Marissa Paternoster is the kind of singer and guitarist who makes a writer want to deploy all kinds of ridiculous language: "face-melting," "fire-breathing," "guitar-goddess," "shred-queen," etc. Paternoster, you see, is 5-foot-1, she fronts a fearsome power trio from New Jersey called Screaming Females, and she plays a loud guitar very well. Layering the Females' punkish drive with howling solos and searing riffs that are part Tony Iommi and part Greg Sage, Paternoster is, let's say, a pocket missile of a frontwoman. The capabilities of the other two members of Screaming Females -- drummer Jarret Dougherty and bassist King Mike -- make this an essential in-person band: Whatever you think of their recordings (and their excellent latest album, Ugly, was recorded by Steve Albini), to see Screaming Females live is to be instantly converted to its hyperbole-inspiring rock. Before the band plays Bottom of the Hill tonight, we spoke with Paternoster about her guitar work, recording with Albini, and why Screaming Females consider themselves a punk band.
How's the tour going?
Okay. We've played a bunch of cool shows. A bunch of my gear broke. And then we had to drive through a tornado... We drove a little bit through one of the storms and it was horrifying. We managed to pull over right before the rain started. We're all from New Jersey, so I've never seen a tornado, and the thought of being near one was terrifying.
You're known for a visceral live show. What kinds of reactions do you get?
Usually when people come up to me, they say that it was a great show. And that they liked our band. I can't think of anything really weird anyone has ever said. Usually everyone is incredibly polite.
Are the audiences this tour mostly new to Screaming Females or are they existing fans?
Never thought about that too much. A lot of the places that are closer to home on the East Coast, I can recognize a lot of the people who come to see us on the regular. But now that we're all the way out here, I just don't know who everybody is. I'm seeing a lot of people that I've never seen in my life.
When was your last time out west?
I think it's been almost two years. It's been a while.
Screaming Females has opened for Dinosaur Jr. and other big-name artists, but you're sort of known for keeping it down to earth, too. Are you at all conflicted about playing bigger shows?
It's a different kind of satisfaction that you get out of playing for a lot of people that you don't know, rather than a small amount of people who are your peers and friends. Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to show a larger audience what you've been making. I don't feel bad about playing larger shows. And I think it's important to expose people who might only get their music news from mainstream media, to show them that there are alternatives. We've never gotten on any of those shows by any other way than having someone see us play and wanting us on their show. It's not like we had some kind of manager pitching us to play these big opening slots. We just earned those slots.
What made you decide to record the new album with Steve Albini?
We've been talking about it for a while. And we never really had the resources to do it, or an album that we thought would be suitable to bring to him. But with this record, we'd been a band for a long time. We demo'd all the songs -- which we had never done before -- spent a lot of time writing them, making sure that they didn't totally suck. And so we showed up really prepared, which was good, because he definitely expects you to show up prepared.