Screaming Females: Truth in a band name

April 27, 2009


When writing about New Jersey's most hair-raising young punk trio, it may be unfair to focus on Marissa Paternoster: To recast the famous slogan Blondie championed, Screaming Females is a band, and bassist Mike Rickenbacker and drummer Jarret Dougherty are an agile but potent rhythm section.

Yet Paternoster demands the spotlight as an awesome front woman whose rampaging guitar and banshee wail pack more punch than a North Korean nuke. And, well, the band's name does sort of put her front and center.

"People ask me that ['women in rock'] question and I hate it because I like to think of Screaming Females as a band," Paternoster says somewhat defensively and without me really asking the question. "It's not about me and it's not about any of us individually, and I really don't think being a girl in a band is that weird because I grew up listening to bands that were pretty much all fronted by women.

"It's kind of annoying when people go, 'Hey, you're a girl!' It's just, 'Yeah, is there something wrong with that?'"

"I would say that the name is kind of a 'No duh,'" Dougherty adds. "It's not like we're implying that each one of us is a screaming female; I usually think of it as more of an idea or concept to put in people's heads. It actually took a long time for us to pick a name: It came down to the wire where we had our first show coming up and we needed to put something on a flyer. It was the first thing that we came up with where one of us didn't have a drastically horrible reaction to it, but I think it had different connotations to each of us. It can be ambiguous while still inspiring a very particular image."

Fair enough, and whether that scream is one of ecstasy, rage, frustration or all of the above, it's undeniable throughout the 10 originals on the band's third album "Power Move," or in searing cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" streaming on the trio's MySpace page.

Home to Rutgers University and a short distance from the snootier college town of Princeton, New Brunswick has had a vibrant musical underground for decades, and Screaming Females is one of the best groups to emerge from its now-thriving punk scene. Formed in 2005 by Paternoster and Rickenbacker--who went to the same grammar and high schools but never talked to one another before linking up to make music--the group honed its sound during countless basement gigs, eventually climbing in the van and tapping into a similar D.I.Y. circuit across the U.S.

"When the band started touring a lot and going through the country to find all these amazing bands to play with, those groups wanted to come back to New Jersey, and there was this new idea of just running shows that start at 6 p.m. so you wouldn't have to worry about noise violations and cops showing up, and doing them at the same house all the time so that people knew where things were happening. Seeing that kind of thing develop was great timing for us."

The group has had a similar by-any-means-necessary approach to recording. "We recorded the new album at a studio where I was interning, and the owner and head engineer mixed it and tracked it while we played it live," Paternoster says. "For our first record ['Baby Teeth,' 2006], we had to track everything separately, because we really didn't have the means to record live. Whenever bands do that, it's kind of a stale sound, unless you're Destiny's Child or something. For the second album ['What if Someone is Watching Their T.V.,' 2007], we just did it live, but it was really sparse. With this one, I personally wanted a fuller sound and more variety."

"We recorded it after we came in off a U.S. tour that was about 50 days long," Dougherty adds. "No one had jobs, but we made enough money touring to pay rent for the next month and not worry." Now the group is eager to hit the road again. "I'm really excited because we're playing a lot of the venues that we want to be playing--really big art spaces or community centers. I guess it's sort like hitting the next level... though it feels more like we're climbing slowly up the slope."