All At Once, Screaming Females Discuss New Album All At Once
The New Jersey punk heroes recommend getting off the internet (after you read this)
Elizabeth, New Jersey is as quintessentially suburban as it gets. There’s two main roads, the standard convenience store and fast food chains, and the laundromat Marissa Paternoster, guitarist and vocalist for Screaming Females, used to hang out behind during high school. “I have fond memories of the smell outside,” she says as we drive from the New Jersey Transit train station to bassist King Mike’s house. “There wasn’t much to do here. Buy disposable cameras and take pictures of your feet. Just teenager stuff.”
It’s a particularly icy January day when we meet in Elizabeth, and Mike’s home is a cozy refuge that hits the spot. It’s jumbled with decorations — a framed poster of Dolly Parton smoking a cigarette dressed as Jesus Christ hangs on the same wall as another framed photo of Judge Judy — while Anime, Mike’s rotund black cat, lounges around looking impossibly cute. It’s easy to imagine Paternoster, Mike, and drummer Jarrett Dougherty spending a similarly cold day inside working on music when the three came together over a decade ago. Since then, the Don Giovanni signees have released seven studio albums and their latest release, All At Once, is another seismic addition to their discography, complete with the blistering riffs and howling vocals we’ve come to expect from the Jersey strongholds.
To make All At Once, Screaming Females found themselves in Seattle’s legendary London Bridge Studio — home to the early works of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden — and Red Room Recording, working alongside Rose Mountain producer Matt Bayles once again. All At Once feels like both the apex of the trio’s work and distinct from previous releases; Bayles’ production takes the band’s rapturous energy and distills it, capturing a mournful ache that’s felt throughout the album.
Although it was written over the course of nearly two and a half years and various life stages for the three members, All At Once revolves around themes of disconnection with reality. The trio, whose roots are steeped in DIY punk, remain wary of the reaches of social media and a life lived online. Paternoster’s bellowing voice is a warning, foreboding and robust, as she coos and growls her way towards grappling with existence. It may seem like the standard finger-wagging argument against technology, but the Jersey punks say it best on best on “End Of My Bloodline,” a slow and searing track where each word lands with a deft punch: “There’s little truth in power’s timing/ Its desperate need to have it all/ On my device the silver lining/ Misplaced your faith/ Leave me alone.” Read a Q&A with the band below.
STEREOGUM: What is your songwriting process like?
MARISSA PATERNOSTER: We have band practice every week and usually play some riffs. If it seems like something everyone’s interested in working on we’ll try to put together some parts and see if it works out. I think we write songs slower, probably, than most bands. We take our time, we demo stuff a lot or just record it and listen to it on our own and come back the next week and maybe revise different parts until everybody feels like it’s a strong composition. Sometimes it’s totally different, like on the last record Mike brought in a song that was pretty much done and then we went through 50 different incarnations of it and none of them were working until we got one that we liked. I remember on Rose Mountain, Mike had a bassline and we wrote a song in two hours, which almost never happens to us.
KING MIKE: Either way we obsess over it, like every detail goes through heavy consideration between the three of us.
JARRETT DOUGHERTY: We have a very democratic songwriting process, whereas a lot of bands have a songwriter who will arrange it for the band. In the older days of our bands, that meant that everything that came in was uniquely touched by each of our talents. I think that democratic process has evolved into something where we’re more capable of being like, “Maybe this song isn’t the song where the drums do something incredible.”[Laughs] Like on “Deeply,” essentially I just copied the drums Marissa had put into a demo, which was just a snare hit. Rather than be like, “I’m a drummer and I’m gonna do something with that,” I knew it sounded really great as this demo and added a thing here and there to make make it “me.”
I think that’s part of our growth as a band, too. It’s still a really democratic process, but part of that is me not saying I need to stand out in this song and understanding that Marissa has come in with a really good song that Mike originally wrote, a new arrangement of it, rather than extend this insane process where we’ve already been through a dozen versions of this song, I can realize it sounds really good.
STEREOGUM: Has that dynamic been like that from the start?
PATERNOSTER: I think maybe when we were younger, I know I would overplay all the time. I was thinking about catering to the song, but I also think I wanted to prove something to myself and be like, “You are a capable and apt musician!” and then overplay. And by that I mean maybe insist on a completely superfluous guitar solo or add 15 notes that don’t need to be in a riff. It was definitely to prove something to myself and be like, “Look at me!” which is not something I’m super interested in anymore.
STEREOGUM: When did that shift for you?
PATERNOSTER: There was no place where I felt like that totally changed. I’m sure there are moments still where I’m like, “But this riff needs to have five different parts!” But in our relationship together as a band making music, I defer to Mike and Jarrett and trust their judgement when I’m feeling unsure about a composition. Whereas I think I used to be a lot more bossy, maybe….
KING MIKE: That’s not true. [Laughs]
DOUGHERTY: There were never any bossy elements.
PATERNOSTER: I think I was bossy in my head, but it never came out of my mouth.
KING MIKE: You might have felt bossy and been scared that you hurt our feelings.
DOUGHERTY: I don’t think there was ever any sense of people being bossy as much as we were ready to load it all on, you know what I mean? Maybe this is just for people close to me, but when we first started cooking a lot for ourselves, you have this spice rack and you’re like, “Well, I’m going to put a little bit of every, single thing on this spice rack in this thing.” And it kinda comes out pretty good when you do that! But then eventually, you’re like, “You know what else is good? Oregano, salt, and pepper. Because now I can taste the oregano, salt, and pepper, rather than a flavor explosion.” And because we trust each other and our process, we’ve all come to those things together. It wasn’t like early on one of us wanted the flavor explosion and one of us wanted boiled vegetables. We were all in it together.
PATERNOSTER: Cool metaphor. I want to be oregano. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: Where was your headspace when you were writing the album?
DOUGHERTY: It’s hard to make a call about it because it was over such a long period of time. I have a hard time getting into my headspace a year ago, no less three years ago when we started to write some of these songs. Before we recorded Rose Mountain, Marissa had gotten really sick with mono and we didn’t understand what our band was going to be doing, and for first time, having trouble understanding if we were going to be able to continue touring and putting as much energy into this band. Not just for her health, but for financial reasons. Basically we’re like a shark that needs to keep moving or it dies. [Laughs] That’s how our operation works, there’s not a ton of money involved, but as long as we keep active, it is enough that we can almost live off of it.
Going into Rose Mountain was this real breath of fresh air for us knowing we can still be a band. After that we were touring, writing this record, and getting ready to record it and it was more like, “We’re back in it.” Because when Rose Mountain came out, we hadn’t yet been a band for 10 years, but were coming up on it, which seemed like an achievement. Once we hit that 10 year mark, we were like, “What does that mean? Are we going to be a band in 20 years?” And I think we got into this feeling of some sort of consistency and resolve that this is something we really enjoy. We went through such a tough period and the excitement after that was easy to grasp onto, but what does it mean after that? And that’s kinda what this record is. Not only did we get through the tough period and have all the elation, we are consistent and ready to keep this going.
PATERNOSTER: People only like when stuff comes back though. I feel like when stuff just stays …
KING MIKE: It would probably benefit our career if we broke up. [Laughs]
PATERNOSTER: Can you put that in the article? That we broke up for like, a second?
STEREOGUM: The headline would be, “After A Rough 30 Seconds, Screaming Females Are Back Together.”
DOUGHERTY: I will say, the headspace for recording was quite different from writing. After Trump was elected, there were conversations of, “What the fuck is the world going to look like?” In some part of our minds we were like, “Who cares about a fucking rock n’ roll record?”
PATERNOSTER: Yeah, it was hard to think about.
DOUGHERTY: We had written and prepared and had done all this work, and suddenly it was like who gives a shit? We were booking time to record in November and suddenly sending these emails felt ridiculous.
KING MIKE: You’d pull up an email to the studio to book the time and you’d click on some awful article on the way there.
DOUGHERTY: I don’t know if that comes through on the record or if it even matters, but the recording felt like questioning what the purpose of art is.
STEREOGUM: Why did you choose to make the pressing of lead single “Black Moon” available only at Spina Records in New Brunswick?
PATERNOSTER: Andrew who runs Spina Records is our old friend and would come to punk shows with us. We really love New Brunswick. He accomplished what I always thought was impossible, which is opening a record store in New Brunswick. And he’s doing really well! One thing that matters to us as a band a lot is backing up our community. They’re the people who care about us and we care about them. It was a nice thing for Andrew’s store and a nice thing for us. Also, to celebrate his record store — what a wonderful achievement.
DOUGHERTY: It’s the real world. It’s crazy, right? There’s something exciting about having to participate in the real world and see people and go into a record store and see what other records are available.
PATERNOSTER: You might have to talk to someone, maybe use the bathroom …
DOUGHERTY: In this age, when so many people and artists’ entire lives and worth is based off how many likes they get on an Instagram post, which has nothing to do with being a musician, it’s kind of nice to have something seem so antiquated as having to go to a record store to hear a song for the first time.
STEREOGUM: Does the online existence that many musicians have frustrate you?
PATERNOSTER: There’s always going to be bands that aren’t to my liking. It’s just kind of boring. When you don’t engage in the real world, you don’t get the serendipitous stories that can arise from going outside and maybe happening upon something that you didn’t expect. Something really wonderful could happen. Obviously, something very terrible could happen, too. But for instance, putting a physical 7″ in Spina Records means that on top of getting to hear the song, you also are going to have an experience. The internet is frustrating because it’s boring and upsetting and filled with mean people.
DOUGHERTY: I don’t think any of us would say it’s bad that somebody could make their whole existence as an artist on the internet. That’s not a bad thing. As we take a step back and look at what the internet has done to society over the last fews years, it seems like a really hard argument to be like, “It’s net good.”
PATERNOSTER: It feels like a failed social experiment.
DOUGHERTY: Yes, the ability of the internet to connect people who might have been in a community who wasn’t supporting them is really important, especially for that person. It might have saved their life. But at the same time, there’s so many people who feel like they’re getting everything they need, socially and emotionally, from the internet, and then one day realize they don’t have real friends they can fall on. There’s something lost there and it creates a weird, isolating phenomenon that reverberates in so many ways. Including how a lot of independent, small artists are now starting to appear as though they’re famous musicians because they’re famous on the internet. For us, coming up in DIY punk, the whole point was to dismantle that idea. It dismantled this whole idea of “rock star,” which I feel has now reverberated through the independent music world. I know you’re not making that much money! Feel good about all your Instagram likes, but come back to reality.
PATERNOSTER: I just feel like my social skills were better when I was 21 and I didn’t have an iPhone and I actually had to walk into peoples’ houses and talk to them. Now, I have crippling social anxiety because of that damn gateway. It’s bad news, man. It definitely hasn’t improved my life, except it has improved us getting breakfast [on tour]. It’s literally the only reason why I keep it.
KING MIKE: That’s one less human interaction, though. You could always ask somebody where we could get breakfast.
PATERNOSTER: You know what? You’re right. Maybe I will get rid of it. [Laughs] The internet was way cooler when everyone had just had AOL. You’d log in and it would tell you, “You’ve got mail!” and it was the best feeling ever.
STEREOGUM: I miss the AIM door opening sound.
PATERNOSTER: Oh, that was a thrill, too.
STEREOGUM: And crafting your away message …
PATERNOSTER: Gotta put some Taking Back Sunday lyrics on that away message, you’ve got to. I would always put up my away message even though we had a dial-up modem. My mom would be like, “Get the hell off the internet!” but people needed to see the away message I just put up. Like I would step away from the computer waiting to see if anyone had noticed. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: What’s the story behind the album name All At Once?
PATERNOSTER: Because it was written over such a long period of time, we had some songs we had thought out and mulled over and demoed a million times and then there were these other songs that were kinda snippets of a musical thought. And instead of piling on more crap like we talked about before, we felt like they were strong and that they stood on their own pretty well. I was thinking a lot about salon style hanging; when you’re looking at visual art, your eye line is the main piece and it’s usually complemented by different sized pieces. I do think about music visually a lot, I see chords like shapes and stuff like that. Music is a linear experience, but when you look at a painting, you can analyze little tiny bits of it, or you can look at it all at once. I thought how it would be so cool if you could listen to an album like that.
STEREOGUM: Can you elaborate more on seeing music visually?
PATERNOSTER: When I was learning how to play guitar I never had a lesson, so I see chords in different shapes. Like a major chord is a rectangular shape and a minor chord is the same shape shifted to the side. I think of tones as colors the same way you use the word tone to refer to adding white to a color. I think there’s a lot of similarities between the depth of color and tone and stuff like that. Wow, I sound like I’m high on weed. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: Not at all.
PATERNOSTER: That’s too bad.
STEREOGUM: This is your most polished album to date. Do you feel like you’ve moved away from your DIY roots you began with?
DOUGHERTY: I don’t have a strong understanding of how we’ve gotten to where we’ve gotten, except that we’ve always wanted to progress. If we sounded the same, why would we still be doing this?
PATERNOSTER: I don’t think we’ve moved away from it. We still kind operate as a band in the exact same way as we always have. We still write our own songs, arrange our own recording sessions, drive our van, load our van, sell our own merch, and book our own shows. Nothing has really changed. Certainly you could say it’s our most mature record because we’re our most conscientious songwriters and older people. We also had the most time to do it. I think what we’ve learned from this is that the more time you have to record an album, the better it is to play at a wine tasting.
All At Once is out 2/23 via Don Giovanni. Pre-order it here.