Interview: Screaming Females
Screaming Females is an American punk rock band whose lead guitarist, Marissa Paternoster, was named the 77th greatest guitarist of all time by Spin magazine. On Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018 they’re playing the Larimer Lounge in Denver. KGNU’s Hannah Leigh Myers spoke with Jarrett Dougherty about the band’s name, their thirteen years of almost continuous touring, and why they’ve ventured into the world of rap and Taylor Swift covers.
October 2, 2018
Hannah: For listeners who might not be familiar with you guys, let’s get the back story on how you met and how the band got together.
Jarrett: Screaming Females has been a band for thirteen years, formed in 2005. I was at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I was friends with people who decided to try to get money out of the university to put out records by forming a club. The first project was to do a compilation and ask for submissions. We put a call out to anybody who wanted to submit to it. My two favorite songs from the comp turned out were both projects Marissa (vocalist/guitarist), which was exciting because they sounded really different from one another and I had no idea they were from the same person. When we handed out the CDs to everybody that was involved in the project, I handed one to Marissa and said that “We should hang out sometime. I think you’re cool and I really like your songs on the comp.” We talked for a minute and said I played drums and she said we should play music together at some time. From there I ended up playing drums very briefly in Marissa’s band that was on the comp, which was called Surgery on TV. Mike (bassist) was still in high school and Marissa had just started sophomore year of college (also at Rutgers), and pretty soon after that the keyboard player from Surgery on TV left to go to a different college and we renamed ourselves and had our first gig as Screaming Females.
Hannah: So this is the dreaded interviewer question, you knew it was coming down the line… about the band name. If you could tell us a bit about that and I’m also curious about the reactions you get. I know as a Screaming Females fan myself, I think when I tell people the band name, I think a lot of people have a certain expectation of what they’re gonna get and that’s not necessarily accurate. I was also curious about also being a guy in Screaming Females. How does that play into your day to day interaction with the public?
Jarrett: “The band’s name is not meant to be taken literally. I think it’s slightly bizarre that people often take it so literally. We tweeted something about it a few years ago and it became a meme for a second. There were like thousands of people replying to it with “#bannamestakenliterally” and somebody was like, “The Talking Heads! I can’t believe they have bodies as well!” But, also at the same time I don’t think it’s a name that would be appropriate for a band that was made up of all people who identified as men. It was just a combination of words that we came across and it seemed to have some power behind it and to us it was not about music; it was about how it has this very vivid image that brought to mind a number of different things, one of which that I liked was the idea women screaming and its cathartic and also it’s not like they’re talking, they’re SCREAMING.
Hannah: Moving on to talk about your new album that just came out. You have branched out of what you traditionally do here with rap with what you’re doing for the “End of My Bloodline remix. Can you talk a little bit about that? And it’s also worth noting you guys have done a Taylor Swift cover, too.
Jarrett: When we formed the band we never had a meeting where we we’re like, “This band is going sound like this.” I think for a lot of bands, that’s one of the things they do talk about, like “I want the band to sound like a mix of this and this” or “I want the band to be in this genre of music.” So, I think starting a band like that makes it so that it’s like you have a blueprint to work from, so it’s kind of an easier way to approach things. But for us, Screaming Females has always just been whatever we wanted to do with it, whatever me and Mike and Marissa make together. We don’t really think about having any limits on what we do. If we have an idea that somebody likes then we run with it, develop it, and see where it goes. Those two particular examples and my Bloodline Remix, that song started out from one form or another as a thing I had made on modular synths and drum machines as this beat kinda thing. Marissa came over one day and was messing with it and started singing over top of it and we were chopping it up and doing stuff with it, and then when we were demoing for the new record, Marissa brought up that demo and she actually worked more on it, which was interesting and kind of unexpected. We tried to replicate it by playing it with live instruments and then again, I didn’t really think about it because it was a momentary thing, and then one day she sent us a demo that she’d taken the parts we’ve played in that with live instruments and chopped it up and arranged it and wrote a song out of it. Now, suddenly we had a song that started out as something I was messing around with synthesizers and drum machines, so it sounded inherently different than a song that we would write starting with our normal instruments. We recorded the song and I really love it, it’s one of my favorite ones on the album and because of its origin, we decided it would be cool to try to do a remix of it, because we never really had another song that could easily be remixed But, that one has a straight ahead drum beat because it started on a drum machine. So, my brother’s really talented with all things computer and digital audio workstations and all that, so he asked them to do a remix of it and he put it together and it sounded really cool.
Then, over the last few years, our long time label Don Giovanni started to put out a really broad array of artists and one of those is War Mother, whom we took on a national tour with us and had a really great time and they are super inspiring people who do a really broad range of music that overall I still think of as punk in the end. One of their many sounds is that they have an incredible emcee, so we asked them to be part of it and then Samus, who is also on Don Giovanni and has been really killing it, she has an incredible niche in the hip-hop world that she’s growing her fanbase and really making a new for herself. It’s very cool to see somebody like that on Don Giovanni which started as a hardcore punk label, being able to utilize resources and be supported by a really strong independent label while doing a completely different style of music. So, for us it’s not that far off, we asked two people on our label that we’re friends with to add something that was a track that me, Mike, and Marissa wrote together and I had my brother work on to turn into a remix.
As far as the Taylor Swift thing, that literally came down to getting asked to A/V undercover series, which they did for a number of years and they send you a list of songs and ask you to cover one and come in and play it in their office. We were kind of arguing over which song we should cover and then Mike said, “We’re doing this for popularity really, so we should pick the most popular song that would get the most attention.” So, that’s why we picked Taylor Swift.
Hannah: It seems like it worked. So, you’re well known as a DIY band, but the thing that blows my mind is that you guys have been on the road since 2005.
Jarett: We just love to tour. We’ve done it since the band started. The community that we were involved with in New Brunswick then expanded out into the United States. It was DIY punk. The internet wasn’t the same as it is now and there was nobody writing about DIY punk except for fanzines, Maximum Rock & Roll and Razorcake. So, you couldn’t really count on the internet or media to get your music into the world, so people just went on tour. You recorded stuff yourself, you released it yourself, and then you went on tour and sold to people at shows and it was just a really amazing and vibrant touring network that was also just like living – being able to go around the country and experience what people were doing in their own communities and seeing how people are trying to live outside the dominant system. It was inspiring and fun. It wasn’t like a stepping stone to anything; it was just life. I think that we got infected with that road lifestyle really early on. Mike has been touring since he was 17, so he’s been doing it his entire adult life, and it’s just like a second home for us and it’s a super fulfilling to be able to have a mission every day – a clear goal that you have to get to this spot by a certain time, you have to load in, soundcheck, get dinner, get back, watch the show, play the show, and regardless if it goes over well or bad or the people there aren’t into it or you make a horrible mistake or have a transcendent moment on stage, it’s done. And once it’s done, there’s really few things in most people’s lives where they get to have that. Most people’s lives… when you go to work, you have some project or whatever and if you don’t get it right you gotta redo it, etc, etc. It seems like things are never quite done, but that experience on the road is really fulfilling to be able to just leave it behind for better or worse every night and have a new goal every day that you know is going to get accomplished one way or another.
Hannah: Awesome, well, we appreciate your time. I can speak for the rest of the Front Range here that we’re really excited to have you come to town in October. I’m really glad to hear you’re enjoying this tour as the best yet. That says a lot from all the touring you’ve done.
Jarett: Thank you, appreciate it.
Find out more about the Screaming Females at screamingfemales.com.