Marnie Stern delivers a bare-bones solo performance in her Manhattan apartment.

MARNIE STERN, ‘YOU DON’T TURN DOWN’

The dexterous, finger-tapping guitarist extraordinaire Marnie Stern gives a glimpse into her colorful Upper East Side apartment in New York City and performs an intense, bare-bones rendition of “You Don’t Turn Down.” This video was created as a pilot for a new project for WNYC’s music program Soundcheck.

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Marnie Stern’s Living Room Is A Kaleidoscope Burst Of Color

by Michael Katzif for WNYC Soundcheck

The first thing that catches your eye when we walk into Marnie Stern’s rather spacious Upper East Side apartment is the shocking pink walls. Then, the swaths of patterned contact paper cut into giant geometric shapes. And then, the dark purple night sky ceiling complete with small painted white dots for stars. In fact, everywhere you turn is a bold, so-gaudy-it’s-awesome kaleidoscope burst of color.

For those who know her songs, this brash, colorful room fits with Stern’s musical aesthetic: A glorious mess of dexterous, finger-tapping guitar riffs and energetic melodies, thrashy noise and pummeling drums. Her fiery songs, especially on the superb, and fantastically-titled new album, The Chronicles Of Marnia, can be equally poppy and abrasive — in the best way. And on this sunny, early spring day, as the sunlight poured in through her large windows, those rich pink walls felt warm and inviting.

But, Stern clarifies, this is all pretty new.

The living room was only recently redecorated this way for her music video for her album’s latest single, “Immortals.” The idea for the video, Stern explains, was to turn her apartment into a living, breathing version of the album art from her 2010 self-titled album. That cover — a cute and intricately rendered watercolor painting by Stern’s best friend, artist Bella Foster — provided director Allie Avital Tsypin with the visual spark for the video’s chaotic mayhem and fun.

And knowing that the video’s surreal and hedonistic house show — including a horde of shirtless men, smashed lamps, torn feather pillows, and all — was filmed in this relatively posh upper Manhattan doorman building seems almost rebellious, like they got away with something they shouldn’t have.

In New York City, housing presents its own, let’s say, special set of logistical challenges, especially for someone like Stern who needs a spot conducive to writing, rehearsing, recording, giving guitar lessons, and decompressing after shows — or say, shooting a late night music video — without bugging roommates and neighbors. Or, bothering her dog Fig, for whom she bought a pair of dog earmuffs for hearing-protecting for when they’re on tour.

Stern also says that the neighborhood’s older demographic is calming, and without the pressure of livelier areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“It isn’t trendy or hip at all,” Stern says, “I like that because it helps you focus on what’s important as opposed to your outfit when you go to the store or whatever.”

Still, inside this very “grown-up” building, Stern’s living room comes off both like a secret artist studio and a homey, lived-in space, with its somewhat mismatching flowery furniture, funky lamps and vases.

Oh, and a female mannequin torso, which she uses to stage photos of clothing she sells with her mother on eBay to make money. Stern says she enjoys eBay a lot because the immediacy of selling is gratifying because the results can be more tangible than music.

“With music, it’s all sort of a creative endeavor,” Stern explains, “where you’re making something and then you give it to the world, but you don’t really ever see — at least I don’t ever see any monetary results. With eBay, I take a picture of [an item], I list it, it sells, I get the money, and it’s satisfying.”

It’s always fascinating to get a glimpse into how an artist lives. It’s an opportunity to see not only where they make their art, but peak inside the artistic process. And as Marnie Stern delivered a captivating bare-bones solo performance of “You Don’t Turn Down” in her technicolor living room, it was clear that there’s nothing as satisfying and raw than Stern and her guitar. It was a perfect place to see where her earliest of song ideas first took shape.

Ex Cops performs for a video shoot at Farewell Books in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest on March 15, 2013.

EX COPS: ‘SPRING BREAK (HAPPY BIRTHDAY)’ @ SXSW

Watch the Brooklyn band perform “Spring Break (Birthday Song)” in a funky bookstore in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest 2013. This video was originally created for WNYC’s Soundcheck for its SXSW coverage.

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Ex Cops: Jangling Pop In A Bookstore

by Michael Katzif for WNYC Soundcheck

South By Southwest can be an unrelenting week of loud music and hordes of people. So it was a rare, if temporary respite from the madness on Friday morning when I met up with Ex Cops at a funky bookstore called Farewell Books. This relatively new and minimal shop and gallery space — just east of the highway to be out of the way from the mayhem of Downtown Austin — is decked out in arty prints, a handsomely curated book selection, and an old boxy television set looping retro psychedelic imagery.

It turned out to be the perfect place for the music of Ex Cops.

Fronted by Bryan Harding and Amalie Bruun, the Brooklyn band’s brisk and snappy songcraft blends shimmery dream pop with memorable, singable hooks. On stage with a full band, Ex Cops is capable of wielding edgier guitar distortion and savvy drumming to cut through with some teeth.

But here, even stripped-down to Harding and Bruun’s vocal harmonies, Ex Cops’ rendition of “Spring Break (Birthday Song)”– a sweet jangly song — made for an engaging and wonderfully fresh take on the indie pop sound.

Credits: Producer/Editor/Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio: Rachel Neel; Special Thanks to: Farewell Books, Austin, Texas.

Waxahatchee performs for a video shoot at Yellow Jacket Social Club in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest on March 14, 2013.

WAXAHATCHEE: ‘SWAN DIVE’ @ SXSW

Watch an intimate, early morning performance of “Swan Dive” at a bar in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest. This video was originally created for WNYC’s Soundcheck for its SXSW coverage.

Waxahatchee: Heart-Wrenching Intimacy On A Spring Morning

by Michael Katzif for WNYC Soundcheck

Finding time for quiet reflection is practically impossible in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest. That is, unless you get yourself outta bed early before anyone else is even thinking about waking up, and hoof it across to the east side of highway to meet up with a musician. It was a crisp, spring morning — about 8:30 or 9 a.m. — when Katie Crutchfield rolled up to the shady, abandoned patio of the Yellow Jacket Social Club, a bar near the train tracks and a colorful, always-morphing graffiti wall. With a halo of sunshine just peaking in the sky, this out-of-the-way location made for quite a tonal shift from the busy streets of downtown the night before. And it seemed just right for Crutchfield’s lovely and intimate songs.

The Philadelphia-based (by way of Birmingham by way of Brooklyn) Crutchfield, now 24, has been writing music for roughly 10 years — playing in the D.I.Y. punk band P.S. Eliot, which included her twin sister Allison. Now recording and performing as Waxahatchee, Crutchfield’s emotionally exposed songs reflect themes of isolation and self-doubt, of anger and frustration, and of the messiness of love and regret. Equally innocent and disillusioned, Waxahatchee’s songs like “Be Good” and “Grass Stain” from 2012’s superb American Weekend — are rough and thread-bare: Bedroom-style recordings with only an acoustic guitar and a trembling voice that felt urgent, as if captured minutes after writing so they would not dissipate and be forgotten.

This year’s excellent follow-up, Cerulean Salt, retains that spirit while asserting some power and confidence behind the fragility. Now a three-piece band, Waxahatchee’s songs shift from acoustic to distorted electric guitars and the drumming of Crutchfield’s boyfriend Keith Spencer (of the band Swearin’). The record proves to be another heart-wrenching, yet beautiful batch of songs that deal in uneasy feelings, dysfunctional relationships, and devastating honesty.

Sitting on a picnic table, with birds chirping and a subtle din of distant machinery, Crutchfield retrofit one of her new songs — the stunning “Swan Dive” — paring it back to simply an electric guitar and her un-mic’d vocals. The result is a winning and earnest performance that splits the difference between both Waxhatchee sounds. It was the perfect start to the day.

Credits: Producer/Editor/Videographer: Michael Katzif; Audio: Rachel Neel; Special Thanks to: Yellow Jacket Social Club, Austin, Texas.