t appear much more resolved eight years later when Clark sang "I can turn off what turns me on" from MASSEDUCTION's title track. She makes no secret that she's in thrall to the pull of her desires, whatever they are, even if she’s grown more explicit and confident over time. The expensive sound-world she erected on Actor was still the work of someone inhabiting characters like the "wife in watercolors," bemused by the "ladies of the lawn" whose "children act like furniture" on "Black Rainbow." She always skews diagonal, leaving the listener to dictate that, as on 2011’s more pronounced "Cheerleader," Clark disdains (or simply can't conform to) archaic portraits of contented "normal" life.

So "Laughing With a Mouth of Blood" finds her "holed up at the Hotel Ritz with a televangelist," missing her brother and sister, wondering if the life of an art-rocker has too many halves to ever become whole. She fantasizes plenty, but it's only clear in retrospect that she may not have been always able to make MASSEDUCTION without the temerity of Actor and Strange Mercy first. Even St. Vincent's famous line from the sawtoothed single "Birth in Reverse" about taking out the garbage and masturbating now feels like she was making a declaration to herself, that if she can be such an audacious artist, she owes herself the same freedom as a person, too.

On Actor, we could hear that dichotomy loud and clear, when the aural tarantula fuzz of a song like "Marrow" can command a roomful of demented indie-rockers dancing while Clark literally spells out, "H-E-L-P / Help me." On the same song, she opined, "I wish I had a gentle mind and a spine made up of iron," which we can hope some Glenda the Good Witch has convinced the current Sleater-Kinney producer she had all along.

Actor's best song is just 135 seconds long, and "Actor Out of Work" is where she finally turns her emotions outward on a paramour who several times earns the compound observation "I think I love you, I think I’m mad." She could be talking to herself, sure. But more important, Clark and longtime producer John Congleton process the jagged synth lines until they bulge and distort like veins in a forehead. But what they signify is concentration, all this violence and loving and left-field vocal harmonies being made sense of, decrypting the code of Clark’s own feelings to download them to her guitar.

If we only traced the line of St. Vincent’s albums from art-rock to art-rock, we do know more about the auteur than we did 10 years ago, and she does too. Actor ended with "The Sequel," which foreshadowed the sexual rapture of MASSEDUCTION to come: "Bodies like wrecking balls fk / Fk with dynamite." So we can celebrate the patient pizzicatos of "The Strangers" leading to the volcanoes of violin that finish off "Black Rainbow" for not just the dynamic fireworks of the impeccable arrangements but the tension that we know has resolved to some degree. Clark's music has become more successful and thus more shared; more people than ever are happy for her to steer them to the next destination. And if Actor and its four sibling albums are any indication, it’s going to be both weird and okay.

'It's Blitz!' At 10: How The Dancefloor Classic Marked A New Era For The Yeah Yeah Yeahs


GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards