Screaming Females: We can't pick a favorite Nirvana album
|Photo courtesy of the artist|
Already owning their reputation as an incredibly prolific group, Screaming Females had something of a banner year in 2013. The pride of New Brunswick, New Jersey, have consistently applied the relentless work ethic they learned on the DIY circuit, and the results appear to be finally paying off. Following the release of their biggest record yet, Ugly, in 2012, the trio wrapped several high-profile tours, including one with Garbage, and still managed to find time to record a new EP.
Gimme Noise caught up with guitarist and singer Marissa Paternoster at her grandmother's house in old NJ, where the group have practiced for most of their tenure, to talk about working with Steve Albini, recording while suffering from mono, and their new tour with Waxahatchee.
Your band just turned eight years old in late August. Congrats! How do Screamales celebrate their birthdays? Book another endless tour?
Well, we had a show the day before our birthday in Portland, Maine, but we didn't really celebrate. We celebrated by driving home from Portland, Maine [laughs]. So we "celebrated" by driving for six hours.
What was it like recording with Garbage? How did that come about?
Pretty much a whole year ago, we went on tour with Garbage, I think it was like 10 shows. I had gotten our band on the tour though a kind of serendipitous series of events. Laura from Against Me! did some records with Butch Vig and we had gone on tour with Against Me!, so I was like, "Can you send a Screaming Females record to Garbage for me?" Because they were my first favorite band when I was a kid. I didn't think anything would come of it, I just thought it would be funny doing girl-me a favor. So I guess she sent it to Shirley [Manson], and Shirley listened to it, which was really nice of her. Not only did she listen to it, but she liked it, so we kind of became email-friends and then I noticed that they had some West Coast dates up, and Screaming Females was looking for something to do for the fall, so I emailed Shirley and said, "I wanna be on those shows!" Then she was like, "Okay, I'm gonna do that for you."
It was pretty grassroots, there were no managers involved, not like we have one, but there was none of that business-y kinda BS. I just asked her and she said yes, and that was it. So we went on tour with them, and then Shirley and I were just talking about Siouxsie Sioux and Patti Smith and stuff, because we like a lot of the same music, and she was like, "We should do a cover song!" So we were thinking about what song to do, and "Because the Night" was a pretty obvious choice if you're going to pluck something out of Patti Smith's catalog, but nobody wants to hear a cover of a song that they don't know. It's an awesome pop song, people know it, it's a classic song, so we did it and it worked really well. Then Shirley emailed me about a month after the tour and suggested we record the song and put out the record, and I was like, "That sounds amazing!" So they flew us to L.A., all three of us, and we went to this huge studio and recorded a cover in a day, and it was really fun, and definitely something I never thought I'd be able to do.
It's sort of funny, because people often put Butch Vig and Steve Albini up against each other as these two kind of archetypes of indie rock production, and you've worked with both relatively recently. Who was cooler, are you a Nevermind or an In Utero person?
Oh, I'd be hard-pressed to answer that, I think that most people my age have kind of a weird reverence for the Nirvana catalog where we can't even pick or choose an album. It would be like picking a favorite child or something. But they're totally different records, and both have really good songs, and you could say the same about the people who engineered them. They're just two totally different people who both do really good work. You definitely can't say one is superior to the other. They're both damn good!
You're a virtuosic guitarist; do you get other offers like that to collaborate or do session work?
A long time ago I did a little session work for the Slits, like, a really long time ago because obviously Ari [Up] passed away. When I was a junior in college, so 2007, I did some session work for some Slits demos that never got released, but that's the only thing I've ever done.
So, compared to those experiences, what was working on your Chalk EP like? Did you take a different approach to songwriting?
At the end of the Garbage tour I was really sick. I kept getting mono in 2012. I had it twice, and I had it for a really long time and I was having trouble getting rid of it and we had to take a really long break. So to make sure that we kept doing stuff, we decided to write a batch of songs where we don't stress out too hard about composition, or even the sonic quality of the song. We just wanted to have fun and write some weird songs, and record them and put them out on a really limited pressing of a cassette tape. So we wrote seven or eight songs, worked out a bunch of ideas, and just wrote the songs off the cuff and didn't really mull over them too much, and then recorded them on my crappy laptop. There were only 100 copies of it, it was just a fun pet project to keep us busy while we were taking our break and while I was seeing a zillion doctors and getting better.