If you're going to catch up with New Brunswick, N.J.'s pre-eminent indie-punk outfit, it might as well be at a rest stop somewhere off the Jersey Turnpike, while the band's bass player lambasts a gas station attendant over a distressing absence of toilet paper in the john.
"Oh man, Mike is really giving this guy hell right now," reports drummer Jarrett Dougherty, observing the antics of bandmate "King" Mike Abbate from a safe distance. Nearby, singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster is in giggling hysterics. Another typical day on the road for Screaming Females.
In just a few years time, these three baby-faced amigos have gone from Tri-State Area cult heroes to international headliners, touring Europe twice and America relentlessly, all while cranking out four tight, riffy and refreshingly unpretentious albums — most recently, 2010's Castle Talk. Along the way, they've also managed to keep the trusty Screaming Females tour van running smoothly, both literally and metaphorically.
"The globe-trotting aspect is still a little surreal at times," says Dougherty, "but traveling around the U.S. is something we've gotten very used to. And we are pretty good at communicating with each other and making sure everybody's staying mentally healthy on the road. I think that's why Mike was showing a little solidarity back there at the rest stop. Because I was actually the one who had no toilet paper in the bathroom, but I wasn't going to whine about it myself [laughs]."
Since Screaming Females first started generating attention in the New Brunswick garage scene back in 2005, pint-sized frontwoman Paternoster (notably the only screaming female in Screaming Females) has been the obvious focal point. Quirky, shaggy-haired and shy, Paternoster is almost the living embodiment of the loud/soft dynamic pioneered by one of her early influences, Pixies. Onstage, the quiet, awkward girl morphs into a shrieking, shredding tornado of a performer — critically admired as much for her technical prowess as her energy. As to whether she's started building up the traditional guitar-hero ego, however ...
"Oh no, not at all!" she says, seemingly shocked by the very notion. "I have terrible self-esteem and very little confidence [laughs]."
Even after five years of steady praise?
"Yeah, it's not helping. I think you need to write more about it. Make me feel better about myself! [Laughs]."
OK, well, Paternoster is definitely a fine musician. But she's also got one of those talents that is much harder to develop: charm. Take, for instance, a few of these sublime Paternoster observations.
On her band's live sound compared to studio sound:
"It's hard for me to say, because I'm actually in the band, but I've heard that our live show is better than our records ... according to the Internet."
On playing as a support act in front of the headliner's fans:
"No one ever, like, boos us or throws tomatoes or anything. But sometimes they give me the finger, or roll their eyes at me, or just text a lot. It's mostly benign stuff — except the finger, I guess. That's a little upsetting."
On the recent re-release of Screaming Females' first two records from 2006 and 2007:
"It feels like a long time ago, but I still kind of understand the person I was at 18. There are bits and pieces of that time in my life that I can remember really vividly — and then a lot of it that I've forgotten."
On the next Screaming Females album, targeted for a spring 2012 release:
"It'll be fabulous! What more can I say? [Laughs]. We're going into a new studio, but I'm not going to tell you where yet. ... It's a secret."