People seem awfully hung up on the fact that the lead singer of Screaming Females is a woman (a short-statured one at that). It’s a state of affairs that gives said lead singer, Marissa Paternoster, pause, as her world is littered with talented women with strong voices and honed shredding skills — attributes she possesses in droves. Yup, gender roles aside, Screaming Females is a solid punk band — and this solid punk band just put out a solid new album, Ugly. The release of that disc recently propelled the band into the upper echelons of the MTV Music Meter, and, consequently, our Music Meter Monday feature.
Ugly is the New Jersey band’s fifth studio album, clocking in at almost an hour of extremely catchy-yet-abrasive-in-a-good-way jams (think a cross between Wild Flag and Bikini Kill). It’s a nice change from the 2-minute-windup-then-we’re-spent style of some other bands in the genre. Tight structural quality combined with a nice layer of polish from Steve Albini — who recorded the album at his Electrical Audio facility — make for the perfect soundtrack for your summertime angst. Seriously, get ready to drive fast with the windows down whilst disrupting the whole neighborhood.
The O Music Blog caught up with Paternoster on the road during the band’s most recent tour to talk about the new album, killing cats and why grade-school chorus was really pretty lame.
So, I’m really excited to talk to you all about your album and some of the stuff you’ve been working on, but, first, I’ve been waiting to ask you about your cat video [for the song 'It All Means Nothing']. for, like, two months… Where did that come from?
I had the idea of having Mike and Jarrett murder me for an older song called ‘Buried in the Nude’ that was on our third album [Power Move]. But we didn’t really have the resources or time to make a video like that when that song came out. So when we were going to make the ‘It All Means Nothing’ video I brought it up again. The cat narrative kind of came on later because Mike had just moved into a new house and he has three cats and we wanted to involve them, so we just kind of wrote them into that storyline.
Do you think there will be any more cats or murder in the rest of the videos for the album?
I mean, one can only hope.
So how have you been feeling about the reception of Ugly? Every review I’ve read has been very positive.
I remember the day before the album came out some blog put out a review that was pretty bad, but then they capped it off at the end by uploading a JPEG that just said ‘Bad’ and then an arrow pointing down. Then I was like, ‘Oh, crap, everyone’s going to hate this.’ I was kind of worried about it. Then the day the album came out there were tons of good reviews and it didn’t really seem like anyone had any major gripes about the record at all. Everyone has a different favorite song, which is pretty neat. Everyone seems to like the sonic quality of it. But, yeah, it feels good to make a record that people enjoy.
Yeah, I’ve been seeing some people saying they think it’s already one of the best albums of the year. That’s pretty interesting to me, since last year seemed all about ambient, soft music like Bon Iver and Youth Lagoon. Do you think we’ll be seeing more punk acts getting press this year?
None of us really pay attention to any of those critics’ lists. I usually don’t know what any of the bands are in the top 10 are. It would be interesting if DIY punk bands somehow did break through and garner critical acclaim, but I wouldn’t be, like, totally bummed out if that didn’t happen. I don’t really expect it to happen.
So you guys have been around for about seven years and you’re on your fifth album. That’s pretty prolific. What’s your process like?
We just haven’t ever stopped writing and touring since we started playing in 2005. Besides this odd break right before our third album where we were all home for a while working jobs. We started when Mike and I were still in school and worked all throughout that. Then once we all got out of school we had all this free time that wasn’t being sucked up by school, so we were able to write a lot more and tour a lot more and we just never really stopped doing that. So it’s not really a secret — there’s no special secret to how we’ve put out so many albums and written so many songs. We just don’t really take breaks.
What about the songwriting process? What’s that like?
I write all the lyrics — I guess just because I sing and that should be the way it works out, I guess. When we write songs it’s definitely a collective process — we’ll go to practice and then if someone has a riff or an idea floating around they’ll just start playing it, and then if it sticks we’ll move forward and start arranging different riffs until it turns into a song.
So what was inspiring you most on this last album? What feelings or events?
We spent a lot of time working on it. Some of the songs are almost a year old, which hasn’t ever happened on any of our previous albums. We all had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on the songs. So as far as songwriting is concerned, I think this is definitely our most ambitious effort. A lot of that can be credited to the fact that we had the opportunity to spend more time thinking about what we wanted it to sound like, how we wanted to arrange the songs, what kind of tone we wanted our record to have and all that kind of stuff that we never really had the opportunity to do before.
I know you all worked with Steve Albini on this album — and you’re not too keen on talking about the experience — but can you tell us, maybe, about what lessons he taught you?
I mean, I feel like he kind of follows the same ethos that we do in that if you care about your art and your music and you work hard and you’re not afraid of working hard, then it will kind of pay off. He works almost every day, recording, and he says some people see that as being odd because he’s a world-renowned engineer, but he doesn’t think it’s odd because he’s not afraid of working. I think we feel that way, too.
Did he have any effect on the way you write music at all?
No. He didn’t produce our record. We went Electrical with all of our stuff demo’d — a lot of the songs we demo’d two or three times. He’s an amazing engineer and he kind of helped us set up our stuff and hit record. That was pretty much it.
So many writers and articles really play up the fact that you’re a female-fronted punk band. How do you feel about that label?
Unfortunately, I think that by and large most people perceive a woman being at the forefront of loud rock band as an oddity. I don’t really feel that way, I guess playing alongside a lot of punk bands that are female-fronted. I’m maybe a little bit jaded. But I definitely am keenly aware that in mainstream ‘indie’ rock it is kind of a rarity for a woman to be in front of a loud rock band. I live in a world where there are a lot of really strong, talented women who play music, but what I see in music periodicals and on TV is the exact opposite of my reality.
Yeah, totally agree. I see bands all the time with awesome women in them, but not so much in the press.
If you open up Rolling Stone or something like that you’re not going to see too many ladies. And if you do see them they’ll probably be like half-naked. Or they’ll be like Katy Perry. Who will be half-naked.
So were a lot if your music icons growing up women? Or did it not matter?
When I was 15, I think, I started listening to Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and stuff — that kind of gave me the confidence I needed to go out and play with other people. Because up until then I was just listening to Nirvana and stuff and I was like, ‘I don’t think I can play with other boys because I’m not good enough.’ But when I started listening to female-fronted punk bands I was like, ‘Ah! I’ll just find other girls to play with, or I’ll find like-minded boys.’ It made the world seem not as small. Because in my mind up to that point there were only these goliath rock bands.
Did you have any voice training as a kid?
I was in grade school choir up until eighth grade. But, then, no.
Oh yeah, choir songs were great for people with unique voices…
Yeah, I don’t think it had a chance to really shine out. Never got a solo or anything.
I don’t think people with interesting voices ever got solos in grade-school choir.
Who knows, I was prepubescent at the time, so maybe my voice wasn’t as interesting.