If there were a “right way” to make it as a punk band, Screaming Females would be a prime example. Being from New Brunswick, N.J.—a bona fide Mesopotamia of the East Coast DIY scene—certainly helps, but there’s more to it than the magic in the city’s water.
Lying somewhere near the intersection of Sleater-Kinney’s riot-grrrl caterwauling, Dinosaur Jr.’s Marshall-stack meltdowns and the twisted surf-pop sensibilities of the Pixies, you’ll find the sound of restless punk kids who have done their homework. If Screaming Females were a football team, Michael Azerrad’s essential 2001 tome, Our Band Could Be Your Life, would be their playbook. As much as the Internet has shifted the indie ethos away from what made the ’80s underground rock documented in that book so industrious and fruitful, the important lesson in making it out of basements in blighted New Jersey college towns remains the same: play loud, play fast, get in the van.
“Touring really hard, working really hard—that’s always been the way we’ve maintained visibility,” says singer-guitarist Marissa Paternoster. “Getting to shows on time and not pretending you don’t care is really important when you’ve dedicated your lives to being in a band.”
It also helps when Steve Albini—In Utero producer and grand architect of the alt-rock era’s ubiquitous quiet-loud-quiet sound—is still just some dude in Chicago that will mix the music of any band that knocks on his studio’s door. Just practice your ass off and show up with cash. By 2012, with four records and hundreds of shows under their belt, Screaming Females felt they were finally tight enough to make the call.
“We just called him and made an appointment,” Paternoster says. “He was really nice. There were a couple times he let us crash at the studio while we were passing through Chicago, and he made us dinner at 3 in the morning.”
The resulting effort, 2012’s Ugly, pairs Albini’s engineering trademarks—tight, punchy percussion and crushing low end—with bouncy melodies and Paternoster’s incendiary fretwork. The record received praise from Spin, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. And so began the band’s ascent from the basement to proper rock venues. While friends’ bands remained in a holding pattern back home, Screaming Females were sharing the stage with radio-ready alt-rock staples like Dead Weather, Arctic Monkeys and Paternoster’s childhood favorite, Garbage.
“It felt like a very natural process of moving from a basement to an art space to a club,” Paternoster says. “We end up opening for someone famous like Garbage—the first rock band I ever really loved back when I was 13—and we see it as an opportunity to sound huge. We’ve really wanted to sound like this three-headed monster, this posse with really strong characters.”
Portland, Paternoster and company will be bringing their full-throttle
performance to a space small enough to enjoy the ear-splitting volume up
close and personal. With a home-brewed EP, Chalk Tape, fresh off
the press and a new full-length’s worth of songs in the set alongside
it, the explosive glory of Screaming Females is almost guaranteed to
blow a speaker or two.
SEE IT: Screaming Females play the Know, 2026 NE Alberta St., with Upset, on Saturday, Nov. 16. 8 pm. $8. 21+.