By Cody Corrall
If you look back at your diary from when you were a teenager, you’d probably be pretty embarrassed. The mistakes you made, the things you just didn’t know about yourself or the world yet. But it’s likely you’d also find comfort in the nostalgia: the memories you made, the people you cherished, the innocence of who you were back then.
That’s the complex rollercoaster of emotions Screaming Females channels in “Singles Too,” a complete collection of b-sides, early 7” singles, demos and other non-album tracks from over 15 years of making music.
For some members of the New Brunswick rock band, their earlier work can be hard to listen to.
“I can't listen to it because I get upset about the things that I used to play,” said bassist Mike ‘King Mike’ Abbate. “Or, like, the way that I played them. The mistakes that I made.”
Vocalist and guitarist Marissa Paternoster agrees, noting that she was just 19 when the band started. When recording “Arm Over Arm,” the compilations refreshingly sun-kissed introduction track, Paternoster remembers feeling too scared to ask the engineer to go back and re-do something.
But the apprehension and vulnerability that comes with retrospection is — more than anything — a testament to just how much they’ve matured and honed their craft over the years.
“You can hear how we've changed as you listen to it,” Paternoster said. “I think that it encapsulates that we hopefully have become more adept songwriters while still maintaining a unique sound.”
The bands drummer Jarrett Dougherty is a bit more forgiving of their younger selves.
“I think musicians often are terrible at judging what their best songs and recordings are,” Dougherty said. “They're focused on things like whether you played a note wrong or something rather than how this recording sounds or how it feels. And I think that when I hear most of those recordings...it's so distinctly that time period.”
While ‘Singles Too’ may not be representative of the band’s entire career, the quirks and sounds unique to Screaming Females radiate throughout the compilation in a sometimes imperfect, always honest way. From their signature feverous instrumental breakdowns, to bold genre experimentation and punchy lyrics that beg you to scream along with them.
“Pretty Okay,” for example, is an uproarious and mosh-worthy confessional. Surrounded by a cacophonous combination of drums and guitar until it takes a pause to let it all out: “You make me feel so enlightened / Like a lady found God in her purse / Lord in the store we are bringing it in / Pays in the red and it’s worse.”
Listening to ‘Singles Too’ makes you feel like you’ve gotten exclusive access to a time capsule of moments that made them who they are today. You can hear the character of their early days in basements and DIY shows, brimming with a youthful and unapologetically brash excitement for their art.
Revisiting these early works also showcases that a studio recording doesn’t have the be-all and end-all of a song. They can have a life well after its recording, and they can constantly be improved upon and adapted over time.
“Often some of my favorite bands, they have an early record that sounds like there are mistakes and they sound like they're doing stuff that’s...not as adult or developed as their later material,” said Dougherty. “And it's some of my favorite stuff because you can really hear young people be excited about what they're doing. And it sounds so genuine. And I feel like when I listen back to ‘Singles Too,’ I feel and hear a lot of that for myself and for our band.”
In addition to b-sides and early demos, ‘Singles Too’ also features six cover songs from the course of their career. Screaming Females puts their punk-y and experimental spin on a wide array of songs: from Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” to Sheryl Crowe’s “If It Makes You Happy.”
“I love going down memory lane, I'm a real sucker for nostalgia,” Paternoster said. “For me since I know the songs and I've heard them so many times, it's less about the actual songs and more about the bigger picture — the time and place. Where we lived and what we were doing and who we were hanging out with. A big part, if not our entire lives, is our band. It's a lot more than just songs.”