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Hop On Board With Us: Screaming Females Get Ambitious on 'All At Once'

Monday, 19 February 2018 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Farrah Skeiky

Find Screaming Females at the merch desk, say hello. If you’re going to buy a record, they think you should get the new one. It’s the one they’re most excited about. If you like it you can go back and fill in the gaps later on. “We’re an active band. We’re a live band,” Marissa Paternoster says. “We want the audience to be excited about what we’re doing right now. Hop on board with us. Travel with us."

Screaming Females’ journey began in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2005, with Paternoster - a feverish, virtuoso guitarist - joined in classic power-trio formation by bassist King Mike Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty. Their discography now stretches to a prolific seven full lengths, ranging from documents of their rough and ready early days through teeth-bared riffage recorded with Steve Albini.

In 2014, their ‘Rose Mountain’ LP deposited the band at a fork in the road. To one side was the unforgivingly loud, improvisational spirit of their live shows, to the other was the most focused, pop-oriented record they’d put out yet. One of its singles, Hopeless, was an honest-to-goodness power ballad. But in the video, Paternoster delivered its emotional chorus with blood from her shredded fingers splattered all over the pickguard of her guitar. The image suggested there was a third road out: straight down the middle.

‘All At Once’ is further proof. Recorded with Matt Bayles, who also worked on its predecessor, the band’s new album is comfortably their most ambitious. Running to 15 songs and into double album territory, it’s a whistle-stop tour of their many sides. It’s peppy and sweet one moment, brutally dirgey the next. It’s home to playful keys, but also to doomy organs cribbed from the earliest heavy metal playbooks. It has a two part centrepiece called Chamber For Sleep that runs to almost nine minutes. Its penultimate song is 71 seconds long.

“We really wanted to do something that had a broader sonic palette,” Paternoster says. “We wanted to have songs that were a little shorter, less composed than a typical Screaming Females song, and songs that had instrumental passages that were far longer than anything we’ve done. Instead of trying to put all of the elements the songs could potentially have in one piece, we were like ‘This song is just going to be a pop song. It’s going to plough ahead. This song is going to be plodding, and that’s how it’s going to be for its entirety.’

“In the past we’ve always tried to embrace so many different dynamic elements in one song, which is also an interesting way to write. We’re always trying to do new things, but not alienate ourselves from our own music. We do like our music. We weren’t trying to totally veer off the path we’ve been on, because that’s what we love.”

Something that adds to the tension in the band’s music is the fact that they really could do what they want, thanks to Abbate and Dougherty’s precision and Paternoster’s capacity to melt faces. She is the sort of guitarist who makes you want to forgive anyone who’s ever suggested that a track could do with a long solo, but also the sort of guitarist who believes that it’s song first, scorched fretboard second. On ‘All At Once’ their adventurous spirit and several grin-inducing six string freak outs are tempered by fizzing pop moments in I’ll Make You Sorry, Soft Domination and My Body.

“We write everything together and it happens in so many different ways,” Paternoster says. “We all live lives outside of the band, and that complements our writing as well. You never know, and that adds to the excitement. We all love to improvise and have been doing it on tour for our entire existence as a band, but I have a feeling we’re all very song oriented. We want to write songs that are powerful and resonate with people. But we also want to stay engaged with each other as musicians. It’s about finding a compromise between those two things.”

Paternoster thinks her latest batch of lyrics might resonate with people in a different way, too. After the deeply personal ‘Rose Mountain’, where she wrote with great candour about how our bodies can betray us, her focus has shifted. Her lyrics remain poetic, and a step removed from straight reportage, but the record’s themes often extend further out into the world than before. There are sharp stares directed at the pernicious influence of the internet and smartphones, a song named for the abstract artist Agnes Martin and, at several points, words that appear to vocalise the creeping unease that seems to follow us around at the moment.

“Like every person in the world, as much as I’d like to extend myself to doing good for others, when I fall asleep at the end of the day I’m thinking about me,” Paternoster says. “I am trying to write things that are more universally relatable and accessible to everyone. That’s what I care about. I’m doing my best to try and share, to try and talk about the world we live in together through my own personal experience. It’s hard for me to step outside of that. I want to be a lyricist who can make things that exist in any time, in any space and for any person. I don’t think I’ve got there yet, and I’m not sure if I will, but it would be lovely.”

'All At Once' is out on February 23 through Don Giovanni.

Screaming Females Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun May 20 2018 - RAMSGATE Music Hall
Mon May 21 2018 - MANCHESTER Soup Kitchen
Tue May 22 2018 - GLASGOW Broadcast
Wed May 23 2018 - LONDON Oslo
Thu May 24 2018 - BRISTOL Louisiana
Fri May 25 2018 - BRIGHTON Hope & Ruin

Click here to compare & buy Screaming Females Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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