“We always like playing smaller city festivals; they tend to be chiller, and it’s easier to get to know people and talk to people”
On April 8 and 9, the music festival season in New England officially starts with the Town and the City Festival in Lowell. At 12 different venues in the city’s downtown, there will be more than 50 acts performing, including Colleen Green, D-Tension’s Secret Rock & Roll Project, Savak, Robyn Hitchcock, Will Dailey, and Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters.
It’s also going to be a celebration of Jack Kerouac’s 100th birthday. The beat generation icon was born and raised in Lowell, and his first book that came out in 1950 shares the same name as the festival.
On the second night, New Brunswick, New Jersey, punk trio Screaming Females will perform, with guitarist and vocalist Marissa Paternoster, bassist Mike “King Mike” Abbate, and drummer Jarrett Dougherty taking the stage at Taffeta at Western Ave Studios at 10:30 pm.
Paternoster and I recently spoke about a new solo album she released during the end of last year, recording it all remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how a certain word can make Google searching difficult, and the band’s thoughts on the upcoming festival.
Back in December you released a solo record titled Peace Meter, and from listening to it I feel like it really captures the gamut of your talents as a songwriter. With that being said, did you have a specific vision that you wanted to attain while making the album or were you simply looking to finally put these songs that you’ve been working on out to the public?
The genesis of this record was really born out of consequence, which was the coronavirus. Screaming Females were out on a West Coast tour that kind of abruptly ended because of the pandemic, so I went home to New Jersey without really knowing what the future held or what was going on. I decided to stay in my recently deceased grandmother’s house because I had been to Seattle and all these other COVID-19 hotspots while traveling around and I didn’t want to go back to my house with my roommates and stuff. I wanted to be close to my father in case he needed me for anything, so I was just kind of in this big empty house and I had my recording stuff with me and obviously my instrument. All I had was time so I just set up my recording stuff, started puttering around, and after a few days I put down a couple rough ideas. I then got in touch with Andy Gibbs from Thou, which are a doom band from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Yeah, they make all kinds of music outside of just metal but I guess that’s what they’re best known for. We went on tour together a couple years ago, and I’ve known Andy for probably over a decade. I reached out to Andy to see if he wanted to do some textural stuff, some synth stuff, some drum machines, or whatever he was feeling since I knew he was in the same boat as everyone else. He sent me back a really cool idea that he threw over my recording and I asked if he wanted to do another one, he said “sure” and before we knew it we had nine songs. As horrible and as tragic the pandemic has been, I don’t think this album would have really happened if it weren’t for it.
I would much rather prefer COVID-19 to have not happened, but what are you gonna do? Somewhere in the middle of working with Andy I reached out to some other friends to collaborate on a batch of songs. Kate Wakefield from the Cincinnati-based band Lung plays the cello on most of the tracks; my good friend Shanna Polley, who sings and plays guitar in the band Snakeskin from New York, sings backing vocals on the tracks; and one of my oldest friends and probably my longest-time collaborator Eric Bennett mixed all the tracks for me from his little studio at home. I’m really lucky to have all these cool, talented friends in my corner.
What was that experience like with everyone being in their own space and you all connecting online? Did you discover any techniques from this experience that you plan on putting toward future recordings, or do you plan on this being the only time you ever record remotely in your career?
Eric Bennett is an engineer, and I’ve known him since I was around 19 or 20. Even though when I first started interning for him at his old studio, we didn’t have the technology to do stuff like this but we’ve always kind of just been piecing a lot of things together so we could work with a lot of punk bands’ budgets or completely lack thereof. We’ve always made stuff work however we had to, and this is another example of making something work with the tools that we had. The tools that we had are obviously a lot more malleable and accessible now. Eric and I collaborate on stuff fairly regularly so there was nothing really new or novel about having the record made completely remotely.
I’ve never done it before but there was nothing about it that seemed crazy; it was kind of born out of necessity, and on top of the pandemic being at its height we all live in very different places. While I think that digital recording has its drawbacks, there’s also these aspects of accessibility that make it really special and awesome. This album is a really good example of that.
You also have Noun, which is your solo project outside of Screaming Females. In your opinion, what makes Peace Meter stand out in the sense that you put your name on this record rather than have it be affiliated with your solo project?
Honestly, Marissa Paternoster in my mind is interchangeable with Noun and Noun was just kind of like a pseudonym that I went by because I was too shy at the age of 17 to have my full name on any recordings. Joe Steinhardt, who runs Don Giovanni Records, convinced me that it’s probably a better idea to call the project after my name. This is a really boring reason why, but it totally makes sense: It’s just that Noun is really hard to Google and it’s hard to look up. If you look up “noun” literally next to any word that might be a descriptor of how to find the band you’re not going to get there. When I gave Joe this record I told him that I’m really proud of this record, I like it a lot, and I’m gonna try to form a band and play some shows because I want people to hear it, he said I should change the name.
I was really hesitant at first because I’ve been performing under the name Noun or making music under that name for so long. Then when I thought about it I was like ,“You know what? If I want people to get their hands on it and come to shows, Noun isn’t the easiest thing to look up.” That’s it; I wish it was more poetic and exciting.
What are your thoughts on performing at the Town and the City Festival in Lowell with Screaming Females? It seems to have a unique setup with it taking place at a bunch of different venues in the city’s downtown area.
We’re always excited to just play a show, and I don’t think we’ve ever been to Lowell. Obviously this was rescheduled from another date so honestly we’re all just really relieved to be hitting the road again. We always like playing smaller city festivals; they tend to be chiller, and it’s easier to get to know people and talk to people. It’s less hectic and crazy and they’re always pretty fun, so we’re just looking forward to it.
I’m looking forward to it as well. It’s been a few years since Screaming Females released their last album All At Once back in 2018, so can we expect a new record to follow it up at some point this year?
I suppose at any given time you can always expect a new record from us unless we’re breaking up. We’ll always be writing or recording or waiting to release something. We don’t have any dates right now for releasing new material but that’s the whole point of being in a band, it’s about writing and recording music and getting out there and playing shows. Until we decide to stop, one of us dies, or a meteor crashes into the Earth, you can always expect for us to be working on and eventually putting out a new record.