New Jersey band Screaming Females returns after a three year hiatus, bursting in with two new singles “Black Moon” and “Glass House.” Born in the New Brunswick basement rock scene, the band is characterized by its gritty, extended solos and Marissa Paternoster’s resolute vocals. Paternoster talks about her motivation for the new album and about her experience as a queer woman in rock below.
I, uh, already asked how your night’s been. . .
[Laughs] I took a nap. I drooled on the leather sofa. . . Bad feeling.
When you wake up and, like, your drool’s everywhere. . .
[Laughs] Yeah, when did you reach LA today? You had a show in, uh, SF, right? Before this?
Last night, actually, we played in Fresno, some place we’ve never been, and it was really cool. There was a bunch of people there who were excited to see us on this tour. Not that every tour has a theme, but the theme, sort of, in our mind is that we’re playing lots of places either we’ve only been to once, or places we’ve never been at all, like smaller cities that have big populations of people who are wanting to go see the band, and Fresno is definitely one of those cities. It’s a pretty big area, lot of people there who wouldn’t mind not having to drive three hours to see a show, and I’m more than happy to oblige. . . so, uh, it was nice to get to play, and it’s nice to talk to the people after the show, ‘cause they’re always like, “Thank you for coming to Fresno!” And I mean, it’s Fresno, like, no, thank you for leaving the house, cause [laugh] I know it’s really hard.
Yeah, I appreciate that! I come from a small town, so I’d always have to drive out really far just to see my favorite bands.
Same thing for New Jersey, like. If I ever wanted to go see a pretty big band, the odds are they wouldn’t be coming in to New Jersey. I mean, not like New York wasn’t far away but still, as a kid it’s hard, you know, get on the train to Manhattan. It was a lot of mental energy for a teenager.
Definitely! So, it’s been three years since Rose Mountain, and now you’ve released two new singles, Black Moon and Glass House. I love them. I’ve been a fan for a long time, so the fact I could do this interview is really great; I do have some self-interest in doing this job. [Laugh]
[Laugh] Hey, everyone’s driven by self-interest. Gotta make sure you stay alive.
Yeah! So like, what would you say has been the biggest influence on the album as a whole? What’s happened in these past three years that sets this tone for the album?
I mean, Rose Mountain came out [during] a really peculiar time in my personal life, but also in the band’s life because we didn’t get to do what we normally do, which is go on tour. That’s a big part of my personality, all of our personalities, ‘cause we’re in our thirties now, but we started doing this stuff when we were teenagers and [in] our early twenties. I think touring, being in a touring band is very much part of our identity, and so when we weren’t able to do that because I was sick, everyone just kind of. . . I mean, I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I’m sure everyone was uh, pretty depressed. It was good, in a way though. . . The cup was half-full in a way because we did have a lot of time to write what I think was a pretty good batch of songs.
Oh, I agree.
[Laugh] Thank you! With this album, it took longer to write, but that’s because we were quite busy, since I was able to tour again. I think this album is a lot more born out of the melee of what it’s like to manage your own “business,” our band, while still trying to make enough money to pay your, uh, health insurance and the now horrible stuff you have to deal with in the day-to-day. [Pause] Or, nice stuff! Have time to walk the dog, or live your life, or do other stuff besides answer emails. It took longer to write the music because we were all engaged in extracurricular activities to make ends meet.
We were also, after Rose Mountain, interested in doing a little bit more exploration with songwriting and then also demoing stuff really thoroughly, and going over, and over, and over it until we found a happy place with those songs. And, I think, in the past we were younger and felt a little more rushed to continue putting out stuff. We’ve been a band for about 12 years now, and I think it’s okay for us to take a little extra time to make a new record and be happy with the content.
And then, of course, the world we all share together has been absolutely insane! [Laugh] That probably fed into the record in some way, shape or form, because I, uh, also have to exist in our shared reality. I try not to write too much about my personal life because I think it’s kind of boring. Something I’ve definitely been thinking about in the years since Rose Mountain is trying to destroy my ego.
And with this album, it’s more of that refined tone–
Oh, it’s definitely not refined! [Laugh] It’s more in progress. Like, me trying to create, to paint universal themes that everyone can share, even if it is stuff that is hard to think about or talk about.
What feelings inspired Glass House? I remember back with Sick Bed, it was about your time in the hospital, so, where would Glass House have come from?
So much of my life, my memories up to this point.
But then, there are times. . . like, weird little minute changes that really have affected me in severe ways. Like, okay, I got rid of my flip phone and now I have this gateway to the world in my pocket all the time. I’ve found days where I feel emotionally wrecked and like I’ve been working for hours by noon because I’ve just been passively taking in media. And such a deluge of media, which is horrifying. My human brain doesn’t even feel capable of . . . accepting all of it? And I’m not sure that human brains are supposed to be able to take in all of that trauma? All at once. It just seems crazy that we’re all passively engaged in this behavior, but I understand why it’s super addictive.
And so, Glass House isn’t a “fuck your iPhone, fuck your internet, fuck your tablet” song, I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it’s just really narrowed my world into something that is uncomfortable for me. So, I guess, that’s the way with the lyrics, I’m more interested in writing about my personal experience in the context of something we all share. Or at least, what most of us share. I’m not talking about your phone specifically, but media in general, be it news or music. It’s become . . . so overwhelming for your mind and heart. . . So, uh. That’s basically what that whole number is about. That jaunty little tune. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yeah, I really liked it! Spotify updated it a couple days ago, and it was such a nice little surprise. And yeah, Black Moon was also really great. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the lyrics in that – it began with, “All the men swollen with seed,” and then in the refrain, “She needs to love me still / ‘til I’ve had my fill.” So there’s that marked difference in the gender, what is the significance of that?
Yeah, I think, to fall into the age-old tropes is that, men historically have been the destroyers of the world, and the Earth is typically referred to as a woman because it provides us with . . . oxygen, and gravity, and sustenance and things like that so. In that regard, I am not a poet, I was probably being really lazy [laugh] I’m sure I could have drummed up something different but, also it’s not without bearing. I mean, it is historically accurate that primarily men have fucked the world. Not solely, not saying that they solely did. I’m not without blame either; I am fully to blame. I have a credit card, I drive a car.
That song’s about humanity’s hubris and greed and our confidence that we can just continually plunder the planet and not suffer any consequences, and I think our planet is showing us that that’s not the case. It’s fucking crazy to me that people aren’t objectively terrified every single second of the day. That we gloss over all of this stuff without batting – some people, I mean. Not everyone. Not making any absolute statements in this interview. [Laugh] That some people can just gloss over it without rhyme or reason is . . . mind-boggling.
I’ve been unhealthily obsessed with climate change since I was a child when I first learned about it, before I even understood what it was. I remember my dad was like, “Don’t worry, it won’t happen to you in your lifetime.” And I was 12, and he was my dad so I was just, “Okay, cool.” [Laughs] And now it’s a reality, it’s scary, like what can I do? Maybe, uh, write some dumb lyrics in a punk song, I don’t know.
You could sign petitions.
[Laughs] Oh, yeah, I’ve done that too!
That’s good! I’m glad. [Laugh] Next question. Back in 2013, you actually gave an interview in AfterEllen, don’t know if you remember that?
I know it happened but I don’t remember what I said. [Laugh] I hope I sounded smart.
You did, you always do.
And there was a question about being a woman in rock–
Oh, one of those?
[Laugh] Yeah, one of those! You said before that you’d feel this sense of “being the only queer woman in the room.” So, that was in 2013, has that perspective changed since then?
I mean, I was really lucky in that I surrounded myself with really awesome people, and getting to play music in New Brunswick, in retrospect, was such a gift. Certainly it wasn’t the most diverse group of people who could’ve like, congregated in a basement but there were always bands with women playing. I had really powerful younger and older women to look up to and talk to, and there were so few of us that it had a familial kind of vibe. I don’t think it was until we started doing interviews when people would come out to me and say, “You’re a woman.” I just never really thought about it, I guess, because I just wanted to play music. Things like my queerness [were] never really on the forefront of my mind. So when people started pointing it out to me, it was like, “Oh yeah, I really am the only lady on the bill.” But we are in Screaming Females, it’s part of our identity as a queer woman in the band, whatever, and a lot of people, especially we do, when we’re booking our tours and stuff, we try and find cool locals that our friends recommend that have queer or POC or women in the band so we’re not just playing with the. . . McCoys or something. They did “Hang on Sloopy,” it’s a great song.
[Laugh] I’ll check them out.
You’ve never heard “Hang On Sloopy”? It’s like a song my dad would like.
I don’t know, I mean, in terms of “dad music” I’ve only really ventured into like, Metallica or Sabbath. . .
That’s dad bands?
Aren’t those dad bands?
I mean, my dad liked Metallica but he was a pretty cool rocker. I think dad bands are more like, Poco or the Doobie Brothers. Some of that stuff’s good.
Oh, okay, I’ll be sure to check them out. [Laugh]
[Laugh] “I’m gonna check out the Doobie Brothers.” Like, oh, Marissa got you into the Doobie Brothers, please God.
Yeah, that’s just gonna be my take away from this.
That’s not a good look for me.
[Laughs] Okay, cool! Any other bands with female leads, female-driven, that have caught your eye recently? I know, at least in Los Angeles, Bleached is doing pretty well, Deap Vally too–
Members of Bleached used to be in Mika Miko, right? Yeah, Mika Miko is probably more my time. I’ve heard Bleached, I like Bleached, but Mika Miko is like, the fucking shit. Super cool, girl gang, up to no good.
My roommate Nneka and my neighbor Tiff, this band just unfortunately broke up but they were kind of a DV-cross-punk–I don’t know how to hone in on the subsidiary versions of hardcore punk–called S-21. They’re a really cool band that just split ways.
This band’s also gone, but you’ve probably heard the G.L.O.S.S. demo, which, I’ve never seen a demo affect so many people so deeply. It was such an amazing collection of songs. That’s like, a great band.
I’m so glad I’m recording this so I can check them all out once I transcribe it.
Oh! And this band called Gland from New Orleans is so cool. One of the members, I’m sure they’re all from different bands, one of the members is from my favorite band ever called Turboslut.
Hey! I’ve heard of them.
I have a Turboslut tattoo! [Rolls up pant leg to reveal the tattoo on her ankle.] It’s the logo.
Oh my god, that’s nice!
They were like, one of my favorite bands in the world and one of the members started a new band called Gland, they’re in New Orleans and we’re gonna play with them once we get there. Really really cool.
We saw a band called The Boner Killers in Omaha that were really good. . . Yeah, I don’t know, I feel like in all our shows our opening bands are typically bringing it. It’s pretty cool. You gotta find the local cool band.
I’ve only ever lived in SoCal, but the local bands around here are pretty great.
We’re friends with the band Upset, you know the band Upset? It’s Patty Schemel, plays the drums, she’s from Hole. The singer of that band is from New Jersey, so that’s our LA homies.
You’ve also been relatively open about being a queer woman in the rock scene, are you ever uncomfortable with that? Like, how do you deal with it, how do you navigate it, I guess.
I came out to my family when I was 20, which is pretty late, I think, now – which is great! [Laugh] For the kids now. I don’t know, I’ll answer it truthfully when it comes up, though it would have been weird if the interviewer asked me that of nowhere, especially in like, 2007, when we were playing house shows and stuff. I don’t know how it came up or who asked me first or whatever, but it’s just – I don’t care. I don’t have any control over it. It was uncomfortable for me to tell my dad who, you know, raised me and there’s a lot of other connotations in that conversation that could make me very uncomfortable, that has nothing to do with sexual orientation. But, I mean, talking to Bill, who’s interviewing me for his punk zine, I don’t care if Bill knows if I’m gay. Who the fuck cares. [Laugh]
That’s a good attitude to have.
I mean, it’s 2017, I know that a lot of queer people still have to live in fear and that’s super horrible, but. That’s what you gotta try not to do. And I spent a lot of my life living in fear. I’ve found that I was lucky enough to not really have to, so. I’ve a lived a very privileged life in that way. Just trying to remain unafraid.
That’s actually a really good segue to the last question. The readership of OutWrite is the college-aged, 18-22 demographic, and you mentioned that you came out when you were 20. Do you have any advice for the queer women that will be reading this article? Not only that, but queer women getting into rock, specifically?
I mean, there’s going to be a story, ultimately, about you making whatever decision you feel comfortable. Like, my story was that I was dating somebody that I really loved, and I was tired of having to basically sneak around because I was scared. I knew all the while that my father would never, in a million years, get angry at me for being gay. But I was just being a weiner. [Laugh] So, that’s my story. And everyone’s gonna be different, and for some people, it’s going to be really hard, and I’ve had it really easy so I can only speak for my personal experience. I think that if, I mean . . . There [are] a lot of scenarios where your parents – let’s just use parents as a placeholder – they might get mad, but they’ll get over it. And if they don’t, you don’t want to have toxic relationships like that in your life anyway. I can still vaguely remember having to live in that sort of fear, and it’s not worth it. It makes living really hard; I was a ball of anxiety, 110% of the time.
I feel that now . . .
Yeah! I mean, I can’t really give anyone advice about that now, but I feel like there’ll be a series of situations and consequences that’ll probably ultimately drive you to do it with whoever you need to do it with so that you can live a comfortable life. And that’s what’s important – for you to be happy and fulfilled and not have to be afraid of everything.
Interviewed on October 19th, at the Bootleg Theater.
Photos by Nidhi Upadhyay