Photography by Geoffrey Smith III
Note: This interview was conducted before the release of the album Desire Pathway
Tyler King: First of all, I want to say thank you all for agreeing to be interviewed. I’ve been a fan of yours since the album Rose Mountain came out. The first thing I want to ask is, how do you guys approach a festival set when compared to playing a headlining set or an opening set?
Marissa Paternoster: I just kind of try and do my best every time.
Jarrett Dougherty: We have less time to play than if we were headlining. So it’s kind of like the same thing as an opening set. You kind of build the set at a little bit differently because of that. You try to get to the point a little bit more. Or, alternately, try to draw it all out and try to play three songs that are longer and slower.
Tyler: You also recently announced a headlining US tour for March and April. How are you guys feeling about that?
Marissa: We’re very excited to be back on the road after the two years of doing nothing.
Jarrett: We did a big Fall tour, it was us on support, we were the first of three bands every night with Touche Amore and The Menzingers. So this’ll be our first national tour headlining since COVID. So yeah, new record, hanging out, going on tour, sounds good.
Tyler: With the tour that you did last fall, was there any big difference with that tour compared to ones you had done pre-pandemic? Was there anything about the pandemic that impacted that tour in any way? Or that you see impacting the next one?
Marissa: It affects everything that we do. We talk about it all the time. We try to make sure everyone’s comfortable and feels safe.
Jarrett: We go on tour now with the understanding that we could cancel a bunch of shows any minute. It’s so different. Things are slowly getting back to feeling a little normal but we were in no rush to be the first people out there touring again. And, knock on wood, but thankfully, things have been pretty good for us as far as playing shows, but I know a lot of bands who were out there trying to play shows six months into the pandemic, and they were all getting sick and going home after a week of a month-long tour and that stuff can still happen. So it’s still very different but at least it’s a little less of a worry.
Tyler: Did the pandemic impact at all how you approached the writing of this new album that’s coming out, Desire Pathway?
Marissa: The bulk of it was written prior to the pandemic. And then when the pandemic first hit, we were still trying to keep the momentum behind writing active. So we did a little bit of writing via email with drum machines. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly like a method of writing that feels natural to us. But some of the songs in the album came out of that and it definitely wasn’t a practice that we did in vein. We didn’t actually spend too much time apart when it came to like practicing.
Jarrett: About six months.
Marissa: Yeah. But it was long for us! Yeah. I think, and I’m going to speak for everybody, one of our top priorities once COVID hit was being able to safely play. At least have band practice!
Tyler: So with the usage of drum machines, is that something that is going to be on the album? Especially on your last album, All At Once, it sounded like there was some dabbling with synthesizers on some of the songs. The new single that just came out, “Brass Bell,” opened with a synthesizer sound. Are there going to continue to be some electronic elements going forward in your music?
Jarrett: Less so than the last record. The songs that we wrote with the drum machines, it was because we were separated and I didn’t have a drum kit in my house. But I had theis drum machine. So I was like, “Well I’ll just work with that.” So all that stuff ended up being played live with acoustic drums on the actual record, but I think it informed the way that the songs were structured and written a little bit since they started like that. But there are some cool synthesizers on the new record! The piece of the beginning of “Brass Bell” is the main one, that is most audible and recognizable. But the studio that we recorded at, it’s called Pachyderm, which is outside of Minneapolis, had this amazing set of vintage synthesizers that were built in the 90s in Milwaukee. I don’t know how it’s pronounced… “weird” or “wired,” but it’s spelled WIARD, and I know those synths because people produce newer clones of them, but to see a whole rack of the original ones… I was like pretty stunned to see them. So I said, “That’s got to get on this record somehow!” That’s not a sound that anyone else has on their recordings.
Tyler: Let’s talk about the new single “Brass Bell.” Was there always the idea of it being the first single from the album? Where was it written in terms of the songwriting timeline for the new album?
King Mike: I feel like we have demos for that song from as early as 2018.
Marissa: Yeah, some of the songs are probably four or five years old at this point because of the pandemic. But no, I don’t think there’s ever been any record that we’ve put out where we knew what the single would be prior to writing down the sequencing or recording the record. It just all depends on which one we gravitate towards once the record is complete.
Jarrett: I feel like we we tried to have…
Stranger Walking By: Are you guys Screaming Females?
Stranger Walking By: I’m sorry to interrupt, just a really big fan. I love that single you guys put out. We’re actually going to your show!
Stranger Walking By: See you there!
Marissa: Make sure you put that in the interview.
Jarrett: But anyways, I feel that we try to do a good job with picking songs to feature from a record. So we try to have a contrasting set usually, just because we do a lot of different things as a band. The the next song that’s gonna come out right around when the record comes out is a little bit more of an “indie rock/pop” kind of song. When we wanted to pick a second single, we didn’t want one that was in similar in vein to the first one, so we picked one that was more guitar solos and heavier guitars and that kind of thing. I feel like we’ve done that with the last few records; picked songs like that, that are more heavy, and then ones that are a little more melodic like “Hopeless” from Rose Mountain.
Tyler: Something noticeable about the new album, which, if you look at all of your albums, is the artwork by Marissa. I was wondering how do you decide to come up with the artwork for each album? Do you do each piece after the album is written, or does one inspire the other?
Marissa: I almost have always done the art either while we’re recording it or immediately after. For this particular record, I did the art immediately after because I didn’t really have time to do any painting while we were recording. So what I did… it’s like a wheat paste collage of some zeroxes of drawings that I did and I put it together at a residency at this cool spot called The Dirt Palace in Providence, Rhode Island. It’s been a long-running DIY kind of arts and music space. They were nice enough to have me there. So I spent my time there making that stuff.
Tyler: When you’re not on the road is art, meaning physical/visual art, is that what you’re mainly pouring yourself into? Or are you also writing songs for the next record?
Marissa: I would say that since the onset of the pandemic, I definitely have been doing a lot more drawing and painting because it’s a solitary activity for me. But also because I couldn’t can be around other people to make music with them because of the pandemic. But with that being said, I did write and release a solo record during the pandemic, but I definitely am consciously trying to focus more on songwriting again because I think that I’m definitely out of practice. I spend most of my time at home but when I have free time, I’m drawing.
Tyler: Mike and Jarrett, when Screaming Females isn’t working, what are you both doing?
Mike: We’re constantly doing things and thinking about this band. I have a small screen-printing shop and for the past week and a half I’ve just been printing Sceaming Females shirt, getting them ready for the upcoming tour.
Marissa: Most of the drawing and painting I’m doing is for Screaming Females. Please note that!
Jarrett: The last few years have just been so different. Screaming Females has been my primary job for well over a decade, but then I’ve always had to pick up work here and there doing various things. And then because of the pandemic, it was like, “Wow, I need a ‘job job’.” So, I trained myself to be a web developer and I did that for the last two years and left that job before our last tour so that I could actually go out and do the tour. And since that tour ended, it’s just been prepping for this album announcement and the upcoming US and European tours. And we’re still a DIY band, we do all the management stuff ourselves. We’re really involved in the booking; I know every show and how it came together. We work directly with our label, Marissa makes all the artwork, and that doesn’t mean just the artwork for the record. That means all the things that you might see at the top of our Twitter profile and all that.
Marissa: For anyone reading this interview, let us know what you think of our new Facebook banner.
Mike: And we have a pretty active web store. So we’re always sending out t-shirts and CDs, and all of our other merchandise. There’s always something to do.
Jarrett: I literally built the website for the web store and then Mike literally fills the orders himself from his house. So we are constantly working on this.
Mike: And it’s about to be tax season!
Jarrett: Yeah, that’s another one: we used to do our own taxes! Last year we decided we were gonna get somebody else to do it. But I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s been an aberration the last couple of years when we didn’t have Screaming Females as a full-time entity, so we’re finally getting back into the swing of all of that over the last six months or so.
Tyler: I have just a couple more questions. First, Marissa, something that I’ve noticed throughout your lyrics are a couple themes, particularly themes of religious psychography, as well as the theme of the destruction of the body. I’m wondering is that something that you’re ever conscious of when you’re writing songs? Or is that just kind of a coincidental theme that’s run through some of your catalog?
Marissa: I will admit that you’ve probably paid attention to the themes more than I have. I always feel embarrassed talking about my lyrics because I don’t feel like it’s the thing that I’m very good at. And I want to get better at it and I want to have a better breadth when it comes to having different themes. I am well aware that the things you just mentioned are things that I talk about constantly and I feel it’s mostly because I could be a better writer. And I need to read more poetry or something. I don’t know why those themes weigh so heavily on the stuff that I write down. I couldn’t really tell you why. My family’s not religious…
Jarrett: But they definitely had a lot of Catholic iconography stuff around when you were growing up.
Marissa: I’m just also very fond of Catholic iconography be purely from an aesthetic standpoint. I think I deal with a lot of body horror stuff because it’s also a lot of the stuff that I’m a fan of. Painters like Francis Bacon and Frida Kahlo deal a lot with grotesque figure in their art. And those are things that I really enjoy looking at and thinking about. So I guess it makes sense that I would write about some of that stuff. But sometimes I’m also like, “ooh, is that a lazy metaphor?”
Jarrett: Is it lazy or is it tried and true?
Marissa: Is it lazy or is everyone going to love it because it’s universal and they get it and it hits hard? But I’m always trying to get better at writing lyrics. It’s definitely something that I struggle with.
Tyler: Last question. New album. New tour. What about each of them are you most excited for coming up?
Jarrett: With the album, I’m just excited for people to hear it. We recorded it in November of 2021. We wrote most of the songs in 2019. So it’s been a long process for people to actually hear it. So, it’s just exciting and, it’s not even a worry about the reception or anything, it’s more like… Some people are gonna like it, some people aren’t, but the people who are gonna like it, I’m just really excited for them to hear it.
Mike: Can I say that? Can I go with what he said?
Tyler: Yeah, of course! Second it!
Marissa: I’m excited to travel and make new memories and have new experiences and make new friends and play some nasty solos.
Mike: It was really nice on the last tour to see a lot of old friends who we hadn’t seen since before the pandemic.
Marissa: I’m over old friends, I’m all about making new friends!
Tyler: Will you be cleansing your Facebook friends list?
Marissa: I don’t have Facebook! [laughs]
Jarrett: We actually spent the day hanging out with very old friends.
Tyler: Maybe once I publish this, they’ll read it and take the hint.
Tickets for Screaming Females’ upcoming show at Bottom Of The Hill on April 8th can be purchased here.
The new Screaming Females’ album Desire Pathway can be purchased here.