The gradual rise of New Brunswick, N.J.’s Screaming Females reads a bit like an A-paper from students of both DIY and Michael Azerrad’s alt-rock bible, Our Band Could Be Your Life: five albums over seven years on the N.J.-based hub of pop-punk, Don Giovanni Records; band-booked tours that have grown each year (in distance, scope, you name it); and nary a “sellout” signifier in any direction. If anything, this seems to be a band that continues getting bigger by just being itself, and not having to strive towards the contrivances that mar so many “successful” rock bands today.
Ugly is the band’s newest record. It’s their fifth overall, and a double LP recorded with Steve Albini. If one were tempted to continue along the Our Band Could Be Your Life parallel, Ugly would potentially be Screaming Females’ Zen Arcade, spread bleary-eyed across an hour’s running time, every idea captured. It’s a meaty, fuzzy listen, packed to the brim with energy and frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s stunning guitar leads. To chat about Ugly and the trio’s upcoming tour dates — including Calgary on Sunday, September 23 at the Palomino — I spoke with drummer Jarrett Dougherty as the band was driving to Chicago.
“We went in [to record] with 14 songs, with the idea that we’d put it down a little bit after recording and then come out with 10 or 11 songs for the record,” Dougherty explains of Ugly’s length. “I can say that from playing live and having songs that tend to extend beyond five or six minutes from jamming on ’em live, it allowed us to be more comfortable with the idea that a song could remain interesting past the three-minute mark. But once we realized the length of the songs, we realized that no matter what we did to cut down this record to be one LP, [the rest] would end up being 7-inches or something. Rather than doing that, we decided to just throw ’em all in there.”
The thick fuzz guitar of album opener (and lead single) “It All Means Nothing” recalls the rock muscle of, say, Dinosaur Jr., but Paternoster’s considerable fretboard dexterity — Spin Magazine recently placed her as their 87th greatest guitarist of all time — is her own. References to other bands are apparent in the trio’s sound, but not necessarily in the copycat sense, as Dougherty explains:
“It’s funny you talk about Dinosaur Jr. — we had another moment with an interview where someone completely could not fathom the fact that Marissa had not grown up listening to J Mascis, and hadn’t really even become aware of Dinosaur Jr. until around the time our band started. I don’t think we directly reach in and reference those bands. If anything when we’re talking about bands, it’s more about the structure of songs — I feel like on the new record, something we were talking about would be like what the Replacements would do in this part, because we wanted to try to make it sound more like a pop-rock song or something.”
For a rock band like Screaming Females, however, all of this studio and songwriting talk would be for naught if the live show didn’t back it up. This trio tours insatiably — 2011 saw them play over 160 shows — and with a love of performing each night, regardless of whether it’s at a festival in Europe, a house show in New Jersey, or their first excursion into the prairies of Canada.
“We love going to new towns and places that don’t get touring bands as often,” Dougherty says. “That’s always been a core part of touring for us. For years, when we were just booking our own shows and releasing our own records, kind of doing everything ourselves, playing those smaller towns was much more exciting for us. It’s something when you’re a new band to go to New York or Chicago or something, and there’s a dozen other shows going on that night and you don’t even know if you got in touch with someone at the show. It’s cool to be able to play towns that bands might not go to all the time because it has a bigger effect on the people that live there.”
There you have it. Go check out the zombie-fied video for the rippin’ “Leave It All Up to Me,” put on your best air guitar, and see this band on Sunday.