‘I’m in the Band’ Ep. 7: Screaming Females

‘I’m in the Band’ Ep. 7: Screaming Females

Marissa Paternoster, lead singer and guitarist of Screaming Females, may be little but she’s loud. The Jersey band’s name brings to mind “hysteria,” the stigma of mental illness and women protesting their lot, and Paternoster confronts it fiercely with some serious shredding. An only child and an introvert, she grew up with a passion for comics, drawing, and, before long, guitar.

Coming out of the New Brunswick punk house party scene, the three-piece, do-it-yourself band lives for the road and has just released their seventh studio album, All at Once. In this episode, Paternoster explains Juggalo culture, the difficulties of coming out while eating an Oreo, and sings her go-to karaoke song, Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

 

On being an introverted child… I was very much a recluse. The stuff I liked to do just didn’t involve other people. I always loved just sitting and drawing, and I loved cartoons, comic books, and Mad Magazine. But I was supposed to be outside with other kids, and I didn’t know that was something I ought to be doing. I don’t think I was a particularly unhappy child until I started to understand that other people thought I was weird.

On rejecting prescribed gender roles… As early as preschool, I remember my grandmother bought me a dress. I was barely sentient; I was basically an amoeba version of a human. I just had a complete meltdown, ‘cause I couldn’t have it on my body. She was totally befuddled and couldn’t understand. And I’m sure I couldn’t either, ‘cause I was four. That kind of anxiety just traveled with me until I was older.

On sexual identity and being bullied in school… I had no idea that I was gay, up until I was probably older than a lot of other people. I wanted to assimilate, and I wanted to be desired and just couldn’t comprehend why I was unable to.

Through the lens of other pre-teens, I was very queer presenting. I was a tomboy. I only hung out with other young dudes, read comic books, and I was into Star Wars. I was just not cool.

There were some older kids who drove me pretty much to the brink of insanity, and that’s why I wound up changing from public school to a very affordable Catholic school, which is also weird, ‘cause my mother is culturally Jewish. For all of the problematic things that you can assume a queer young person would find in Catholic school, I felt very safe there. Nobody bothered me, which is all I wanted.

On growing up struggling with queer identity… I definitely identified as punk and feminist way before I was really galvanized into any kind of queer identity. I just felt like there were already so many other things I had to deal with. The last thing in the world I wanted was to also be gay. There were moments when I was 14 or younger, where I was like, ‘Well, hopefully I’ll die. So I don’t have to deal with this.’ It sucks when you’re a kid. Now I’m like, ‘Hell yeah.’ This is my preferred way of being.

On Sleater-Kinney influencing her to start a band… For a long time, I automatically assumed that being in a band wasn’t something that was feasible for me because I wasn’t a skilled enough musician. I didn’t know anything about punk. Sleater-Kinney was a transformative band for me. They’re all such skilled musicians, but I felt like it was within my grasp. They identify as women and I had felt like that was something that was certainly working against me, and then heaven forbid anyone find out I’m gay. But then once Sleater-Kinney presented itself to me, I was like, ‘Holy shit, they are all the things that I am. I can maybe do this.’ Then I got obsessed, and I thought if I couldn’t be in a band, that I would just die.

(Photo credit: Farrah Skeiky)

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