Music that Rocks

Musician Marnie Stern’s debut album, In Advance of the Broken Arm, emphasizes Stern’s stirring guitar skills. Stern’s aptitude for guitar involves creative guitar melodies that flow into striking rock sounds. Stern also wears the new face of progressive rock music -- no longer should one settle for catchy simple melodies or noodling of instruments. Rather, listeners of progressive rock can come to expect highly developed melodies that dazzle their minds, but still flow together to make something beautiful and discernible.

In addition, Stern’s voice and lyrics retain a certain child-like sense of fun. With her youthful voice ringing through the astounding and intricate guitar arrangements, she maintains a presence that seems to focus less on herself than the music, which is itself an excellent presentation of the mind behind the wizardry of guitar sounds. In an age where music has become more about self-image and less about quality, Stern stands out as a refreshing and moving musician.

This interview has been shortened and first ran in 2007. Marnie Stern has recently announced her first new record in a decade. The album The Comeback Kid is due out in November through Joyful Noise.

Runjini Raman: Tell us when you first began to play music and when did you begin to consider it a serious profession?
Marnie Stern: I started to play the guitar at age 15 but didn't consider myself a serious professional until I was around 22 years old and I started playing more often and applying myself more diligently.

RR: Who would you cite as your musical influences? In particular, what other guitarists do you enjoy listening to and how have they shaped your music?
MS: Spencer Seim - Hella
Eddie Van Halen
Ellie Erickson (bass)/ Jenny Hoyston - Erase Eratta
Mick Barr - Orthrelm
Tom Verlaine - Television
John Dieterich - Deerhoof
All of these players have influenced me in different ways. I usually just listen for the feel of the player and then take on the influence in that way.. I never try and sit down and play their parts or learn their style. I think that would be counter productive..

RR: Do you feel that, as an artist, you are still insecure about some aspects of your music, and what are those things?
MS: Sure, I think everyone has insecurities about themselves as an artist. For me, my voice is something I try to improve on all the time.

RR: Tell us what process do you use to create or write new material?
MS: I start with a small guitar part, and then I add another layer, and then another melodic guitar layer on top of that and that helps facilitate the process towards finding a vocal melody. Sometimes I then leave the melodic guitar line, and then sometimes I take it out and just leave the vocal with the original guitar part.

RR: Can you explain what specifically inspires you to create music?
MS: History is a big influence. I am inspired tremendously by history and our predecessors. It helps me feel connected. And then the music becomes an inner world where I lose sense of time and space and in that space I'm the most content.

RR: How did your partnership with Zach Hill come about and what did he contribute to the production of your record?
MS: He added a lot in terms of arrangements and keyboard ideas, and of
course, drums. I was ecstatic when he called me to work with him. Hella is my favorite band, so it was a real dream come true. Someone at Kill Rock Stars had given him my demo and he called me after he had heard it and said he wanted to work on it with me.

RR: What is the significance of the title of your album, In Advance of the Broken Arm?
MR: It's a reference to a Duchamp ready-made. My closest friend is a painter named Bella Foster, and we share ideas back and forth when we are working. She suggested the title and we both thought it was funny. At the same time, you could read into the title that the sound of the record encapsulates the feeling you get the moment before you break a body part...that sense of adrenaline, fear, chaos, and intensity that must ensue at that frantic second right before the moment of impact.

RR: The titles for your songs are interesting and seem to draw from different areas, like philosophy (Plato’s Fucked Up Cave), so what are some other interests you have that help to shape your music?
MS: All sorts of different things. It depends on what I'm reading or thinking about. Again, Bella Foster and I are pretty much always synced up in terms of reading and concepts and ideas. Sometimes, things lean more towards a philosophical bend and other times, a more practical approach, but there is always the spine of an idea or theme running through each song. Everything is calculated and thought out...but still hopefully with a sense of humor, so that I don’t take myself too seriously.

RR: What have you been listening to recently? Are there any other lesser-known, more obscure musicians that you recommend to people who like your music?
MS: Not much lately since we've been on tour…
Cheval De Frise

RR: Would you like to add anything else about your music?
MS: Just that I do believe anything is possible and that if you apply yourself you can move into the pocket you want to be in or have always wanted to explore. It just takes time, effort, diligence, and belief in yourself.

by Runjini Raman