Mon 13 Jul 2009
Saving Rock & Roll (Again)
They have just been personally asked to support The Dead Weather on their first US tour, meaning they will get to share the stage with one of their heroes. I talked to Screaming Females drummer Jarrett D about the band’s own burdening guitar hero, New Brunswick basement shows and his admiration for The White Stripes.
New Brunswick is a strange town, one of almost a dozen large towns that make up the state of New Jersey; one of the only states in America without a major city. In its favour is that it is a university town, so every year a whole new generation of young people stock the town with fresh thoughts and new ideas. While the music scene in New Brunswick may remain small and always on the fringes of university culture, it’s kept alive by a dedicated group of musicians and fans who run shows from their basements. It was at a basement show that Jarrett first saw his Screaming Females band mates Marissa Paternoster and Mike Abbate in action, playing with their previous band Surgery On TV.
A few months later, Jarrett and Marrisa crossed paths when Jarrett was working on a compilation CD at the local university campus. “I met Marissa because I was doing a club in college that my friends had started, where we figured out how to get money from the university to put out CDs. Our first CD was a compilation… She contributed two songs to the compilation which were my two favourite songs on it and when we were handing out CDs someone told me that she was the same girl and I couldn’t believe it. I was running a zine at the time and I was like, ‘I really like your band, you should come over and play music sometime’.” Jarrett remembers the day Marissa first came over to jam, “The thing that Marissa did that really blew my mind was, that the first time we ever played together we started playing and we were jamming out or whatever and she played this really awesome riff and she just stopped, and I was like, ‘why are you stopping, we just played something real cool’ and she said ‘well that’s the a-section’ and I was like ‘OK’ and she’s like ‘now we need something to go in to’ and she just started writing a song, like regardless of whether we were going to be in a band or had any future together as musicians. For her it was about writing a song and getting all her thoughts put together and that was what impressed me so much.”
“…I still feel like we’re pretty much a DIY band or whatever connotations that has…”
Surgery On TV soon ditched their drummer and keyboard player, Jarrett joined the band and they changed their name almost immediately to Screaming Females. Jarrett’s since taken responsibility for managing the band’s affairs; Screaming Females is his first real band but he has been booking and organising shows for many years. Until recently, the band had been entirely DIY, recording and self-releasing all their material. They still remain relatively DIY, but with rising popularity, both at home and across the world, they have enlisted the help of some very capable friends. Jarrett admits that working with Don Giovanni Records was an obvious step for the band, “Don Giovanni Records really wanted to work with us and we’d been turning them down for years. Then on our fall tour, Joe, one of the guys who runs Don Giovanni, showed up in DC for our show and followed us around for a few days. He sat us down and said ‘tell me what you guys are worried about, tell me what you want? We’ll do whatever you guys want us to do to put out this new record’. So it was pretty much too good to pass up.” Choosing a publicist was equally as unchallenging, “Joan who runs Riot Act media had been emailing us for over a year, she really liked the band and wanted to work with us… When Joe said he wanted to do that, I said I know the lady to do it because she’d kept in touch with us… but I still feel like we’re pretty much a DIY band or whatever connotations that has, we take care of pretty much everything except with the new record we’re expanding a bit.”
Despite being invited onto the Dead Weather tour and touring the country more regularly than they used to, Screaming Females’ loyalties still lie at home. They have a very strong attachment to the scene and people that have helped them pursue their dream, believing that by continuing to support the local scene they can provide inspiration to many other young bands. The band’s home is in the basement, it’s where they feel most comfortable and although they enjoy touring it’s always the most satisfying playing to their most loyal fans. Basement shows provide a non-discriminatory environment for musicians and fans of all ages to hang out and interact. However, despite some perceptions, the shows are not just regular house parties. Jarrett explains, “It’s funny… people say ‘you’re running house parties, right?’, but there’s house parties in New Brunswick all the time, which means there’s a bunch of booze and this and that, but to me running a show is different than a house party, because we’ll start at six o’clock and finish by ten o’clock so we can avoid noise tickets… College kids wont show up to your party unless they know there’s going to be a bunch of free alcohol, but at shows there’s no free alcohol… We only get so many out due to the kinds of shows and things that we throw. I feel there’s a pretty drastic difference from your average house party.”
When Jarrett isn’t away touring with Screaming Females, he plays a big part in putting on shows in New Brunswick. He says, “It’s been great for the last five or six years, there’s always ups and downs with people moving out of town who run shows, or a house that everyone moved out off and they don’t do shows anymore. But it’s been really consistent for a number of years now and it’s been able to foster a bunch of amazing bands.” One of those bands of course is Screaming Females, but Jarrett recalls a story of another young band who’ve recently benefited from the basement environment. “There was a band that played at the house I just moved out of, that I’d been living in for the past year that were all girls that were fourteen years old. They had run into someone from the house and given them a demo and we asked them to come play a show. It was like the greatest thing that had ever happened to them to come and play a show for all these people. Something like that would never have been possible at a bar.”
Leaving the basement, Screaming Females has been personally asked to support The Dead Weather on their upcoming US tour. The tour will be Jack White (The White Stripes), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens Of The Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence’s (The Greenhorns) first, and Jarrett feels honoured to have been asked to go along with them. It will mean Screaming Females will be playing to audiences and in venues that far exceed their usual intimate environment, and it’s already uncovered some financial woes. “It’s kind of revealing some of the difficulties of running your own business as we do. Like we’ve never had to deal with 3,000-person venues before… Now we have to get all official and do paper work and stuff. It’s a totally different experience but we’re really amazed and happy that they asked us to do it… the fact that we’re just a band from New Jersey who got picked out, we didn’t try and do a favour for their booking agent or whatever, they just legitimately saw us play.”
“…I was like ‘this is the band that’s not only saving rock and roll, but they’re putting a footprint in the history of rock and roll’…”
For Screaming Females it’s not only a chance to become more widely recognised, it’s also an opportunity to play alongside one of their heroes. Jack White’s influence on popular music is undeniable, his guitar style turned a whole new generation onto rock and roll and Jarrett admits to being heavily influenced by him. “From the second I heard ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ when that single came out I loved that band,” he says of The White Stripes. He continues, “When I went to see them in New York it was at a minor league baseball stadium, it was one the best shows I’ve ever seen. It had been a while since I’d seen a show of that scale with so many people, and I was feeling like, how could this be as cool as being in a basement listening to a band, but they managed to blow me away even on that scale. They’re definitely a huge influence on me. When The Strokes came out and everything, everyone was saying The Strokes are saving rock and roll, because it’d been like all boy bands and nu-metal at that point and then The Strokes came out. I loved the first two Strokes records, but seeing The White Stripes when they came out right around that same point, I was like ‘this is the band that’s not only saving rock and roll, but they’re putting a footprint in the history of rock and roll’, just undeniable power, an amazing band. It’ll be pretty cool to be able to share a stage with that guy.”