The New Jersey band has been personally asked by Jack White to support his band The Dead Weather on their first ever US tour. I talked to Screaming Females’ drummer Jarrett D about their own burgeoning guitar hero, New Brunswick basement shows and his admiration of The White Stripes.
New Brunswick is an unusual town. It’s 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 metropolitan city. In its favour is its status as a university town, which means every year a whole new generation of young people stock the town with fresh thoughts and creative ideas. While the music scene in New Brunswick generally remains 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 where Jarrett first saw his Screaming Females band mates Marissa Paternoster and Mike Abbate in action, performing with their previous band, Surgery On TV.
A few months later Jarrett and Marrisa crossed paths again, 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… [Marissa] contributed two songs to the compilation, which were my two favourite songs on it. When we were handing out CDs someone told me that she was the same girl. 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 to jam. “The first time we ever played together… we were jamming out or whatever and she played this really awesome riff and she just stopped. I was like, ‘Why are you stopping? We just played something real cool,’ and she said, ‘Well that’s the a-section.’ I was like, ‘OK,’ and she’s like, ‘Now we need something to go into.’ She just started writing a song 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 together. That was what impressed me so much.”
“There was a band that played at the house I just moved out of… They 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”
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. Screaming Females is his first real band, but he has been booking and organising shows in New Jersey for many years. Until recently the band had been entirely DIY, recording and self-releasing all of their material. They still mostly remain that way, but as they gain popularity, both at home and abroad, 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 painless — Screaming Females were hot property. “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 [Don Giovanni] said he wanted to, I said I know the lady to do [publicity], because she’d kept in touch with us.”
Despite the Dead Weather tour opening the door to bigger crowds, bigger stages and a chance to break out, Screaming Females’ loyalties still lie at home. They have a strong attachment to New Brunswick and the people that have helped them pursue their dream. They hope that continuing to support their local scene will provide inspiration to other young bands. The band’s home is in the basement; it’s where they feel most comfortable. And although they enjoy touring, they admit it’s always the most satisfying playing in front of a small group of loyal fans.
Basement shows provide a non-discriminatory environment for musicians and fans of all ages to 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 to 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 won’t 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… I feel there’s a pretty drastic difference.”
When Jarrett isn’t away touring with Screaming Females, he plays a key role putting on shows in New Brunswick. Reflecting on his role and the overall state of the underground music scene, he says, “It’s been great for the last five or six years, but there’s always ups and downs with people who run shows moving out of town , or a house not doing shows anymore. 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 is of course, Screaming Females, but Jarrett recalls another young band who’ve recently benefitted from the inclusive basement stage. “There was a band that played at the house I just moved out of… They 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.”
Outside the basement, Screaming Females have 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 together, and Jarrett feels honored to have been asked to go along. It will mean Screaming Females will play to audiences and in venues that far exceed their usual intimate cubby, and it’s already uncovered some financial woes. “It’s 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 paperwork 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 known, 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’ I loved that band,” he says of The White Stripes. He remembers the first time he saw them live. “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 everyone was saying they were saving rock and roll, because it’d been like all boy-bands and nu-metal at that point. 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.”
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