Interview: Marissa Paternoster!

photo by Rebecca Wilson aka Saucy Salad via flickr

Let’s face it.  A lot of the best indie bands today are… mellow.  Even some of my favorite acts, people like Will Oldham and Fleet Foxes, or the New Pornographers.  They have a  certain quality that could never be confused with the mind-blowing balls-to-the-wall sounds of the punk of the 70s.  For lack of a better word, they are folky.

Not so with the Screaming Females.  The Screaming Females are the kind of sexy, gritty, annoying punk rock guitar band that was prevalent in the late 70s and early 80s.  They are noisy, in-your-face, warbling, annoying, and just out-and-out rock and roll.

This is in no small part to the guitar work and vocals of Marissa Paternoster.  Paternoster has an incredibly diverse guitar style.  I listen to her dirty, crunchy, gritty style, and players like Neil Hagerty, Judah Bauer, Greg Ginn, Carrie Brownstein, and Tom Verlaine all come to mind within the course of an album.  But this isn’t to say she’s a flake or a copy-cat.  She has her own style, and it is incredible.

Paternoster performs as guitarist and lead vocalist of Screaming Females, along with drummer Jarrett Doughtery and bass-player King Mike.  She has an equally interesting side project named Noun.  Screaming Females have four studio albums, with another on it’s way.  And Paternoster has released two solo albums as Noun.   These call all be found on Don Giovanni Records.  She’s also an impressive visual artist, and has created album covers and t-shirts for Screaming Females.

Here’s what she had to say for Guitareste.

When did you begin playing and why?

I began playing guitar when I was 14.  My Dad played guitar a bit, so we had one lying around the house.  I was sitting in my bedroom drawing and listening to Nirvana (typical!), and my Dad walked in and said, “This song is really easy, do you want to learn how to play it on guitar?” I said sure, and consequently became addicted to learning how to play songs that I liked.  That’s how I learned how to play.

What was your first guitar, and how did you get it?

My first guitar was a Fender Musicmaster.  It’s my Father’s guitar.

What equipment do you prefer now?  Which guitar?  What amps or pedals?  Anything unique about strings or cables?  Why?

I play a G&L strat.  I’m not much a gear head, but I do like to  use my equipment in particular.  I just bought a 410 Kustom Hustler, but for most of my time in Screaming Females I played out of a dinky solid-state Hughes & Kettner Attax 40.  I still swear by it, it’s loud, it’s light, and I think it sounds good enough for a live show.  My main overdrive is by an NJ-based company called Earthbound Audio.  The pedals are made by a terrific fellow named Mark.  I use two of his pedals, one is called the Supercollider and the other is a fuzz called the Centurion.  They are fantastic pedals, they sound amazing and I have yet to have either of them crap out on me during a performance.  My cables are made by a lovely young man named Andrew in Philadelphia.  His company is called Cameltone Cables, perhaps an unfortunate name but the cables are terrific, I’ve had them for nearly two years and haven’t had a single problem.

 Has this changed over time?

For sure…until I discovered Mark and Earthbound Audio I went through a lot of different distortions.  I tried the built in overdrive on my Hughes & Kettner, plenty of Big Muffs, and I even used a Rat pedal for a long time…but the Earthbound pedals give me exactly the sort of sound I’d like to hear.

What is your songwriting process like?

Well…when Screaming Females writes songs, we get together in a basement and riff around a bit until something sounds right.  It sounds silly, I suppose, but a lot of the songs seem to come together organically.  Once we have some basic parts we’ll start discussing details, structure, yadda yadda.  We’re pretty flexible…if someone has an idea they’ve been knocking around for a while, sometimes they’ll bring it to practice to we can all weigh in on it.

What are you working on right now?

Screaming Females just finished our 5th album.  It has 14 songs on it, and I think it’s safe to say that we broke our backs working on the songs for well over a year.  I haven’t touched the guitar too much since then.  It’s good to take breaks from playing so I don’t obsess.  It also helps me dissolve bad playing habits.

Which artist or artists do you find inspiring?  (It doesn’t have to be a musician.)  Why? 

Gosh, I don’t know, there are just so many.  I was just about to go out to purchase a new biography on the great lady painter Alice Neel…so I guess I’ll name drop her!  I could go on and on, I’m a real sucker for hero worship.  Edith Piaf, Patti Smith, Exene Cervenka & John Doe, Frida Kahlo, Phillip Guston, Darby Crash, Courtney Love, Robert Crumb, Joan Crawford, Dusty Springfield, John Fahey…just to name a few.  Not to mention that so many of my contemporaries & friends are also artists that I would not hesitate to consider heroes, like the bands Shellshag, Hunchback, Double Dagger, Punch, Magrudergrind, P.S. Eliot, and Tenement…just to name a few of those too…

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2 Comments to “Interview: Marissa Paternoster!”

  1. Interesting interview. I hadn’t heard of Marissa or The Screaming Females. I’m going to see if I can find some of their music to listen to.

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