Marnie Stern

 

Performing on the back patio at Ms. Bea’s during this year's South By Southwest, singer-songwriter/guitar-shredder Marnie Stern received an electric shock from her microphone. “Yeow,” she said. “I just got electrocuted. That’s the most action my va-jay-jay’s seen in a while.” The release of the nimble guitar player's sophomore album, 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, and a well-received tour with Gang Gang Dance last fall helped Stern become more comfortable with audiences and critics alike. Decider sat down with Stern just ahead of her performance tonight at The Echo.

Decider: Your song “Prime” almost sounds like a pep rally song. Were you ever a cheerleader?
Marnie Stern: I would’ve liked to have been. [Pauses.] No, I wouldn’t have. Now I would have liked to have been but then, I definitely was not into it. I didn’t go to the type of school where there were cheerleaders. There were only 20 people per grade. Plus, I grew up in New York City. I always couldn’t stand cheerleaders, really. I don’t know why. Being older, I look back and it doesn’t seem that bad.
D: The energy in your songs feel like you’re trying to pump up the listener.
MS: That’s me fighting against life. It doesn’t come easy for me to be positive.
D: Do you actively try to be positive?
MS: All the time. Especially in music because it kind of bounces back into my life. If I’m positive in the music, it makes me feel better day-to-day. If I’m somber with the music, then I’m bummed out all the time. It’s a weird relationship I have with music because it’s the only thing I really have. So a lot rides on it, which is good and bad. Lately the somber stuff has been seeping its way in. But it can’t stay the same forever. Change is inevitable.
D: Is it difficult for you to find positive things to sing about?
MS: Well, forever, it was a decade of me with no label, playing to two people—so it was really easy to be the rocky underdog in songs. Now, I have everything I’ve ever wanted, so I don’t really feel like I have to fight as hard. I’m pretty difficult on myself in terms of thinking that what I’m doing is good. It takes a lot of tries before I think, “Oh, this song is okay.” Every day for 10 hours for a month, nothing comes up. I start to think I can’t do it. I’m fucked. Then it happens by accident.
D: So, can you actually say your album’s full title?
MS: Nope. Zach Hill, the drummer, came up with it. We couldn’t come up with a title. I wanted it to be Marry Me as a joke from Arrested Development, the TV show, but St. Vincent took it the year before. Zach remembered this quote and he texted it to me. The label’s so great that they were okay with it. Then it came out and everyone’s like, “The title! The title!” Who knew?
D: What are the most notes you’ve played in a riff?
MS: I think 26. The [sequence in] “Vibrational Match," that’s a four second riff and it’s 16.  I can do more than that. The more notes the better. There’s other technique stuff I’m not that good at. Everybody’s got their thing they get comfortable with, and then they do some derivation of that all over the neck. I wish I were a drummer. I’d be in much better shape. You sweat a bunch. Get all that shit out of you. But I just stand there. I sweat but not like drummers I know who look like they just jumped out of a pool.