Local indie-pop with a Stern determination

by Beacon Staff • April 4, 2007

Buzzworthy Boston band The Sterns on touring, playing SXSW and what it means to be "jangly","So this is our limo," he said.

Alex Stern is kidding. The very out-of-place, raised stretch limo that the sweatsuit-garbed members of the hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks are pouring out of does not belong to Alex Stern or Chris Stern or any other member of The Sterns.,"So this is our limo," he said.

Alex Stern is kidding. The very out-of-place, raised stretch limo that the sweatsuit-garbed members of the hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks are pouring out of does not belong to Alex Stern or Chris Stern or any other member of The Sterns.

But Alex and Chris (no relation) and Emeen Zarookian, three-fifths of the Boston-based indie-pop band, walk a few steps up the sidewalk of Massachusetts Avenue, away from the buzz of the Middle East rock club they'll play later that night and find something much for fitting this part of Cambridge.

"You're taking pictures right?" Alex asked a Beacon photographer, grinning. "Let's do this in front of the scooter."

The chained-down mo-ped is stylish, coated in beige and red paint and modeled like a '70s future machine. But it's still a scooter.

It's cool, if only in an ironic sort of way, and doesn't carry a shred of arrogance. Most importantly, you can throw this thing on any street corner in Boston and no one will scoff--and most will want to give it a ride.

The Sterns are much more scooter than limo. And the members realize that's why the band has grown so popular so quickly.

"The formation of the band is not the exciting part. We got together through mutual friends, the-lady-met-this-fellow stuff," said Alex, the band's guitarist and backup vocalist. He's decked in aviators at 9 p.m. and his hands are hidden in the pockets of his thin white jacket on one of the last cold days in March.

"The band formed out of the fact that we had the same grips on pop music and we wanted to do something with it," he said.

That knack for pop is shown off with songs like "This Will Only Hurt for a Minute," a three-minute masterpiece of the decades-old riff-driven pop-song formula, and the clap-happy "Sinners Stick Together." The songs have earned glowing reviews from The Boston Phoenix and Spin. Each magazine has described the band as "jangly."

"What else would you call us? Maybe super-jangly?" quipped Chris, the guitarist and lead singer. "I think that says more about the timbre of our guitars than anything else."

But there is one style characteristic that is increasingly hard to ignore: The Sterns, with members only as far removed from downtown Boston as Brighton, sound distinctly British. The vocals, the guitar, everything. Where does it come from?

"It comes from Britain," Chris joked. "Really, rock music today all has links to British music. It starts and ends there for some people. They've always made better music than us. The British have always been setting our course."

They maintain that Boston is their home regardless. For bassist and 2006 Emerson graduate Zarookian, the city and the school have been too good to leave.

"In terms of art and music, learning how a board works, Emerson is great," said the former film-turned-audio major. "I loved it. I made my best friends there."

Zarookian used the audio classes to produce home demos and earned an assistant engineer credit on The Sterns' latest album, Sinners Stick Together.

"Sometimes the best music doesn't come from music schools, it comes from art schools," he said. "It's a matter of finding creative minds that are compatible."

He's even making a documentary of the band's past tour to pitch to outlets like Maxim. It's a tour that provided great film fodder and finished in mid-March with a trip to Austin's prestigious indie showcase South by Southwest.

"It was absolutely amazing," Zarookian said. "There was so much going on from 8 [p.m.] to 1 a.m., so many familiar faces from local and national bands."

And with the band's first West Coast swing coming in the summer, the members don't plan on stopping until they're the ones stepping out of a limo.

"We're just trying to be in a position where we don't have to come back and work jobs just to get by," Chris said .

Well, they at least hope they won't be driving the limo.