14.05.2019

With 60 songs in rotation at any one time, Screaming Females are the ultimate setlist purists

We chat to the hard rockers before they drop down into Melbourne on Thursday May 23.

Words by David James Young
Photography by Grace Winter

I’m asking the hard questions during my conversation with Screaming Females, the hard-rocking trio straight outta New Jersey. Namely, some sort of variant on either “Can you hear me?” and “How about now?” concocted via an inconsistent Skype connection, there’s only a few moments of steady footing as far as the interview process is concerned. Then again, this looseness makes things all the more fun.

The trio are back at home for a brief spell after an extensive tour through Europe, continuing the promotional trail for their seventh album, 2018’s All at Once. Despite having toured through the area for years, the band are always finding new places to visit, explore and perform with each return.

“On our most recent tour, we ended up playing this show in Croatia,” says drummer Jarrett Dougherty. “It was in Zagreb and there were like 300 people there. We were literally the only band on the bill.”

Lead vocalist and guitarist Marissa Paternoster shared her bandmate’s shock at the turnout in what they expected to be a relatively quiet night on tour: “We were genuinely like, ‘Who are you guys here to see?’” she says. “We had no idea what was happening. It’s a real honour for us to be able to travel to these places and have people come out like that. You just think to yourself, ‘Wow, that’s amazing’.”

By the time Screaming Females arrive in Australia for their second-ever run of shows here, All at Once will be well and truly road-tested. Expect to hear a sizeable portion of the album, but keep in mind that batch could change on any given night.

“The process for this record was the same as it’s been for basically all of the others,” explains Paternoster. “We’ve been doing this so long; I feel like we’re finally at a point where we’ve figured it out.”

“We play new songs live for a while before they’re committed to record, just to see what resonates with people but also what needs to be adapted and changed. When it comes out, I do try and make a point of prioritising the new stuff. At the same time, though, I’m generally writing setlists maybe five minutes before we go on stage – so the reality is that you never really know what you’re gonna get.”

“There tends to be around 60 songs that we keep in rotation throughout a tour,” says Mike Abbate, the band’s bassist. “If we’re being honest, we’ve definitely forgotten how to play a lot of older songs – but we’ll still give them a try.”

As for album number eight, things are still up in the air somewhat – with All at Once still a relatively-fresh prospect, the band will get a little more life out of it yet before cycling in any new songs. “We don’t have any plans right now,” says Paternoster.

“We’re still very much in the early stages of writing. It’s all about when the time feels right and at the moment it doesn’t feel as though that will be anytime soon.” Dougherty agrees: “The first half of the year is dedicated primarily to international touring,” he says. “If we’re playing somewhere like, say, New Zealand – where we only get to go every few years or so – do they really wanna hear some song where it’s the first or second time we’ve ever played it?” Abbate laughs. “We’ll save that for a show in Philly or something,” he says, “where they see us a bit more often.”

In the meantime, Screaming Females are set to make a triumphant return to Australia in a matter of weeks. They’ve already been indoctrinated to several cultural touchstones, including “Ciggy Butt Brain” (Paternoster’s favourite). As for round two? Paternoster lays down the challenge: “I’m gonna learn the Nutbush!”

Catch Screaming Females at The Tote on Thursday May 23, tickets via Oztix.