Marissa Paternoster Gets Bombastic in the Basement

Young Guns guitarist Marisa Paternoster of Screaming Females is making a racket you can't ignore

Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females.
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females.
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WHO: For close to a decade, Marissa Paternoster has fronted the punk trio Screaming Females with pals Jarrett Dougherty (drums) and King Mike (bass). Over five albums, she's perfected a virtuosic guitar style that mixes shambling riffs from the Nineties alternative school with bombastic Seventies-style soloing. Screaming Females' latest album, Ugly, was produced by indie vet Steve Albini, and in recent years, they've landed opening slots with revered acts like Dinosaur Jr., Throwing Muses and Garbage – the band’s killer duet with Shirley Manson on a cover of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith's "Because the Night" is absolutely worth checking out.

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JERSEY GRRRL: Paternoster, who was raised and attended Catholic school in the blue-collar port town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, taught herself how to play guitar as a teen. "I would go home and print out tablature online for Hole songs," she says. "I'd just make it up and figure it out. I don't really know anything about music theory and I don't know scales or anything… except for a couple basic things." Her discovery of a vibrant basement DIY punk scene in New Brunswick, where Rutgers University is based, was an eye-opening experience. "I would listen to Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and I had dreamed of being in a music scene like that," she says. "I had no idea it existed so close to my home." She got to witness the scene first-hand when she enrolled at the college. Of attending her first all-ages show, she recalls, "The first time I went to a basement show, I had a weird panic attack. It was too much. It was like, 'I found it! I fucking found the Holy Grail!' I was really stoked."

DIY FOR LIFE: Screaming Females may have earned national attention, but they're still comfortable playing basement gigs as much as theaters and larger venues. "We really value being so involved in the booking of our tours," Paternoster says. "We like to play smallish all-ages shows or venues that seat 5,000. That's what makes it exciting. Otherwise it's like eating Raisin Bran every day." One upside to more mainstream attention: opening for childhood heroes like Kathleen Hanna, who selected Screaming Females to perform with her group the Julie Ruin. "We were on a list of people who could open up shows in the area and she picked us,” says Paternoster. “It was awesome. And she was a lovely human."

GRANDMA ALBINI: Though Screaming Females' producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies) has earned a reputation as a cranky, opinionated artist and collaborator, Paternoster says there's a warm spirit beneath his tough exterior. "All of my interactions with him have been insanely positive," she insists. "He's gone out of his way to be a good friend to me and my band." So much so that they crash at his place whenever they're in Chicago, where Albini lives: "He made us pasta from scratch once. He's like a nice grandma who makes you a hot meal when you get home. I'm surprised he didn't tuck me in."