New Jersey punks Screaming Females are set to visit Aotearoa at the end of next month for a five-date tour from Auckland to Dunedin. They were last here in 2016 - and in the time since have given the world their seventh studio album, last year’s widely acclaimed All At Once. I rung up drummer Jarrett Dougherty to talk about D.I.Y, political punk, and his strongest memory from their last NZ visit.
You’ve been playing together for a long time, what’s the biggest change in the way you work now compared to when you started?
Honestly, I don’t think that much has changed in the way that we work, I think that the world around us has changed quite a bit, in the world of music and otherwise. If I had to say about anything different now than what it used to be is that we’re even more involved with every step of everything we do, I mean people used to make t-shirts for us, we would hire someone to do it, but now Mike Abbate (bassist) makes all our t-shirts. But we still do almost everything ourselves, other than our record label and we work with a booking agent. But otherwise I feel like I send a lot more emails than I used to haha, I know it sounds kinda funny, but it’s the truth, I feel like the way the world is connected now I just gotta be on that email, so every day I wake up and sit down and send emails for like three or four hours, I don’t really remember doing that in the past haha.
That D.I.Y management and self-involvement with the whole production process, have you experienced any change in that process since you started, industry-wide? Do you think it’s easier or harder to involve yourself?
I would say that... short answer I guess would be that there used to be a lot more bands that I knew of that were operating the way that we do, and then, I think because of the kind of collapse of the huge big mainstream music industry, you know there’s still obviously Drake and Beyoncé and stuff like that but largely that world is kind of gone, there was a huge influx of music industry people into a much smaller universe of music that previously they wouldn’t have had much interest in working with. Last year I booked a tour for us and a few other bands myself, and you know, we were playing pretty good sized venues around the U.S, usually three hundred to a thousand people, and I thought that it was pretty cool that we were still able to book a tour like that ourselves. But talking to some of the talent buyers, the promoters who were booking those shows, they really were amazed, they were like “It is so refreshing and really cool to just talk to a band about a show” haha, they were like “It sounds so weird.” So I guess that that is a lot less common than it used to be. I live in Philadelphia and there’s a company there, R5 productions, that’s been doing really big punk shows and other kinds of big events for a long time, and one of my friends who works there said that it was their favourite show that they booked last year because it was the biggest event like that he just booked through the bands, which is how he started doing it and did it for many years, and it was just refreshing.
In that same time, have your intentions changed as to what you want a new Screaming Females album to be? Or what you want it to convey?
Yeah for sure, every album that we do, I think because we’ve been around as a band for quite a while at this point, we want to try to make sure that we’re not just redoing our last album, even though I think that would kinda be impossible. But we try to make sure that the different elements that go into it are a little different, so we don’t always record with the same people, we don’t always record in the same places. But we also really value long term relationships, so say we go back and work with the same engineer again on a record, we’ll make sure we record it in a different studio, use some different amps, use different drums, and come in with a different idea of what the goal of the record should be. Doesn’t really change the fact that it’s still just a group of songs that we’re gonna record as a band, put out to the world, so I think that, you know, we haven’t had any wild changes to the game plan. I can go through and tell that every single record had slightly different intentions, but ultimately the goal is just to make a group of good songs that we want to play for people.
Do you have much of a relationship with this concept of punk that you’re often associated with?
Oh yeah, I mean, something that I was just talking to in a different interview, a little while ago, was asking what kind of band we are, and I said you know, we kinda always just refer to rock’n’roll, because are we a punk band? That’s kinda how I think of us, we play a lot of punk shows, we came up playing punk shows. We just played a really big hardcore festival in Washington D.C. a couple of days ago, and you know when we play that show we understand that maybe we’re a little bit of an outlier compared to the sound that the other bands are playing, so somebody wants to go to town saying “You guys don’t sound like a punk band”, sure, that’s fine, I’m okay with that haha. It’s like, but are we an indie-rock band? I really don’t identify too much with that unless you’re going strictly by the actual words of an “independent rock band.” So otherwise, just kinda defer to being a rock’n’roll band, kinda covers everything pretty well. But the festival I was talking about in D.C., the people who ran it booked us for shows in D.C., booked us many big exciting shows in D.C., played with other punk bands, bands that would be more normally associated with the sound of punk, tour with punk bands, we just play the music we play.
Your involvement with extra-musical activism is well-known, I wanted to ask about what your thoughts are on the historical connection between politics and punk music.
Well, that’s a really broad question, I think that music, in general, has been used as a propaganda outlet for various political views for a long time. But I don’t think that we ever intended for our band to be a direct political statement in what we do artistically, but I think that the way we operate and the people we are definitely influenced that on a political level. That’s undeniable for us. But, more broadly the connection between punk and politics, some people say that punk has to be political, it’s like inherent to what the music is, but that doesn’t seem like it’s completely true you know, you’ve got like G.G. Allin or something which is definitely punk but doesn’t seem to have much political content to it. So I don’t know, I don’t think it’s like a defining factor, but I think that probably the most exciting bands often have political intentions, but we’re not going to be the band that stands up there and gives you a summary of what the song is about before we play the song, that’s just not our style, though I’m not saying that’s a bad thing to do. Otherwise, I don’t know, I think that any kind of exciting, especially youth, culture often gets utilised for political agendas, for better and worse. And that’s been proven throughout time with lots of right-wing and Nazi punk that’s available throughout history, that I guess is still punk but I obviously don’t want to have anything to do with and should be shut out as much as possible. And I think that’s been really relegated to a circle, this phenomenon of having right-wing propaganda able to play normal punk shows used to happen and I don’t think that really happens anymore.
Finally, you’ll be in New Zealand next month, I was wondering if you have any particular strong memory from the last time you were over here a few years ago?
Yeah, my most vivid memory is having the flu and I was like completely delirious. So that’s like a very vivid memory, I just remember laying in the van with my head pushed against the glass because it was nice and cold, and watching the landscape just utterly change every like twenty or thirty minutes, it was pretty like amazing, we went through like a desert, and then a jungle, and then the plains, and then the mountains, it’s unbelievable!