Throughout their eighteen year run as a band, Screaming Females have relentlessly stuck to their DIY roots demonstrating that having full creative control over their art can lead to some of their most powerful and mind-bending music to date. On the latest album, Desire Pathway, the New Brunswick rock trio consisting of guitarist / vocalist, Marissa Paternoster, bassist Mike Abbate, and drummer Jarret Dougherty display some of the group’s most vulnerable lyricism and ferocious instrumentation.
From creating their own merch to booking their own shows, Screaming Females hold onto the DIY mindset firmly, never having to sacrifice their creative integrity or voice while garnering a dedicated fanbase. This incredibly devout following has given the group the opportunity to perform all around the world including Alaska, Germany, the UK, as well as a handful of festivals from Bumbershoot and most recently Riot Fest.
Currently on a string of dates with Ohio rockers The Breeders and then gearing up for a headlining tour through the Midwest and East Coast in October and November, Screaming Females show no signs of slowing down. After playing a brutally strong set at Riot Fest, mxdwn had the chance to talk with singer and guitarist, Marissa Paternoster about the new album, Desire Pathway, the importance of being DIY artists and how making music in the digital age has changed the creation process.
mxdwn: First off, how are you and where are you currently in the world?
Marissa: We just left Chicago, we played Riot Fest last night. So we’re going to make an attempt to get as close to home as possible.
mxdwn: How was performing at the festival? And what does a festival of this scale demonstrate about the current state of rock music?
Marissa: Honestly, it was just a really busy day. I think festivals in general, there’s a lot of moving parts, figuring out where you have to go and where you can put yourself. Where you can eat, what stage you’re on and all that stuff. It’s more complicated usually than playing at a club- A lot of asking questions and walking the festival grounds, figuring out where to be and what time. But it was fun!
mxdwn: Would you say the biggest difference between playing a festival and one of your own shows is that it’s a little bit more hectic than usual?
Marissa: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. You can probably imagine why. It’s pretty self-explanatory (laughs).
mxdwn: Speaking of your own shows, I know you did a tour in Alaska earlier this year. What would you say you learned as a band touring out there and how would you characterize the music scene that originates from there?
Marissa: I don’t think I’m really qualified to speak as an authority on the music scene in Alaska. But from what I observed from when we were there for the week, there were people up there, obviously there aren’t as many people as there are in the lower 48, who are really excited and hungry to see live music and hang out with each other and do all the same stuff that people do in the lower 48. It’s just hard to get up there, Alaska is really far away. The weather isn’t always forbidding for travel. So it’s a difficult landscape to navigate when it comes to live music or doing much of anything. That’s why they go really hog wild in the summer when it comes to music festivals because they’re so beautiful.
mxdwn: I love that. There’s definitely an exciting energy when they’re able to go to shows out there.
Marissa: Yeah, but we weren’t there in the summer time. We were there when it was pretty temperate. Cold by most people’s standards, in the 30’s. I was expecting to be feeling temperatures I had never felt before but I was never shocked by how cold it was.
mxdwn: Well, I’m glad you were able to make it out there. I was watching the documentary (Screaming Females Do Alaska) and it looked like a really cool time.
Marissa: Yeah, it was life-changing. It was really awesome.
mxdwn: With a few months distancing you from the initial release of the new album, how would you say the songs from Desire Pathway changed whether your emotional connection with them or the way they are performed live?
Marissa: None of them have evolved in any way beyond… I mean, we obviously don’t play exactly what’s recorded on the album because we do improvise a lot. There’s this song called “Beyond the Void” where we jam out in the beginning a little bit. Yeah, I’m not really sure how to answer (Laughs).
We’re just really excited to be out on tour supporting the new album. It was the most time we took in between records because of COVID and stuff. We’re still dealing with what it’s like touring with COVID being a reality that we have to navigate now: makes everything a lot more complicated than it used to be. We’re just grateful to be on tour again because there was a moment where I was wondering if we would ever be able to travel the way we used to travel again. We’re just happy to be here.
mxdwn: It’s more of a relief being out on the road again and being able to perform?
Marissa: Yeah, for sure.
mxdwn: With such an emotionally vulnerable record like Desire Pathway, what does contrasting the openness of the lyrics with heavy guitars add to the overall narrative of the record?
Marissa: I always liked that sonic dichotomy like when it comes to sad pop songs and stuff. If there’s an upbeat, major-key pop song that has really sad lyrics, I always found that push and pull to be interesting. Triumphant rock songs with somber lyrics or gut-punching lyrics fall into the same category.
Working on lyrics is one of the hardest parts of writing music, for me. It always kinda has been. I’m definitely trying to improve upon that skillset and being more considerate and measured with lyrical content. After being in a band for eighteen years, understanding how important that stuff is to people, being asked about what songs mean and what this line means so often and never really having an answer for any of them (laughs); I think when it comes to song lyrics, I would prefer to leave it up to the listener to interpret it however makes it the most meaningful to them.
mxdwn: So is the process more that the lyrics follow the instrumental rather than creating them at the same time?
Marissa: Yeah, I mean, I can’t think of an instance when there were lyrics before there was semblance of a song. I’m sure maybe it’s happened, but I wouldn’t be able to cite one of the songs. But usually I will do some kind of phonetic passage. There might not be any words or anything but I’ll kinda just babble. Do baby talk, sort of. So a lot of the lyric writing that I do is informed by that. What are the sounds that seem appropriate for this musical passage? The words will come after that.
mxdwn: It’s kinda like capturing a feeling.
mxdwn: With being in a band for eighteen years, how have you been able to keep the creation process exciting from your first record up until now? What are some things you’ve learned over the years to help you avoid creative fatigue?
Marissa: I think everyone who’s a working artist or doing creative stuff for their entire lives sometimes feels creative fatigue and there’s nothing wrong with that. You might have writer’s block and hit a wall, and you just need to take a break and step away from whatever your path is for a little while. That’s totally okay. It’s not something I try to mindfully avoid. I think it’s just part of the life of someone who makes stuff. I guess with the three of us, we are just people who are compelled to play music and write songs, and we like bringing our songs on the road and sharing them with people. Our songs are the vehicle that have allowed us to see the world which is something we’re all very grateful for.
mxdwn: It seems like you move forward through things very head on rather than trying to avoid it like with writer’s block. You kinda just embrace it and know it’s not forever.
Marissa: Yeah, it’s bound to happen (laughs).
mxdwn: It seems you have a very hands-on approach to creating your art, and having as much success as you’ve had over the years, what do you feel is the most important part to sticking to your DIY roots?
Marissa: I think the DIY ethos and really believing and cultivating community, and creating long-lasting friendships is what got us to someplace like Alaska. I can’t ever imagine that trip ever happening without DIY and having other like-minded people organize that trip and drive us around, take time off of work, and lend us their gear. All of the things that punk and DIY taught us. It was kinda manifested in that trip, so that’s just an example of what it can do for you if you stick with it and the places it can take you.
Mxdwn: So you’re honoring those roots with whatever shows you’re doing?
Marissa: Trying to, yeah (laughs).
mxdwn: Do you feel a sense of urgency representing the DIY scene from New Brunswick? What would you say is the most significant thing about the music scene there that you can’t find anywhere else?
Marissa: Necessity is the mother of invention, I guess. So, the New Brunswick DIY scene, I don’t know if there were all-ages arts and cultural spaces. I don’t know if people would necessarily take advantage of it just because DIY and house shows have such a rich history in New Brunswick. But yeah, it just didn’t exist. So that’s essentially why we started participating in it. I think it’s also just the place where we feel the most comfortable and where we feel like we have the most agency to make the decisions that we’re comfortable with and not be ordered around to do things that we might not want to do or be comfortable with.
mxdwn: Pivoting a bit, but how have you been able to maneuver through the digital age of making music, what has helped you stay afloat in such an overwhelming time for artists?
Marissa: I think going out, getting in the car-going out and playing shows, talking to people in real life, making all of those connections, having experiences with people through music is the best way to make long-lasting friendships. And I’m sure people make those long-lasting friendships through social media but I feel like it’s a bit more hit or miss. At least that’s my experience. I don’t want to seem like some old curmudgeon totally shit-talking on using social media to reach out into the world. I understand that it is an important resource for people. But yeah, I never imagined I would be looking at a tiny screen on my person for so many hours a day when we first started playing in a band and it would become such an inextricable part of operating as a band. If social media tells people where the show is, I’ll use it.
mxdwn: It seems like you’re a band that thrive off of the tangible things that you can see, whether it’s being at a show, creating merch or whatever. It’s more the tangible things that come with making music.
Marissa: Yeah, I think that’s what’s the most interesting to us and it’s real (laughs).
mxdwn: What are your hopes for the future of Screaming Females as well as other scenes in underground music?
Marissa: Our goal as a band has always been to put a big emphasis on sustainability. We want to be able to do this for as long as we can and remain engaged, happy and healthy. Going out and having experiences to reiterate things I’ve said 500 times. You know, create long-lasting friendships, have some laughs, play music for people. It’s really just as simple as that. Living life while we’re here.
To see upcoming shows and other Screaming Females news, check out their website and make sure to listen to the new album, Desire Pathway, available on all streaming platforms now.