Screaming Females – Interview

I have an enormous amount of respect for Screaming Females. They have been on the DIY scene for over a decade and have achieved incredible success. I emailed them as soon as they announced their UK tour last winter, and Jarrett, who both drums for and manages the band, replied almost instantly. The down-to-earth attitudes of every member bring within reach the ethos and practicalities of the DIY scene – a place that often feels way above my head.

When Rose Mountain was released three years ago, it opened my eyes to a whole new realm of rock music. The wailing guitar solos, combined with affecting lyrics, solidified it as one of my favourite albums. It felt surreal, as I walked to The Hope and Ruin, to be meeting the band in person. Since starting this blog, I’ve met several people I’ve, perhaps naively, put on a pedestal – usually for both their presence in the queer community and their musical career. It’s a strange feeling to shake the hand of someone who’s music has, in many ways, created affirming and moving memories, and it’s even stranger to then sit down with them and ask them questions about their career. What I hang on to in the moments when I wonder if I’m doing anything at all with this blog, is their sense of persistence in continuing to do something they love, whilst remaining level-headed and pragmatic in doing so.

It’s clear Screaming Females are proud of their DIY heritage, and to be entirely honest, they should be. Keeping three people together for over 13 years is enough of a struggle, let alone managing and booking your own tours, dealing with whatever may happen on those tours, and then coming out of it and deciding to do it all over again – the resilience required is admirable, for sure.

The band released their 7th album, All At Once, in February this year. The singles, Glass House, Black Moon, and I’ll Make You Sorry, represent a shift in tone for the band. The guitar solos are definitely just as present and just as memorable, but they’re more sparse. The songs demonstrate diverse changes in sound, from the almost psychedelic rhythm and production of Glass House, to the more pop-focussed chorus of I’ll Make You Sorry. The album shows the band’s continued growth, as they become further embedded in the life of rock, punk, and DIY culture.

Earlier this year, Marissa, along with a group of other women in the punk and DIY scene, released a track with Hirs, a grindcore band based in Philadelphia. The resulting LP, Friends, Lovers, Favorites, is a testament to exactly how alive and kicking feminist and queer voices in punk are.

Ronan: So, you guys have been a band for a while, together as the three of you for about 13 years, have you noticed many changes in the DIY scene over that time?

Jarrett: I can only speak for the US really, but I would say definitely. There’s obviously still people running shows all over the US because they want to have something going on in their community, and bands helping each other out, and everything that makes the DIY community run and be exciting and special. But I would say that there’s much more music industry that’s interested in signing and being involved with smaller, younger artists. So, I’d say, to make a long thought short, I think a lot of that music industry is superfluous and people only think it’s needed because their friends are doing it, or because other artists they see are doing it. Whereas the scene that we came up with, that industry had no interest in anything we were doing. There were all these bands, releasing records, touring, and they didn’t even have articles written about them. So, all these people had to learn how to do a bunch of these things by themselves, and in addition to that made a bunch of friends along the way. Found a bunch of other interesting bands. Whereas if you’re a young band now, and feel like you need to sign up with a management company and a booking agent to go on your first tour, it’s really a lot harder to make friends and have formative experiences when you’re going to a venue that’s one third or less full, and a boring dive bar somewhere in middle America, instead of finding a cool punk house and finding out that there’s great bands from this town and everything else. So I’d say that there’s the aspect of leeching money off young artists that don’t have a lot of money, they don’t have to be young, by young I mean like a new band. And then there’s the aspect of not getting to engage with a community that to us has been basically what my whole adult life has been based around.

Ronan: I think there’s kind of a similar thing in the UK as well. Since starting this music blog about 8, 10 months ago, I’ve interviewed some bands that have been around for a while, and it’s interesting interviewing them as opposed to new, or up-and-coming bands, and seeing the different changes there.

Jarrett: I would even point out that we tour manage and drive ourselves around in Europe, and people find that mind-boggling. Like, they’ve got GPS over here, the lights are green and red, you know, you figure it out! And it’s exciting, it makes it an adventure, and you also end up saving money. I know people who have really good relationships with drivers they’ve met over the years in the UK and Europe, but I would say that even for a band like us who’s sold out almost every day we’ve had in the UK on this tour, the tour would lose money if we were hiring a driver. So I don’t understand how these bands that are playing the same venues, not selling them out, have all this stuff going, and I really think it’s just because someone told them they needed it.

Ronan: That’s fair. You guys are from New Jersey, do you feel like the scene there locally has changed a lot?

Marissa: This is a great question for Mike, who just started an independent music label called State Champion Records, straight out of New Jersey.

Mike: The town that our band started in, New Brunswick, New Jersey, is a college town, so the music scene is constantly changing, because people are there during their college time and maybe a few more years and then they move on, because it’s not really a town that’s very supportive of the arts, so they’ll move to Philadelphia, or New York, or California or something to pursue their dreams, and then we get a new crop of young kids who are stuck in a shit town for a few years and decide to make music in their basement. So it’s constantly changing, but the basement culture is very much there, there isn’t an all-ages venue that bands can really play at that’s fully legal and above ground, so it ends up being a word of mouth, basement scene.

Ronan: I think that’s probably pretty different to the UK, because we don’t really have house shows as much. Like there are a couple, but it’s not really a scene.

Marissa: Too close together?

Ronan: Yeah, I don’t think our neighbours would be very happy if we had like a drum kit or something.

Jarrett: It seems you all have a longer history of having a lot of underground/above ground venues. Like in the US to get into even like small clubs, is a really big jump for a lot of bands, whereas here it seems you’d be able to play some small pub somewhere pretty quickly.

Ronan: That’s true, I guess there are ways of getting around it either way. Marissa, I wanted to talk to you about the Hirs Collective, how did that come about?

Marissa: Jenna’s the singer of Hirs, and Jenna’s also my neighbour, so I see Jenna all the time. She’s a dog walker in my neighbourhood, she’s really good friends with my roommate, Megan, and I’m friends with her partner Dylan, so it’s normal stuff, through friendship, hanging out with each other at shows, we get along well. Yeah, she asked a bunch of other female-identified people to sing on the Hirs LP and I was really lucky to be one of those people. It’s not that much of an exciting story, we’re actual friends.

Ronan: That’s as good as it gets!

I am consistently blown away by the kindness bands have shown me as I continue to run this blog. Thank you to Screaming Females for being kind and welcoming, and for putting on an absolutely incredible show.


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