Spirit of '68 Presents
Screaming Females & Waxahatchee
1021 South Walnut St
Bloomington, IN, 47401
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
Watch & Listen
Screaming Females had such a clear goal for their new album that it became almost a mantra: they wanted songs that were concise, crisp and melodic. That’s exactly what the New Jersey punk trio delivers on Rose Mountain, their sixth LP, due in February on Don Giovanni Records.
The album is a milestone in a number of ways. Not only does Rose Mountain reflect a new approach to the band’s songwriting, the LP marks the first time Screaming Females have worked with an outside producer, and comes as the trio celebrates 10 years together.
“I’m very pleased and proud of us as a band for playing together for so long,” says singer and guitarist Marissa Paternoster, who formed Screaming Females in 2005 with bassist Michael Abbate and drummer Jarrett Dougherty.
Their longevity helped prompt the concise-crisp-melodic mantra for Rose Mountain. Although melody has always been a central part of the band’s music, the musicians have often layered them into massive thickets of interlocking sound on previous albums. They were ready to try something more streamlined with the 10 new songs on Rose Mountain.
“Our last three releases were dense musically,” Dougherty says. “This time, we tried to really hone in on what was important about the songs and get rid of what wasn’t important.”
The trio decided the vocal melodies were particularly important, and were careful to leave room for them while they were writing the new songs. “Before we got to that point where we had a complete, complex, intricate thing instrumentally, we stopped and said, ‘Let’s not finish this off, let’s let the vocals finish this off,’” Dougherty says.
The restraint they showed in writing the tunes didn’t affect the riveting intensity the band brought to playing them. You can hear it on “Empty Head,” the taut, lean album opener. It’s there in the interplay between serrated guitar and a buoyant bassline on “Triumph,” and in the airy verses that build into a tough, determined chorus on “Wishing Well.”
Many of the songs on Rose Mountain deal with Paternoster’s ongoing battle with chronic mononucleosis, which became so severe in 2012 that the band went on hiatus from touring for nearly a year. “I just could not get my act together,” Paternoster says. “We had to take time off, I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t eating.”
Writing about the pain and uncertainty that accompanied her illness proved cathartic for Paternoster, who was already paying more attention to her lyrics than she did in the band’s earlier days.
“A lot of time it was just an afterthought, and I would just punch in whatever fit phonetically,” she says. “From playing hundreds of shows, I’ve realized that people do actually listen to the words. And if they’re going to take the time to listen to the words I’m singing, then I ought to take just as much time to write something that’s well thought-out.”
If leaving room for Paternoster’s vocal melodies was part of the band’s strategy for Rose Mountain, working with producer Matt Bayles was the other part. With a deeply rooted DIY streak, Screaming Females had self-produced their previous releases (with Steve Albini engineering their 2012 LP Ugly and the 2014 concert album Live at the Hideout) before overturning a long-standing, self-imposed rule and deciding it was time to bring in outside help. “What’s the best way to challenge yourself as an artist? Do something you told yourself you’d never do,” Dougherty says.
Bayles is perhaps best known for his work on albums by heavy metal acts like Mastodon and the Sword, which helped make Screaming Females confident in their choice: they figured he would be right at home with a loud, raucous band. Bayles joined the group in New Jersey to offer advice on composition before the musicians spent a month recording the album with Bayles in Seattle. They delved more deeply than ever before into the intricacies of guitar tones and drum sounds, and experimented with subtle touches that you wouldn’t expect on a Screaming Females album: listen for the organ buried beneath the terse guitars on “It’s Not Fair,” or the eerie, distorted tack-piano that brings the title track home.
“It’s definitely the most eclectic record in terms of instrumentation and dynamics that we have done to date,” Paternoster says.
It’s a fitting way to celebrate 10 years together, a period that has taken the band from playing basement shows in their hometown of New Brunswick to touring with the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Ted Leo & the Pharmacists and Garbage, who teamed with Screaming Females to record a cover of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” They’ve been featured on NPR and performed on Last Call With Carson Daly, building an audience without losing the focus and drive that inspired them in the first place.
“It’s pretty amazing that the three of us have been this committed this way,” Dougherty says, and Paternoster agrees.
“At the end of the day, what we really try to do is challenge ourselves musically, so that the three of us remain interested in this project we love very much,” she says. “Hopefully we can continue to do so and make music for as long as it’s feasible for us to do so.”
Katie Crutchfield’s southern roots are undeniable. The name of her solo musical project Waxahatchee comes from a creek not far from her childhood home in Alabama and seems to represent both where she came from and where she’s going. Since leaving home, Crutchfield has drifted between New York and Philadelphia but chose to return to Alabama to write her first two albums: American Weekend, her debut filled with powerful lo-fi acoustic tracks full of lament, and Cerulean Salt, a more developed and solid narrative about growing up. Both are representations of a youthful struggle with unresolved issues and unrequited feelings.
Waxhatchee’s latest record, Ivy Tripp, drifts confidently from these previous albums and brings forth a more informed and powerful recognition of where Crutchfield has currently found herself. The lament and grieving for her youth seem to have been replaced with control and sheer self-honesty. “My life has changed a lot in the last two years, and it’s been hard for me to process my feelings other than by writing songs,” says Crutchfield. “I think a running theme [of Ivy Tripp] is steadying yourself on shaky ground and reminding yourself that you have control in situations that seem overwhelming, or just being cognizant in moments of deep confusion or sadness, and learning to really feel emotions and to grow from that.”
Recorded and engineered by Kyle Gilbride of Wherever Audio at Crutchfield’s home on New York’s Long Island—with drums recorded in the gym of a local elementary school—Ivy Tripp presents a more developed and aged version of Waxahatchee. “The title Ivy Tripp is really just a term I made up for directionless-ness, specifically of the 20-something, 30-something, 40-something of today, lacking regard for the complaisant life path of our parents and grandparents. I have thought of it like this: Cerulean Salt is a solid and Ivy Tripp is a gas.”
Crutchfield is accompanied by both Gilbride and Keith Spencer on Ivy Tripp, and the record was produced by all three of them. With the addition of more guitar work, piano, drum machines, and Crutchfield’s vocals in full bloom, we are given a record that feels more emphatic and pronounced. Ivy Tripp opens with “Breathless,” filled with only a distorted keyboard and layers of vocals, showcasing Waxahatchee’s pension for quiet, personal reflection. The record then opens up into “Under a Rock,” a quicker guitar-driven song that lays the foundation for the rest of the album, which as a whole resonates with strong, self-aware lyrics, energetic ballads, and powerfully hushed moments of solitude. Crutchfield’s voice is certainly the guiding force behind Ivy Tripp—commanding and voluminous in the rock song “Poison,” candied and pure in the frolicking “La Loose”—gripping you tightly and then softly releasing you into the wilds of emotion.
As far as her goals with Ivy Tripp, Crutchfield says, “I heard someone say that you have to be the change you want to see. I just want to be the kind of musician I want to see in the world. I want to present myself in a way that reflects that.”