Already being touted as one of the year’s best albums, Ugly, Screaming Females’ fifth full-length release, officially hit stores this week via Don Giovanni Records. Recently, Consequence of Sound managed to catch up with all three members (Jarrett Dougherty, drums; Marissa Paternoster, guitar and vocals; and “King” Mike Abbate, bass) as they were driving back from picking up vinyl copies of the album.
Your album Ugly is already being heralded as one of the best albums of the year.
Dougherty: Is it? I hope so.
Everything I’ve been reading online, everyone is loving it, and I’m loving it as well. It definitely seems to represent an expansion of your sound, building upon what you’ve done on your previous albums. I’m assuming that this is going to carry over to the live aspect as well.
Dougherty: Live, we’ve always kind of tried to do the same thing, which is have fun every night. I don’t think too much is going to change with what we do live. I think the only thing that has changed with what we do live is… at different parts of our career, we’ve had moments where we either like playing more improvised, longer versions of songs or just go in and just play a straight-ahead set. We kind of go through phases of melding all the songs together into one noisy thing or doing distinct pop songs, but I don’t think too much is going to change with our live sound.
Production-wise, this album definitely builds upon what you did on Power Move and Castle Talk, making your sound sharper, a little heavier and more confident. You’ve always been very involved with your music’s production. Steve Albini aside, what did you hope to accomplish with this album? Did you have most of it planned out prior to entering the studio, or did you let it happen more organically once you guys began recording?
Dougherty: We definitely had this record planned out before we went into the studio. We did more pre-production for this record than anything we’ve ever done. We demoed all the songs two or three times–let Marissa have a lot of time with the songs to kind of try different guitar overdubs and different vocal arrangements, you know, harmonies and this and that and doubling. So, by the time we went in there, we had a really good idea of what was working and not working for each of the songs.
Some of the songs we did a couple different times at different tempos to get an idea of what would feel good on the recording as opposed to playing live, because sometimes songs will feel better faster or slower live, but then you hear them recorded, and you realize they come across better at a different tempo. So, we did all that ahead of time, so by the time we got to the studio, we didn’t have to play to a click track or metronome. We didn’t have to really worry about what we were doing, and it actually ended up working particularly well with the way Albini works, because he wanted us to list exactly all the overdubs that we were considering doing ahead of time and then determine which ones had similar sounds, and it really helped the recording process move along quickly. It allowed him to excel at what he does.
I think our working styles ended up working together very, very well. We had a great time working with him. I know people have been harping on this thing I said where I didn’t want to talk about Steve Albini. I have no problem talking about Steve Albini. At that point in a particular interview someone had asked like three questions about Steve Albini, and I was like, “I don’t really know what the guy eats for breakfast.” That was kind of a little bit more of where I was going. Our comments as far as that were really like we don’t care to talk about the rumors of whether Steve’s a good guy or a bad guy. To us, he was a great engineer who we had a ton of fun with.
I was more interested in why you chose to work with him, because you guys have been so involved with your own production in years past that I didn’t think you needed to have an additional hand, and I was just wondering what you were trying to get with this new album, what sound you were trying to develop.
Dougherty: I think that… I mean, obviously, Albini’s records sound amazing particularly for loud rock bands, even though that’s not his sole area of expertise. He did a great Joanna Newsome record, which is obviously not a power trio kind of record. It’s always been within reach. For years now, we’ve been talking about the next record, whether it be Power Move or Castle Talk, whether we should go do it with someone like Albini. And really, it’s been within our grasp. There’s not many engineers and studios out there that have recorded such amazing records that are within our grasp, not only financially, but communications-wise. I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with somebody like Rick Rubin or Brendan O’Brien, Butch Vig or somebody like that.
But you can call up their studio, and someone answers the phone, and it might be Steve Albini. You call the studio, and their rates are reasonable. And I think that all of that stuff not only makes it a possibility, but you really know where they’re coming from, which is that they care about making good records for bands that don’t have the connections to the huge music industry, to big crazy expensive studios. And I think part of that… we were hoping going in that we had a little bit of a mutual understanding as far as ideologies go. I think it was on multiple levels.
We walked in there, and we were laughing at the same jokes; we’re telling stories about different eras of punk rock but not too far off from each other and also very diligent and ready to make a really good-sounding record. So, I think that it actually ended up everything we could hope for, in that we’ve always been involved with how our records came out and how they were recorded. That was no different this time around except we just had an even better studio and a world-class engineer.
The songs on this album seem to distill over 50 years of guitar, garage, and punk rock into one cohesive album. I even hear surf elements in “High” and “Expire”. Where do you all draw your inspiration from? Because it’s one thing for critics to cite Dinosaur Jr. and Fugazi, but as individuals, who did you look up to while learning your craft? I know it’s deeper than the early 90s.
Dougherty: I think about this stuff all the time. I think that we have pretty diverse influences as far as the individual members of our band, and now we’re together so often that we end up kind of transferring bands; everybody knows what bands the other people listen to but going back thinking about in high school, I was listening to some awful nu-metal. But at the same time, really what I was delving into more often was jazz and world music, free-jazz, freaked-out stuff like Sun Ra. Stuff like that. People may listen to our music now and think Dinosaur Jr. and Fugazi, which I understand; I get those references. But for me, I’m trying to think about what Fela Kuti’s drummer might play to this beat if he was in this band. What kind of beat would he play?
Man, if you had Tony Allen playing with you guys, that would be awesome.
Dougherty: I’m gonna pass the phone off to Marissa, so she can give her input.