"With the first record I thought, 'Oh, it's too experimental,'" she said. "With the second record I thought, 'Oh, it's too rock.' With the third record I thought, 'Oh, it's too emotive.'"
"I was conflicted about the vocals being so high in the mix and so present and so clean," she said. "But I knew if it made me uncomfortable, it was probably a good thing to try."
By phone from her home in New York, Stern, 37, chatted about the "Win a Date with Marnie Stern" promotion enacted by her record label, the difficulty of pursuing a life as a musician and what she has in common with the protagonist from "Memento."
How is the whole "Win a Date with Marnie Stern" experience going?
It's going OK so far. I've been on two of the dates. One of the guys threw his back out taking YouTube videos of his cat, so we have not met yet. But I've gone on the other two dates, and I actually went on two dates with one of the people.
It sounds like this could have serious rom-com potential. Who could you see playing Marnie in the film version?
Oh god. I don't know. Sarah Silverman, maybe?
Did you have any say in the people you got to date?
No, but both people who picked know me. It's been fun. They had to twist my arm a little bit, but I so rarely date in the first place, and I never meet anybody, so I was excited about it. I was thinking about it more as a real thing as opposed to [promotion] for the record.
In interviews, you sound almost conflicted about the musical direction on "Chronicles."
I'm always conflicted with everything I make, from the first record 'til now. It's like I can't really win. I'll like a song off it, or I'll like it for a particular time, but I never listen to the stuff afterwards.
Are you worried that the record you finally feel confident in will be the one no one likes?
I don't even know. It's more just an internal fight. I'm constantly fighting with myself over what I'm making. I'm just so rarely happy with it. I think I could do a lot better, is basically what I'm saying.
Is that a personality trait that spills over into other aspects of your life? Like, when you make dinner are you throwing away half of it going, "It'll taste better next time!"
No! Isn't that weird? With everything else I'm really lax and loose, like, "Good enough." It's this specific thing, and that's how I also know it's not just me being hard on myself.
I've read your "Year of the Glad" was partially inspired by David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest." Are you a bookworm?
I read a ton! I read constantly, but I don't remember anything I read or watch on TV, to the point where when I read something I've started calling a friend to say, "Can you remember this? Because I just read this." I read a lot of historical biographies. I read the [Ron Chernow] book on [George] Washington maybe two months ago and forgot everything except for the gossipy bits. Then I forgot those, too.
You should do like the dude from "Memento" and start tattooing the stuff you really want to remember on your body.
[Laughs] I know! It's crazy! I don't know why I'm attempting to put anything in my head. It just doesn't stay.
There's a line on "East Side Glory" that goes, "The plan was to do this forever/Can I still?" As a music journalist, I find I'm asking myself that question constantly.
I think about it physically because touring is so exhausting. Then mentally you don't know where your income is going to come from and you don't have health insurance. Everybody else settles into their domesticated life and doesn't have to worry about that anymore. I'm really getting tired of the hustle. But what else am I going to do?
Going through these recording sessions, do you feel like you came to an answer to that question?
No. I'm hovering. I think of certain artists who have been doing it forever, and that's so inspiring. Then I think of other people who just stopped, and you remember them at their pinnacle, and I like that idea, too. I don't know. Both are attractive in their own way.
You've also got a song on here called "Immortals." If given the choice would you want to live forever?
I'm really afraid to die, but no. No one would want to do that. I'm already exhausted.
Marnie Stern, 9 p.m. April 17 at Empty Bottle, $12