Punk trio Screaming Females could prove to be the most talked-about thing to come out of Jersey since the Sopranos. Much credit for that goes to guitar shredder/vocalist Marissa Paternoster, who has the stage prowess of Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and the chops of Jimi Hendrix.
The band recently put out their third album, Power Move, on Don Giovanni Records. Their performances at last month’s CMJ Music Marathon in New York City garnered tons of fawning press and a legion of brand new fans. How was it performing at a music industry-oriented event? “It wasn’t much different from any other gig,” Marissa observes wryly.
Although her offstage demeanor is reserved, onstage Marissa is pure old-school punk intensity— singing one moment, yelling another moment and growling the next. She has been known to play so hard that her fingers sometimes bleed. With Marissa’s undeniable charisma at the forefront, it’s no surprise that the band’s audience and reputation is going nationwide. Village Voice recently named Marissa “Shredder of the Year.” And last summer Screaming Females were invited to open for super-group, the Dead Weather. In December, the band will play five dates with British alt rock darlings, Arctic Monkeys.
I asked the 23-year-old Marissa about her band, her home town music scene and the back-story behind the bloody fingers.
CD: How did you start playing guitar?
MP: I started playing guitar when I was about 14. I was sitting on the floor listening to Nirvana (I wish I were listening to something a bit more unique, but I was a very typical teenager), and my father came into my room and said, “I can teach you these songs on guitar. Want to try?” So I did. I got hooked on playing guitar, which astounds me in retrospect, because I had absolutely no interest in the instrument beforehand.
CD: What makes the New Brunswick scene unique?
MP: I’m a pretty big homebody. This question would be so much better for either of the boys, who are really pro-active about going to shows. I’m really lazy. I mean, New Brunswick is really neat and new houses pop up every year fully-equipped with new kids who want to throw house shows for touring bands. All of the houses have their own personalities and stories. It’s cute.
CD: Are you more influenced by bands in your scene or national ones?
MP: I’d say it’s a fair combination of both at this point.
CD: Who or what inspired you to be a shredder?
MP: I did not practice my instrument with the intention of ever shredding on it. I suppose it’s just natural for me to play the way that I do. I only listened to Smashing Pumpkins in my teens (among other things, of course, but not much), so it’s not really surprising. My biggest concern growing up was playing well enough so that I could be thrown into a room with other musicians and hold my own.
CD: Congratulations on being named “Shredder of the Year” in the Village Voice. What was that like for you?
MP: It was neat. Pretty funny considering all the metal dudes who could put me to shame.
CD: How often do your fingers bleed? (That really sounds painful!)
MP: Basically never. I think it happened once or twice because I have poor picking technique and I had a hangnail or something.
CD: Screaming Females has really had a great build over the years. How did you got started?
MP: We’ve never settled on decisions that are uncomfortable for us or made for us. We’ve never rushed ourselves. Common sense rules all, I guess. It helps that we’re all pretty easy-going, too.
CD: How does the band write songs?
MP: We practice in our basement. Someone will play a riff and then someone else will play something. If it clicks, we roll with it and it’ll turn into a song.
CD: Being called Screaming Females is almost like naming your band Blondie. It instantly puts the focus on you. Is it a challenge to make sure everyone in the band — the non-females — get some of the attention as well?
MP: I always hope that audiences notice what a great band we are as a whole. Everything we do, we do together and the combination of the three of us makes something really unique and special. I’ve always seen bands as big monsters, like events unto themselves. Personally, I rather hate realizing the human nature behind musicians that I admire. They are superheros to me and I like to keep ‘em that way.
CD: You’re touring with the Arctic Monkeys in December. Cool! How did that come about?
MP: They had asked us to do some shows with them on the West Coast at the tail end of the summer but it wasn’t really feasible at that time. So when they offered us a couple shows on our side of the country we said sure. Wish the story was a bit more interesting, but that’s pretty much it!
CD: What is the best thing you’ve heard about your band?
MP: That we ruuuuuule.
CD: What is the most annoying thing you’ve heard about your band?
MP: That I look like Thelma from Scooby Doo. Uhm, I guess that’s more personal but it’s all I can think of right now.
CD: What things do you enjoy doing when you are not shredding?
MP: I put my hair up in pigtails and daydream about kittens.
SCREAMING FEMALES TOUR DATES
11.21.09 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes (Benefit for 180 NJ)
12.05.09 – Columbus, OH @ The Summit
12.06.09 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theater*
12.07.09 – Milvale, PA @ Mr. Smalls Funhouse*
12.08.09 – Washington, D.C. @ 9:30 Club*
12.10.09 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5*
12.11.09 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5* (SOLD OUT)
12.13.09 – Boston, MA @ House of Blues*
12.29.09 – Asbury Park, NJ @ The Stone Pony (Home for the Holidays!)#
* = w/ Arctic Monkeys
# = w/ Bouncing Souls