Shredding home

Marnie Stern with Dayton’s Nithin Kalvakota plays Canal Street

 By Leo DeLuca
Photo: Marnie Stern brings her distinctive brand of guitar-centric bubblegum pop to Canal Street Tavern on May 8

Marnie Stern, frequently referred to as “the lady who shreds,” will play Canal Street Tavern Wednesday, May 8, with local favorites The Motel Beds and Dear Fawn. Centerville native Nithin Kalvakota joins Stern on bass and will be embark upon a Gem City homecoming for the show.

An extremely unique and adept player, Stern deviates a bit from her normal brand of guitar-centric “art-metal, math-rock, bubblegum pop” on new album The Chronicles of Marnia, and delivers a more stripped-down, vocal-heavy song set. Chronicles has received grand love from NPR, Pitchfork, Village Voice, The Guardian and more.

Marnie and Nithin both granted interviews to the Dayton City Paper in anticipation of their forthcoming Dayton show:

You’ve been hailed by many notable publications as one of the finest female guitarists. When did you begin playing guitar? When starting out, was there ever a period of frustration where you felt like you weren’t progressing with the instrument? Conversely, did guitar come natural to you, thereby allowing you to progress rapidly in learning the instrument? 

I really started focusing on it when I was around 21. It didn’t come naturally and I felt like every day was a struggle not to throw the guitar across the room. This went on for about three years. Then one day, I realized I had finally gotten to the next level. It took about another three years until I got over that hurdle to the next level. Two more years and I was at the top of my game. I don’t practice nearly as much as I used to, so I’m not nearly as good as I was about five years ago. But most of it sticks. – Marnie Stern

Who are some of your less obvious influences – artists that one wouldn’t gauge by listening to your music? 

Bruce Springsteen, Melt Banana, The Flying Luttenbachers – MS

A “less is more” approach was taken with your new album The Chronicles of Marnia. In turn, your voice is showcased evermore. Have you been working more on your vocals and less on guitar during this period in life? It sounds very nice, by the way. 

Thanks! We stripped down for a change. It’s hard to hear my voice out in the open like that, so I don’t listen to the record. But I don’t listen to any of my records because it’s hard for me to hear myself. I get embarrassed. – MS

Have you been influenced by any notable Ohio musicians? Dayton musicians? 

Yeah, the Deal sisters, in a big way! Both the Pixies and the Breeders have been huge influences. Nithin Kalvakota, our bass player, also influences me because he’s so versatile and such a great musician. He’s from Dayton. – MS

Do you have any advice for young female musicians in the Gem City? 

Keep on plugging away. – MS

What are you plans for the future?

Lots of touring for the next year or so – MS

How long have you been playing with Marnie? Where did you two meet? How did this working relationship begin?  

I’ve been playing with Marnie for four years. We met in Los Angeles six days before I played my first show with her. I started as her touring drummer for a bunch of dates in the U.S. and Europe. A good friend of mine and former Daytonian, Chris Common, recommended me. The drummer before me apparently quit three hours before an “important” showcase at SXSW in 2009.  – Nithin Kalvakota

You grew up in Centerville here in the Gem City. Who were your favorite Dayton bands growing up? 

I didn’t know anything about “local” music until I went to see Fugazi in the field next to Brookwood Hall when I was 14 years old. Local band Cage opened and I remember thinking that it was insane that people from my town could be a part of something so raw and cool. That experience marked a fundamental shift in my life and awareness of music. I’ve sort of been chasing that feeling ever since, ha ha! Favorite Dayton bands growing up were Ten O’clock Scholar, Larry Byrds, Spitcurl, Bondagebox, Keynote Speaker and Cigarhead. – NK

Did growing up in Dayton affect your approach to playing music? If so, in what way? 

Well, I pretty much learned everything about how to be in a band from other bands in Dayton. Growing up there had a massive impact on what I thought was cool and what/who I aspired to be like. This is before the Internet, so the local music scene cultivated a distinct identity and the bands I looked up to in Dayton were like gods to me. As a drummer, I always thought Jason Baker was totally unhinged and amazing. I’d never seen anyone hit so hard and be kind of mathy and jazzy at the same time. I really wanted to be like that. – NK

Who are your top five favorite Dayton acts of all time? 

Brainiac, Breeders, Dirty Walk, Ten O’clock Scholar, Zapp and Roger – NK

Marnie Stern will perform Wednesday, May 8 at Canal Street Tavern, 308 E. First St. Also on the bill are Motel Beds and Dear Fawn. Admission is $5 for 18 & up. Doors at 8 p.m. For more information, visit

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