MARNIE STERN This photo is reprehensible. I can't believe someone would waste perfectly good lipstick on a mirror like that.

MARNIE STERN is not shy. She is laughing maniacally, having just delivered a "that's-what-she-said" icebreaker (good, but not hilarious enough to warrant transcription). Plus, you know, there's the whole pyrotechnic guitar heroics deal. The meek do not shred so devilishly. But for the first time in Stern's musical life, she is battling serious self-doubt. "Do you really like it?" she asks. I've brought up her new self-titled record, which I do like very much; no BS, I say. Her interest seems genuine. "I'm feeling real insecure lately. Just 'cause it's so personal and shit. I dunno. It's embarrassing."

Indeed, Marnie Stern is the most intimate set of tunes the New York guitarist has put to tape. On the surface, it's another album of wildly manic math rock festooned with Stern's bright, caterwauling vocals. But something else lurks just beneath. Lead track "For Ash" is explosive and exultant but anchored by tragedy: The titular Ash was a troubled former flame who took his own life. "I think that's the best song I've done," she says—and she's right, the damn thing should win some sort of award. "Part of the problem [with songwriting] is that you're letting your ego get involved. When someone dies, it's really not about you anymore. And I wanted to do something for him, to celebrate him."

"I never thought of it as a dark record," she says of the transformative Marnie Stern. "It's kind of sad, but bittersweet. There are two sides [to] my brain: the Jewish, neurotic, fucked one, and the 'it's gonna be amazing' one." Save a lengthy invective on the pseudo-controversy surrounding a recent snappish remark about Best Coast ("Everyone has opinions, don't they? Certain things inspire me and certain things don't"), it's clear via our conversation that the latter side rules the mental roost. Among other happy things, Stern gushes about being kissed by Iron Chef Mario Batali at a party and the prospect of visiting mom in Florida post-tour. Finally, because... well, just because, I guess, she begins reciting a verse of "Proud Mary." I offer an addendum. "Rolling down the river—of life," I suggest. "It's a long fucking river," she sighs. "Mississippi up in this bitch."