New Jersey native Marissa Paternoster is only 5-feet-2 inches tall, but the fiery sound she unleashes as the guitar-playing frontwoman for the Screaming Females would melt Jon Bon Jovi's face in a blaze of glory and leave him living on a prayer.
Her melodic punk trio from New Brunswick is riding a tsunami of critical drool since conquering the College Music Journal festival in New York last year. Most are marveling at the explosive live show built around 23-year-old Paternoster's shredding guitar and unhinged, witchy screams that call to mind early Sleater-Kinney.
Style spoke with the group during its last day of recording after two weeks finishing a new album, “Castle Talk,” scheduled for release next summer. Since 2009's “Power Move,” its third release, the band has been given breaking status by Rolling Stone and played shows with the Throwing Muses, Dinosaur Jr. and Jack White's Dead Weather.
Members seem oblivious to the hype. They'd rather play alternative all-ages venues than festivals, are sticking with punk label Don Giovanni Records, and are still proud to be a basement band from a one-bar college town with a scene based on nightly house parties.
“What gets me excited about this band is I think we can sound fresh and weird just being a guitar, bass, drums, one-vocal band — which a lot of people think is played out,” drummer Jarrett Dougherty says.
The band has been together only five years, but Paternoster already is being hailed as one of the great female performers in rock; making her a role model whether she likes it or not.
“Growing up, I loved Courtney Love — which is horrible, I can't think of anything worse,” she says. “I didn't ever want to be a junkie but I thought she rocked. So it could be way worse. But I don't consider myself old enough to be a role model. Don't you have to be an adult?”
The group already has played two low-key shows in Richmond at Rumors boutique, and Dougherty says he's been trying to book a show at Gallery5 for years.
“We do the best to just find interesting, nontraditional venues where people are interested in art and not just drinking,” he says.
Journalists often mention Paternoster's diminutive size, that she's a lesbian, or that she often wears a red coat like George Harrison on the “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” cover.
“Usually they ask me what it's like being a girl and I can't really say, because I've never been a boy,” she quips. She taught herself guitar by studying tablature online and listening to the likes of the Pixies, Bikini Kill and Radiohead. “They got me into chord structure … tone and effects,” she says. Paternoster also creates art for the band and is busy prepping a solo album, “Holy Hell,” under the moniker Noun, that will feature more low-key instrumentation. As mainstream media calls, she has no desire to become a fashion symbol, though.
“The entire point of wearing dresses is so I can look as filthy and stupid as possible,” she says. “God forbid people start to look for fashion advice. I'm not into that shit.”
Dougherty says the new album should sound “beefier,” with the analog use of an old 2-inch tape machine with more tracks, but neither band member cares to comment on the title. “Let's leave it a mystery for now, maybe something fun will happen with it,” Paternoster says. “If not, call me back later and I'll tell you.” S
Screaming Females perform with Two Funerals, the Sundials, and the Antlers at Gallery5 on Wednesday, April 7. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.