Screaming Females is a chaotically awesome band out of New Brunswick, New Jersey. The trio’s most recent release, Rose Mountain, is a slight departure from their usual raw punk sound — more structured but still packing a serious punch. You can catch them this Friday, November 6, at the Brighton Music Hall as part of Hassle Fest.
Last week I had the chance to sit down with Screaming Females (Marissa Paternoster, vocals and guitar; Jarrett Dougherty, drums; and King Mike, bass) before their show at LAVA, a bookstore and performance space in Philadelphia. We talked about their on-tour regimen, Sophocles, and playing while naked.
BH: Before we get started, Marissa, I’ve been wondering: what’s the significance of the Oedipus the King label on your guitar?
Marissa Paternoster: Um, I like that play.
Jarrett Dougherty: Wait, what is it?
MP: Oedipus. It’s a Greek play about a guy who accidentally has sex with his mother.
JD: Oh, yeah, and wasn’t it in Shakespeare?
MP: No. It’s just a good play.
JD: Yeah, but I’m saying doesn’t it recur in Shakespeare then?
MP: Well, there’s the Oedipal complex in Freudian psychology.
King Mike: Is it Greek?
BH: I think it’s Sophocles?
MP: I don’t know. You can Google it.
BH: Your music in the past has generally been very unfettered, kind of chaotic. But on Rose Mountain, with the vocal harmonies and song structure, it feels a lot more planned and controlled. What’s changed? Your process? Your inspiration?
MP: Not particularly. We still write all of our songs together at band practice. Basically, with Rose Mountain, we were demoing stuff and started talking very casually about having the new batch of songs be driven by vocal melodies and getting rid of things we might consider superfluous amounts of, like instrumentation, or things that we’d deemed too complex. But we didn’t have a game plan.
BH: “Hopeless” is probably my favorite track on the new album. It kind of reminds me of the song “One More Hour” by Sleater-Kinney, which is a pretty famous breakup song. Is “Hopeless” about a break-up? Is there a story there?
MP: The year we were writing Rose Mountain, I had mono for a really long time. I got it twice, and it was screwing up all of our lives because I was really sick and we couldn’t go on tour. And so I was thinking a lot about how I wished I could kind of break up with my body. I had had it up to here with feeling ill. It was messing up all my relationships. So through the framework of what is easily perceived as a breakup song, it is about wanting to break up with something instead of someone.
BH: The theme of sickness appears elsewhere in the lyrics of Rose Mountain. Did the songs emerge from that physical pain?
MP: Some songs, yeah, for sure. And others, not so much.
BH: You guys get really into your live shows. I’ve seen videos of Jarrett playing naked and of Marissa playing so hard that her fingers bleed. Have you always been that into the live setting?
MP: Actually, I have a really old video of us playing in front of all of our old dormitory. And, no, we weren’t aggressive at all. Well, Jarrett’s always had his little Jarrett thing going on. Mike’s guitar was up here: it was like a necklace. And I didn’t move at all because I was horrified that I would play the wrong note. I think that lasted for a pretty long time.
JD: We were really nervous about making mistakes. And then we started cuttin’ loose.
KM: I’m still pretty afraid about playing the wrong notes.
MP: I thought it made you so happy when you play the wrong notes.
KM: I’m always like, if I play the wrong notes then you guys are going to be upset that I ruined our set. And then it’s so much pressure.
MP: I never notice. It’s jazz. It’s just jazz. We’re just trying to enjoy ourselves. Just a nice little cathartic moment in our day.
JD: I think being physical with your performance is almost necessary. Because if you’re standing staring at somebody, and you’re like, “I am going to play you a song,” it’s just a really bizarre thing, you know? So you gotta remove some of your conscience self from the equation. I think movement helps with that. You close your eyes…it’s almost meditative. Feel the moment. Think about the intricacies of what you’re doing and not think, “This person is staring at me playing music!”
KM: That makes me really nervous too.
MP: It’s also the only exercise I get. Ever.
JD: Well, we also load in and out of the venues.
MP: Yeah I do that a little bit too. We do some weight stuff and cardio.
BH: In Boston we have a pretty awesome DIY music scene. What is the scene like in New Jersey, where you guys are from? Any emerging bands our readers should check out?
MP: I actually just spoke on a panel at Rutgers University because they want to start archiving New Brunswick punk ephemera. There’s a long history of DIY bands playing in New Brunswick.
JD: Adrenaline OD was like the first New Brunswick punk band. But then it was the era of the Bouncing Souls and Sticks and Stones moving to New Brunswick. That really started the house show, DIY thing.
MP: There’s a bunch of punk bands and DIY bands and bands that aren’t punk but still play in basements. Aren’t quote-unquote punk.
JD: I’ve lived in Philly for a long time, so I feel like I can’t really speak for the New Jersey scene. But I was trying to think about where we would even play in New Jersey anymore because Asbury Lanes is gone, and it’s kind of crazy. The thing that New Brunswick’s famous for is having DIY spaces, and even more important than ever because there’s no legitimate small venues.
BH: What’s next?
JD: We’re playing a show here tonight.
MP: Boom! Crushed that one.
JD: We did this thing called the “Special Without Brett Davis” last week, which is live, unscripted, loosely under the realm of comedy, but more like intense improvisational performance theater. I was so scared. They interviewed us for it live, and I was like “I have to say something witty. I have to say something quick and funny.”
KM: My mom said that Marissa looked really nervous. I didn’t watch it.
JD: I watched it.
MP: Did I look nervous?
JD: Kind of. But like just your normal….
MP: Oh well, yeah, my anxiety disorder.
JD: But you know how sometimes you’re really lively? Like you do the stuff where you just have to move around?
KM: You didn’t turn on your sass as much as you do. When the camera’s rolling.
MP: I feel like they didn’t really let me shine. I was holding back. We’re going on tour with Potty Mouth. Through New England.
JD: And after that, hopefully, we’ll start writing some new songs. We haven’t written a new song in a long time. I have faith, though. I think we’ve still got a few more left.
MP: I’m tapped out.
KM: That goes back to your first question. We have to start challenging ourselves like we did on Rose Mountain. That’s why we’re doing this–because it’s something different.
MP: Yeah, we’re doing a hip-hop record.