Screaming Females: We can't pick a favorite Nirvana album
Photo courtesy of the artist
Already owning their reputation as an incredibly prolific group, Screaming Females had something of a banner year in 2013. The pride of New Brunswick, New Jersey, have consistently applied the relentless work ethic they learned on the DIY circuit, and the results appear to be finally paying off. Following the release of their biggest record yet, Ugly, in 2012, the trio wrapped several high-profile tours, including one with Garbage, and still managed to find time to record a new EP.
Gimme Noise caught up with guitarist and singer Marissa Paternoster at her grandmother's house in old NJ, where the group have practiced for most of their tenure, to talk about working with Steve Albini, recording while suffering from mono, and their new tour with Waxahatchee.
Your band just turned eight years old in late August. Congrats! How do Screamales celebrate their birthdays? Book another endless tour?
Well, we had a show the day before our birthday in Portland, Maine, but we didn't really celebrate. We celebrated by driving home from Portland, Maine [laughs]. So we "celebrated" by driving for six hours.
What was it like recording with Garbage? How did that come about?
Pretty much a whole year ago, we went on tour with Garbage, I think it was like 10 shows. I had gotten our band on the tour though a kind of serendipitous series of events. Laura from Against Me! did some records with Butch Vig and we had gone on tour with Against Me!, so I was like, "Can you send a Screaming Females record to Garbage for me?" Because they were my first favorite band when I was a kid. I didn't think anything would come of it, I just thought it would be funny doing girl-me a favor. So I guess she sent it to Shirley [Manson], and Shirley listened to it, which was really nice of her. Not only did she listen to it, but she liked it, so we kind of became email-friends and then I noticed that they had some West Coast dates up, and Screaming Females was looking for something to do for the fall, so I emailed Shirley and said, "I wanna be on those shows!" Then she was like, "Okay, I'm gonna do that for you."
It was pretty grassroots, there were no managers involved, not like we have one, but there was none of that business-y kinda BS. I just asked her and she said yes, and that was it. So we went on tour with them, and then Shirley and I were just talking about Siouxsie Sioux and Patti Smith and stuff, because we like a lot of the same music, and she was like, "We should do a cover song!" So we were thinking about what song to do, and "Because the Night" was a pretty obvious choice if you're going to pluck something out of Patti Smith's catalog, but nobody wants to hear a cover of a song that they don't know. It's an awesome pop song, people know it, it's a classic song, so we did it and it worked really well. Then Shirley emailed me about a month after the tour and suggested we record the song and put out the record, and I was like, "That sounds amazing!" So they flew us to L.A., all three of us, and we went to this huge studio and recorded a cover in a day, and it was really fun, and definitely something I never thought I'd be able to do.
It's sort of funny, because people often put Butch Vig and Steve Albini up against each other as these two kind of archetypes of indie rock production, and you've worked with both relatively recently. Who was cooler, are you a Nevermind or an In Utero person?
Oh, I'd be hard-pressed to answer that, I think that most people my age have kind of a weird reverence for the Nirvana catalog where we can't even pick or choose an album. It would be like picking a favorite child or something. But they're totally different records, and both have really good songs, and you could say the same about the people who engineered them. They're just two totally different people who both do really good work. You definitely can't say one is superior to the other. They're both damn good!
You're a virtuosic guitarist; do you get other offers like that to collaborate or do session work?
A long time ago I did a little session work for the Slits, like, a really long time ago because obviously Ari [Up] passed away. When I was a junior in college, so 2007, I did some session work for some Slits demos that never got released, but that's the only thing I've ever done.
So, compared to those experiences, what was working on your Chalk EP like? Did you take a different approach to songwriting?
At the end of the Garbage tour I was really sick. I kept getting mono in 2012. I had it twice, and I had it for a really long time and I was having trouble getting rid of it and we had to take a really long break. So to make sure that we kept doing stuff, we decided to write a batch of songs where we don't stress out too hard about composition, or even the sonic quality of the song. We just wanted to have fun and write some weird songs, and record them and put them out on a really limited pressing of a cassette tape. So we wrote seven or eight songs, worked out a bunch of ideas, and just wrote the songs off the cuff and didn't really mull over them too much, and then recorded them on my crappy laptop. There were only 100 copies of it, it was just a fun pet project to keep us busy while we were taking our break and while I was seeing a zillion doctors and getting better.
"Chalk" reminded me a bit of the more low-key/experimental stuff you did with your solo project Noun. D you see the two as informing each other? You just re-released your 2007 Noun record Forgotten Grin in February.
Joe [Steinhardt] who runs Don Giovanni records really wanted to re-release that tape. I had very little or no interest in re-releasing that tape, because I think so much of it is totally embarrassing, but he was really into it. I definitely wasn't being a hardass about it, if people want to hear it they can hear it. It's my problem that it embarrasses me. I had all the stuff still lying at home obviously, so I just sent it along really, I didn't think about it too much.
It's like Chalk Tape, it's a cassette tape, so only a few people are going to have access to the hard copy and only a few people are going to actually play that copy, because aside from my close friends I'm not sure how many people still have a cassette player or boombox or something. I think for people our age, a lot of our first records that we ever got were in the cassette format. One of the first records that I had ever got was Jagged Little Pill on cassette, and I had a Walkman and stuff. CDs existed but nobody had a portable CD player yet. For like millenials and late 20-somethings I think tapes have this air of nostalgia that's comforting and fun. Also, just because Noun and Chalk Tape are kind of pet projects, I think that the tape format is really a proper vessel for them to float in. It's a niche project for a niche audience, it's not meant for global consumption.
In addition to all of this music you've released this year, you also put out a book of your artwork. It's really striking; how is your creative process for drawing different from that for writing music?
I draw all the time, I've been drawing for a lot longer than I've been playing music, so I just have tons and tons of pictures laying around. Drawing for me is really solitary, I almost always do it by myself, and for myself. It's really rare that I make visual art with other people, although it does happen. So a lot of my artwork is uh... aggressively personal, whereas I feel like my music is a little more vague, as far as content is concerned. I guess the process, just because it is by myself, for myself almost 100 percent of the time, I don't really feel like I have any creative pressures on me, I just do whatever the hell I want. Whereas with music, I almost exclusively work with other people, and their influence weighs heavily on the product or whatever, which is a good thing, it's just really nice to have people to contribute.
I think a big problem with my art is that it almost all looks the same, and nothing has really changed for a really long time and it's really hard to figure out how to make creative changes when you do everything by yourself, but when you have somebody else contributing to your art, it's a lot easier to go in different directions and discover new things. It's really hard for me to draw things out of my comfort zone, I almost always draw the same crap. I'm glad you like it, and that a lot of people like it, it's just takes so much longer when you're all by yourself, and when you make stuff with other people it can guide you. So I'm glad with music I don't have to do it all, or else I'd just be writing the same song over and over again.
Now you've got a split EP with Tenement coming up. Dd Don Giovanni connect you two or were you already fans of theirs?
Oh yeah, we've been friends with Tenement for a really long time, probably since like 2008 or something. We've played at their house in Appleton once, but we've stayed there a couple of times and they've been in New Brunswick a lot. They tour and they play a lot of the same places that we play and we have a lot of mutual friends. They just kind of pop up, we see them a lot, but we've been friends of theirs and fans of their music for a really long time.
We always talked about doing a Tenement split but never really had the songs to do it with, because we almost always put all of our songs on albums, but we had these two extra songs from a session we did with Steve Albini right before the Garbage tour, so we threw one of those songs on the Tenement split. I actually haven't heard their side yet, but it's probably awesome.
Have you and Waxahatchee become tour besties at this point?
Yeah, we've known Katie, who's Waxahatchee for a really long time. She and her sister used to be in a band called P.S. Elliot, who I think we must have met when they were kids, about 17 or something, but we met them at a punk show a really long time ago. P.S. Elliot was another band that would come to New Brunswick relatively often, I saw them a lot, and I'm a big fan of their two records, so when they broke up and Waxahatchee put out her first record I was really psyched about it. What can I say? She's a really good songwriter, she's been writing songs since she was a kid, so she knows what she's doing.
I've also heard that after this tour is over you're headed back into the studio again? Is it true? Will 2014 grace us with another Screamales album?
Yeah, we're trying to figure out when and where we'll be doing this next record. It's pretty much written, we just gotta figure out what we're gonna do with the songs. We're just trying to write good songs that keep us interested and hopefully it'll keep you interested too.
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