Guitar heroine

If you were going to use the word “typical” to describe Marnie Stern, you might use it like this: a typical Marnie Stern song is like the opening guitar riff from “Thunderstruck” accompanied by John Bonham on machine gun and the vocal track from an alternate version of “Hollaback Girl” with lyrics taken from an abstract poem about coping with manic depression. Or something like that. Of all the versions of what that might sound like you can imagine, take the one that most sounds like an actual song and you have some idea. Stern’s off-kilter, self-taught guitar playing and drummer Zach Hill’s marvelously brutal and alien sense of rhythm take pop-rock song structure to its avant-garde edge without sampling shit, something no one seems to bother to try anymore.

Stern’s sophomore album (it literally takes fewer words to tell you to Google it than to write its full title; when you find it, buy it) was named Best New Music by Pitchfork in 2008. Her most recent, self-titled album earned her a feature in the January issue of the The New Yorker, but Stern contends she’s never made any money from her music. 2010’s Marnie Stern contains songs about real-life death and breakups, but she still sounds chipper on the phone.

I read you went into credit-card debt from touring. I thought touring was the way musicians make money these days.

There are so many bands now because of the internet, so there’s so much traffic through all the country the venues can offer pretty much whatever they want. It’s also based on draw, and what they offer you is `based on` how many people you brought the last time, and because my stuff is a little bit stranger, you know, I don’t have the biggest draw, so that affects stuff. I mean, some bands make money off touring `clears throat`; I don’t know any of them.

That is bleak, man.

It’s really crazy. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but almost all the people I know who are in bands, everyone has a day job.

Why the hell would you go on tour at all?

I have to. Honestly, I’m so sick lately, the past year or so, I’ve really been enjoying touring because it gets me out of the house and around people, and I’ve been liking it more because of that. So there’s that. Two, because I have to, because you have to tour the record.

You mean you have to tour because of your record-label contract?

No, but, you know. `Pause` It’s a good way to get people to come see you, and maybe they’ll bring a friend, I suppose, but I’m told that it’s important, so I do it. I just happen to be putting out records at a time that isn’t … I don’t know if it’s my kind of music, but there just isn’t a living to be made so far in it. It’s one thing to be in your 20s and not have any money, or to be in your teens, but to be in your thirties, it really does begin to take its toll. That’s also part of why I’m a homebody because I don’t really have any money to go out.

Do you ever think about moving somewhere cheaper to live than New York?

Yes. All the time. All the time.

Your newest album feels a lot darker than your last two. Does it seem that way to you?

Yeah. It was things that had been going on in life personally that I had let in to the music, and I think part of it was probably a reaction to the second record, `which was` so big and so rock. The first record was super experimental, the second one was more rock, and I think the third one was just more pop and a little bit darker. Still, I try always, for the most part, to balance it with some kind of positive feeling or like a bigger sweep.

Was there a conscious effort to kind of move away from the finger-tapping?

Yeah. For me it was hard because when I try and do more traditional songwriting, the challenge for me is not losing the uniqueness and spontaneity, so I was trying to work on that with this one. There’s some more straight-forward music. In a lot of ways this record was not as flashy as the last one, and I wasn’t sure how people were going to feel about that, but you don’t make the songs based on that, you just do it how you feel it.

I guess in some ways you have a little bit of freedom there because your last album was really popular, but you obviously didn’t make a lot of money off it, so you don’t have to worry about recreating the success.

`Laughs` Yeah. It doesn’t really matter. •

Marnie Stern w. Tera Melos

Call for price

8pm Tue, Feb 22

The Ten Eleven

(210) 320-9080

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