Back Tracks - Marnie Stern

The guitar virtuoso talks about the artists and songs that shaped her.
Marnie Stern
Marnie Stern © Nate Watters/Red Bull Content Pool
By Chris Parkin

Marnie Stern is regularly hailed as something of a superstar guitarist, such are her impressive chops. But it’s not for her the typical slick sound of the guitar virtuoso. Instead, Stern plays intricate, pointillist punk-rock riffs at blink-and-you’ll-miss-them speeds. Together with her fizzing melodies and defiant songs rallying us (and herself) to keep on keeping on, her most recent album, 'The Chronicles Of Marnia' (Kill Rock Stars), is a dizzying, frown-busting blast. She recently headlined Red Bull Sound Select Presents: Seattle, and here she is with the music that’s mattered most in her life.

The first piece of music to stop me in my tracks was...

'Born To Run' by Bruce Springsteen. "It's a complicated song, but it's also anthemic and incredibly uplifting. I identified with the idea the song represents – that you can pick yourself up in a bad situation and persevere. Those are the songs that I try to write now because I can identify with those feelings of wanting more and looking for a way to believe in yourself."

The first artist that made me want to make music was...

Debbie Harry. "I think seeing Debbie Harry when I was young was a big influence. She wasn't just focusing on her beauty and feminine side. She was a real badass and I was drawn to her individuality."

My karaoke track of choice is...

'The Greatest Love Of All' by Whitney Houston and 'Run To The Hills' by Iron Maiden. "Lately I have two staple songs at karaoke. First is 'The Greatest Love Of All' by Whitney Houston because it’s really fun trying to hit those notes. The second is 'Run To The Hills' by Iron Maiden. That song is just plain fun to listen to and to sing. I need to start expanding though because I’ve become too predictable at karaoke. A few months ago we played a show in Nashville and afterwards we went to a karaoke trailer called Santa's. I heard some amazing songs there… and it's in a trailer!"

My ultimate Friday night anthem is...

"On tour, the songs that pump us up when we’re tired are usually actual anthem songs like Unchained by Van Halen. I like Baba O’Riley by The Who, too."

My comedown classic is...

"I like to listen to Tom Petty to relax. Almost any Tom petty reminds me of driving in the car with the windows rolled down. All his songs are catchy with fun riffs. His song structures are simple but really effective, and just plain fun to sing along to."

What track is most likely to make you cry?

"Any Janis Ian song makes me teary. When I was very young, maybe 12, someone played her for me on vinyl and the song 'At Seventeen' was about her feeling ugly and unwanted. I remember feeling so badly for her and crying. Honestly, I don't like listening to sad songs very much anymore.”

The song I steal the most from is...

“I steal from everywhere, just like everyone else. I actually think I steal the most from The Who and David Byrne. I wish I’d written that many songs. A lot of times I'll hear how old these artists were when they wrote them and it bums me out. They were usually in their early 20s. I get so envious.”

The track is love to hate is...

“I’ve been having a love/hate relationship with Steve Miller. I both love and hate the fluidity and ease of those songs. I also can't figure out why most kids listen to him in junior high and then never again.”

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