Collectively, Screaming Females will always call New Brunswick, New Jersey, home. The trio first took shape there thirteen years ago at Rutgers University, where guitarist and singer Marissa Paternoster met drummer Jarrett Dougherty. The band’s bassist, “King” Mike Abbate, went to high school with Paternoster and, being the youngest member, was still in high school when they all joined forces.
Paternoster and Dougherty reside in West Philly, with Abbate still living in New Jersey where he has a practice space and organizes shows. They have a new album, “All At Once,” coming out February 23, 2018, on Don Giovani Records. I spoke with Dougherty before the band hit the road in support of the new album and the conversation covered everything from Philly venues to city politics.
Your band has a history of playing small DIY shows, even when the opportunity to play larger venues has been available. Is it hard to have a healthy DIY scene in a big city like Philadelphia that has a decent amount of venues?
There are some really good spaces for that in Philly. I feel like they come and go, which is kind of what happens with DIY spaces. There are some more legitimate spots, like Lava Space, that have been able to exist for a relatively long time. The thing that makes it difficult is that the music industry has changed significantly over the last few years, so many young bands think that if their first release isn’t a huge hit and they’re not set up with a management team, playing big venues and whatever else, then they’re not legitimate. We had done multiple regional tours, a full national tour, and released two records before anyone even wrote an article about us. That would be sort of unthinkable for a lot of bands today.
Philadelphia has some small venues, like Johnny Brenda’s where your band played this Fall, that aren’t DIY spaces but already feel like institutions for indie and punk bands. What role do venues like that play in the music community?
I mean, when I first started hanging out in Philly, it was crazy because the city didn’t really have a lot of mid-sized venues, other than the First Unitarian Church — which is not as “legit” a venue. So it was really cool that you would be able to see a band that might play at Irving Plaza or the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York to seven-hundred and fifty people play at Johnny Brenda’s in front of 200. The people that work there appreciate the music and work hard at it, and I think there’s a concerted effort to get local artists, who maybe haven’t had the opportunity to play on a good stage with good sound before, to open up for bands that can draw 200 people. I think it shows how much the music scene has changed here now that a place like Union Transfer can be an option.
What do you think of Union Transfer and the addition of other medium sized venues to the city?
I think it’s cool. R5 Productions has managed to grow and stick with what they do. I know they’ve kinda become this large company now, but the people I know over there still act the same way to me.
There have been at least a couple profiles of the Philly punk scene by some of the usual big music sites. Is there something that’s usually missed about the Philly scene from the outside?
I don’t read a lot of those articles so I can’t really say. I can only say from talking to people on tour that the Philly scene appears more unified and singular from the outside. It’s really a diverse scene with a lot of people doing a lot of different things with a lot of different agendas.
You posted a photo of Larry Krasner [Philadelphia’s District Attorney-elect] wearing a Screaming Females shirt on Instagram. How did that come about?
You know honestly, he just bought our stuff online. I was helping with work on the campaign right from the beginning by collecting signatures just to get him on the ballot for the primary. I guess he got my number from the campaign and gave me a call just saying he was a fan of the band and asking if we ever wanted to do anything with the campaign. Obviously I posted that picture on social media at some point and then met him a few times after that through more work with the campaign, but he ended up with our stuff the same way anyone ends up with our stuff, which is from going to a show or getting it on our website.
So you had been aware of Krasner prior to his campaign and his Screaming Females fandom?
Yeah, I had heard his name around. I didn’t know his history as well as I do now, but I knew he was a part of a group of lawyers in Philly who activists and community organizers would go to when they had issues. He’s been someone who kind of spearheaded that group for a long time. I think what a lot of the national coverage of the campaign missed is that the reason there was such a groundswell around him that was surprising to the Democratic party here is that, basically, every community organizer who has access to pools of people who care about Philadelphia has been defended by Larry Krasner at some point. So when he announced his candidacy, people who do not usually advocate for politicians, people who advocate for their communities, jumped on board and were willing to activate those networks.
It seems like West Philly in particular is a hub for activism. Would you say that’s accurate?
For sure. You can just walk up and down the street and you’re going to see bookstores that cater towards a more political crowd. You’re going to see community spaces. I don’t think that it’s representative of the whole community in any way—there’s no one single community of West Philadelphia—but I’d say that’s generally accurate.
Finally, who are some Philadelphia artists that are putting out work that you think people should check out?
Moor Mother, is a really, really amazing artist from Philly who people should check out. She’s had an unbelievable year and does a whole range of music and art. She has a long history in Philly and ran this thing called Rockers for years, which was basically a showcase for punk music made by people who are not necessarily straight, white men. She’s super inspirational and a really confrontational performer.
Another one would be a band from West Philly called Ronnie Vega that’s also out of the Lava scene. They’re basically like a live rock hip-hop group. Ron grew up in the neighborhood around Lava Space, going to shows and loving punk music, but also grew up as a hip-hop head. So unlike in the ‘90s when there was that sort of forced rap/rock thing, this seems like a more natural fusion.
Also, we’re going on tour this Spring with a really amazing Philadelphia group called HIRS. I think they describe themselves as a queer punk or grindcore collective, and they just put out music relentlessly. They have a couple collections that are like a hundred songs each.