The first time I saw Screaming Females was 2009 at The Parlor in Austin, a small, narrow pizza place that sends gusts of warm pizza dough wind into the venue every time the oven is opened. Within five minutes of their set, guitarist and singer Marissa Paternoster ripped into her first solo.
Her fingers climbed furiously up and down the neck of her guitar like she was trying to put out a fire. Her voice was this wondrous mix of high vibrato and low tension, a rubber band stretched almost to the breaking point. I went out and found everything I could by them, which, at that point, already consisted of three albums.
Fast forward to 2012, and the New Jersey trio, rounded out by drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist Mike Abbate, have just released their fifth full-length, Ugly, on Don Giovanni Records. It was produced by Steve Albini, and sounds a bit more polished than previous albums, but retains that tightly wound, shred-reverent edge. I caught up with Paternoster as they drove from San Jose to Los Angeles.
Do you enjoy getting in the van? Do you find it romantic, or is it part of the job? Well, touring has been a big part of our lives. We started the band when Mike was 17 and I was 19, so we've been touring for most of our young adult life. It's the thing you do. Your life starts to develop this weird duality; the first week in the van is kind of odd, but you just need a couple weeks. It's like jumping into a cold pool.
You have to put a toe in first. Yeah, you gotta get in in stages, like a 65-year-old woman.
What age did you start playing? Were you drawn to specifically to the guitar? I started playing at 14, and I'm 25 now. There was a guitar in my house, so my dad taught me to play a Nirvana song. It was probably the hit, probably "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I was really into drawing, but I wanted to be part of rock and roll.
Were you going to shows as a teen? There were no shows in my neighborhood, so I didn't go to see shows until 19 or 20.
Where did you grow up? I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with Mike. We sat at the same lunch table. I remember when I was a junior and he was a freshman, he had all these cool pins on his bag, which I noticed because there were, like, three kids in my school who liked rock and roll. So it was like seeing a unicorn.
Is there music you consider ugly, but like? The Shaggs, one of the worst bands ever. I love them. There's something about their story and the concept and the way they looked that's endearing and earnest. But when you actually listen to the music, it's like having a drill bit shoved into your skull.
Screaming Females play Saturday, May 5, at Queen City Hall. Leg Sweeper and Final Club open.