Contrary to what you may expect, the New Jersey punk rock trio Screaming Females did not take their name from their frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s propensity for delivering her lyrics in a window-rattling howl. Nope, they picked it out of a book of poetry they found in a bathroom. Yet that doesn’t make it any less relevant to their ethos. Most things about the band are whimsical, including their bathroom origin story, bassist “King” Mike Abbate’s cannabis use, and their music itself, which consistently possesses the force of a bloodcurdling scream, even at its most restrained.
Over the course of seven studio albums, the trio has continually found new ways to draw fresh sounds out of punk, rock and, occasionally, pop music. Paternoster belts and shreds her guitar with equal gusto, while Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty hold down the rhythm section with bombast, giving her ample room and fuel to rocket off into space.
That and more is on display in ‘All at Once,’ the trio’s latest full-length release and their most hi-fi recording yet. While they made their older records in “an abandoned barn on the side of a highway,” as Paternoster deadpanned, ‘All at Once’ was recorded at London Bridge Studio in Washington state, where heavy hitters like Macklemore, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam have laid down tracks in the past. More than ever before, Screaming Females have delivered a riveting grab bag of different strains of the rock canon, from the Pixies’ punching bass lines on “I’ll Make You Sorry” to the sludgy Black Sabbath riffs on opener “Glass House” to a song influenced by country singer Lucinda Williams (“Bird in Space”).
The music is as colorful and full of surprises as the band’s (and Abbate’s in particular) experiences with cannabis. Abbate, who is also the owner of the New Jersey-based State Champion Records, is an avid fan of sativas.
“I like the daytime weed, [not] weed that makes me want to melt into the couch,” he explains. His dealer provides a variety of strains that often come from California, but he doesn’t bother to keep up with the particulars. “Every week, there’s a different [strain] name, as if I’m supposed to know what that means,” he says.
Yet as a rule, the band doesn’t bring cannabis on the road, so he’s had to resort to some pretty extreme, and hilarious, methods to bring home the bud.
“In theory, it should be really easy to find pot at every city, at punk rock shows, but for some reason, I’m just terrible at it,” Abbate says with a laugh. For the band’s spring tour, however, he and roadie Stephen Sowley hit on a brilliant idea: they created a series of 15 unique mixtapes — “some of it’s punky, some of it’s funky, some of it’s party mixes, it’s all over the place!” — that they would offer in exchange for pot at their shows. “It’s not for sale, you can only trade marijuana for it,” he adds.
In response, Paternoster dubbed the bud-thirsty duo “The Baloney Brothers.” And how are the Baloney Brothers doing, you may ask? At the time we spoke, they’d “sold” five of the mixtapes, and let one, tragically, get away. “I got duped real hard at the merch table,” Abbate says, with regret tinging his voice.
Weed has worked its way into the rhythms of touring in other equally whimsical ways as well. “Getting high when I’m on tour helps me with my dental hygiene because I absolutely love brushing my teeth when I’m high,” he quipped. “Sometimes on a rock ‘n’ roll tour there’s not a lot of time for self-care. If I get stoned, I might brush two or three times.”
Abbate also pointed out that while the band, which has been touring regularly for more than a decade, gets a kick out of coming to states where pot is legal, Denver is just too much. “They can’t handle their weed there,” he recalls. “We’ll get to the club and the sound guy will have no idea how to do their job.”
Paternoster, for her part, is not much of a cannabis consumer. But that doesn’t stop her from having an appreciation of high-quality glass; she has a particular affinity for Aaron Uretsky’s koala bears. “I’m always bummed out that I don’t smoke because I love looking at cool pieces,” she says. “It’d be fun to own some but I haven’t a reason to.”Yet even if she doesn’t use cannabis, Paternoster’s music creates a high all its own. On ‘All at Once,’ her gale-force vocals and Smashing Pumpkins-influenced guitar riffs pummel with gale-force strength, while a handful of tracks deliver some of the band’s most nuanced and understated arrangements yet. Like a monster dab hit, Screaming Females new album more than lives up to the promise of its title.
TELL US, what would you trade for an eighth of weed?
Originally published in Issue 32 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE