"Pay Your Way in Pain" is Annie Clark's first release as St. Vincent since her 2017 MASSEDUCTION
album. In between, she'd been kept busy producing and writing for the likes of Sleater-Kinney
, Taylor Swift
and Sheryl Crow
Over 1980s synthesizer tones, St. Vincent details her struggles to undertake everyday chores. "It's all the blues tropes - I went to the store, there wasn't any food, I don't have any money, my baby left me, I don't belong. I want to be loved - and everybody does," she told Apple Music. "It was really fun screaming. I hadn't screamed like that on record, maybe in real life. It was like this real massive exorcism."
Annie Clark described the song to NME
as "blues for 2021," adding, "I feel like we live in a world where we're often asked to choose between surviving and dignity."
"It's also about how there's nothing that I've done in my life that didn't involve some sort of struggle," she continued. "Some of those struggles are really worthy ones to have and something great can come of them."
St. Vincent wrote the song with the track's co-producer, Jack Antonoff (Lorde, Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey). Antonoff was also Clark's co-producer on MASSEDUCATION.
Bill Benz directed the cinematic video, which shows St. Vincent dancing on her own in a studio. Benz also filmed Clark and Carrie Brownstein's The Nowhere Inn movie.
"I'm just way more of the mind, especially now after everything that's happened in the last year, that I would just rather do a simple idea executed really well than a lot of ideas hodge-podged," Clark said of the clip. "This is just a performance video of me singing a song, dancing and just doing everything in a very practical way. It was going in the same spirit as the music where it's just a performance. It's not got heavy-heavy production, but we just did it in the room to capture a moment."
Released on March 4, 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic, Annie Clark told Apple Music the song speaks to the way many people are feeling. "We are out in our worlds, doing our best to get along, to get by, to do no harm," she said. "We want what everyone wants: to be okay, to be safe, to be loved. But, no matter what, it seems like there is a matrix with its own secret set of rules, trapdoors, and a big thumb pressing on our brow."