Name: Screaming Females
Progress Report: New Jersey trio puts the finishing touches on Ugly, their forthcoming Steve Albini-produced full-length.
Screaming Females popped up on most people’s radar with the release of 2010’s excellently scrappy Castle Talk, but the New Jersey punk band has been releasing music (and playing approximately five-bazillion house shows and basement venues) since way back in 2006. Next month the band will release their fifth proper full-length album, Ugly, and hit the road on what will undoubtedly be an endless stretch of touring. We’ve already had a taste of the new record via the recently released video for “It All Means Nothing” (in which vocalist and Tom-approved guitar shredder Marissa Paternoster is murdered for the heinous crime of cat-eating) and the band also unveiled lots of new tunes at various SXSW shows last week. I had the chance to talk with all three bandmates recently (Paternoster, along with drummer Jarrett Dougherty and bassist “King Mike” Abbate) about the recording of Ugly and just what the new record is really all about. Turns out, the band hasn’t quite figured it out yet.
STEREOGUM: Hey Jarrett. What are you doing?
JARRETT DOUGHERTY: We’re having band practice today, so we’re all at Mike’s house.
STEREOGUM: What can you tell me about your new record? How did you make it?
JD: Well, it’s called Ugly and it’s our fifth full-length album. Our first record we recorded ourselves in a computer in my attic about seven years ago. Our second record we decided we wanted to go into a studio and record to analog tape for the first time and it was a really basic recording with hardly any overdubs. Just playing the songs how we’d written them. The last two records we went and recorded in the same studio and had more time with the songs and it felt like a step up as far as the recording process was concerned. It took awhile to get the hang of preparing yourself and the songs for recording. This time we wanted to get ourselves into a different studio and make a jump with the recording. For years we’ve been talking about going to Electrical Audio and recording with Steve Albini because his prices are so reasonable and the studio is so amazing. There are no other engineers out there with that kind of background for the price he charges. So it was definitely something we thought that would be good for our band and we were ready to make that investment.
STEREOGUM: How was working with him?
JD: It was great, super professional and intensive. We lived at the studio and spent many hours every day working on it. It was basically get up every day and work on it until we went to bed. Recording and mixing was ten days straight through. When we said we needed ten days, they were like, “Are you sure you need ten days?” So that was good because I think that we all understand that the more time we take to over-analyze things it can get in the way and I don’t think that any of us see any need to take any longer to make a record than we need to. We ended up making nearly two records worth of music in that time. We had demoed most of the songs several times before we went into the studio and completely reworked a lot of them, which we’d never done before after making initial demos.
STEREOGUM: Is he credited as a producer or engineer?
JD: Not to be rude, but we are trying not to talk so much about Albini and our experience working with him, we’d rather try and just talk more about the record. But to answer your question, we just credited him as an engineer because that’s basically what he did for us. He doesn’t really care how he’s credited. We asked him what he preferred, since he used to prefer to not be called a producer, and he told us he basically doesn’t give a shit anymore about what people call him or how he’s credited on the record. We listened to him when he had suggestions, but he definitely wasn’t very involved in telling us what we needed to do with our songs. I’m gonna put Marissa on the phone now so we can get all of our voices on here, is that cool?
MARISSA PATERNOSTER: Hi! I’m Marissa.
STEREOGUM: Hey Marissa. So, this is your fifth album, do you feel like your songwriting process has changed dramatically over the years?
MP: It’s always kind of been the same, we get together and just play riffs and if something seems like it could turn into a decent song we figure out how to turn it into something that’s hopefully longer than a minute.
STEREOGUM: How do you feel about the record compared to previous ones? Vibe-wise, is this record even heavier than the previous ones?
MP: I’m not a very good person to ask stuff like that. I’m not a very objective party. In my mind they’re all very different, but I don’t really know what other people think about it yet. No one has heard it yet. This record feels different to me, but they all do.
STEREOGUM: Your last record, Castle Talk, came out in 2010; did you guys tour a ton behind that album?
MP: We toured for almost four months straight. I think we had like seven days off or ten days. We did the states and then Europe for five weeks.
STEREOGUM: Did the experience of touring that record have an affect on this record?
MP: I think the longer that we spend playing together the more our relationship with each other with our music is going to change. Nothings ever just going to just be static. We’re not going to figure out some way to make everything work perfectly. It’s a constant compromise to make things work and make songs that we like.
STEREOGUM: Your band really came up through the ranks of playing tons of house shows and DIY punk venues. Those kinds of shows have such a special kind of energy and can be so different from playing at a more traditional rock venue. Are you getting used to playing for bigger and bigger audiences?
MP: I don’t think that playing in front of a massive amount of people will ever stop being weird. The same can be said for standing up and playing in front of 10 people. Standing up in front of people and playing will always make me feel weird and nervous for as long as we do it. I don’t think that will ever change for me, personally. I guess our goal is not necessarily to play for really large amount of people — though that would be nice — but more just to have people come to our shows enjoy them and enjoy our record. We don’t want people mindlessly listening to our record and leaving it under their car seat … though I’m sure that happens.
STEREOGUM: Thematically, do you have a sense of where the songs on Ugly are coming from?
MP: I have to think about it more. I’ve been thinking about it … and I know that people are gonna be asking me these kinds of questions, but to be honest I’m still not sure. I’m sorry! I still need to think about it. I don’t have an answer for that yet. I’m not sure I know yet. I don’t want to sound stupid; I keep thinking that I need to come up with a really good sentence that will somehow encapsulate all my feelings about the record and also make me sound smart. On that note, I’m gonna pass the phone to Mike!
KING MIKE: So much for sounding smart!
STEREOGUM: Now it’s up to you to make the all-encompassing intelligent statement as to what Ugly is really all about.
KING MIKE: I’m sorry, but any hope for an intelligent comment has officially gone out the window.
STEREOGUM: I’ve already got the other member’s take on this, but how did the making of this record feel different for you as opposed to the previous ones? Or did it?
KING MIKE: No, with any record you get extremely anxious and some point and then you work really hard and then get extremely anxious again about something else. Then you listen to the songs over and over again and then that makes you anxious because you don’t know what the hell you’re listening to because it all starts to sound the same. Then there are no outside opinions and that makes you anxious. And then you cry.
STEREOGUM: Aww. Well, you shouldn’t cry. I’ve only been able to spend a couple of days with the record, but it sounds incredible. It also sounds like a nice leap forward for you guys.
KING MIKE: We need to do a better job at making it sound good through MacBook speakers. That’s the next step. That’s how most people are gonna hear it, I’m afraid.
STEREOGUM: So what will happen for the rest of 2012? Endless touring?
KING MIKE: We’re going to be playing a lot of shows. We’ll do some special shows for Record Store day and put out a 7”. We’ve also already written a ton of new songs, which we’ll be trying out. We’ve played most of our new songs from Ugly live already. A lot of them have been around for a while. On our last tour we played most of those songs every night. In the end, we just play shows and write songs and play shows. We’re just gonna do what we always do.
“It All Means Nothing” (NSFW)
Ugly is out 4/3 on Don Giovanni Records.