Blast From the Past: Screaming Females
This originally ran in MRR #312, in May 2009, which you can pick up here
Screaming Females is unique in that they have figured out a way to bring incredible guitar work into punk without seeming gratuitous, cheesy, or forced. This is no easy feat. Guitar player, Marissa Paternoster’s spastic guitar bursts (often understated on record in comparison to their live show) manage to maintain remarkable cohesiveness with the music and come across as an extension of the vocals and not merely as a show of talent. Equally remarkable is that the rhythm section, made up of Jarrett Dougherty on drums and King Mike on bass, is not only able to keep up with the powerful guitar work but often able to best it. It’s rare to find three such uniquely talented musicians in any band, let alone in a punk band. In 2006/2007, the band self-released two full-lengths and a 7”. These were followed by two split 7”s in 2008. This year will see the long anticipated third full-length, Power Move, which will be released in April on hometown label, Don Giovanni.
MRR: How did you meet each other?
Marissa: Mike and I went to high school together, we met there. And I met Jarrett in college at a meeting for a club we were in.
MRR: What club were you in?
Marissa: Record label club! It was a really cool club.
MRR: A club for people who wanted to start a record label?
Jarrett: Okay, so a few of my friends figured out how to get money from Rutgers University to put out CDs. We took submissions to make a comp as our first release. I was just treasurer, because they needed someone else to help run it. My two favorite tracks on it were both from Marissa’s projects even though I didn’t know they were both Marissa at the time. Then someone told me. Then when we were handing out the CDs, after we got them printed up, Marissa and I talked and that’s where we met. The record label club did not release anything after that initial release. It was called, I Heard This First.
Marissa: I found it today.
Jarrett: Did you really?! Wow!
Marissa: Yeah, I have one.
Jarrett: Are you serious? I want one so bad!
King Mike: It has that song that goes, “Give me all your French fries.”
MRR: How many were there?
Jarrett: I don’t know. Maybe 500.
MRR: I want one.
Marissa: I’ll make you a copy.
MRR: Oh, I don’t want to listen to it. I just want to have one!
King Mike: The two Marissa things on it were Surgery on TV and Noun.
Jarrett: Surgery on TV being Mike and Marissa’s band before Screaming Females.
MRR: Mike, tell me about Surgery on TV.
King Mike: Surgery on TV was a jam band and we were awesome.
MRR: Were you really a jam band?
Marissa: Yes, we were really a jam band. What were those things called? The circle of fifths! We played one!
King Mike: And a diminished minor chord.
MRR: How did that lead to Screaming Females?
King Mike: We didn’t know how to play a diminished minor chord.
Marissa: Mike and I don’t understand the concept of circle of fifths, but Mike sure can fucking wail on that circle of fifths. He still busts it out sometimes in our extended jams. Laying down the groove. Right, brother?
King Mike: Right… Brother.
MRR: Who or what inspires you, musically or otherwise?
Jarrett: Current inspirations include John Cage, because he’s wild and really rhythmical. People always think of the silent piece, but he’s got crazy rhythms. And Tao Lin, who is this author that writes nonsense about his blog and then publishes it in books and people really like it. I think he’s hilarious and amazing.
King Mike: …
Marissa: I really like Edith Piaf. I listen to her French torch songs all day at work. A bunch of her songs make me cry.
King Mike: Jah.
MRR: What are you guys listening to at the moment?
King Mike: I like bands and stuff. I like The Clash. They’re my favorite band of all time.
Jarrett: On fall tour Mike played the Tenement tape until it wouldn’t play right anymore. I got really into it, but it could have been mainly about repetition. I was excited for them to come play New Brunswick and the day they got here, the show got busted up by the cops. So we got them on a show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, which is a super legit venue. They basically went in there on a Saturday night and blew a whole bunch of people away, including me, and now it’s pretty much all I think about. But I also just got a new copy of the Stupid Party 7” on Starcleaner Records, which someone stole from me, so I’ve been listening to that again. That 7” totally rules.
Marissa: I really only listen to Edith Piaf. And I really like Son House. I’ve been listening to The Animals a lot. I love SLAW, they are like the best band in the world.
MRR: What’s the relationship between the music and the lyrics? They seem very understated. You don’t print them.
Marissa: Well, Mike and Jarrett don’t know what I’m saying.
King Mike: Because you won’t tell us.
Marissa: You can read it online! Check the website. Ha!
MRR: Why don’t you print them in the albums?
Marissa: Just because I would rather have big drawings in it. They’re a little more fun than having lyrics. If people are dying to read them they are always on the internet. You can read them there. A lot of them are just kind of gibberish.
MRR: So they are something you view as secondary to the music?
Marissa: In process they are secondary. They come after. I think they are important. I would just rather have a fun drawing in an album.
MRR: Where do you draw from for the lyrics? They don’t feel personal or political.
Marissa: I try to avoid that at all cost. I don’t think that people are interested in my personal problems and I don’t feel informed enough to make political commentary. They are about weirdness. And outer space. And mutants and dinosaurs and alternate realities and fun stuff. Weird shit.
Jarrett: Not much of it is fun. Most of it is really scary.
Marissa: Yeah. You know. Manic depression. Ha ha ha. I don’t really like to write about stuff I don’t know enough about. Write what you know, right?
Jarrett: So you know about alternate universes?
Marissa: Yeah! I’m in one right now. You have no idea.
MRR: What is your song writing process?
King Mike: “Oh hey, that sounded cool!”
Jarrett: What that quote means is we will get together and usually before we actually start practicing songs we will just start playing and warming up. At some point during warming up someone will say, “Hey, stop. That thing sounded cool. Do that thing again.” At which point we have to describe to someone what they were doing, because they have no idea what they were playing. And hopefully we can kind of recreate it and sometimes it turns into a song and sometimes not. Off of those initial things… A lot of times they won’t just instantly turn into songs and people will have to go and think about their parts individually for awhile and come back with, “Oh, I thought it could go into this kind of thing.” Or, “I came up with this drumbeat or maybe the bass could do something a little different there. It could go into a different feel.” It’s kind of like we all inform each other. There is no one person that is the songwriter.
MRR: You guys don’t seem to record a lot of songs that you don’t use. Would you guys say that you write a lot of songs you don’t use?
Jarrett: We write a lot of parts we don’t use, but it’s rare that we get past writing. There are a lot of parts that we have had over the years that we liked and couldn’t find anywhere else for them to go. There was like a verse that couldn’t find a chorus, etc. But it’s been rare that we wrote a full song and then ditched it. I don’t think it even exists. I think once we got a couple of parts we think are good… by the time it got to being a song, it had to go through a number of points when it could have been just cut off and ended.
MRR: Away from the music, do you socialize with each other a lot? Do you guys hang out a lot?
King Mike: Not as much as we used to mostly, because I deliver pizza all day and then come home and smoke weed on the couch and Jarrett doesn’t smoke weed anymore. We spend a lot of time with each other on tour.
Marissa: On tour we hang out like all the time. I’m like, “Hey Mike, want to come over? I’m in the van.”
Jarrett: Mike and I used to live together and we hung out a lot then. I moved down the block and apparently that’s too far for either of us to walk. Marissa and I, when we first met each other, hung out a lot. It was quite a courting. Ha. But we play a show at least once a week, if not more, and practice once a week and go on tour for months during the year. When we have practice, it’s not like we have a rehearsal space or anything, so we will usually end up practicing at someone’s house. Then someone will be like, “You have to see this YouTube video.” So we will stop practicing and go watch that. Or, “You should really read this book I was just reading. Here take this.” Or, “I just saw this movie.” So I feel like they are some of my best friends and I like to hang out with them and appreciate things they do, but I guess you can only see the same few people so often.
MRR: Do you guys find all the touring draining or do you…?
King Mike: No, it’s awesome.
Marissa: No, I don’t like doing anything else. I hate being home. I. Fucking. Hate it. So much. You have no idea. Every morning when I wake up… Why can’t I just die in my sleep? I don’t understand. I hate being home. I hate waking up and going to fucking Café Monet and having my fucking weird boss talk nonsense at me.
MRR: What do you guys do on tour besides just play and drive?
Marissa: I take naps.
Jarrett: This is important. We will be going through some of the most beautiful scenery that people never get a chance ever in their lives to see. People who are born, live, and die in New Jersey. We get to see these valleys and mountains and deserts and Marissa will be asleep through all of it!
Marissa: I can’t help it.
MRR: I meant more of activities that you all do together.
King Mike: We used to have travel Boggle, but I think we only used that once.
Marissa: We have bingo.
King Mike: Yeah, we have interstate bingo. When you see a fire truck you mark off fire truck. You see a “do not enter” sign and you mark that off. And this past tour we sang “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” all the way through.
Jarrett: Oh my god, this is very important.
King Mike: All 99 bottles.
Jarrett: Top to bottom. I think it was the first time in history.
King Mike: And it only took 15 or 20 minutes. I thought it was going to take an hour.
Marissa: It was so cool!
Jarrett: When we got to, like, bottle 85 it was like, “We are really doing this! This is going to happen!”
MRR: This sounds like a beautiful moment. You guys all sang it in chorus?
Marissa: Yeah, we all sang it. I had to stop a couple of times to breathe. I was laughing really hard.
Jarrett: Anything else we do on tour?
King Mike: We tried to go to K Records one time.
Jarrett: Yeah, we tried to go to the K Records building one time but they weren’t home.
Marissa: I give stupid tattoos.
Jarrett: Marissa does give out an awful lot of tattoos. I always think it’s really cool to meet people in different towns and talk to them about what they have going on. You think it’s like, “Oh, we are all just living in the US,” but people have very local issues and things that are pertinent in their lives and it’s interesting to be able to step into that for a minute. Meeting Latino Punk Anarchists in Bakersfield California—They were talking about how almost the entire town is Latino but there is a small white minority that controls the town through the city board and how there are Nazi punks there that try to beat them up at shows and shit. I’m like, “Wow. These guys have such a different life going on then the life I have.” It’s cool to meet people like that.
MRR: What’s the relationship between the art and the music?
Marissa: Sometimes I draw pictures. I went to art school. The two things go hand in hand for me.
MRR: Where in the process of making the album, do you start to create the art?
Marissa: I don’t really start to think about it until I have to make it.
MRR: Does it come after the music? From the music?
Marissa: It’s kind of like I listen to the album and it makes me want to draw. It makes me think of this.
Jarrett: I think that the art that Marissa does helps to make people remember that our band is also art. I think people often forget that their music is art. Instead it just becomes this thing you do when your hand moves a certain way on a guitar neck. Music is so often drastically separated from other art forms. So the way we present ourselves as a band is cool, because it makes people think about what we are doing as art even though we aren’t a noise band or some sort of art-rock band. We can play rock music and present it in a way that makes people think of it as art.
MRR: When you guys first started, it was a lot more of local art school kids coming out to your shows and now it seems to be a much more diverse crowd. Do you think there is a reason for that?
King Mike: Because all those other people finally realized that we’re awesome.
Marissa: It just has a lot to do with people graduating. I don’t see the local art school kids at shows as much anymore, because they don’t live here anymore.
MRR: I guess what I mean is, was it serious from the start or was it just playing for your friends?
Marissa: Oh, yeah. It’s always been serious, in a happy way! We play a lot of shows and work really hard for a reason.
Jarrett: I used to have some friends and they would come to shows, but now I have a lot less friends and there’s more people at the shows.
MRR: Jarrett, what is your non-musical role in the band, as far as managing duties?
Jarrett: I have booked all our tours, all our shows. I’ve run dozens of shows that we have played in New Brunswick, NJ with touring bands. I’ve released almost all of our records and organized all of that stuff and organized the recording or recorded all the albums, pretty much. And it’s all been a bunch of mistakes along the way. Luckily none of them have been so big as to be a big problem. Everything we have done as a band, no one really gave me too much guidance on, except the first time we ever tried to tour, I could only get us one show that we went and played in North Carolina. Luckily Joe from The Ergs! sat down with me at a bar one night and pulled out a map and showed me Carbondale, IL, a town that’s not even actually on the map, and was like, “Trust me, there are really good shows here.” And pointed out a dozen other towns like that. It gave me a starting place. But I would never say I manage the band, because it’s all a collective decision on everything. I just kind of send the emails and make the phone calls.
MRR: What are your biggest regrets with the band?
King Mike: …
MRR: There is no way you don’t have regrets.
King Mike: Well, there is this one note on the last album that I played wrong.
King Mike: Yeah. There are a couple on the new one.
Jarrett: I regret a few times when I accidentally forgot I had $25 or $50 from a show where I was collecting money and shoved it in the wrong pocket and then the band left, and the next day I found it and spent it on pizza or something.
Marissa: I always feel really bad when I don’t go to shows for bands I know, because I’m too scared to go outside. Ha. Is that a regret?
MRR: Not really. You guys are sort of a non-punk band sound-wise but are a total punk band ethos-wise. What drew you guys into punk?
Jarrett: Punk is a hard thing, because some people have such definite definitions for it and feel really strongly about it, including me. Sometimes, I feel really strongly about it. In the end I don’t care what people call us. Some people are like, “That band’s not punk. Why do they think they’re punk?” And I’m like, “Fine. Then we’re not punk.” If you feel so strongly about it then that’s fine with me, because we are still going to operate the same way no matter what label you put on it. I appreciate the history of punk. It’s so amazing and diverse. I’m a total nerd. I read people’s histories and watch their biographies and try to learn from those things. People who I appreciate their work ethic. Bands like Fugazi and most of the bands in Our Band Could Be Your Life. So it doesn’t matter what you label it as. It’s not as if I’m like, “We are punk,” or “We aren’t punk.” People can decide whether we are or aren’t.
Marissa: It kind of just turned out that way. I guess shows in basements are punk.
King Mike: It’s just where we were.
Marissa: It’s just where we were and where we were able to play and that’s where all the young, cool kids were hanging out. I was like, “I’m young and cool. I’m going to hang out here too. Yeah guys!” I didn’t know there were shows in basements! I didn’t go look for punk. I think it’s cooler than going to an old man bar and seeing a band there.
MRR: Before you guys moved to New Brunswick, NJ were you familiar with…
Marissa: There was nowhere to go see shows where Mike and I grew up.
Jarrett: Me neither. I grew up in North Jersey and shows were things that happened in New York City where you had to pay $40 to go to.
MRR: When you started to see basement shows was it immediately like, “This is awesome,” or was it like…
Marissa: I went to a few basement shows before I knew Jarrett and they were always kind of small and boring. But then we went to The Parlor to see The Ergs!, and I walked down there and there were like a million people down there. I was so freaked out. I left and went and sat in the garage.
Jarrett: I will always remember the first time I saw a band play in a basement in New Brunswick, NJ. I walked down into that basement and I couldn’t believe that music this cool, that didn’t sound like stuff on the radio, that didn’t sound like stuff on MTV, that didn’t even sound like stuff slightly more obscure than that. It was just something that these people were making and was happening right here and I was like standing on the same level as them.
MRR: I heard you are releasing your new album on Don Giovanni Records. After many years of self-releasing your albums what made you change your mind and do it with a record label. Also, I heard there were other labels that you turned down.
Jarrett: When we started out this band I would have loved for some label to have said, “We’ll put out your album.” I would have been like, “Hell yeah,” because I didn’t know anything about putting out an album but no one was offering. So we put out our own album. When we first started, I would have loved if somebody was like, “We’ll book you a tour.” But no one is coming to New Brunswick and is like, “This is this hot new band in this basement. I want to get them on my booking agency roster.” So we booked our own tours. Once you get so self-sufficient people have to have something more than that to offer you. If someone comes up to you and is like, “I want to release your album.” You’re like, “Okay. That’s nice of you.” But we have enough money to release our own album.
Marissa: We have tons of money!
Jarrett: We don’t personally have tons of money. Personally, we have no money. But Screaming Females has more money in its bank account then any of us individually do! Don Giovanni gave us a really good offer and offered us stuff we couldn’t do ourselves, which was amazing. No one had really ever sat down and said here is what you do yourselves and this is all the other stuff we can do for you. And we always want to be associated with things that are meaningful and Don Giovanni has released so many of the greatest New Brunswick bands over the last five years or so. We wanted to be a part of that.