an interview w/ Screaming Females (who played Purchase Friday, play Music Hall Saturday)
by Andrew Sacher
Screaming Females @ Purchase - 2/11/2011 (photo by Kellyann Petry)
Screaming Females ripped through an amazing set at SUNY Purchase Friday night. Despite some unfortunate conditions, including a fickle PA speaker and an overly rowdy crowd breaking a cymbal stand, Screaming Females did not disappoint. Their set (a solid mix of old and new songs) was not only rewarding to the long time Screaming Females fan, but I can guarantee that the band made a handful of new fans at the show.
I also had a chance to sit down with the members of Screaming Females and ask them a few questions before they went on:
BV: Welcome to Purchase, have you guys played here before?
BV: Do you know anyone who went here?
Jarrett: Yeah, 2 members of Cheeky went here. They were a really great band that broke up a few years ago who we played a bunch of shows with.
BV: Awesome. So, Saturday you guys are playing Music Hall of Williamsburg where I saw you at the BrooklynVegan CMJ showcase. You sounded amazing that night. Are you looking forward to playing there again?
Jarrett: Yeah, I really like that venue a lot.
Marissa: We've played there a bunch, it's nice. The security guys really likes us. I don't know his name but he's a nice guy. I hope he's there tomorrow.
Jarrett: It's a cool venue. I remember when it was North Six and it was a hellhole, now it's really nice. I'd say it's one of the best places in New York to play.
Mike: It's a good place to bring your parents.
Marissa: Yeah, it's a good place for your parents to come see you. There's like parent quarantine. There's a little pen for them, like where you keep your puppy.
BV: What other places do you guys like playing in NYC?
Mike: Death By Audio is really, really cool. Pretty much everywhere except Trash Bar. (Laughs)
Jarrett: Yeah, anywhere you can play except Trash Bar, it's like the worst venue.
Screaming Females @ Purchase - 2/11/2011 (photo by Kellyann Petry)
BV: You guys spend so much time touring around the country, do you still consider New Jersey home?
Marissa: That's where I pay rent. (Laughs)
BV: Do you ever consider the move to Brooklyn?
Jarrett: Can't afford to live in Brooklyn, or Manhattan...maybe Queens.
Marissa: Unless one of us wanted to live in a closet, we might be able to swing it.
Mike: Yeah, I'm kind of sharing rooms too, you know, that's the only way I can make that work.
Marissa: Still more than any of us could really afford.
Jarrett: Yeah I can barely afford to live in New Brunswick right now. I lived in Brooklyn for a summer, and when you live in New York you're paying the rent not for the space that you live in, but so you can live in New York and go out and do stuff. And all of us, while we do like to do things, are people who really value being at home and just hanging out with friends. I'm living in Philly right now and it just feels like a neighborhood with a porch and stuff and it would be really hard to find something like that in New York.
Marissa: If there's no porch, we don't want anything to do with it. We had a really nice back porch when we lived together that I enjoyed thoroughly.
Mike: With a rocking chair and a pet groundhog in the backyard. That doesn't happen in Brooklyn.
BV: Well New Brunswick does have a cool music scene.
Jarrett: Yeah it comes in waves. The university is there so kids are in and out all the time. It'll die down and spring back up from time to time. But yeah it's cool, there's a lot of house shows, a lot of bands. It's really awesome that there are so many universities that give money to their students and allow space for there to be shows. In New Brunswick the school doesn't do anything like that, in fact they make it really hard for something like that to exist. So when we go to these places like Purchase where they have a space for kids to put on shows, it's really awesome, but it doesn't breed the same kind of intensity that New Brunswick breeds, like; I gotta find a house so I can have shows, if that doesn't happen no bands are gonna come through and I need to promote to get people out to this and if we don't we won't have enough money to pay bands and they won't wanna come back so it really makes a tight knit scene of people that have to work hard to make it happen.
BV: Well, I don't wanna say it, but there's that stereotype like if you play in another state people are like 'oh, you're a New Jersey band.' Do you guys have pride for your hometown on tour?
Mike: (Laughs) Absolutely. We're the first people to talk shit on New Jersey, but as soon as it's turned around and directed at us we'll stand up for it. It's a terrible place to live, terrible place to be. But I think it holds a special place in all of our hearts. We are a New Jersey band.
Marissa: Yeah I mean there's nothing we can do about it.
Jarrett: Yeah, like if you take what I just said about booking shows in New Brunswick and extrapolate that to your whole life as sort of a wierdo musician/artist, you're up against such odds that it really sorta hardens you. You go to some place like San Francisco--
Marissa: Everybody's so friendly, they have all this cool stuff going on, it makes you angry. You're already angry because you're from New Jersey.
Jarrett: You get like, 'you guys don't know what it's like to not have a community center that let's you play and put on shows.'
BV: Your first two albums were self-released until you signed with Don Giovanni for Power Move and Castle Talk (whose showcase you're playing at Music Hall on Saturday). How has working with them been? How does it differ from doing everything entirely on your own?
Jarrett: Whenever you start working with other people, you choose to work with them because you value on some level their ideas and opinions. So you have to start listening to them which can be a frustrating thing because you get a lot of opinions starting to come in. Ultimately, you do it because it's worthwhile. Sometimes Joe from Don Giovanni and I will just be arguing over something and get heated over it for a little while, but in the end our band has been able to do so much more since Don Giovanni and it's cool because Joe and Zach's whole purpose of starting the label was to level the playing field for DIY punk bands who don't have a lot of money behind their projects compared to the hip, hyped bands that might get a manager, a label with a ton of money, or investors behind them, and they can have thousands and thousands of dollars and promotional campaigns. Joe likes to just work with his friends and be able to provide as much as they're willing to work for. So since we're willing to go play over 100 shows a year, he's willing to put a lot of money up for us because it's a pretty safe investment for him, and he can do that for a lot of bands who wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise.
BV: So it's a good label for the way you guys run your band. They don't try to change you, they're just supporting your music.
Jarrett: Yeah, people will say, 'oh, why aren't you guys on a bigger label, I don't even know who Don Giovanni is,' and I'm like, 'well you just heard about them, they're obviously doing their job.' It's a small label, it's our friends, and it's easy; it's just two guys you gotta deal with and they don't take any money from the label or anything. The whole purpose of the label is just to support the type of bands they saw for years that never got the support they thought they deserved. Pretty much everyone on the label is a band that plays or has played New Brunswick basements regularly.
BV: That's awesome. And you guys have been getting bigger since signing with the label. You've played with some pretty big names like Dinosaur Jr., Throwing Muses, and The Dead Weather. Were these bands influences of yours? Can you tell me about the experience of touring with them?
Jarrett: We've been really lucky with the bands that we've played with. A lot of them are heroes in various different ways. Last year we did three tours with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Some of the first tours we went on, we blasted Ted Leo records in the van, so it's pretty amazing when somebody like that asks you to go on tour with them. Apparently just the other day, somebody tweeted at Ted Leo, 'thanks for introducing me to Screaming Females!' And he was like, 'it's my joy to have introduced you to such a great band!' (laughs)
BV: And Ted Leo is from New Jersey too.
Marissa: We went to his parent's house.
Jarrett: Yeah, thats another thing, we had our van break down over the summer and we were supposed to get home to do a tour with them. The van broke down in New Mexico, we finally got ourselves home, we had no van, no way to get our gear on tour. So we called Ted and were like, 'can we borrow all your stuff and go in Marissa's Mazda for the tour?' And Ted was like, 'yeah sure! come to my parent's house and we'll throw as much of your gear in our van.' So we went to his parent's house and hung out while we loaded up the gear.
BV: Speaking of touring, you guys recently got back from your first European tour. How are the audiences perceiving Screaming Females in Europe?
Mike: I think we did really, really well there. It was our first time ever going to Europe, and I felt like the reaction was good. People seemed excited. It's hard to guage; I haven't sat on the internet and seen what people have written about us or anything. It was a really wild experience for a number of reasons. One, I've never been to Europe. I expected with no press at all and no European label, that nobody would care or show up, but all the promoters worked really hard to get people there and it was so awesome. I can't wait to go back.
Marissa: There were only 2 shows out of 5 weeks with less than 40 people at a show. I don't know if maybe people are more inclined to go out in Europe. Probably not, I think the promoters just work extra hard.
Jarrett: Like Mike was saying, we didn't have any real label support, so we just brought records with us and sold them. Shellshag is in Europe right now too and Laura Stevenson is planning a trip to Europe. I know I've talked to Joe and the idea of expanding into Europe is something we're working on for the label. Not in any sort of big way, but if our bands are gonna be going over there, we might as well get our records over there somehow. So it's cool, this label that just started in basements in New Brunswick is now thinking about European distribution and promotion for bands as a worldwide endeavor. It's pretty crazy.
Mike: Actually, didn't Don Giovanni start out as a Boston hardcore label?
Jarrett: Yeah, for like one 7". Joe and Zach went to school in Boston and put out one 7" and right after that they moved back to New Brunswick because Joe is from Princeton, so he grew up going to shows there. So I guess officially the label started in Boston.
BV: That's pretty cool though. And also really cool that you guys basically distributed your own records in Europe.
(Mike is looking at a sweethearts candy)
Mike: They messed up printing these sweethearts. There are no messages.
Jarrett: Make sure you get that in the interview.
BV: "Mike of Screaming Females is a sweethearts fan."
Mike: I like all candy. If you read this before you come to the showcase tomorrow, bring me some candy.
BV: I have a couple of questions specifically for you, Marissa. Last Sunday, you took part in Permanent Wave's first feminist performance at Death By Audio?
Marissa: I didn't go. I can't afford to go into Brooklyn, but I sent Amy prints. I didn't realize it would be such a big shindig so I just contributed a little thing. But I heard it went well.
BV: I'm curious to know if there's any relation between your visual art and your music, especially since you also design the album artwork for Screaming Females.
Marissa: Since all of the material with lyrics and drawings originate from the same spot--me--they're kind of inherently connected. I kind of draw connections after the fact, after I draw something and listen to something for a while, it all comes together in a weird way and I think it's because it all comes from the same source in the same time period. But I definitely don't map it out.
BV: Does the art you sent to Amy tie into the feminist performance, or was it just you making your art?
Marissa: They did kinda have some kind of feminist message. They were all these weird hermaphrodites, it was sort of a joke, it was this comic I made up. It had all these hermaphrodites with tips on how to be a lady. I had this etiquette book on how to be a lady, so I kind of made it my own and drew all these weird little hermaphrodite cartoons acting out the different tips and stuff. It was just supposed to be kind of funny, and wound up being appropriate for her show.
Screaming Females @ Purchase - 2/11/2011 (photo by Kellyann Petry)
BV: Also, in addition to releasing Castle Talk in 2010, you also released your first solo album as Noun?
Mike: There were other Noun releases before that, just to clear things up.
Marissa: Oh yeah, I guess there was.
BV: What else did you release as Noun?
Marissa: Jarrett made a tape when I first started making Noun songs. I was 18 and I would do it all on my dad's laptop and I wrote like 50 songs, a lot of them were very bad.
Jarrett: No! They weren't.
Marissa: I compiled some of the good ones for Jarrett and he made some tapes for me, I don't know how many there were.
Jarrett: I think there were 100 or so.
Mike: I helped dub some of those tapes too.
Marissa: Oh yeah! Cause you had that crappy dubber.
Mike: There were also some CD-Rs before that too.
Marissa: Very rich history!
Mike: Very, very rare. (laughs)
BV: So they're going for hundreds of dollars on ebay?
Marissa: I hope not. (laughs)
BV: Do you have future releases planned?
Marissa: I don't know, I kind of just made that record because I was working at a studio and when we were hanging out I kind of just made songs for fun. I don't have access to the studio anymore so I don't know. I'll probably make more songs, they won't sound as good, or they might. I don't have any plans for it. We'll see what happens, I'd like to do another one. It might just be me on a laptop again.
Mike: The lo-fi sound is in right now.
BV: Do you (Mike) or Jarrett have other projects?
Mike: I play with my friends sometimes.
Marissa: Mike's in a band called Slaw.
Mike: No, I'm not in the band anymore, I got kicked out of Slaw.
Marissa: You got kicked out? Really?
Mike: I'm never home so I got kicked out of my other band.
Mike: As far as other musical projects, Jarrett just composed a piece for percussion and piano that some people are going to record with him in a few days.
Jarrett: We're hoping to record it soon enough to get it into the Mata Festival, which is a festival that Philip Glass put together. It goes on in New York every spring. I'm gonna try to enter. Hopefully I'll get something in there, because I took classical percussion lessons for a long time, and didn't go to school for it, so I have a weird perspective on classical music which I think might be interesting. We'll see.
BV: Well, that's pretty much all I have, is there anything you guys want to add?
Jarrett: Come early to the Music Hall of Williamsburg show because tickets are going.
Mike: Come early, bring candy, have fun, don't mosh too hard.
Marissa: Bring your parents!
Mike: If you have to crowd surf, be careful, one at a time.
Marissa: Don't let your parents crowd surf.
Mike: And we're sorry we don't have T-shirts.
Screaming Females - 2011 Tour Dates
Feb 12 Music Hall of Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY
Feb 18 Yale U New Haven, CT
Feb 24 Delilah's On Cayuga Ithaca, NY
Feb 25 SUNY Binghamton Vestal, NY
Mar 5 St Stephen's Church Washington, DC *
Mar 6 First Unitarian Church Philadelphia, PA *
Mar ?? SXSW, Austin, TX
Mar 26 Terrace Club Princeton, NJ
Apr 1 MACROCK Harrisonburg, VA
Apr 2 Tea Bazaar Charlottesville, VA
* = w/ Paint it Black