Turntable Interview: Marnie Stern
Back in 2007, the New York Times called Marnie Stern’s debut release, In Advance Of The Broken Arm, “The year’s most exciting rock ‘n’ roll album.” It was, too. Pairing blistering guitar riffs with jaw-dropping chops, a unique finger-tapping style and a layered vocal performance, Marnie sounded like no one else. She’s put out two more albums since then, garnered a slough of awards, is counted by some as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and still, Marnie sounds only like Marnie. She took some time out from the studio where she’s recording her next album to talk about her new music, Slayer, sexism in the industry, New York in the ’70s, and how her next album is the first one not to feature Zach Hill on drums (right when she cues up a track featuring Kid Millions, hint). Here we are in a Turntable chatroom:
STEREOGUM: Hi Marnie, let’s play music!
Melissa Locker started playing “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” by The Ramones
STEREOGUM: Well THANK YOU for agreeing to chat with me in this funky way
MARNIE STERN: Of course! Fun!
STEREOGUM: So you are back in the studio
MARNIE STERN: Yes
STEREOGUM: How is that going?
MARNIE STERN: Great. I’ve had to let go of some of my control issues and so it’s sounding a bit different then usual, but good.
STEREOGUM:: why did you have to let go of your control issues?
MARNIE STERN: Because the engineer is producing the album and I tend to clutter the songs up and I like it that way
STEREOGUM: Oh! So you have to compromise?
MARNIE STERN: Yeah compromise. When it gets uncluttered I get uncomfortable and tend to think it’s very homogeneous and boring, but that’s not always the case, so I’m letting go a bit more.
STEREOGUM: So are we going to have a new sparser sounding Marnie Stern album in the future?
MARNIE STERN: A bit different I’d say
Marnie Stern started playing “Rrrrrrrright” by Deerhoof
MARNIE STERN: It’s just clearer. You can hear all the parts clearer.
STEREOGUM: Does compromising as an artist make it less fun? Or do you think it will be better in the long run and worth the sacrifice?
MARNIE STERN: Yeah it’s harder for sure, because you’re worried that you know best, but that’s pretty ridiculous to make the same record over and over because of fear. And it still sounds just like me. But I am sensitive to any differences and changes
STEREOGUM: Was your writing process any different or have the changes come in the recording?
MARNIE STERN: Just in the recording. The writing process is always the same. Though I haven’t been keeping crazy hours…it’s been pretty healthy
STEREOGUM: What’s your recording process normally like?
MARNIE STERN: Usually I work so many hours that I can’t hear straight anymore and it’s a waste of time. Lately I’ve been giving myself a few hours here and there
STEREOGUM: So you’re making it a 9 to 5 job.
MARNIE STERN: More so. I also have been selling clothes as a real job so there’s not as much free time
Melissa Locker started playing “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones
STEREOGUM: And you give guitar lessons, too, right?
MARNIE STERN: Yeah, I have one in a few hours
STEREOGUM: How is that?
MARNIE STERN: It’s so great. I love love love it. I can feel my energy pouring over into someone and they are so into playing, that it’s really exciting.
STEREOGUM: Do you teach finger tapping?
MARNIE STERN: Everything. Chords, style, tapping. Whatever they want.
STEREOGUM: Do you ever have fans showing up for lessons?
MARNIE STERN: I think some of them know of me and some don’t. the ones that do, like the style and so I try to show them things like that and some things not like my style, but generally the people that come back for a bunch of lessons, really want to learn
STEREOGUM: Have you had any weirdos show up?
MARNIE STERN: Some people have come in for one lesson just to show me how good they are at the guitar and they want me to agree and so I do. Hee.
STEREOGUM: Ha! They pay you to listen to them.
MARNIE STERN: Yeah, fine with me
STEREOGUM: Well, it’s their money, I guess
MARNIE STERN: Yup
Marnie Stern started playing “Since You’re Gone” by The Cars
STEREOGUM: You’re a born and raised New Yorker, right?
MARNIE STERN: Yeah
STEREOGUM: So you must be inured to the strangeness of someone showing up and asking you to approve of them
MARNIE STERN: Hee
STEREOGUM: Well that sounded glibber than I intended, but it sounds like a reverse dominatrix
MARNIE STERN: Haha. I have heard such mixed things about me as a musician that I don’t know. That I’m the worst guitarist, that I’m the best. I’m ok at it, but if someone wants my opinion on their playing, I’m happy to give it to them
STEREOGUM: I love this song. Did you ever see the Cars live?
MARNIE STERN: Never saw the Cars live!! Wish I had.
STEREOGUM: Me neither, but I did run into Ric Ocasek once.
MARNIE STERN: I saw Ric Ocasek at a Walkmen show once
MARNIE STERN: Ha! Where?
STEREOGUM: I saw him on 6th ave. He stands out in a crowd
MARNIE STERN: I saw him in the East Village once
Melissa Locker started playing “212” by Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay
STEREOGUM: I wanted to play Azealia Banks because I was curious if you had heard her and if so, what you thought of this new rash of female rappers.
MARNIE STERN: I did from one of my lessons! And Grimes. Like em. Lots of personality, which is great
STEREOGUM: There is something that bothers me about how they are always identified as female rappers though. I even just did it!
MARNIE STERN: Yeah I agree
STEREOGUM: But every article is like “the rise of the female rapper.” Why aren’t they just rappers?
MARNIE STERN: Yeah. The world needs to categorize..cause of laziness…it’s just easier.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of categorization, you were nominated for a best female artist of the year award.
MARNIE STERN: Yeah
STEREOGUM: Which sounds so charmingly antiquated
MARNIE STERN: Yeah, St. Vincent won. Hee! Yeah, it’s a shame. I completely agree. Should just be artist period
Marnie Stern started playing “Jungle Love” by Steve Miller Band
STEREOGUM: Wow, I did not expect to be listening to Steve Miller during this interview.
MARNIE STERN: I know!!! I’ve been liking Steve Miller from my classic rock station on the radio. I don’t know why but I’m really liking it lately. Hahaha. But my next song in the queue is Slayer. And then Yoko Ono, so I’m kinda schizophrenic.
STEREOGUM: Haha! Wow. Are we going to be hearing Steve Miller influences on your new album? Or is it more Slayer affected?
MARNIE STERN: No Steve Miller. No Slayer. Well maybe deep in the recesses.
STEREOGUM: My iTunes went from Madonna to Milagres to Kreayshawn to The Beatles so I get the schizophrenia
MARNIE STERN: Ha. I have no perspective with my songs.
Melissa Locker started playing “With A Girl Like You” by The Troggs
MARNIE STERN: Sometimes I hear an old song of mine and I like it, a year later I actively dislike it
STEREOGUM: Really? So if I started playing Ruler or For Ash you’d be like NOOO.
MARNIE STERN: Ruler…yuck! I used to really like it.
MARNIE STERN: Who knows why. I used to feel like I couldn’t connect to the Beatles, which was weird, and now I do more so. Different phases.
STEREOGUM: So were you a Stones fan in that old Beatles vs. Stones argument?
MARNIE STERN: Yeah. I wish I kept up more with cotemporary music I think if I felt like there was a cool movement brewing it would be easier but everything feels so disparate
Marnie Stern started playing “Behind The Crooked Cross” by Slayer
MARNIE STERN: Hee
STEREOGUM: SLAYER \m/. That’s the metal emoticon
MARNIE STERN: Ha!
STEREOGUM: But can you believe that the Stones are going on 50 years together? Do you think you’ll be playing when you’re 70?
MARNIE STERN: No. My health is terrible. I don’t think I’ll make it to 70 but I did quit smoking hoping I would feel healthier and I don’t feel a bit different.
STEREOGUM: Oh no! I should sign up for guitar lessons now, then, huh?
MARNIE STERN: yes!
STEREOGUM: I have tiny hands. Fun fact!
MARNIE STERN: It will be harder for you then
STEREOGUM: Did your singing voice change at all when you stopped smoking?
MARNIE STERN: No. NOTHING CHANGED! IT SUCKS.
STEREOGUM: Ugh, write a letter to Bloomberg.
Melissa Locker started playing “Hanging On The Telephone” by Blondie
STEREOGUM: Whoa I don’t remember the Slayer songs ending that abruptly
MARNIE STERN: Debbie Harry has had a great long career, so has Elvis Costello.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, she’s amazing. Did you read how some paparazzi mistook her for Lindsay Lohan? I loved that.
MARNIE STERN: Hahaha
STEREOGUM: Elvis Costello has had a good career.
MARNIE STERN: yes
STEREOGUM: I love the diversity in his discography. He’s always changing
MARNIE STERN: Everyone’s career now seems very choppy, because of the short attention span of audiences. You constantly have to keep releasing etc.
Marnie Stern started playing “Give Me Something” by Yoko Ono
MARNIE STERN:: do you not want to keep releasing?
STEREOGUM: Well, you’re the one who said you hate the songs you’ve put out. Maybe you or other artists want to change?
MARNIE STERN: Of course, but I mean young bands having pressure to release an LP every 8 months. I like the pace I have, but in terms of commercial success, I think you have to be on a different schedule
Melissa Locker started playing “Goldilocks Zone” by Grass Widow
STEREOGUM: I think you also have to be on Grey’s Anatomy or Gossip Girl to be a true commercial success. Hahhaha, wait, that’s not funny.
MARNIE STERN: Right, but isn’t everyone on a TV show now? I don’t even think that is helpful for commercial appeal anymore, but truthfully, I have no idea.
STEREOGUM: I just know that I get a lot of press releases telling me that bands have been featured on Grey’s Anatomy, which I think is a really strange claim to fame
MARNIE STERN: Yeah, exactly. I like Grass Widow.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, me too! Have you followed the controversy at all about the extremely sexist review they got?
MARNIE STERN: No tell me
Marnie Stern started playing “Chrome Hearts” by Ex Models
STEREOGUM: A magazine gave their new album a fairly positive review but in the process said something like being an attractive girl is so nice followed by “sure there’s that whole rape thing”
MARNIE STERN: geez
STEREOGUM: Charming, useless, bullshit, so obviously Grass Widow’s PR person was like, thanks, but you never need to write about us ever again.
MARNIE STERN: Yeah
STEREOGUM: And the internet went sort of crazy, rightfully
MARNIE STERN: A lot of those magazines don’t even really listen to the music I don’t think
STEREOGUM: Do you run into sexism in the industry?
MARNIE STERN: Not really which is wonderful. Maybe behind my back, but generally, no. I mean there are the drunk frat kids in the audience who say show me your tits. But other than that silliness, no.
STEREOGUM: Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you give off a kind of “I will fuck you up” vibe
MARNIE STERN: Which is great, because actually I’m such a knucklehead. so I’m glad if that’s how I come across
STEREOGUM: Ha! How so?
MARNIE STERN: I’m usually tripping all over my wires in sound check. Oh, a big difference in the new album is that Zach Hill isn’t playing drums
STEREOGUM: Oh really? Do you have a new drummer?
MARNIE STERN: This song is intense! I forgot!
STEREOGUM: It really is! I forgot too.
MARNIE STERN: It’s kid millions…the guy who is playing drums in this song
STEREOGUM: I may have forgotten the Ex Models. I am one of those audience members with short attention spans
MARNIE STERN: Me too
STEREOGUM: I feel like I need ear plugs just to listen to this song.
MARNIE STERN: Hee. Anyway, he is great and the record also sounds a bit different because of that. Zach has played on all 3 previous records.
STEREOGUM: So Kid Millions is the new drummer?
Melissa Locker started playing “Watch Me Fall” by Uncle Tupelo
MARNIE STERN: Yeah, the guy played on that Ex Models record and is the drummer for Oneida among other projects.
STEREOGUM: That’s cool, he’s really good
MARNIE STERN: This is a nice respite from the noise barrage. Thank you, Uncle Tupelo.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s very relaxing in comparison. So, mandatory silly interview question, if you could tour with any other acts who would they be?
MARNIE STERN: Hmm Heart. You mean dream tours? Heart, The Who, Bruce Springsteen. In more real realm..
STEREOGUM: Yes, Marnie and Bruce!
Marnie Stern started playing “Horses” by Patti Smith
MARNIE STERN: Patti Smith!
STEREOGUM: I would see a Bruce, Patti, Marnie tour, too
MARNIE STERN: That would be the best moment of my life, hands down for the rest of my life
STEREOGUM: Seriously. Even if I was just in the audience that would be pretty big.
MARNIE STERN: Oh yeah, Bruce and Patti wrote that song together, that became a hit for Patti Smith, they know each other! I’m on it!
STEREOGUM: You are halfway there!
MARNIE STERN: Ha. I read her biography. it was inspiring, except for the homeless part (j/k)
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s amazing to think of NYC back in the day where Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were hanging out
MARNIE STERN: I know I agree. It was so much smaller. Everyone knew each other
STEREOGUM: Do you have any sense of that having grown up here?
MARNIE STERN: No…more so in movies I watch of 70’s NY
STEREOGUM: Yeah, 70s NY always looks amazing. It probably kind of sucked to live here, though
MARNIE STERN: Yes, hot and stinky in the summer like Dog Day Afternoon. That’s what my mother told me
STEREOGUM: And of course Turk 182
MARNIE STERN: TURK 182!! I LOVED THAT MOVIE! But I re-watched it recently and it was so boring. Shocking.
STEREOGUM: Yeah and now that I think about it I think it’s actually from the 80s.
MARNIE STERN: Yeah
STEREOGUM: Anyway when can we expect to hear the new album?
MARNIE STERN: I think next winter. Maybe fall. Fall or winter
STEREOGUM: Great! Something to look forward to
MARNIE STERN: I’m excited!!!!!!
STEREOGUM: Yeah we’re all excited!! Thanks for chatting.
MARNIE STERN: Thank you! This was so so fun!
STEREOGUM: By the way this song is realllllllly long
MARNIE STERN: I knowwwwwww
STEREOGUM: And to think I had Heart all queued up just for you
MARNIE STERN: Next time!!