This chat with New Brunswick-based indie-rock trio Screaming Females took place after their first tour of Australia, during the New Alternative Music Festival organized in Asbury Park by their Don Giovanni record label, before a cross-country tour with Philadelphia-based label mate Moor Mother. Upcoming shows include Nov. 5 at Villain in Brooklyn and Nov. 6 at First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.
Screaming Females also will perform at The Front Bottoms’ all-star, holiday-themed, three-stage Champagne Jam on Dec. 18 at New York City’s Webster Hall with Brick+Mortar, dollys, Hodera, American Trappist, Diet Cig, The Big Easy, Jank and others. For more, visit screamingfemales.com and dongiovannirecords.com.
Marissa has such a diversity of talent with guitar playing and artwork, but something that I think that gets overlooked is your lyric writing. The internal rhyme schemes are fantastic.
Marissa Paternoster: I don’t know anything about iambic pentameter or whatever that thing was that they taught us in ninth grade. You remember that? I remember not understanding it. What do these two made up words mean?
I take a lot of effort. I just rewrite them a lot until I’m happy with them … and try to make it mean something.
“King” Mike Abbate: While still maintaining a thick layer of enigma (all laugh).
Jarrett Paternoster: Yeah, while still making sure that no one knows how I actually feel about anything (all laugh).
After so many years of constant touring, what is the funniest experience the band ever has had on the road?
Paternoster: The funniest stories are the ones that are obscene and involve excrement. Or somebody vomiting.
Abbate: What comes to mind immediately for me is the time I stepped in human crap and then got it in the van and smeared it all over the van and my pants and all over just everything.
Dougherty: We kept going, ‘What smells?’ And it just kept getting worse, and then eventually Mike was like, ‘I think there’s poop.’
Abbate: I touched my shoe.
Dougherty: And he had crossed his legs, and it had smeared across his pants and all over the dashboard in Vancouver.
Not exactly cow country.
Abbate: No, it was definitely human.
Paternoster: There is no animal that could have made that amount of poop.
Dougherty: There was another time that Mike stepped in shit. And we went to this restaurant, and we were like, ‘This restaurant smells terrible. It just smells so bad in here.’
Abbate: And I touched my shoe again.
Dougherty: And we kept going on and on, ‘This place is terrible,’ and then we realized it was us. The waiter was like, ‘Those people smell’ (all laugh). That was in Richmond, Va.
What did you like most about Australia and do you think you will go back?
Abbate: I think we’ll end up going back. I think what I like most about Australia is that unlike other places we’ve toured overseas, we’re able to just play our songs, and hit the drums as hard as we want, and turn the amps on instead of having them be off … In Europe, when you turn the amp on and make any noise with it, they’ll tell you it’s too loud. And it ends up being a very frustrating thing because we’ll have these amplifiers … and if you turn the volume up to 2, it’s too loud, and if you put it down to 1, you can’t hear it over the cymbals. And then you can’t win. And in Australia, they like to rock. That’s where AC/DC is from.
Dougherty: We’ll definitely go back to Australia. We had a great time there. The people who brought us had an attitude the way they were running and booking the tour that seemed very comfortable to us in that we were staying with their friends (when) we were driving between shows.
Abbate: Sleeping on people’s floors.
Dougherty: Everything was set up in advance, and it was well done, but it wasn’t this level of ‘professionalism’ that makes you just removed from the experience. We were able to experience Australia for real instead of being in a hotel room somewhere.
Abbate: It was really cool meeting people and sleeping on their floors.
Dougherty: Experiencing their lives for a little and hearing what they had to say. You get a different perspective on a city when you get to stay with someone who’s lived there.
Abbate: And then you wake up in the morning, and they’re like, ‘This is the place where I get coffee.’ All right, we’ll go for a walk.
Dougherty: And then it’s like, ‘While we’re walking there, let’s walk down these railroad tracks to this cool graffiti over here.’ So it had a very comfortable vibe.
That comfort must have been surprising given how far you traveled to get there.
Abbate: I hate flying so much, but for some reason, after six hours, it all becomes the same amount of time. It didn’t bother me at all.
Paternoster: I felt fine the way there, which is weird, because it’s longer. But on the way back, we were seven hours in, and I wanted to scream. My butt hurt.
Dougherty: I think there’s a lot of negative aspects about the connectivity we have in the world today, where you can be a punk rocker and never leave your room just because you’re on Tumblr or something, which is probably really great for some people who are unable to leave their rooms. But being able to get in touch with these people, who were just like, ‘Give us a shot. We swear we’ll do a good job on this tour.’ And they’re not a renowned promotion company, and we give them a shot, and it ends up being great is something that I don’t think could have happened 15 years ago.
What do you think of the New Alternative Music Festival and do you think there will be another one?
Abbate: I don’t know if there’ll be another one, but I do think that this event is extremely important just because … it’s all centered around the idea of it being the new alternative, about it being free of major corporations and major labels. I think it’s really important to highlight that because you might not realize how involved these major labels are in ‘independent’ music, so Joe (Steinhardt of Don Giovanni Records) runs this festival, and it’s like, this is who isn’t involved. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s enjoy that we’re actually resisting, we’re actually the alternative to the mainstream.
Paternoster: Is it truly a counterculture movement if it is endorsed by Doritos? The answer is no. I think a lot of people are fooled, and it’s not really their fault. I think a lot of people are fooled into thinking that they’re taking in something that is truly genuinely independent, DIY or whatever kind of descriptor you want to use, but you kind of have to analyze it a little bit more and see what’s behind the label.
Abbate: Yeah, then you find out that they’re backed by Sony.
Paternoster: And you see that this entire festival is paid for by Red Bull energy drink, and who makes Red Bull energy drink? And then you can go into all the systemic problems of having a company that big, mistreating workers and destroying the environment, but we won’t. So I think Joe is definitely sticking his neck out to arrange this festival and to tell the world that he’s not complicit with that kind of stuff, and that a lot of the artists associated with Don Giovanni aren’t complicit with that kind of stuff, and that’s why we work with them.
Have Screaming Females ever been offered record deals that you’ve turned down to remain on Don Giovanni?
Dougherty: This question really highlights the different world that exists right now. There’s a small music industry now. There’s the big music industry, and then there’s the small music industry. And it’s this level of selling this number of records and performing for this number of people that 15 years ago, the industry people wouldn’t have given a shit about at all, and now they realize that they can make a lot of money, so there’s tons of people all around, ready. They don’t view themselves as taking advantage of people, but their job is to make enough money to support themselves until they can move onto their next project. It’s this weird thing where … a big label doesn’t come to you and say, ‘We’ve got all this money, and we’re going to throw it at you, and you decide whether you want to do it or not.’ It’s like way more insidious and kind of harder to differentiate. It’s stuff like a lawyer comes to you, and they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m an entertainment lawyer. If you bring me on, I’ll work for free right now. When we get the deal, I’ll take my percentage at that point. But listen, I’m not just a lawyer. I have all these connections because I’ve been in the music industry.’
Paternoster: They seduce you.
Dougherty: So we’ve experienced a lot more things like that. It’s not the classic like …
Paternoster: … ‘Sign here.’
Abbate: Yeah, it’s people who want to get in and act like they’re doing you a favor.
Paternoster: Yeah, they’re like, ‘We’re friends.’ And then you develop this relationship with them …
Abbate: … And whatever cash grab there might be through Heineken or Qualcomm Records.
Paternoster: (laugh) You wake up one morning, and you’re signed to Qualcomm Records. Your room’s filled with empty Heineken bottles, and you’re just like, ‘What happened?!’
Abbate: And you haven’t slept in weeks because you’re drinking Red Bull.
Bob Makin has been contributing to The Aquarian Weekly since 1988 and is its former managing editor. He now is an entertainment columnist for Gannett NJ, a part of USA Today Network.