Interview by Derek Evers
Photos by Olivia Wright [except where noted]
“If I saw me, I’d say ‘Look at that lesbian shredding!’ But you know, I would automatically assume that any girl that shreds is a lesbian. I’m going to assume that Marnie Stern is a lesbian, and who else plays guitar? Yeah, they’re all lesbians.”
Marissa Paternoster stands at a stout 5’2” tall and assures me she’s only kidding about the sexuality of female guitar virtuosos, but if you were to judge Screaming Females only by what is written by them, you might find it hard to look past the fact that Marissa is indeed short and a lesbian who happens to absolutely rip on guitar.
“Well, they gotta write about something, right?” She concludes.
Indeed they do, because to many, a band like Screaming Females defies preconceived logic of how a band should be. Their brand of blues-inspired, guitar wankering punk rock has left many mouths agape at the ease by which they wield their self-branded “Queer disco on the moon, with pterodactyls and squid fighting satellite dishes.” Drawing comparisons to bands like Fugazi and The Stooges, to more obvious references like The Gits or Throwing Muses, it is a safe bet that Screaming Females will undoubtedly rise to notoriety on the heels of their enigmatic front woman. But from the interview to the photo shoot, it is plain to see this the notion of a band is strong within the females.
[live photos by Nate Dorr courtesy of Impose]
And if Paternoster is the musical focal point, then drummer Jarrett Dougherty is the managerial director. In an era where most band legacies are created on the internet and d.i.y. is as much a marketing slogan as it is a way of life, Screaming Females have not only self-released their own music, but have played over 300 shows throughout the US and Canada without the help of a booking agent or label promotion. It is also worth noting that Paternoster is 22, bassist Mike Rickenbacker is 21 and drummer Dougherty is the elder statesman at 25.
[l to r: Mike Rickenbacker, Marissa Paternoster, Jarrett Dougherty]
Now, with their first official label release set to drop — Power Move on Don Giovanni Records — I sat down with Dougherty and Paternoster before a recent show in Brooklyn. We discussed their hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, being asked by Kristin Hersh to open up for the Muses on an upcoming tour, gender in rock ‘n’ roll and the prospects of selling out.
TW: So, first things first. What’s the absolute last thing you guys listened to?
Marissa: Oh no, probably Hanson. It’s nice outside it makes me feel good. [laughs]
I know you guys play a lot of all ages spaces, but is that more of a community/d.i.y. ethic that you try to instill or is it more the way you’re received by kids who are underage?
Jarrett: Well, when we started doing a lot of touring it became obvious really quickly that a lot of the all ages spaces and d.i.y. venues were where we were encountering people who were really interested in hearing new music and other bands that we were interested to play with. It was kind of like when we hit these spots, we were just having better shows so why would we want to play a crappy bar? This mirrored our hometown in a way, because in New Brunswick there’s only one real music venue, which is cool because it’s lasted gentrification in this town pretty well and it’s had to fight for that, but other than those good qualities, we would rather just play a house show because those are the people we want to be playing for.
Obviously on this side on the bridges and tunnels we have the Brooklyn d.i.t. scene that’s flourishing and I know that you guys play here a lot, but do you feel that there is a pretty strong d.i.y. scene in Jersey right now?
J: Yeah, New Brunswick is one of the greatest places to play shows. The only trouble is that there are fewer legit spaces. Like in Brooklyn, Death By Audio and places like that, they have their stuff down and can advertise fairly openly, but in Jersey the house shows have to keep really quiet. Other than those little problems, it’s really an amazing place for shows. I know tons of bands that have come through Jersey on tour and were completely blown away, because it’s just a little stop between Philly and new York for them and then when they got here they’re like ‘Oh my God I couldn’t believe how awesome the show was and you guys got together so much money for us,’ and they just weren’t expecting it. We regularly hear people say that the best show they had all tour was in New Brunswick because people just really like to have fun here and compared to some, a party in New Brunswick is an entirely different affair. The people who come to house shows are coming for the community and because their friends are there but it’s not just to get wasted. Coming to these shows, we usually get people out of the house by like 10:30 at the latest, so people have to make it out here early and it’s usually because they want to hear the music.
I don’t want to ask a musical influence question, but I am curious about where it this new wave of d.i.y. ethics stems. I’m a bit older and I grew up in the 90s hardcore and punk rock scene, so I can relate to what’s happening, but I’m curious to ask the younger generation where that mentality stems from and how you guys were influenced to do things that way. Were there any bands or people you looked to as influences for “doing it yourself?”
J: Yeah definitely. When people ask me my influences, personally, I have to ask them if they are talking about my musical influences or about how I learned to be in a band, run a band and want to release my own records. That comes from just seeing the bands around me and what they were doing — bands in New Jersey like The Ergs. But the same summer that Screaming Females started I got a really bad injury in my elbow and we had to take off months from playing right when we started, which was really depressing. I was laying on my couch just really depressed and I found a copy of Our Band Could be your Life and just reread it three times that summer. Just reading about those bands like Fugazi and the Minutemen, and their work ethic and it was more just about how they were never expecting anyone to give them anything. Which is kind of how I grew up, just watching my Dad running his own businesses because he didn’t want anyone to be his boss, so he had to figure out something that he could do well. So [it struck a chord] when I saw these bands that had this same mentality of ‘I don’t want to live this average life but I know no one cares about hardcore on a mainstream level, so I’ll just release my own records and book my own tours and maybe be able to not loose a bunch of money doing it.’
On the tip of releasing your own records, I know you guys were approached by a labels and a bunch of which you turned down, so I have to assume that the Don Giovanni label choice was because of their location?
M: Yeah I guess so. Most of the bands on the label are friends of ours already and we already knew Joe and Zack who run the label. So we feel like weren’t were making a deal with a total stranger and he was very earnest about it and seemed excited, and I think we needed a change. You can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again.
J: Also Joe is so professional while being a friend, which was something we were looking for. It’s kind of weird when someone comes up to you and seems professional if you don’t know them, it just seems like smooth talking. But with Joe it was like, ‘here let me sit you down and we can actually talk about what you guys are scared of and I can show you what we can actually do that can improve over what you guys are doing by yourselves.’ It was the best possible situation for us — somebody who is willing to do whatever we wanted to do and then just help us as much as they could. And Don Giovanni’s put so much work into this record already it’s definitely not just ‘oh it’s a local label.’ It’s a local label we know that’s willing to really give us everything they can.
Speaking of locally, what would say is the reason for bands from New Jersey having so much Jersey pride?
J: I think a lot of it comes from people making fun of you everywhere you go, so you feel like you have to defend yourself some how. Even if you’re not the biggest jersey pride kind of person, you end up on tour and you hear it two nights in the row and suddenly you start defending yourself and you’re thinking, ‘I don’t even really like Jersey that much.’ I wouldn’t say we’re the most Jersey pride people in the world, but we do have pride for our hometown and the bands from our area.
Do you guys still book your own shows, are you working with a booking agent right now?
J: I personally booked every show we’ve ever played pretty much, and we’ve never used a booking agent. It’s not something I would say we’d never do, but it’s going back to the d.i.y. thing. The heart of that is you cut out as many middle men as possible and you keep control of your vision. So I mean if at some point I feel overwhelmed by it and cant handle the job of booking than I wouldn’t be opposed to using a booking agent, but until then I’ve booked a dozen tours, so I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it and where to find good shows and things like that.
How many dates have you guys done? I read somewhere that you guys have done over 300 dates?
J: Yeah, I think right about now its somewhere around 300 shows in the past 3 and a half years.
Have you guys had any monumental break downs? I mean 300 dates I have to assume that somewhere along the line you were like ‘man this fucking blows?’
M: The van’s never broken down…
J: Yeah personally, a few. We’ve gotten pretty dramatic at points, but I guess with every super low that happens there’s 10 things that make up for it. Stuck in a 5 foot area with the same 3 or 4 people… one time we did a tour that was 7 weeks, it was 70 days long and by the end of that you know, you loose your mind a little bit. But pretty much every tour, last day we get out of the van, and we like look at each other and feel sad.
Yeah that’s probably the real question; after you guys get off the tour do you go like weeks without seeing each other?
M: No, usually we see each other a couple days later. We have, you know, some important things to do. [laughs]
So here are some of my Marissa-centric questions. First of all, I think every review of you guys has to reference or find some interesting adjective to describe your size. Does that annoy you?
M: Well, they gotta write about something right? I’m glad that they’re paying attention. I am small. I’m 5’2”.
That’s not that short.
M: The numbers, no one else has the numbers.
Writers make it sound like you’re a midget sometimes.
M: I’m not even legally a midget I don’t think. Legal midget size is like 4’11” or something. Not a big Deal
So see you guys have some dates with Throwing Muses and I was wondering if Kristin Hirsch was ever an influence to you personally?
M: Yeah I love Throwing Muses. We were in South Carolina and Jarrett was checking our… I’m not going to say MySpace.
J: You just said it.
M: No! We don’t have one.
J: We do.
That’s where I got all my information from.
M: He was checking our internet messages on the computer box and he was like, ‘who is Kristin Hirsch?’ And I was like ‘Oh my God!’, and I ran into the room to find out she sent us a message and I was enthralled. I’m going to hang out with her next to our deli tray.
So was it a personal invitation to play those shows or was it just coincidental?
M: No, she actually asked us
Is there a certain subject behind the “Boyfriend” song?
M: No… I don’t know… can you get back to me? I like to keep it kind of mysterious. Let’s not ruin it for everybody.
J: I’ll let you know that she won’t even tell me and Mike what the lyrics are about, but they’re definitely about stuff, so we’ll have to wonder together what the hell she’s talking about.
Screaming Females – “Boyfriend” Live
I read that describe yourself as ‘queer disco,’ would you say that you wear your sexuality on your sleeve?
M: who me? I think it’s pretty fucking obvious, don’t you?
Well, the reason why I’m asking is because I don’t want to say that it’s assumed, but when a girl really shreds on guitar, I feel like the first thought that pops in someone’s mind is like, ‘is she a lesbian?’
M: Yeah, if I saw me, I’d say “Look at that lesbian shredding!” But you know, yeah you’re right. I would automatically assume that any girl that shreds is a lesbian. I’m going to assume that Marnie Stern is a lesbian, and who else plays guitar? Yeah they’re all lesbians. Don’t write that down.
I think people will think you’re joking.
M: They won’t though.
I can write it so they know.
M: In italics?
Yes, besides, I don’t think Marnie Stern would be offended.
M: She’s a little lesbian