Growing Confidence

Marnie Stern shares all her work with collaborator, Hella’s Zach Hill

Marnie Stern travels with a companion that helps her cope with life on the road. It’s her Maltese-Yorkshire terrier mix dog, named Figgy. “She’s very perfect,” Stern says. “We need her.” Stern, the New York-based guitarist/singer, says her dog provides love and affection during long stretches of touring, providing a calming influence for Stern and her tour mates. Taking Figgy on walks in new cities also gives Stern a chance to explore and break free from the process of loading in and out of gigs. “It takes us out of the touring element,” Stern says. “We’re used to touring with her.” Pictures of Figgy figure prominently on Stern's blog, where she also puts random musings, videos and pictures. The tongue-in-cheek website is Most of the content reflects the band’s life on the road. “It’s just what our lives are like,” Stern says. Currently, Stern is out on the road supporting her third record, a self-titled effort released in October 2010 by Kill Rock Stars. During a Friday afternoon phone conversation with The Reader, Stern talked in middle of her tour during a one-night stay at her home in New York. “It stinks coming home in the middle (of a tour) because you want to stay,” she says. The self-titled record is once again Stern and drummer Zach Hill of Hella, who does not tour with Stern. Stern had been working on the material for the record for quite some time, doing more recording layers than she had ever done before. Things were much more fleshed out this time around, she says. “It was a bit more personal for me,” Stern says. Stern records all the guitar parts by herself, then sends them to Hill to drum on. Once the tracks are sent off, the two will decide which ones they like the best. Then she will work with him on vocals and overdubs in the studio. The separated process has also been how Stern works, since she was first asked by her label about which drummer she would want to work with. “I always have written on ProTools and tried to put things together,” Stern says. “I’ve gotten a little bit better at arrangements.” At the start of working with Hill, Stern says there was a bit of apprehension about the tracks she would send him, but that’s not the case anymore. Now she just sends everything, including things that Stern thinks are weird and things that she doesn’t think are very good. Through her three records and live performances, Stern has also developed a reputation for her intricate guitar playing. She’s only been serious about playing since her early 20s, she says. She was quickly drawn to bands like Hella, Don Caballero and the Flying Luttenbachers and how they used noise elements with a sense of controlled chaos. Stern says she would spend thousands of hours, trying to incorporate those stylistic choices into her own playing by recording tons of material onto four track and later on, onto ProTools. Despite the hours spent in the lab working on guitar, Stern says she’s not a guitar obsessive. “I don’t really have any personal relationship with the guitar,” she says. Those hours set up the latest record to take the next step, as this time around Stern didn't focus as much on the guitar work first then finding a vocal melody to pair with it second. While she’s always sought out guitar parts with the goal of putting it into a song. She was ready to evolve beyond that. This time it was geared toward writing complete songs. The shift in approach presented some frustration and difficulty, but ultimately Stern says she was excited to sit at her desk and try to come up with stuff. “When the songs finally came together, it was really rewarding,” Stern says. Marnie Stern w/ Tera Melos and Thunder Power play the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., Friday, March 11 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8. For more information, visit

posted at 08:21 pm
on Wednesday, March 09th, 2011


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