New Jersey’s Screaming Females may have just hit the indie band lottery. After two self-released records, they decided to put their third album out on a friend’s tiny New Jersey label and started to notice some famous names popping up on the mail order list.
Musicians like Henry Rollins and the Indigo Girls started raving about the three-piece, punk rock upstarts. Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis and Throwing Muses, all recent converts, asked the Screaming Females to hit the road with them.
Flush with plenty of buzz and a growing fan base, the band was recently asked by Jack White to accompany his new band, Dead Weather, on its soon-to-commence world tour. Not bad for a band that doesn’t even have a booking agent yet.
Drummer Jarrett Dougherty spoke about the band’s recent spate of good fortune, having celebrity fans and advice for fellow DIY bands.
Innocent Words: How long has the band been around? How did you first get together?
Jarrett Dougherty: Screaming Females has been around for four years. Mike (a.k.a. King Mike, bassist) and Marissa (Paternoster, guitarist/singer) played in a band together before Screaming Females called Surgery on TV. Surgery on TV had a different drummer and a keyboard player and generally had a different sound. I had completely given up on ever being in a band but had started a ‘zine to try to be involved in local music. I was also helping to run a record label funded through Rutgers University. Basically, my friends figured out how to get money from the university to put out CDs.
The first (and only) CD was a compilation of local artists who had submitted songs. I had two favorite songs on the comp that sounded completely different. One sounded super overproduced, tons of overdubs, doubled vocals, keyboards, etc. The other sounded like it was recorded with one mic 100 feet away from the band. It ended up that both were projects from Marissa. When we handed out the CDs I made a point of introducing myself to Marissa. I told her about the ‘zine and that I was into her band and that she should come over and hang out sometime, maybe play music or something. She basically asked me to play drums in Surgery on TV on the spot, without ever having heard me play! I played in Surgery on TV for a few weeks, and then we split with the keyboard player, started writing new songs, and became Screaming Females.
IW: Are you surprised by how many big name musicians have suddenly discovered you?
Dougherty: It is pretty awesome to fill record orders from Joseph Mascis and Henry Rollins! I mean reading about those guys and their bands in “Our Band Could Be Your Life” really changed my life. It was kind of surprising to see it actually happen, but I wouldn’t say it feels that weird. I mean, we have played 300-plus shows and around 40 states, released three full-lengths and four 7-inch singles. I guess you would hope that people start to hear about a band after all that!
Dougherty: Not really sure. I’m guessing it is the same way that everyone hears about music, from friends or articles or live shows or podcasts or radio.
IW: As a true DIY band, what’s it like to go from playing small clubs to opening for folks like J. Mascis and Throwing Muses?
Dougherty: I don’t really know what the exact definition of “a true DIY band” is. I guess if you are a purist then we haven’t truly been a DIY band since we let a label release our new album, and they had a publicist work on it, which is a definite no-no in some DIY circles.
Playing with Throwing Muses was an amazing experience. It was our first time playing 500-plus capacity clubs for as many people. The reaction we got from the shows was super reassuring as well. People paid attention and bought records and legitimately seemed to dig what we were doing.
To be asked by Throwing Muses, Dinosaur Jr., and The Dead Weather to play shows with them, without us having managers or booking agents or any industry favors, is really amazing to me. All these people have friends in bands and people they owe favors and everything else. Basically, there are a ton of reasons that other bands should be playing these shows, but I guess our output, recorded and live, brought us to the top of the heap in their eyes.
IW: How did you find out the Jack White wanted you to open for his new band?
Dougherty: I guess we officially found out when The Dead Weather’s booking agent gave me a call and asked if we wanted to do the tour. That came about because while on our five-week tour in the spring (2009), we played a show at The End in Nashville, Tenn. After we played, a guy came up to me and Marissa and said something like “Hey, I help run a record label.” To which we both immediately thought, “Oh, great, another one of these guys.” We’ve dealt with our fair share of smooth talkers coming up to us after shows with all sorts of promises of fame.
Then he cut himself short and said something like, “Wow, I just sounded like such a dumbass.” And we all laughed, and I thought that maybe he wasn’t so bad. Turns out that he helps with Jack White’s label Third Man, and he and The Dead Weather / The Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence were hanging out at the show. They had no idea who we were before the show.
The label guy, Ben, said something along the lines of “I am one jaded guy, but you all were awesome!” I’m sure some people will look at that story as a one-in-a-million big break kind of thing, but that’s not what it is. Our good friends, the band JEFF the brotherhood who are from Nashville, had set up the show for us that night because the drummer in Meemaw, a band on their label, had seen us play two years before in a sparsely attended house show. She then asked us to come play the next year with her band and JEFF the brotherhood at her house, which was amazing and packed. Then, we played with those bands at The End in the fall of 2008, and the show went well enough that the local entertainment paper wrote about us.
Then JEFF the brotherhood’s label released a split single we were on and had us come back to The End for this show, which had significant press leading up to it because JEFF the brotherhood are amazing and because we had released a new album and were coming back to play again. That’s a lot of hard work. It definitely wasn’t just some crazy stroke of luck.
IW: So, have you thought about finally getting a booking agent yet?
Dougherty: Yes! I’m handling our end of the booking for The Dead Weather tour, and it is a nightmare. People probably think that they ask us to do the tour, we say yes, and then just show up to play, but that’s not true at all!
Now we have to get in touch with buyers and promoters and promoters assistants and production managers. And each one of these people wants a different piece of paperwork. And we have to get together tax forms and immigration information for Canada. I feel like I’m buried in paperwork! On top of all that, this is the first time we have dealt with things at such an official level, so I am learning trial-by-fire style. And these people are used to dealing with the same two or three dozen booking agents year after year, so they aren’t all being so quick to respond to me.
I’m glad I’m getting to do all this so that I can understand how it all works, but it is not something I’m going to feel like doing forever. I feel like my time could be better spent somewhere else. We’ve talked to booking agents before, and I was just really unimpressed on how the situations were handled. I am not a big fan of the music industry in general and have done my best to keep Screaming Females removed from it.
Running shows for years in our hometown of New Brunswick, NJ, I had to do a lot of work to convince some people, college kids in particular, that it was worth going to see a band that they hadn’t heard about on Pitchfork. Trying to let people know that it was up to them to decide whether they liked something or not and that they didn’t have to pay attention to blogs and that a lot of those bands only got there because of their managers and publicists and labels and booking agents etc., etc., etc. But at the same time, I understand that there just aren’t enough hours in the day for the three of us to handle everything that needs to be done. That’s the reason we decided to go with Don Giovanni for the new record.
IW: What’s next for the band after the tour with Dead Weather?
Dougherty: The day after the last show with The Dead Weather, we start a two-week West Coast tour with one of the greatest bands of all time, Shellshag. Back to playing strange venues in the towns we love – Oakland, Bellingham, Olympia, San Pedro, etc.