Before your band goes on tour, go down the checklist: pay bills, do laundry, don't drive through Mardi Gras traffic to get to a show.
"Maybe we should've known it was Mardi Gras," says Marissa Paternoster, Screaming Females' mop-haired conjurer of shredding guitar wizardry, who booked a show on Magazine Street during peak Carnival time four years ago. "But we didn't. We didn't know it was going on for so long. We've never been to it, and it wasn't on purpose. In my mind, Mardi Gras was a thing that lasted a couple days, maybe a week. There was a parade. We're driving and I'm like, 'The traffic is just out of this world. What is going on?' It takes forever to get there. We show up on the block Hey! Cafe is on, and it's not accessible. And we're like, 'Oh, we're so dumb. It's Mardi Gras.' It took a really long time to figure out how to get the stuff into the cafe. We might've begged a cop. I never want to feel that way again."
The band returns to New Orleans to headline Community Records' Block Party on Oct. 25 at the Carver Theater. The annual daylong punk rock festival from the local record collective also features New Orleans bands and Community Records labelmates Caddywhompus, Donovan Wolfington, All People and Sirens, among others, as well as Heat Dust, PEARS and a dozen other acts, from hardcore punk and noise bands to Saddle Creek's power-pop renaissance man and Screaming Females tourmate Pujol.
Screaming Females — pride of New Brunswick, New Jersey basement shows whose fans (and collaborators) now include '90s heroes Garbage and celebrated engineer Steve Albini — emerged as punk's power-pop power-trio, with Paternoster's commanding guitar (listed as the 77th all-time best, according to SPIN.com) and equally arresting howls.
Following the band's Albini-engineered fifth album, 2012's Ugly (Don Giovanni Records), Screaming Females enlisted Albini to record a live album, this year's Live at the Hideout.
"When we play live we always for some reason play like we're in a really heavy band, and sometimes we can be," Paternoster says. "People would always come up to us like, 'You guys rock, I like your records, but I like you more live.' ... The only thing that ever crossed my mind when we're playing shows is I want to play my best. We never sat down and had that discussion, like, 'We're going to be a wild and crazy live band, and on the records, more subdued.' As with a lot of things that have happened in our lives together as a band, those things kind of just happen."
Paternoster never had a guitar lesson. She picked up her dad's guitar in her freshman year of high school ("because there was one in the house") and learned to play along to records in her home in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
"It grew on me," she says. "I didn't go to many shows because there just weren't that many. There was one place that had all-ages punk shows. I use 'punk' loosely. It was a hodgepodge. It was 40 minutes from my house. We'd go for a drive, and the shows weren't particularly good. It was a pay-to-play thing. That's why the bills were so weird. Sometimes we'd just drive up and hang out. Sometimes it was a ska band, a hardcore band, some guy with a guitar — none of that stuff ever vibed with me."
Paternoster met Jarrett Dougherty and Mike Rickenbacker when she moved to New Brunswick, where longtime pop-punk band The Ergs served as the nucleus for basement shows across town. Paternoster remembers seeing the band for the first time.
"I was so overwhelmed that there were a million people there — and I was uncomfortable — and I had finally found what I was looking for, not to sound corny," she says. "I had this weird panic attack. 'I can't be down here!' I was sitting on a dirty couch in the garage. 'I can't be here. I hate this.' Eventually, obviously, I had realized I felt the exact opposite. I loved it. It was so overwhelming. I was waiting to hang out with those kinds of people and that kind of music for so long, that all of a sudden it happened one day randomly without expecting it. It was jarring."
Following Ugly and the band's explosive outings on 2009's Power Move and the breakthrough 2010 album Castle Talk, this month the band released the single "Wishing Well," a dialed-down power-pop departure. Paternoster says the band, like its live show, isn't attached to a formula. (The single's B-side, "Let Me In," is a harmony-filled charging bull.)
"There's no shock or awe factor," Paternoster says. "We're a rock 'n' roll band, we like to write good songs, we make records that are interesting for us to make and listen to, and that's kind of it."