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Screaming Females - Interview

  by Paul Waller

published: 4 / 12 / 2010

Screaming Females - Interview


Paul Waller chats to American indie guitar band Screaming Females about the thriving underground scene in their home town of New Brunswick, New Jersey and their latest album, 'Castle Talk'

So enamoured was our take on the Screaming Females recent flailing guitar-fuelled 'Castle Talk' album that here at Pennyblackmusic we wanted to get a bit little more insight into what makes the band tick. With the New Brunswick, New Jersey band’s recent UK tour now a triumphant memory all three members of the band, Marissa Paternoster (vocals/guitar), Mike Abbate (bass) and Jarrett Dougherty (drums) dedicated a few moments to reflect and answer these questions. PB: What was the catalyst that made you realise you wanted to play in a band as a lifestyle choice? MP: Hmmm, I don't think I really came to grips with the fact that I was gay until senior year of high school. Then I realized I wanted to be a musician. Uhm, wait, I think I got my lifestyle choices confused. Well, whatever. You know what I mean. PB: "The City", as New Brunswick is sometimes called, has been known in the past for having a thriving underground scene. Is this still the case and if so do you still feel part of it these days? JD: Where I grew up "The City" was New York City. I grew up going to shows there. They would cost $20-60 a ticket. There would be at least a thousand other people. When I first got to New Brunswick, NJ I saw bands playing in basements to a few dozen people. They were the coolest thing that I had ever seen. I couldn't believe that you could just start a band and decide to throw shows in your own house. That changed my life forever. It really let me see that we are all in charge of our futures. You can't control everything but you can definitely do something other than what society tells you to do. PB: What do you get out of playing basement shows rather as opposed to playing at clubs or larger venues? MA: Red Bull... JD: The company Red Bull attempted to run a Battle of the Bands competition at a basement in New Brunswick. MA: That shouldn't happen. That's the type of stuff that happens at clubs. JD: The competition was offering bands "a chance to play a 'real' New Brunswick, NJ basement show." The thing is that almost any band could email us or other people that run shows in town and get a show for their band. The community is so supportive of touring bands and almost always willing to help people out. That is what is so different than traditional venues. You remove that dominating factory of profit and you can actual support art. PB: I’ve always had a thing for a track on your first album, 'Baby Teeth', called 'The Bearded Lady'. What is the story behind it? JD: We weren't sure how to end that song. So we said, "What Would Guns n Roses do?" Kind of like those bracelets that people wear that say. "What Would Jesus Do?" (I'm assuming you have those in the UK). So the song ends kind of like 'Paradise City'. MA: Almost exactly like 'Paradise City'. PB: How did your current deal with Don Giovanni come about, and what’s it been like on the label? JD: Joe, one of the two people who run Don Giovanni, showed up for the last three or four days of a huge national tour we did. He came to follow us around and convince us to do a record with them. At one point he threatened to kill himself if we did our next record ourselves again. We had completely peaked with doing everything ourselves and Joe totally saw that. He wanted us on the label but more importantly he just wanted more people to know about our band. He didn't want to see us in obscurity because we insisted on doing everything ourselves. He got us publicity, distribution, and college air play. Those things allowed us to go on tours with the Dead Weather and Ted Leo and play with Dinosaur Jr and Jay Reatard. Now we are sitting in Amsterdam about to play our first ever European show. Don Giovanni has been great to us. PB: What was the feedback like when you appeared on MTV last year with Alexa Chung. Hip underground bands always seem to have to ride a wave of backlash when they get on TV. Any cries of sell-out at all? JD: Yeah, but that's okay. People always talk shit. I think the internet makes it too easy to let the world know your thoughts before you really have time to think about them. For a long time we weren't punk enough for a lot of people because we were too weird. Then suddenly we weren't punk enough because we were on tour with famous bands. The whole time the way we write and tour and handle ourselves hasn't really changed too much. So people can say what they won't and we will keep moving along. PB: Your third album, 'Power Move', took you up a level in terms of fan base. Well, it introduced me to the band anyway. Did you feel like “This could be the one” or was it just a case of you touring on and on as normal? JD: For both 'Power Move' and 'Castle Talk' I had momentary thoughts of "this could be the one." In the way o, we can play to hundreds or thousands of people a night. But that hasn't happened. I'm kind of getting used to the idea that it may never happen. I don't know. I've stopped thinking about it. PNB: Your latest album, 'Castle Talk', seems a little more flowing and cohesive than your earlier releases. Was that a natural progression do you think or a considered direction? MP: Since we've grown older as a band I think we've inclined naturally toward writing more solid songs. Creating a more "cohesive" release came about with very little discussion. It was the next natural step. PB: The guitar solos are fantastic and always have an off the cuff feel, a little like J Mascis’ ones do. When recording do you plan out note for note or just freestyle and see what happens? MP: All of the guitar solos are improvised. I think it'd be neat to write one out someday...it just hasn't happened yet. PB: Marissa, could you tell us a little about your artwork (which I find absolutely absorbing) and your influences and if it’s something that we can see you concentrate on more in the future? MP: I have a lot of favourite artists. When I was a teenager I looked at quite a bit of photography like Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe. I've always really liked Francis Bacon, David Shrigley, Henry Darger, and Basquiat, to name only a few. I always wish I could work more on my art but I haven't got the time. Someday, I hope. PB: What’s with this yo yo obsession, where did it begin? JD: Mike bought a Duncan Butterfly at some point and it was just sitting around the van. Sometimes we would try to remember tricks from when we were little. Then we broke down in New Mexico and were stuck for three or four days. We spent a lot of time with that damn yo-yo trying not to lose our minds. We really began to see how our lack of a semi-professional yo-yo, you know, one with a good bearing and a rubber return system, was hindering our yo-yo play and our advancement as players. So we bought $30 yo-yos and our skills instantly expanded. Now we watch videos of professional yo-yo players such as Outch and dream of one day having a Yomega sponsorship. Yomega, if you are out there reading this, get in touch! We sent out letters looking for sponsorships right before we left for Europe. PB: If push had to come to shove and you had to choose only one record that means the most to you what would it be and why? JD: 'Remain in Light' by Talking Heads because it sounds rad on my new stereo. Also because it is super trippy. PB: Thank you.

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Screaming Females - Interview

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