Q&A: Marnie Stern

Marnie Stern: Marnie SternMarnie Stern: s/t (Kill Rock Stars, 10/5/10)

Marnie Stern: “For Ash”

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Give Marnie Stern some credit; she’s been asked the same questions about being a prominent female guitarist so many times it’s amazing she hasn’t flown off the handle. Yet the New York native, known for her furious finger-tapping guitar style, just shrugs it off with a coy smile. Stern’s shredding proficiency, however, cannot be overstated. Many will notice Stern’s giddy falsetto first, but it’s her mesmerizing finger taps that usually earn her the respect and attention of everything within an earshot. She doesn’t so much as play guitar as she does attack it, molesting the fret board with two hands like a zealous sculpture on an out-of-control pottery wheel or a Rubik’s Cube expert frantically searching for the perfect combination of rotations.

As if she was unrelenting enough, Stern has employed Hella drummer Zach Hill on her last two studio albums, This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That in 2008, and Marnie Stern in 2010, both on Kill Rock Stars. Together, Hill’s thrashing and Stern’s shredding offer a brainwashing musical diet that’s virtually incomparable — thrash, shred, repeat. Recently, she took time before her two-month US tour to answer a few questions for ALARM.

What was the last thing you did where you felt like you failed, and what, if anything, did you learn from it?

I feel like I am constantly failing in so many areas of life, and that is the only thing that keeps pushing me forward to try and do better. I’ve never had things go smoothly, so I don’t know what kind of person or artist I would be if that was the case.

What are some of your favorite and worst band names and song titles?

It starts to become funny when there’s a period of time and there are a bunch of bands with the same word in their title. [Like] crystals and deer.

Do you try and use a powerful musical style as contrast to very raw and vulnerable emotions your songs convey? Is that juxtaposition something you are conscious of and intend for?

Yeah. I try to focus on the contrast. I think life constantly throws in these opposing forces. Good / bad. Strong / weak. And as much as I sometimes want to succumb to the negative, I am always fighting for the positive in my songs — and in life.

How did Zach Hill get to be so dang rad, and can we ever expect him to play some live shows?

Yeah, we talk about it all the time, but he is just so busy all the time, it’s hard to organize it. He is amazing though, I agree!

What’s not to love about shredding?

Guitar playing is really fun.

If you could go back in time and invent one thing what would it be?

I would go forward and invent teleporting or time travel.

Sleater-Kinney: when will they get back together, or when are you gonna jam with them ladies?

I would love to. They are role models of mine.

What’s on the horizon for you? What’s on your to-do list?

Touring, then more touring, then hopefully recording a new record!

You went to school for journalism; do you care to lament the fall of newspapers, or are you a “glass is half full” kind of gal?

It’s depressing. The same as downloads and all the other shitty things that came along with the Internet.

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