Screaming Females: From basements to the big time

Screaming Females, one of the better things to come out of New Jersey, hits the road again.

by Emily Eveland

Equal parts punk rock and East Coast cool, Screaming Females has mastered the apathetic aesthetic.

Marissa Paternoster, the group’s singer and guitarist, looks like a shorter-haired Wednesday Addams with her signature collared black dresses.

On a previous tour, the self-proclaimed “mild people” behind Screaming Females were asked by two separate Canadian reporters if something was wrong.

“We were like, ‘No, we just kind of look miserable all the time. That’s how we roll. We’re from New Jersey,’”***** drummer Jarrett Dougherty said.

But the apathy stops at exteriorities. When Paternoster’s lips envelop the microphone and her fingertips touch her Stratocaster strings, the band is all business.

 “We weren’t playing a house show one day and then playing to like 3,000 people another day,” she said. “It took a lot of work and time.”

Paternoster and Michael Abbate, aka King Mike, started Screaming Females in 2006. They’d played together on Tuesday nights for their Catholic high school’s after-school program, appropriately called Music Club.

“It was moderated by a math teacher who was really into Phish [and other jam bands], which was music that I found completely horrifying,” Paternoster said.

Looking back, she said she realizes that jamming in Music Club was what taught her how to play by ear and with other people.

“I just became a way better musician,” she said.

The group stumbled into the New Brunswick, N.J., house show scene in their late teens, after finding that their town didn’t offer much in the way of music venues. Screaming Females was in good company there; The Ergs!, Lifetime and The Bouncing Souls are also from the area.

“When there’s no viable alternative, people will make do with what they have,” Paternoster said.

Dougherty remembers his first basement show fondly.

“I looked over, and there was a guy playing a keyboard and smoking a cigarette at the same time while his band was like rocking the [expletive] out,” he said. “Until that point in my life, I had never really known you could do that.”

Since then, Screaming Females has made a name for themselves, playing with bands like Garbage and Arctic Monkeys and appearing on MTV and National Public Radio.

But their DIY roots still run deep. Even the record label they’re signed to, Don Giovanni Records, is run by their friends and specializes in New Brunswick’s basement scene.

The Screaming Females’ basement punk background shows in their sound and attitude. They blend the Ramones’ repetitive and angst-ridden lyrical style with guitar licks that make sense of their success.

Paternoster was declared the 77th-best guitarist of all time by Spin Magazine in 2012. When asked how she felt about it, the apathy came back.

“It feels meaningless. It’s just, like, some dumb list. People, like, cite it all the time, but it’s basically just some crap a magazine put together so they could fill pages,” she said.

Screaming Females conceived their newest release, Chalk Tape, by writing ideas on a chalkboard and recording each of them in their practice space without rewrites.

And by practice space, they mean grandma’s basement.

“I like hanging out with my grandma,” Paternoster said when asked about her free time. “That’s pretty much it — hanging out with her.”


Who: Screaming Females with Waxahatchee, Tenement and Frozen Teens

Where: Triple Rock Social Club

When: 8 p.m., Tuesday

Cost: $10

Ages: 18+