A few weeks ago, I gladly interviewed Screaming Females.
Album(s): Baby Teeth (2006), What If Someone Is Watching Their T.V.? (2007), Power Move (2009), Castle Talk (2010), Ugly (2012), Chalk Tape (2013), Live At The Hideout (2014), Rose Mountain (2015)
Label: Don Giovanni Records
Genre: Indie Rock
Here’s our interview:
Q: What gives you inspiration to write songs?
A: I get inspiration from all over the place. Years ago one of our songs was based around a Reggaeton beat because it was blasting out of cars in my neighborhood and I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of avant-garde synth music like Morton Subotnick and Alessandro Cortini. That doesn’t mean that the next Screaming Females album is going to be a synth album but it does help me to expand my thoughts going into our writing process.
Q: What things have influenced your music?
A: Everything! Very hard to answer such a broad question. I find it very hard to separate myself from myself as a songwriter. So everything comes together in a way I can’t divide.
Q: How do you come up with the instrumentals?
A: The vast majority of Screaming Females instrumentals are written with the three of us together in a room. Sometimes one of us will bring in an idea and we will work from there. I personally try to bring a hyper-aware sense of rhythm to our instrumental process.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important instrumentals?
A: This totally depends on the situation. If it is a vocally driven pop song then the job of the instrumentation is to support that melody without getting in its way. On the other hand you can have experimental synth compositions in which all standard expectations of western music are delightfully tossed out the window. In the context of rock and punk what I always listen for is an interesting rhythm section. Take a band like Crass. I am completely floored by the rhythms of Crass. There is virtually no melody in most Crass songs. The vast majority of people would perceive their music as grating noise but to me it is funky as hell! It’s like dance music. The bass is playing intricate melody driven parts. The rhythm guitar is basically being played as a percussion instrument. The drums often disavow the hat-kick-snare paradigm in favor of a manic New Orleans style street beats.
Q: What bands have influenced your music most?
A: My favorite drummers include Brad Will (Rage Against The Machine), Questlove (The Roots), Billy Martin (Medeski, Martin, and Wood), Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), and Brendan Canty (Fugazi).
Q: What is your process when coming up with lyrics?
A: Usually we work out a pretty complex and finished instrumental arrangement and then Marissa takes that home to work out the lyrics to. I know Marissa prefers lyrics to be somewhat obscure. More like she is painting an image instead of directly relaying a story.
Q: How do you handle being nervous before a performance (if you are nervous)?
A: I learned a valuable lesson in a psychology class many years ago. Often we have physical reactions due to stimuli that don’t have to do with any conscious thought process. Because the human mind believes itself to be 100% in control of the body, in these cases our mind will invent a logical reason for our bodies to be reacting the way they are. Our physical reactions to stimuli can be similar across a number of different psychological causes. So our brain chooses one that matches the bodily feelings but it may have chosen the wrong one! So I believe that feeling before a performance that many people perceive as fear or nerves is in fact excitement. Because honestly there isn’t much to fear. It just doesn’t really make sense to be scared of performing, say in the same way we are scared of getting hit by a car while on a bicycle. So I make a councils effort to think through this stuff and realize that my body is simply preparing me for a physical endeavor that I enjoy.
Q: What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
A: See the answer above! Also that even if you perform your best some people are still just going to hate you. No avoiding that. In addition, there is no such thing as a perfect performance. The best you can hope for is a moving performance and that certainly doesn’t rely on perfection.
Q: Do you do any warm ups that help your musical abilities? If so, what are they?
A: I love to warm up before I play! I sit down in a corner with a drum pad and run through a bunch of rudiments. I’m particularly fond of flam accents and paradiddle variations.
Q: Why do you want to continue playing in your band?
A: Screaming Females has been a band for over 10 years. I can’t image my life without it! I truly enjoy collaborating with Mike and Marissa. I love touring with them and exploring the world. A 10 year songwriting relationship is not something most people get to experience and I feel honored to be someone who can.
Q: As an artist, how would you define “success”?
A: Success is just getting what you want out of a project but also allowing the project to change you and your goals. I tend to reject the neoliberal notations that success is definitively determined by money and power. I’ve never like a song because of how rich or powerful the people who made it were.
Q: When things go downhill, such as your music, friendships, etc., how do you deal with that?
A: I try to stay calm and look at the bigger picture. Sometimes we have a bad practice were we aren;t working well together or where I personally am not playing well. It feels terrible and inevitably I begin to think that this might just be how it will be from now on. But that seems pretty unreasonable when I think about the long term. Marissa got very sick with Mono in 2012 and we had to take a pretty long hiatus as a band. It was a really dark time. We didn’t know if Marissa would ever be able to tour again. We all had to find steady jobs for the first time in years. but even then we always reminded each other that even if the band had to change and could be our profession anymore it didn’t mean we couldn’t get together and practice every week. And we continued to practice every week even with a future that was so unsure.
Q: In your opinion, what are great things to sing about?
A: Anything! Well, almost anything. Songs that positively portray institutionalized hate are definitely bad. I’d say pretty much anything else is available as material for a great song.
Q: What’s a great way to promote your music?
A: Any real human interactions are the best way to promote music. The internet is mostly a dead end emotionally and intellectually. You have to engage with real people. The biggest step Screaming Females ever took was to DIY book a 10 week national tour. We had ZERO reviews or interviews published on the internet when we did this tour. We didn’t have a manager, a lawyer, a booking agent, a label, nothing! We had 3 band members, a roadie, a van, 2 self released records, drums, bass, guitar, and maps! That was the most important promotional adventure of my career but much more importantly it was one of the most important events in my life and my personal development.
Q: What are some ways to stay motivated in writing music?
A: Listen to new stuff. Dig deep. Find weird corners of the music universe and explore them. Give yourself goals. Even if nothing great comes from hitting those goals you will have the feeling of not remaining stagnate.
Q: Do you have any tips for beginners?
A: You are ready! Go play a show. Don’t wait for things to be perfect because they never will be. Don’t get lost in the idea that you need anything like industry support to get your music into the world.
That’s it! Check them out!