For more than 14 years as a band, New Brunswick, New Jersey’s Screaming Females have preferred to build their career the right way instead of the quick way. With seven guitar-heavy records released by the independent punk label Don Giovanni, the band has maintained a sense of control over their releases that many bands lose when signing to a larger label.
The trio is lead by singer and guitarist Marissa Paternoster, who’s gargantuan guitar riffs and commanding vocals are as unique as any of the indie-rock elders the band has been inspired by and won over throughout their career. Paternoster is also an incredibly skilled visual artist, with her artwork gracing the covers of each Screaming Females release and pulling fans deeper into their world. Rounding out the band are Michael “King Mike” Abbate on bass and Jarrett Dougherty on drums.
"We’ve just always strived for sustainability instead of being a flash in a pan,” — Marissa Paternoster, Screaming Females
Marissa Paternoster, Screaming Females. Photo: Getty Images
The band’s latest album, last year’s “All at Once,” was a departure from their usual short, scorched-earth Dinosaur Jr.- and Sleater Kinney-influenced songs as the band began to experiment with longer song lengths and creating a cohesive arc to create one of their most rewarding and enthralling albums to date. To record the album, the band once again teamed up producer Matt Bayles, who produced their previous album “Rose Mountain.” But this time, they had clear ideas on how they would shake things up.
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“We kind of came in with a completely different idea about what sort of record we wanted to make,” says Dougherty by phone before band practice earlier this year. “So we sat down with him [Bayles] while we were on tour, maybe a year before we started recording and told him a few of the ideas we were thinking about the record. With ‘Rose Mountain,’ the mantra there was really for everything to be concise. Get to the point and play some rock songs that have big hooks and interesting parts. For this one, we wanted to kind of do a little bit of the opposite, without changing the formula totally. We wanted to have some songs that would have these really short, almost proto-songs and then other ones that are really elaborate and went on.”
The record was a critical success and a huge artistic achievement for the band. The songs build with intense energy, with peaks and valleys that could almost be described as prog if they weren’t so heavy and direct. These kinds of decisions and chances are what make the band one of the most exciting guitar bands in indie rock, and their unique personality as a band may not have shown through without a label like Don Giovanni that understands sometimes artists need to be left alone in order to create.
“It really hasn’t changed that much,” says Dougherty, reflecting on the band’s relationship with the label. “We still operate and deal with Giovanni in the same way we ever did, which is, we come up with plans and releases that we want to do. Joe [Steinhardt, the co-owner of the label] puts in his input, which we take seriously because he’s been doing it for a long time. But ultimately, we just make the choices that we want to make. We record where we want to record. We pay for the recordings ourselves and hand him a finished product to release.”
By keeping their goals in check, the band has been able to sustain a much longer, fruitful and rewarding career than most of their peers.
“I think when we were looking at this initially we all started on the same page where we wanted to play music for a living,” explains Paternoster. “We worked really hard learning how to manage all of the different aspects of being in a band while maintaining a very realistic perspective of what success means to us. I don’t know if any of the higher plateaus of ‘success’ have ever really meant that much to us anyways. We want to play music for as long as we can. I would say there’s a track record for people who become very successful doing that out of the gate don’t last very long, although there are some expectations, for sure. We’ve just always strived for sustainability instead of being a flash in a pan.”
Catch Screaming Females this Friday, June 28, as a part of the City Farm Presents Summer Series at Industry City, with the incredible band Swearin’ opening the show.