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New Glarus couldn't hold Raine Stern. She graduated from high school a semester early in 2016. Now the singer-songwriter and self-taught guitar phenom can be seen impressing unsuspecting audiences all over Madison, both playing solo and fronting full bands.
But the diminutive 21-year-old's impatience is palpable. She may not be long for Madison either, she says.
"I'm a very frustrated person. That's not obvious because I love my friends and family that I have in Madison, but I feel very limited and constricted here," Stern says from her seventh-floor office overlooking Capitol Square.
Stern was a preteen when she briefly attended the Madison Music Foundry and took a few guitar lessons — just long enough to learn how to tune her instrument. But by the time she finished high school and a semester at Madison College, she was ready to dedicate herself to music full-time.
She started performing at open mics and playing in the funk-rock party band Madtown Get Down, which she started with her older brother Josh, a bass player. For Stern, the past three years have also included playing with the late legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield and in a Prince tribute band, Purple Veins.
The Raine Stern Band came together about a year and a half ago. She turned it into a nine-piece ensemble — augmented with backup singers and a horn section — for a performance last June at Summerfest. A review of the show in Milwaukee's alternative newspaper The Shepherd Express — headlined "Raine Stern's impressive set" — noted the frontwoman's "youthful exuberance" as well as an "ability and confidence beyond her years."
Stern can sing with a low, knowing rasp as well as a high, sweet playfulness. And she shreds on guitar, often breaking into funky solos and throwing in killer licks that guitar slingers decades older would envy. Just one of her original songs can include all of these elements. And despite the complex arrangements, the music is bluesy, groovy, accessible pop.
"I mix it up," she says. "If you come to one show of mine, you might just get me or me and one other person or me and eight other people. It's always going to be different. When I go on tour, every audience is going to get something unique."
While there are some live recordings of Stern on YouTube and a few of her songs on Spotify, no studio recordings of Stern's music were available before this month. That was the source of much of her frustration.
"People come up to me all the time and ask, ‘Where are your CDs?' Hundreds of times I've told people, ‘They're on their way,' " she says. "I want to be able to say, ‘Come over here to this merch table and I'll sell it to you.' "
In her studio, she plays samples of multitracked recordings of her original songs, including guitar, bass, drums and her scratch (not final) vocals. She says the songs just need to be professionally mixed and mastered. But there are other tunes still to be recorded, too. She says she's had difficulty convincing her band to take time away from playing paid gigs to get into the studio.
Since Stern first spoke to Madison Magazine late last summer, though, she booked an EP release show for the Raine Stern Band at High Noon Saloon on Dec. 10. "I will be releasing a few of the songs that will be on the full length album," she says.
With an album in hand, Stern says her band will have more opportunities to play outside Madison. "We need to record the album, submit it to big festivals and get a manager to book us a tour across the country," she says.
With the lease on her apartment ending next spring, she's thinking about relocating to Minneapolis where some music industry folks recently showed interest in her song writing and sound.
"I've got albums worth of material," she insists. "I have so much stuff, you have no idea."
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