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Screaming Females: DIY In New Brunswick

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Screaming Females: DIY In New Brunswick

Screaming Females: DIY In New Brunswick

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

At first glance, New Brunswick, New Jersey, might seem an unlikely setting for a vibrant local music scene. For starters, the home of Rutgers University has few official concert venues. Despite that, it's becoming home to a thriving underground rock scene anchored by a band called Screaming Females.

Joel Rose has their story.

JOEL ROSE: The only female member of Screaming Females is Marissa Paternoster. She's also the singer and lead guitarist.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MARISSA PATERNOSTER (Singer and Lead Guitarist, Screaming Females): I don't like it when people are taken aback by the fact that I'm female and I play guitar. I don't want to be turned into some kind of like freak show, you know? I'd like to be considered as a good musician, even though I don't consider myself a very good musician.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROSE: But anyone who's heard Paternoster play will tell you she is.

(Soundbite of music)

ROSE: Marissa Paternoster was a shy kid from Elizabeth, New Jersey, four exits up the turnpike from New Brunswick. She picked up the guitar when she was 14 and found out she was good at it. But she didn't have many opportunities to play. Paternoster wound up in art school at Rutgers. That's where she met drummer Jarrett Dougherty, who helped introduce her to the music scene in seemingly unmusical New Brunswick.

Mr. JARRETT DOUGHERTY (Drummer, Screaming Females): So it would appear that it would be a breeding ground for absolutely nothing. But instead, it has built a very strange and amazing music community that has to work really hard to be able to exist.

ROSE: It's a scene that can be hard for outsiders to find. New Brunswick has a long tradition of DIY rock shows in the basements of houses near campus.

Ms. PATERNOSTER: This is the basement. Be really careful.

ROSE: Marissa Paternoster leads the way down the narrow stairs at Meat Town USA, one of the underground venues where Screaming Females got their start.

Ms. PATERNOSTER: This is where the band plays - any given band, on any given night.

ROSE: Thomas VonHalle lives upstairs.

Mr. THOMAS VONHALLE: We don't take any of the money at the door. All the money goes to the touring bands. So you wouldn't really be able to do that if it was a venue that was allowed by the state. So we keep it illegal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VONHALLE: Keeping it illegal in New Brunswick.

ROSE: VonHalle doesn't like to give out the house's address for fear of attracting attention from the police. It was in basements like this one that Screaming Females were free to find their own sound.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Mind It")

Ms. PATERNOSTER: (Singing) I might lift the curse and bug you all the time. And I might (unintelligible) and throw you back in line. It's easy and generic, so I can't miss a beat. And the only one left here is going to have a (unintelligible) because I don't mind it. Yeah, I don't mind it. I don't mind it.

ROSE: Screaming Females draw on the riot grrrl bands of the 1990s, along with more mainstream fare like the Smashing Pumpkins. But their sound is a far cry from the tasteful understatement that characterizes most blog bands du jour, says Jarrett Dougherty.

Mr. DOUGHERTY: We don't sound like what's currently hip and what people are trying to copy. And that's because we came from a community that was not concerned with what was currently hip.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PATERNOSTER: (Singing) I took a back road with this guy. I needed you so I could hide because what they said was something I could not repeat. (Unintelligible) I was thrust to my worst nightmare.

ROSE: While most New Brunswick bands break up or burn out after school, Screaming Females just put out their fourth album. And the band is starting to get attention from the mainstream music press. This year, Paternoster was featured in the glossy pages of Guitar World magazine.

Ms. PATERNOSTER: The poor girl who was taking pictures of me really wanted me to, like, scream at the camera. Because have you ever flipped through those magazines? It's always that guy from Anthrax screaming at the camera.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PATERNOSTER: He's on every page, with his stupid chin beard, weird braid thing. But she really wanted me to scream. And I was like, you know, I'm really shy. Like, I don't really want to do that. And then they did an interview with me where they asked what kind of strings I use. I was like, I don't know. Whatever the I say, kind of have the cheapest strings.

ROSE: Screaming Females make a living playing music, though just barely. By their own count, they play over 150 shows a year. They've played for thousands of people at a time opening for fellow New Jersey natives Yo La Tengo and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, among others.

But drummer Jarrett Dougherty says the band feels most at home in smaller venues.

Mr. DOUGHERTY: For us, the best shows in a lot of towns are still in those same basement communities and DIY spaces that we've been touring with for years, you know? That's a great crowd to play for. Those are people who want to experience something new and are ready to judge for themselves whether they like something or not.

ROSE: Just like the crowds that first gave Screaming Females a chance in New Brunswick.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

(Soundbite of music)

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