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Forget “Jersey Shore”, it’s all about “Jersey Rocks” if three piece rock band ‘Screaming Females’ have anything to say about it. Hailing from New Brunswick, New Jersey, their fourth album, ‘Castle Talk’, was released in 2010 and they’ve just started to embark on their second European tour, ending in The U.S. in October. Their rock and raw approach has brought a fresh and exhilarating sound coming from the other side of The Atlantic. At the heart of this is lead guitarist/lead vocalist Marissa Paternoster, whose work on the Fender Strat, in terms of speed and imagination can only be described as phenomenal, a true rock n roll guitarist that brings back a certain style affiliated with the greats of the past, that simply put, has to be heard. She provides the edge that gives the band their distinctive sound. Playing at Islington Mill, Salford, they prepared for the second UK night of their European tour. We managed to speak to Marissa, along with drummer, Jarrett Dougherty and bassist King Mike and find out about the scene in New Jersey and America, which Manchester bands they like (without provocation from myself) and why it’s important to make every performance different.

NIGE: This is now your second European tour. How do you think this one will differ from the first?

MARISSA: It’s warmer!

JARRETT: Yeah it’s a little less cold and we’re not going to Norway in November this time so it’ll be a nice change of pace. We played London last night and on the first tour we played to about 25 people there, but last night there were about 130, so we hope to keep that progression going.

NIGE: It must be pretty exciting coming over from America to tour Europe. What dates are you looking forward to the most and why?

MIKE: Poland, We’re going to Warsaw and Krakow, I don’t know anything about the place.  I hear they have Pierogi’s. We’ve played almost everywhere else on the first tour apart from Belgium.

MARISSA: I know that ‘Coolio’ went on a tour of Poland, nowhere else, just Poland. The Polish people love him.

JARRETT: We didn’t go to Poland last time so that’ll be exciting. We’re ticking them off I guess. We need to get a map so we can just mark off all the countries as we go.

NIGE: I believe that the last time you played here it was quite a mental show? Is that usually the case when you perform or was this an exception?

MARISSA: It was a Halloween party, but I don’t think we had anything to do with the people going mental.

JARRETT: I remember that we sat around for a while in this room with no heat so maybe we were just trying to warm ourselves up by playing extra fast. I suppose compared to other bands we see or play with, we try to give it a little bit more. Not every band has to play loud or fast but I think we have a soft spot in our hearts for bands that are loud and rock guitar driven, so hopefully we bring some of that energy.

NIGE: I like the fact that you seem to go against the norm, you self released an album without any backing from a record company and then you recorded without the use of any studio wizardry. What’s the thinking behind this and does this still happen in deviating away from the usual channels?

MARISSA: Well we recorded the first album on our own because no one else would do it and we’d only been together a couple of months. A lot of our peers do the same. I think at the time it was born out of necessity, but as we started working more and dedicating more personal time to playing, we needed to have help. All the help we have is from close friends.

JARRETT: We try to keep it close, not like business relationships with anyone we work with. When we record we don’t try and do anything that we can’t do live. We don’t want people to listen to the record then see us live and be disappointed because there was some magic that happened on the record due to a computer that corrected the way someone sang or played. I think we’re competent enough as players and confident enough in our own ability that when we record we basically play without trying to cover it up with anything. We’re still going to stick to that on our next record in November. We’ve blocked out time with a studio and an engineer who’s known for working in that mould and school of thought, so hopefully we can just go in, play and hit record.

NIGE:  I understand that there’s an underground scene that you’re part of in New Jersey, “The Basement Housed Show Circuit”.  Can you tell us a little more about that? Is it something that you’re still involved in?

JARRETT: On our tour coming up in The U.S. in October, we’re only playing one house show. It’s always more than just house shows. Where we’re from, they’re the only venues to house the shows that we’re interested in doing, like all ages, DIY shows and shows that aren’t focussed on how many tickets are sold, how popular you are or how much beer is sold. We just avoided all that but there are limitations to it. It has be somewhat secret, police are tough on it, it’s harder for people outside of the direct community to find out about it and the sound isn’t great. But, we’re playing a town in Carbondale, Illinois, which no one in The U.S. knows about, unless you’re part of the housed shows. This time we’re playing a small club, but the only reason we’re going is because of the house shows. We know that the people are into that kind of thing and we still feel really connected to it even if we don’t end up in someone’s basement.

NIGE: What’s the scene like in New Jersey?

MIKE: It comes in waves. We live in a college town so a lot of kids are only there for four or five years before going to Philadelphia or New York City, so it’s hard to say. A couple of years ago there were a bunch of awesome punk bands playing every week but they all kind of  petered off, but now there’s new stuff from new groups.

JARRET: New Jersey as a whole is super commercialised. You’re told to grow up and be successful, have a great job, own a house and have your own family. That’s pounded into you from being a young age. Because of that, there’s not a lot of room for artists and music in our state, although there’s a lot that appreciate it. Really it’s a lot of small networking within a hundred people or so throughout the whole state, which has millions of people living there, but we find each other, connect and work really hard in the music scene. It’s an interesting place because it’s very densely populated with few big cities, just a massive suburb really.

NIGE: I’ve seen that you have many influences from modern American music, but are there any bands from the pre 1990s that inspire you?

MARISSA: The Buzzcocks’, ‘Joy Division’, ‘The Smiths’ and ‘Stone Roses’. All Manchester! I like ‘The Slits’ too. Someone wrote “The Slits” in the ladies room here in ballpoint pen in their own hand writing. It’s the coolest graffiti I’ve ever seen.

JARRETT: We like a lot of music. I’d say rock n roll, punk and 90s alternative rock will always be my base, but for a long time I didn’t listen to rock music, more jazz, funk and world music. I got kind of tired with the rhythms of rock n roll. So even now when I play rock n roll I think about drummers who are not necessarily from that tradition, or even rock drummers who are from that tradition but diversify. For example, Tre Cool from ‘Green Day’ goes to Cuba and South America to study different kinds of drumming.

NIGE: Marissa, you’ve been described by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, in a recent Guardian interview, as one of his top 5 living guitar players, how does that make you feel?

MARISSA: Who was number one?  I love that guy, is he number one? He’s so cool! What can I say but it’s very flattering.

JARRETT: I think getting praise from someone like that towards Marissa’s playing and our band makes you start to wonder whether one day people will look back at our band in the same light.

NIGE: I’ve read a couple of reviews that state you’re more of a live band, do you feel that’s true and your music can be better expressed live?

MARISSA: I think our albums have been getting better. One of my personal goals is to make a record that is just as effective as our live shows are. Hopefully we can do that someday but I’m in no rush. It’s important to offer something different from the album to a live audience because you become part of their lives, in their personal space and become real and tangible. It’s boring for me when I see a band I like that sounds like their record or worse, it makes me not want to listen to their records for a while, so I’m glad that people like to see us play.

JARRETT: We incorporate a lot of improvisation in our playing. We don’t want to play everything the same way every night. That’s something that’s impossible to capture on studio recording. The improvisation comes from the feelings of the night, how you feel that day, the environment, the people and the venue and the communal atmosphere. You were saying about our last show here being mental. We probably felt a little mental because it was our first time in Europe as a band, it was cold as hell and we show up at a Halloween party where everyone was ready to go wild, so that effects the way we played that night. You try and do your best when sitting in a studio by focussing on different things by playing more precisely, but you can never connect with an environment that’s not there.

NIGE: How has the band and music changed in the last 6 years?

MARISSA: We’re better and less funky. I think we’re writing better songs.

JARRETT: I think we change song to song as we’re writing. It’s hard to distinguish particular periods. We can be raw and fast tempo in a record at the time but there can be a slow and pop orientated song in the middle of that album. We’ve definitely evolved into a different band. Sometimes when we play the older songs we can feel a little disconnected, like there not as much mine as they once were. Something has changed but it’s hard to put our finger on it. It’s hard to describe it in a certain quality, like we’re faster or louder now.

MIKE: More virtuosic.

NIGE: What are your thoughts on American music in general? Is there still an interest in the rock band or is it now more geared towards the reality/chart/ pop phenomenon?

MARISSA:  (Laughs) The answer is yes, geared more towards reality!!

JARRETT: Well the most popular thing in America right now is the programme Jersey Shore, a reality show about where we come from. We go around The U.S. now and people ask “are they really like that in Jersey?” People don’t really ask us about what rock bands are happening at the moment, it’s more about this programme and if we know the people from it.

NIGE: You’re 4 albums in and are embarking on this European tour, ending in the U.S., but after this, what’s next for ‘Screaming Females’?

JARRETT: Another album in November and early December. I’ve been making a lot of plans for that, thinking about 2012 for us. It’s interesting because we have a lot more stuff going on by starting to open up Europe and things like that. When we get a new album we have to think about touring, bringing it to everywhere we brought it last time, plus new places. It’s quite a daunting task so I’m trying to organise that in my head as we look into the new record. We’ve been practicing the new songs in sound checks on tour so we’re going to be ready to play them live so that they congeal a little bit more before playing them in the studio. When we write songs in the studio they go well but change a lot when we play them live. I think it was Neil Young who said that a version of a song on a record is not its final cut. It’s like one moment in that songs lifetime.

NIGE: Finally, I have to ask this. You’re saying that people ask you about ‘Jersey Shore’ but something else is famous from New Jersey. Are you fans of ‘The Sopranos’?

MARISSA: I’ve never seen it, but some of it was filmed in the town I grew up in.

JARRETT: I had a roommate who watched all of them straight through. It’s pretty good and does that job of mythologizing something that shouldn’t be mythologized, like the mafia. New Jersey is more than the guys from Jersey Shore and mobsters, well kind of, there is a lot.

NIGE: I could say the same about Manchester and ‘Shameless’.

They say good things come to those who wait and having interviewed the band in the early evening, we had to wait until 23.00 before they were on. Previously, I’d only listened to their fourth record, ‘Castle Talk’, but that was enough to make me instantly fall in love with the guitar of Marissa Paternoster. With the greatest of respect to her, on first glance, you couldn’t imagine that such a tiny figure could wield such hypnotic magic out of such a powerful instrument so naturally to a level that is simply world class. The quiet reserved girl who’d swanned about the venue going unnoticed, being dwarfed by several members of the audience beforehand transforms into a true rock n roller once she hits that stage, elevating herself to a higher plain of confidence and ability that the crowd could only imagine reaching. It’s not only her guitar playing that catches the eye, but her voice can interchange between a certain shy cuteness, to a haunting rock vocal, to a passionate petrifying scream, diversifying the range through rock, punk and heavy metal, yet remaining original. Think ‘Martha and the Muffins’ with more edge.

To say that ‘Screaming Females’ solely rely on Marissa Paternoster’s guitar is a big understatement. The bass of King Mike kind of doubles as rhythm guitar, and is highly prominent in the majority of songs, especially the latest album. It’s similar to the influence ‘Hooky’ had within ‘Joy Division’, a bass line to groove to. Beneath that you have Jarrett Dougherty keeping everything ticking along at the desired beat and pace, providing support to the cut loose guitar that make the songs highly addictive.

‘Screaming Females’ are very rock oriented, with shades of funk,  punk and an element of “Teenage Kicks” about it, producing an assortment of happy, feel good tracks to a few heavier and edgier tunes. They were true to their word of wanting to be different live than on the records as the songs played, spanning across their albums, certainly had more of an edge live, not necessarily better, but refreshingly different. What I love the most about this band is that our perception of American music in the modern era is quite grungy and sounds familiar, unable to identify the difference between the bands, musically and vocally. Where ‘Screaming Females’ differ is that they bring back many essentials of the legendary 60s, 70s and 80s guitar driven bands, where instruments are played with structure and panache rather than just making a lot of noise, hoping that the volume will drown out the lack of real talent. With the two albums that I now own (another purchased after the gig), there are tracks present, which really make the hairs on your neck stand on end. ‘Skull’, on the ‘Power Move’ album could easily be Jimmy Page on guitar. On the new album, ‘Wild’ is just a fantastic rock track, and again the guitar is played to such a mesmerising level.

They only played ten songs or so tonight, and the crowd wasn’t quite as mental as the Halloween show was, but this wasn’t ‘Screaming Females’ fault whatsoever, just a different energy present. However, I think the crowd were more subdued being just as stunned as I was at this young woman’s ability to rock the fuck out. If she’d been present in the 60s and 70s, she’d be remembered in the same vein as many of the greats. J Mascis spoke of her being in the top five living guitarists in the world, on this evidence, it’s difficult to argue. Let’s just hope New Jersey recognises real talent, rather than a soulless attitude on a reality TV show. /

Interview/review by Nige Cartner @ Islington Mill, Salford, Manchester 10/09/11
Photos by Matt Johnston
[except for group shot courtesy of Goldstar Pr]