Marissa Paternoster: Shredder

portrait by Rodolfo Martinez
As the singer and guitarist of the punk juggernaut Screaming Females, Marissa Paternoster is at the forefront of the New Brunswick, NJ basement-show scene -- one of America's most vibrant DIY strongholds. A ferocious guitarist with a voice that's inversely proportional to her tiny frame, Paternoster embodies all the raw passion of a great bandleader and none of the cliché.

Personal OGs:
Edith Piaf, Frida Kahlo, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Ray Johnson, Kathleen Hanna, Alice Neel, Dusty Springfield, Francis Bacon and Lucinda Williams.  I have a close friend who goes by the moniker LNY.  He is a muralist, street artist, educator and activist. LNY knows how powerful art is and the potential it has to make a positive impact on communities in need.

Who are some of the people who have been an inspiration to you in your career? 
A lot of musicians from our hometown of New Brunswick, NJ, really drove me towards wanting more out of being in a punk band. One of my very favorite bands, Hunchback, was especially important to me. Through their records and performances, I realized that a really amazing band is more than just songs -- an amazing band is like a four-headed monster.  Every member has a particular character, they all are indispensable, and together they create something far above and beyond anything they could do themselves.  That's why I love rock 'n' roll bands that stick together. You can tell when four personalities click musically -- Hunchback was one of those bands, and I miss them a lot.

What do you think made you the person you are?

I don't think that there is anything special about me on any sort of genetic level or spiritual plateau. I am extremely lucky to be where I am and I certainly hope I have earned it through hard work.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in your career?

I had to push through a lot of self-doubt, self-hatred and plain old insecurity to muster up the courage to sing, play guitar or show people my artwork. I think something as simplistic as self-doubt is a huge hurdle that holds many, many talented people back from showing off their stuff.

What do you consider success to be?
I never look back on moments in my career and think to myself, "Wow, what a terrific success!  I really nailed it on that one." I measure my "success" in units of creative satisfaction. Whatever events or experiences bring me the most joy and satisfaction, artistically and personally, are those that I consider my finest moments.

What were you like as a child?
I spent most of my time drawing. I didn't do much else. I liked superhero comics, cartoons, and video games. I was fairly typical, and obviously very tom-boyish. I became a bit more odd in my teenage years, bullied a lot because of my appearance, became really interested in punk, but still spent the bulk of my time drawing and listening to music.  I became more withdrawn as a grew older, and I didn't really get over that until playing in Screaming Females forced me to engage with other people.   

Have you ever felt truly hurt or shaken by a criticism of your work?
I think there were a few critiques at my university, Rutgers, that had me realize that I perhaps didn't belong in art school and I wasn't giving my formal education my full attention. I was very distracted by playing music, and by my personal life, so my art 'career' sort of fell by the wayside. I think a lot of professors recognized that I had potential but that I was, and I quote, "a slug"

What is the best thing a fan has ever given you or done for you?
When I was 16, I used to send my CD-R demos out to people who requested them via MySpace -- which is, like, a virtual relic now -- and this young kid named Alex R. Delp sent me his 'lucky quarter' in the mail after he received the CD-R.  The quarter had a hole punched through it and I put it on my keychain.  I think it was the first gift I had ever received from a stranger who appreciated my music.  It's been on my keychain ever since.  Thanks, Alex!

Is there anything you've seen recently that you think is completely radical?
I had the opportunity to throw a show for a Rhode Island-based band called Downtown Boys a few months ago, and their singer, Victoria Ruiz, hit me like a ton of bricks.  She has such an explosive stage presence and an absolutely electric personality. Her unfathomable amount of energy and the band's terrific music just made me really happy.

Hair and makeup by Bruce Dean Lindstrom at Artists at Wilhelmina Image Board NYC.

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