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Interview: Screaming Females Talk DIY, Queer Visibility and Touring NZ

Interview: Screaming Females Talk DIY, Queer Visibility and Touring NZ

Interview by Ary Jansen / Monday 29th April, 2019 2:45PM

New Brunswick, New Jersey's Screaming Females are returning to Aotearoa for a whiplash five date tour in May and June. Formed in 2005, the team of Marissa Paternoster (guitar/vocals), Jarrett Dougherty (drums), and King Mike (bass) last visited our shores in 2016 – this time around they're back celebrating the success of their critically lauded 2018 seventh studio album All At Once via hometown punk imprint Don Giovanni Records, and will play their first ever South Island shows, including a headline gig in Blenheim. Auckland's Ary Jansen, whose intense debut solo collection Cut Off was a local highlight of 2018, generously took time out to talk with Paternoster ahead of Screaming Females' return. Scope out the tour details here and dive into their in-depth chat below...

Undertheradar proudly presents...

Screaming Females

Tuesday 28th May - Whammy, Auckland
Wednesday 29th May - San Fran, Wellington
Thursday 30th May - The Plant, Blenheim
Friday 31st May - darkroom, Christchurch
Saturday 1st June - Captain Cook Hotel, Dunedin

Tickets available HERE via UTR

Your latest album All At Once is pretty epic and dynamic compared to some of your earlier stuff, but still has the same driving power – how do you think your sound has changed?

We have a lot of records at this point, I think that with every new record we try to challenge ourselves but still write the kind of music we wanna listen to which is always changing as well. I think a big part of the challenge is to emulate the things that we’re collectively currently enjoying and listening to, while still making music that excites us as players.

I think yeah I can really hear that in the variation of your latest album like there’s so much going on but it all ties together really well.

I mean that’s what we try to do.

You’re from the New Jersey DIY scene and you’ve been from Don Giovanni since the start? How do you reckon that’s informed the way you do stuff?

Well we actually put out our first two records on our own when we did it. We weren’t working with Don Giovanni at the time, so that taught us how to put out records. When we did ultimately start working with a record label, not that Don Giovanni had any intention of taking advantage of us, but since we knew what we were doing already, we knew that if labels came in making offers they couldn’t lie to us essentially because we already knew what to do. I think that’s a case example of what DIY can do for you, is that if you do it yourself, if someone does one day come around trying to either assist you or provide you with more opportunities or resources or whatever, you’ll know which ones are worth your time because you’ve already taught yourself how to do it. I think that coming up in New Brunswick, New Jersey and playing DIY punk music, made it so that we were a really self-sufficient band. It’s pretty easy for us to make decisions for our band as acting managers, because we’ve taught ourselves how to do all this stuff. It’s nice to feel knowledgeable about your craft.

Totally. So you still do a lot of the management side yourselves?

We’ve never had a manager. Jarrett our drummer does the bulk of that sort of stuff, but at the end of the day we try to work on the basis of consensus. If there are decisions that have to be made, Jarrett will just shoot everyone a text and we’ll just figure it out or y’know, whenever we talk to each other really. There’s never really been a need to have another person involved. We’re all fully capable of making our own decisions for our own band.

That’s awesome. As a queer teenager in the 2010’s (and also a ‘female guitarist’, which I’m not female any more) your music and lyrics were really influential and empowering to me, what were some artists that did this for you as a teenager?

All of the bands that were on Kill Rock Stars in the 90s were really important to me, even though I started getting into punk in the early 2000s none of them really existed except for Sleater Kinney. Kill Rock Stars, K and Chainsaw, those record labels were all a pathway into reconciling my queerness and becoming less terrified by it. Less upset about it and being like “oh, this is actually something that can provide me with the community that I’ve always been looking for, it’s not something that I have to be some insanely afraid of. I don’t have to hide from it, I can embrace it and there are a lot of other people who are like me, I’m not completely alone in this”. It was more than just music. I really liked the music, but the combination of the music and the rhetoric behind it is what made me want to play in a rock band.

That’s cool. Did you have many other queers in the music scene when you were starting up?

New Brunswick is such a tiny city that I don’t even think we talked about that kinda stuff that much, because everybody who played music or was in a punk band and was putting on a show was part of a punk band and putting on a show was kind of part of a family. I never really thought about it until we started playing bigger shows and people started asking me about. I think I was really lucky to start in New Brunswick because I wasn’t keen on everyone’s preferences... But there were a lot of women playing music which kind of petered out as we started playing bigger places. Now typically at a Screaming Females show there will be like several women or queer people sharing the bill with us, so it’s nice that I’m not the only woman playing the show any more.

Totally, it was kind of similar for me. Being queer wasn’t that much of a big deal to me because the music scene was my community and no one gave a shit.

Yeah, initially in New Brunswick everyone was just so focused on making shit happen and making sure that the house shows didn’t get shut down. There was no time to really discuss social politics or scene politics, people were just like “make sure the show happens and everyone’s safe and the band gets paid”. I never really noticed it until I got a little bit older.

That sounds pretty nice, was it?

Yeah, it was super fun, it was probably the best years of my life, or some of them at least.

How do you think queer visibility in music has changed over time?

I mean, even in my short life, I’ve noticed that people are less afraid. Growing up I was very afraid to talk about my queerness or admit to it, it was a secret for a very long time. I was very very ashamed, very very scared. So it’s nice and comforting to see that people are outwardly vocal about their queerness and they don’t have to feel afraid, because I can tell you from experience that sucked. I am very glad that young people feel that putting themselves on a stage and playing in front of an audience can say whatever they’re feeling, especially pertaining to being queer.

You played a bunch of gigs in New Zealand in 2016. They were all in the North Island. How was that for you? Do you remember? [laughs]

It was cool, Jarrett and I both got... he got it worse then me but we both got the flu, so what I remember is not a lot because I felt so lousy. We played all the shows with a band called Bozo, they took us around and they were all really friendly and nice to hang out with. My primary memory of New Zealand is just that its an extremely beautiful place. We spent a lot of time in the van on small motorways, just like driving along and the landscape just changes so drastically in a such small distance, that was amazing to see. It was beautiful, I’m excited to go back and hopefully not be sick.

How do you play a gig every night and sing the way you do when you have the flu?

You just do it. [laughs]

Do you ever lose your voice?

I have but only once or twice. I just hurts, you just gotta power through it. Eventually your immune system will take care of you, hopefully.

This year you’re going South Island as well. What are you hoping to see and do?

You tell me. I don’t know anything about it.

Yeah, it’s colder, you might see sea lions on the side of the road.

They’ll be next to the motorway?

I’ve seen them pretty close to the motorway before. It goes past the coast. Also, do you know much New Zealand music?

I know very little.

A lot of our kind of sound, comes from Dunedin. So check out Flying Nun stuff if you have the time.

I know Flying Nun, but compared to my knowledge of music from the States it pales in comparison.

That’s totally logical.

Makes a little bit of sense right?

What are you collectively enjoying listening to at the moment?

We really like a band from New Brunswick, New Jersey called Spowder, we really like a band from London called Scrap Brain. Those are two bands that we all adore, but you know a lot of the music we listen to is just our friends bands. It’s always kinda been that way.

Sweet! What's the kinda buzz of that sound? Is it similar to you? Is it DIY guitar music also?

The two bands I just mentioned happen to be kind of like, you know, rock bands or whatever but we listen to a lot of different music. Jarrett's been listening to a lot of avant garde and like conceptual analogue synth music, like ethereal synth music. I’ve been listening to like a lot of Artie Shaw whose like a big band leader who plays the clarinet. I think yeah, we celebrate all different kinds of music.

It looks like you have been touring pretty much non-stop for almost a decade and play shows pretty much every night. What is it like working that way?

Because of the kind of band we are and the moral compass that we all share and the fact that we’re all very committed to the band and we’re not afraid to work... hopefully if you really like the music you’re making and you like your friends and you like playing then that’s what you’d want to do. Certainly it can be exhausting at times, but we're lucky enough to make our living doing it, so we do the best job that we can. There are so many places in the world to play and we probably haven’t even scratched the surface really. We’re always looking for new places to go and people to meet and experiences to have and stuff like that.

Where haven’t you been and where would you go?

I really wanna go to Japan, we’ve never been there. I really wanna go to Mexico. Central or South American would be cool. I know a couple of bands that have gone to those places but I would love to go everywhere.

Can you do that? Can you just decide to go somewhere and tour there?

Probably not in some places. I’m sure there are some places that don’t have viable live music venues for bands like us, but I should hope that we get to see most of the world before we croak.

You must be pretty close friends by now, how’s that?

Mike and I have been friends since we were 15. I met Jarrett when I was 19, I’m 32 now. We shared our entire young adult lives together.

That’s so rad. Do you have deep and meaningfuls on the road?

We certainly have, probably more often in the past then now since we know so much about each other, but a lot of the deep and meaningful things that happen amongst us, happen to us. They’re meaningful because of the experiences that we share. I wouldn’t have gotten to see Europe and Australia and New Zealand and the UK if I wasn’t in this band, so I’m very grateful to our friendship so that we could see all this stuff and we can see all these people live life. Live laugh love. [laughs]

Tickets for Screaming Females' New Zealand tour in May and June are available HERE via UTR.


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Screaming Females
Thu 30th May 8:00pm
The Plant, Blenheim
Screaming Females
Fri 31st May 8:00pm
darkroom, Christchurch
Screaming Females
Sat 1st Jun 8:00pm
Dive, Dunedin