Interview: Screaming Females' Marissa Paternoster on Guitar Heroes and Basement Shows

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Rebecca Smeyne
Screaming Females Above the Auto Parts Store during CMJ. More photos from the show here.

It's been a big year for the Screaming Females. After two self-recorded and self-released albums, the New Brunswick trio (guitarist/singer Marissa Paternoster, bassist King Mike and drummer Jarrett Dougherty) signed to Jersey-punk kingpins Don Giovanni and released their third album Power Move, a mammoth slab of unwashed punk. Acclaim quickly followed: the group was opening for Dinosaur Jr. and Dead Weather, and the Voice recently anointed Paternoster the year's Best Shredder. But though the high-profile gigs continue--they recently played the CMJ Marathon and are opening for the Arctic Monkeys tonight--the group hasn't outgrown the basement quite yet. Paternoster checked in from the back of the van to talk about guitar heroes, learning curves, and what's next for the Females.

So this Arctic Monkeys show is, what, your third high-profile opening gig in New York this year? Do you get the feeling that there's anyone in these big crowds who's at least heard of you?

The majority of the crowd definitely doesn't know who we are. But, there's always a handful of people, at least lately, who will come up to one of us and tell us that they came to see us. That means a lot, because a ticket for a big show like Arctic Monkeys costs a lot more money than what a Screaming Females show would cost, so it's cool that people go out of their way to come see us open for bigger bands.

Do you think the band's sound translates well? Has it been weird going from small venues to the larger ones? How have you been handling it?

Well, our experience so far has been pretty positive. We had to teach ourselves how to deal with the bigger venues. We don't have a tour manager or anything, just us. So we had to figure it all out by ourselves. I think we've been doing a pretty good job. It took some learning, but we've adjusted accordingly.

What were some of the things you had to adjust to and learn about?

Just learning about different ways that venues deal with merch and different ways that venues deal with equipment and who to ask for ice. Really dumb stuff like that. You learn weird lingo and who to ask for what, when you need it.

What was your favorite piece of "weird lingo" that you learned?

Hmm...probably dead case.

Dead case?

I didn't know what that was. It's an instrument case without an instrument in it.

So it's been a pretty crazy year. When you're not opening for the bigger bands, how are the shows you do on your own these days going? Are they bigger than they were, say, a year ago?

In major cities, some of them, I can pick out people who might have seen us at a Dead Weather show. But other than that, I think it consistently increases by tiny numbers. Our audience [has] gotten gradually bigger over time.

When you guys are back in Jersey, are you still able to play basement shows? Or are you getting too big for that?

Oh no, we can still play basement shows. Those shows are pretty...what's the word...I guess underground. There are no promoters for those shows, so it's a very insular kind of scene. The people who know about those shows can go, and it's relatively difficult to find out about them.

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