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  • Marnie Stern
    Wednesday, January 24, 2007

    As stated below, there simply aren't very many badass guitar goddesses these days. There is, however, Marnie Stern, a New York-based guitarist whose music is as hyper and as all over the map as the music of many of the musicians listed below. In our brief chat, Ms. Stern allowed us to peer inside for a moment, and it was a very interesting revelation about this guitar goddess's background.


    You really shred on guitar! I'm impressed!

    (Excitedly) Thank you!

    Even though it's the 21st Century, there aren't a lot of really awesome women guitar virtuosos.

    Oh, I hate that term, "virtuoso." It's sooo embarrassing. (Laughs)

    Well, you just don't hear a lot of guitar goddesses, then.

    (Laughs) Oh, I like that term!

    What brought you to playing guitar?

    I wanted to learn when I was younger, and I learned a few chords when I was fifteen, but then I didn't play for a long time. Then, one day, I got this urge to get good, so I pretty much locked myself in my house--figuratively speaking--and spent three or four hours every day for ten years, practicing and playing.

    What prompted you to come back to the guitar?

    Umm...(thoughtfully) I don't know, really. I just had a drive. I wasn't very good at guitar, and I taught myself, so it just took me a really, really long time, and I kept plowing away at it every day.

    Were you inspired by any particular band or record?

    Yeah, this band Don Caballero, they're really amazing. Plus bands like Sleater-Kinney, Van Halen...

    So you weren't necessarily trying to be the next Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen?

    (Laughs) No, nothing like that. It's funny; I have a lot of patience for working on and learning my own things, but I don't have a lot of patience for learning other people's styles. I know some people will hear a record they like and they will study it and play along to it, but for me, it was nothing like that. I can't do that. And I think that's good, because I ended up creating and defining my own personal style.

    That impresses me, hearing you talk about just picking up your guitar after not playing it for a long time and just deciding to become good. The virtuosity of the music, it strikes me as the work of someone who has been playing guitar for a very, very long time.

    Hella also really changed my notions of music. I had always been a songwriter, and then I heard Hella, and I had never heard anything like it, and I was really drawn to it. And since the first record was just guitar and drums, it was really easy to pick out the guitar parts. So then I started playing with both hands and finger-tapping.

    Hella--they're like comrades-in-arms for you. They helped you out on this record.

    Yeah! That's been, like, the craziest part of this whole experience. They're my favorite band, and then one day I got a call from the drummer of the band; he'd heard my demo and wanted to work on the album with me. I was soooooo...unbelievably...excited! That was enough for me. I could die and be happy! (Laughs)

    This is your proper debut, but you'd been making music before this?

    Yeah. I've been in a few bands, and I've played shows and written songs for many years, yet for some reason, it just wasn't really my thing. Then I got ProTools and everything changed, because before that I'd just had a tape recorder, and I'd tape parts and try to play parts over it. Then I got ProTools and I could layer a lot of tracks, and that was great.

    One thing that struck me was that, in a weird way, the lyrics and the music...I have to say that, to me, the two didn't seem to it, like they didn't quite match up in sync. Is this something you've noticed changing in the way you write, since you've started focusing on playing guitar and becoming quite adept at it, that your songwriting style has changed?

    No, that was intentional, to have the guitar and the voice going in two different directions, to kind of have the voice serve as an instrument itself, to separate it and fill the space. But during this whole period of time, especially over the past four years, I'd been playing all the time, but I think when I let go of trying to be a peer with all these other groups...I realized you have to take risks and take some major risks in order to create something authentic.

    So you were striking out in your own direction.

    Yeah, and getting to the point where I wasn't embarrassed. There was a point in time where I would never have sung with the high voice. I never would have done that. But that's me, you know? When I did, the songs seemed more real.

    Playing this music live, is it a challenge for you?

    No, not really. When I first started doing this style, it was a bit difficult for me to play and sing without me looking down so much, and that was the main problem. Now, I just point my microphone down, so if I have to look down, my voice still goes into the microphone.

    How have people reacted to your music?

    I think pretty well--I'm sooooo excited! It's a strange feeling to go from nobody ever hearing your music and having no idea how it would be received and having to trust that it was good, to having people like it and tell me so and have the ability to hear it--it's just so amazing!

    Marnie Stern's debut album, In Advance of the Broken Arm, will be released February 20 on Kill Rock Stars

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