On Thursday, New Brunswick, N.J., punk trio Screaming Females kicked off a month-long tour by playing two very different shows in D.C. The first took place at the city’s secret best venue — the offices of NPR. That’s where the band ran through a three-song Tiny Desk Concert , NPR’s great series of stripped-down, mini-performances. (It will be online sometime in the near future.) The band was still plugged in — singer-guitarist Marissa Paternoster and bassist Mike Abbate used small amps, drummer Jarrett Dougherty lightly thumped a lone floor tom — so there wasn’t much of a din, but there was still plenty of urgency.
Later at the Black Cat, the proudly DIY band was more in its comfort zone and confirmed what those who have seen the “Screamales” play basements, living rooms, rec centers or steamy churches over the past few years already know — this is simply one of the best rock-and-roll bands out there. Few groups combine the power of both spectrums of ‘70s rock — monster riffage and shredding solos with a ruthless punk efficiency. Singer-guitarist Marissa Paternoster is a dynamo hiding beneath a bowl haircut, ripping off one dazzling and dexterous solo after another, a crash-course in nimble-fingered precision. The rhythm section can stop and start on a dime but mostly charges forward. They make it seem effortless and just generally make you feel good about rock-and-roll.
After this tour wraps up the band will head to the studio to record its fifth album, and all signs point to it being a breakout effort. (More details on that are likely to emerge shortly.) One of the new songs played at NPR stretched past six minutes and might pose a challenge to fellow Jerseyites Titus Andronicus for Best Modern Punk Epic. After the Black Cat show, Click Track had a quick chat with the band about what to expect from the new album. Read it after the jump.
How did you feel playing the concert at NPR earlier?
Paternoster: It was so scary! That happened once before for this magazine, Time Out New York. I didn’t really know what we were getting into. We went to the office and then all of a sudden they were just like, “Attention everybody — Screaming Females is going to play!” And everyone just turned around and started watching us play. I was like, “Oh my god, I’m so nervous!” So it’s very similar to what happened today. I didn’t expect to have an audience ... I’m also used to it being really loud behind us. And since it wasn’t I was like, “Oh God, they can hear my voice! And wrong notes that I keep playing.”
You’re about to record a new album, so that means you have a whole batch of new songs ready to go. But when you play shows, people like to hear songs they know. So how do you decide to work new stuff into the setlist?
Abbate: We played a show in New Brunswick over the summer and we played only new songs and people were [very upset].
Paternoster: It didn’t go over very well. I thought they might be interested to hear some new stuff. It didn’t really work out that way.
So what can we expect from the new material?
Paternoster: It’s chillwave. It’s witch house.
I think you missed that boat by about six months, unfortunately.
Paternoster: We don’t care! We’re bringing it back! It’s post-witch-house! Dubstep, that’s in there, too … We just want to write some good songs. For riding your bike. For walking your dog. For driving your cool car. For driving your Grandma around to the supermarket. “Hey Grandma, listen to this. This rocks!”
Dougherty: I think that one interesting thing about the new songs — we always just write songs and don’t try to do anything until they start to form — we don’t really go in with a storyboard and fill in the details. But with some of the new songs, at least Mike and I had a moment of, “Oh, this kind of feels like something from our first record.” Which is weird for it to be seven years later and you have eras. “This feels like the early era of Screaming Females.” That’s one thing I noticed with the new stuff.
You’ve been so DIY for all of your career, are you ready to for any changes that might happen if and when more people start to take notice?
Dougherty: I would say we’re not worried because we’ve already come so far in taking care of our own band issues and dilemmas. Like, something like publishing took me a long time but I figured it out on my own. So I don’t even know at this point what somebody like a manager would do for us. If we play bigger shows it’s still just going to be us pulling up in a van to play those shows.
I think we saw when we went on tour with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, we played some of the same venues as we played with bands with multiple buses, and [Leo/Pharmacists] just pull up in a van. They load their gear in and they sound great. We’ve seen it happen … maybe one day we’ll be able to bring a soundman with us. That would be cool.
Abbate: That would be a dream come true.
What’s the best tip you’d give to band’s playing a house show?
Dougherty: Clean your dishes. They’ll have you back at the house if you clean your dishes. Just be nice. It’s someone’s home.