Thursday, October 21, 2010

An interview with Marnie Stern

I called Marnie Stern last week just as she was walking into a coffee shop in New York City. She told me, “I would like for people to think of me as a songwriter instead of just a guitar player because it becomes like a carnival act.”

It’s easy to understand how she might seen as a novelty: a chick wields a double-neck axe and rips out fast and nasty licks. For her new album, though, she focused more on the songwriting as opposed to “hiding behind tricks” like she had on previous releases.

“My tendency is to put a lot of stuff in there,” she told me, explaining her earlier releases densely layered sounds. “These songs have a simpler structure. This album is more straightforward and direct.”

It’s also more personal. “For Ash,” a song that she made available on the Internet before the self-titled album’s release is about an ex-boyfriend who killed himself last year. She’s reluctant to talk about the stories behind these songs. All I could get out of her was “I put a lot of myself into them” and “it was cathartic to write them” and “it’s just personal stuff.” She recently told the Village Voice: “I let it all in, I mean, on the thing, as opposed to being abstract. And I know it's OK, but I feel embarrassed, a little.”

Even the album’s cover, which was painted by her good friend, Brooklyn artist Bella Foster, is steeped in personal narrative.

“It’s a painting of my bedroom,” Stern told me. “Not actually my bedroom. It’s idealized. Lots of little things we’ve talked about together. My dog. Guitars. Stuff like that.”

She told the Voice writer that “she worries that all the recording, writing, interviewing, and touring is just vanity.” I got a sense of that when I talked with her last week. It seemed as though she was reluctant to say anything because she couldn’t quite understand what the point would be if she did.

I might have caught her near bedtime. It was about one in the afternoon; All the articles I read about her said she stays up all night and crashes somewhere around the noon hour.

Plus she was with her band. “They’re sick of hearing me talk about this stuff,” she said.

Which might be a passive-aggressive way of saying the album speaks for itself.

No comments: