Screaming Females talk soft and play loud
Nebraska, the Screaming Females are sorry. The New Jersey trio did not want to cancel a gig because of severe weather, but as drummer Jarrett Dougherty says, "It’s better that we missed a show rather than have broken arms and legs."
Consider it a helpful tip from a band that has long adhered to a do-it-yourself ethic. Dougherty may be exaggerating a bit, but forgive him, as Screaming Females often work in extremes, and the recent cluster of violent tornadoes that roared through the Midwest are a less common occurrence for a band that hails from New Brunswick, N.J.
"They got pretty close to us," Dougherty says of the storms. "It was a last-minute decision as to whether we should try to make the drive. We were almost there to Nebraska, but all the reports were saying to get off the road."
While Screaming Females has a team to help with such matters as publicity, licensing and booking, the band has long acted as its own manager. So when the three were driving on an Iowa interstate and heard about the tornadoes, they started listening to weather updates using their smartphone apps. Better to cancel the Nebraska gig than drive through that.
Dougherty's colorful description of broken limbs is reflective of the vibrant way in which Screaming Females tackle intensity. The band's fifth album, "Ugly," features singer Marissa Paternoster howling with tortured bitterness that she "can't unwind," and then sees the band attempting to find 14 ways to illustrate coming-of-age anxiety.
Yet don't try asking Paternoster to go into detail on "Ugly" or its songs. She'll happily discuss the technical aspects of the work -- lyrics, she says, come second-to-last, and her oddly amped-up vocal phrasing is the last thing recorded -- yet she'll shy away from divulging any hints regarding the meaning of the work or the psychological head space of the band while they were making the album. "I don’t share a lot of those things with people," she says apologetically.
No matter, as "Ugly," released on the Don Giovanni label, presents Screaming Females at their most expansive. The trio, whose members are in their mid-to-late 20s, deliver a ferocious technical proficiency. Paternoster's riffs are as towering as her solos are intricate, and Dougherty and bassist Mike Rickenbacker aim to decorate every second of space in between. Songs are tightly wound, even as they slug their way past seven minutes and jolt from arms-folded toughness to minor key vulnerability.
While Screaming Females, who appear Thursday at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts, graduated long ago from home recordings to the studio, they labored mightily over the songs on "Ugly." Asked to reflect on the album, Paternoster, who studied painting and illustration at New Brunswick's Mason Gross School of the Arts, spoke only of "how long it took" to write and record. Dougherty notes this is the first time songs were written, performed live and then completely reworked when put on record.
"I wanted to go back and ever so slightly change the rhythms, and it gave the songs a brand new feel so things didn’t overlap," he says. "That’s why we ended up with such a big album."
The band went to Chicago to record "Ugly" with underground hero Steve Albini (Big Black, Shellac). It was the first time the band recorded away from the East Coast, but the band stops short of saying the engineer, who has worked with the likes of the Pixies, Nirvana and Cheap Trick, among many others, influenced the direction of the record.
"If you would ask him to weigh in with his opinion he would, but if you don’t solicit it then he won’t tell you how he feels about it," Paternoster says. "He’ll just let you do your record. He was a nice guy and really good at doing his job. This record sounds great."
Screaming Females may come off as a little press shy, especially on a short cellphone conversation while on tour, but the band doesn't project any standoffish qualities in their work. Screaming Females just seem more comfortable doing things independently and on their own terms. The band's blog, for instance, is full of lengthy posts detailing drumming techniques, car problems and Paternoster's love for alt-rock-era bands such as Garbage and the Smashing Pumpkins.
And as anyone who takes even a cursory listen to the band's music would know, the Screaming Females are far from soft-spoken. Paternoster even confesses to losing her voice after a concert two days before the interview. Will that inspire her to change her ways or do vocal warm-ups? "Naw," she says, satisfied in her approach. "I don't do that stuff."
The Screaming Females at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts, 2225 Colorado Blvd. Thursday, April 26. Tickets are $10.
-- Todd Martens
Photo: The Screaming Females, from left, Mike Rickenbacker, Jarrett Dougherty and Marissa Paternoster. Credit: Don Giovanni Records