Photo: Jarrett Dougherty by Justina Villanueva
Interview by Grady Trexler
Marissa Paternoster, Mike Abbate and Jarrett Dougherty are Screaming Females, New Jersey underground royalty. Since the mid-2000s, they’ve been steadily releasing music, and have grown from New Brunswick basement-show favorites into a veritable cross-country indie-rock juggernaut. Drummer Dougherty chats with Jersey Beat's Grady Trexler about the band’s new tour archive, and reflects a bit on the band’s past and present success.
Q: Could you tell me a little about the tour archive you've been working on. Where did that come from? How did that start?
Dougherty: I've had a record of every show we've ever played, and it used to just be a text file on our website. I've had this plan for years to do something with that information because, like I said, it was just a text file, so I wanted to turn it into something that you could search through.
I took a coding boot camp last year, during the pandemic, and used it as an opportunity to build this archive as a big project to test all my skills. So now, it has all that same information, but you can search it more easily. It was also just a big task to put it all in a standardized format because some shows had more or less information. I did a bunch of work trying to track down information for shows where I didn't have everything.
And now, people can add flyers and set lists and links to reviews or videos of the shows. Now it's able to be more of an interactive archive.
Q: Why was it important to keep an archive of them even before it was for the public? Why was that something you were interested in?
Dougherty: Well, keeping it as an archive, when it was just a text file, was for the public as well. That was actually a big inspiration behind it, because when I first started booking shows for Screaming Females, one of the resources that I used a lot was searching other bands' tour histories. At the time, most of that was houses or cafes where somebody was running a show and I'd be able to track down information about promoters that way. So, initially, I thought since I was getting so much information from other people, that I would do the same. I think it was pretty common back then on people's websites, especially when everybody's kind of running their own sort of really minimal, html-based websites. People would keep a list of those shows there, so I did the same thing in hopes that maybe it would help some other people out and then, as it grew, it just became this thing. It's like, "Well, I have the first 200 shows, I might as well keep it going." The first 10 shows, I had to go back and kind of put back together. There was actually a long time when I knew that there was a show I didn't have in the list because I remembered playing it, but I didn't know any info on it. I just knew where it was. I didn't know when. And at some point, when I was searching through all my old stuff, I found a flyer for the show, and that was an important missing piece.
Q: As you were going back through to put everything together, were you reminded of any shows that were particularly important in Screaming Females history?
Dougherty: It was an experience, looking through a lot of the shows. There are so many shows that were important, but it's more like, weird little memories that are more important to me, personally, or us as a band, as people, rather than important to the band's trajectory. Just looking back at a lot of the early shows, and thinking about trying to standardize the address, for instance, making sure I had the address correct in all these places.
There's a bunch of spots that I looked up and I typed the address into Google Maps just to see what was there now, and it's just houses that are gone, cafes or info shops that are gone. In a lot of them, it's parking lots or condos that were put up in their place and it's just interesting to know that there might not really even be a record of these places on the Internet. Places that just exist in people's minds. If you search really hard, you might be able to find some listing for a show that happened there, but it's these places that were really, really culturally important to the small towns that they existed in that now have been erased in favor of a parking lot or something.
Screaming Females by Grace Winter
Q: Now that the band has gone from a very small local thing into a generally well-known band, how has your mindset changed? Not just in terms of songwriting or sound, but how does it feel touring now that you'll you know you'll be able to get a larger group of fans, no matter where you go?
Dougherty: It feels good. We just went to town for the first time in West Virginia. It was our first show back in 18 months. We went and played Charleston, West Virginia, which we'd never been to, and it was big outdoor show. It was free, so that helps, but there was a lot of people. I'd say there was hundreds of people there to see us, in particular, in a town that we'd never been to before. For many years, that was impossible. For us, it was always, go play the town, to maybe 10 people if you're lucky, maybe even to just the opening bands, and then, next time you come back they'll bring their friends, hopefully. That's what we did forever, so, to be able to go somewhere you've never been before just means that it's reached out there.
As far as how things have changed, you just have to do more planning ahead of time. It's just very nuts and bolts. When we were releasing our first few records, we didn't have to tell anybody about it before we put them out. Now we have to make sure that there's all these people who get things at the right time, and that the world hopefully knows about it before it gets out there.
Q: Do you get nostalgic at all for the early days? Was it less pressure at all, when you're going to small towns, just to try to get fans for the first time?
Dougherty: Yeah, of course, it was a great, exciting time in my life and for the band. I think the thing I miss most is not particularly those shows, but the kind of community that existed. There hasn't really been a good document of it, and I'm waiting for it, and maybe it'll never show up, but I feel like it has to, eventually. The 2000-2010 era DIY network in the U.S., in particular, but around the world, was just amazing. It was just really an amazing, amazing place, and it was fairly welcoming, but because of the way things were, it was a thing that you just had to either know about, or you didn't, and if you did know about it, you could go to any city in the country, including small towns, and you could find where the shows were. It was just this network that existed, and like I was saying, like searching other bands’ tour histories, and seeing where they had played. You call up somebody in Kentucky and be like, "Hey, my friends from this band the Ergs! played recently. We were wondering if we can get a show," and they just put you on, not knowing anything about you. Maybe they'd hear one song that you sent them or something, and then they'd just be like. "Yep, we'll put on a show for you." They'd run it in their house, they'd feed you dinner, and they'd make sure that there was some people at the show, and I just feel like there's not that same sense of community in rock music now, as there was that time, and the DIY punk world because even on such a small level bands have all these people surrounding them that it becomes hard for DIY promoters to trust that people are in it for the right reasons.
You put on a show, at your house, you might get a ticket from the police, somebody might break your toilet, your landlord might kick you out. You're not making any money; you're just doing this all for the community for the bands in the hopes that this helps things for the better. If you find out that a band’s coming through and, later on, you find out that they didn't ever really give a shit about that community, and it was just a steppingstone for them, it puts a bad taste in people's mouths or, it did. People just sort of like dipped out. Not solely because of that, but I think that was one of the reasons. I think there's a lot of people who are jaded now, including artists, and this kind of forever branding of yourself makes it really difficult to have the same sort of tight knit community that felt like you were building something.
Q: Were you all working on music over the pandemic, and is new music something that's on the horizon for you all?
Dougherty: Yeah, definitely. We're always working on stuff, and we had a bunch of songs that we had sort of planned to record last year, and that all got canceled. We still have the songs and we've been refining them, but it's probably the longest that we've ever had a batch of songs that seemed like they were close enough to go record without actually going to record them. Now we've gotten in this weird state where, for the first time, we have all these songs that we've never played live. When we usually go record an album, maybe there's one or two songs we haven't played live yet, but the rest of them we've tested. It's not so much the reaction--people are always like, “Oh, you must get a good or bad reaction from the people, from the audience.” There's a little of that, but generally people don't react that much to songs they never heard before. But it's more about our reaction -- realizing, "Oh, that song should be a little faster," or "That one part that's kind of tense, if we make it really soft, it's more intense." We just haven't been able to road test any of them, but yeah, we have plans to record them as soon as the opportunity arises, so that should be on the horizon.
Q: Where are you and Mike and Marissa living now?
Dougherty: I live in Philly. Marissa lives in Philly, most of the time, but for a while -- definitely during most of 2020 -- she was living in New Jersey still. Mike just recently moved from Elizabeth, New Jersey up to Hudson, New York. But Marissa's still always in Jersey, a lot, because her family's there, and she's really close to their family.
Screaming Females by Grace Winter
Q: What do you think of New Brunswick now that you live somewhere else?
Dougherty: We still have our practice space in New Brunswick, so we're there like every week, but I don't really get to see much of the city, other than driving in and out, because we practice during the week. I have work -- I leave work, go straight to practice, practice, drive home, fall asleep, get up for work, so I don't really have time to hang out in New Brunswick. I honestly don't have a ton of impressions about the scene, per se. I feel like that's a big hit the COVID has had for small music scenes in general. It's just that you can't get people together in the same way.
But otherwise, New Brunswick, for years now, they've been dead set on branding Rutgers and turning it into something along the lines of like a Penn State or something, and the city is just continually built up in that fashion. I just think it's lost some of the character that used to have when it wasn't just these anonymous buildings with chain restaurants in the bottom of them. But that's not to say anything about the kids or the people who live there or anything. That's just about the institutions.
Q: Screaming Females sometimes gets labelled as a punk band, sometimes as a rock band. Do you give this any thought? Do you care about whether the music you're making is punk or rock and roll?
Dougherty: To me, punk is like an extension of world folk music that came out of America initially. So, what does it mean to be punk? Obviously, there's a punk sound, historically. I don't know. We definitely came out of a punk scene. We played punk shows. We lived in punk houses. We liked punk bands. We liked punk record labels. We were on punk record labels. If the music that we made didn't exactly match what was expected of that? I'd say that we weren't completely unique in that respect. If punk is spikes, leather jackets, and charged hair, then obviously we're not punk. But if punk is some continuum that has to do with the way you do things and the people, the types of institutions you associate with, then 100% we're punk. I don't spend a lot of time arguing with people that it but I'll always consider us a punk band.
Q: I think there's an interesting question about whether punk is the sound or punk is the ethos.
Dougherty: Because what else are you going to call us? You're going to call us an indie rock band? There are a lot of bands that are categorized as indie rock bands that aren't independent in any meaningful way. If I'm getting my oil changed, and somebody's like, "What's the van for?" - which is the kind of thing that happens all the time - "what are you doing in this state?" I go, "I'm on tour with my band." They're like, "Oh, what do you sound like?" I just say rock and roll band. But to anybody that knows anything about the world of underground music, I always just say that we're a punk band; and if they say that we're not, I don't really spend a lot of time arguing about it.
Q: You and the band talk a lot about politics and the kinds of people you associate with, and making sure you're supporting the causes that you want to support. Where do you feel your music fits into that? Do you think that music is a vehicle for social change, or is the music itself a separate thing and you just want to make sure that you're doing music in a way that it supports the causes you want?
Dougherty: I feel that music, the actual sounds and lyrics and things, can be, obviously, a vehicle for social change, but I don't think that they need to be for a band to be political. For us, we never set out to be a Dead Kennedys or Rage Against the Machine or something. But I think that the way we operate, hopefully, you'll see that it's with intention. So, I don't think that those two things need to be linked. I think that's an artistic decision and that often it can turn out that if they're too forced, it's pretty cheesy. I'm sure everyone, you included, have encountered a band and you heard them doing an introduction to one of their songs about the politics of the songs and you're just like, "Oh, man, this is really cheesy and not really hitting the mark." I don't think everybody needs to do that.
Screaming Females will perform a livestreaming concert on Friday, November 5. Tickets are available here. For more information, tour dates, merchandise, and news, visit screamingfemales.com.