After finding their roots in the New Brunswick, NJ, basement show scene—like bands such as Bouncing Souls and Lifetime—Screaming Females have arrived on a larger stage. They have toured with Jack White’s new band The Dead Weather and appeared on MTV’s It’s On With Alexa Chung—but the trio, composed of singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster, drummer Jarrett Dougherty, and bassist Mike Abbate, still thrives on playing to sweaty college undergrads in damp basements in the Hub City and other towns across America. Prior to the band's performance tonight at The Black Cat, Paternoster and Dougherty spoke with The A.V. Club about their time on MTV, androgyny, and the difference between huge venues and DIY ones.
The A.V. Club: How did the band decide on the name?
Jarrett Dougherty: The exact place we found name was standard band fare, which was opening a book and pointing to words. It was kind of random, but it doesn’t make it any less important to us. It took us so long time to find important words for the name.
AVC: So it doesn’t have anything to do with having a female in the band?
JD: It’s Screaming Females, it isn’t The Screaming Females—I’m not a screaming female and it doesn’t have anything to do with Marissa. At the time, Marissa didn’t even scream. There are a lot of interpretations, which is what I really like about it. It’s disappointing when people take it so literally.
AVC: Do you feel a certain responsibility to young women to be a positive role model as front woman for this band?
Marissa Paternoster: Most young women who see me don’t know that I am a woman! [Laughs.] I feel that this could change young womens’ lives. [Adopts a snarky tone.] “Is Marissa a woman? Yes or no?” They don’t often have to do that when they are watching TV or listening to Taylor Swift or whatever they do. It’s introducing people to ambiguity, confusing gender roles. It’s important that somebody who apparently is as androgynous as me can be on TV and boggle the minds of Warped Tour enthusiasts.
AVC: Speaking of being on TV, the band recently appeared on It’s On With Alexa Chung. How did you wind up on MTV?
JD: Alexa was at one of the New York City Dead Weather shows and someone posted on our Myspace that Alexa Chung was twittering about us [from the show]. I had no idea what that meant! I saw that she was a fashion correspondent, but I had no idea she was connected to MTV. A few weeks later we got a call that she had a show on MTV and was excited about us coming on, so she had personally picked us to come down.
AVC: Does she usually do this?
JD: She’s not involved in every musical act but she seemed much more involved than just being a talking head. Everyone at MTV kept saying, “We don’t know who you are, but Alexa says you have to be on.” [Laughs.] They also seemed really confused because we drove our own van to the studio.
AVC: Did you receive any of the typical “selling out” accusations because of your appearance on the show?
JD: Yeah, but it wasn’t from fans and people that have been there for us for so long or people in other bands that we like. Those people that have seen us play the craziest, weirdest shows, they seemed ecstatic about it…. It was all second-hand, standard “selling out” corporate appearance stuff. It doesn’t bother me, especially when the people I care about were excited about it.
AVC: You wrote on the Screaming Females blog about problems you had with some people who were also at the show.
JD: They had these two women on who have a makeover show. They showed a clip of it in the green room—they were going to make over this girl that they called overweight. They started railing on her, calling her arms “flabby, like sausages trying to escape from their casing.” I was like “who are these women?” When they came out to do the live segment, they kept grabbing the makeover girls’ chests and even grabbed Alexa’s crotch.
AVC: Sounds creepy.
JD: For me, they were just making a spectacle for their new show. Even if the women [being groped] had a personal issue or not, they [the women with the show] didn’t consult these people. And to do that to someone on TV is such an overpowering thing. It’s sexual harassment…taking their power and using it over them by grabbing those private areas. It had no artistic merit, no redeeming quality. We really appreciated Alexa bringing us on that show, and it shows that she really cares about music. At the same time, it was upsetting that we had to be there with women acting like that.
AVC: So this appearance started with the Dead Weather tour dates. How did that come to be?
JD: In the spring we did a release tour for our new album. We booked it ourselves, playing all kinds of weird spots. We did The End in Nashville, a long-standing club, and there was some press leading up to it. When we got there, someone said the bass player from The Raconteurs was there, and this guy comes up to us, his name is Ben [Blackwell], he runs this record label. We have had this experience before—where people say, “We’re gonna make you huge,” when they are drunk at shows. We are kind of dull to it by now. So he stopped for a second and said, “Wait, I’m sure I sound like an asshole.” [Laughs.] He said maybe we should do some shows with Jack White’s new band. Less than a week later we got calls. It was similar to the Alexa deal.
AVC: What’s it like playing in huge places like Terminal 5 one night and a New Brunswick basement the next night?
MP: The difference is really just size. We were all really scared the first week of that tour. You just get used to it looking at stage lights. I also try to bear in mind that 75 percent of people aren’t paying attention anyway. [Laughs.] Everyone at a basement show is paying attention. The major difference was keeping in mind that there were so many people there. Its not like any of us think we have to play extra well. [Laughs.]
AVC: Have you been contacted by bigger labels now that you have toured with The Dead Weather and appeared on MTV?
MP: I don’t think we have been contacted, but I don’t check the email. That’s a good question. We have a bunch of new songs, and we are talking about going into the studio, but that’s a ways off.
AVC: So Atlantic Records isn’t knocking at your door?
MP: Its not 1994, man. [Laughs.] No one is paying attention to us like that.