Friday, February 1, 2013

Exorcism Number Five: Jarrett Dougherty

HEY. Here's another one. This interview is with Jarrett Dougherty from the Screaming Females. (He's the drummer.) And a nice guy for finding time to answer my questions! Weirdly, I know very little about the Screaming Females and their members. I had fun reading these answers.
 Hope you do too!

How long have you been playing the drums and how did you learn?

2013 is my 20th anniversary of playing drums. I started taking percussion lessons at 9 years of age. I had a fabulous teacher who was a percussionist with the NJ Symphony and now is a director over there. I took lessons with him for 9 years although we actually focused very little on drumset. I learned a whole world of percussion instruments while studying with him. He was a master of mallet instruments and frame drums.

Did you ever take up any other instrument?

I always tell people that learning percussion as opposed to just drumset is like learning a 1000 instruments. Granted, it is easier to master a cowbell than it is a violin but most people don't realize that there are about 1000 ways to play a tambourine. I played alto sax in middle school and trombone in jazz band in high school.

Who are some of your drum idols? Why are they important to you?

The drummers who most influenced me would have to be Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine, Billy Martin of Medeski Martin & Wood, Questlove of The Roots, Brendan Canty of Fugazi, and Dave Grohl of Nirvana/Foo Fighters. I was also very influenced by hip hop producers, especially people like RZA, DJ Shadow, and DJ Primer. The thing I have always loved most about drumming is the groove. I find most drummers to be annoying to listen to. Most drummers play too many notes and do too many fills. I often rather listen to a "bad" drummer play than a "good" drummer because the "bad" drummer often supports the song better. Subtle changes in a hi-hat, kick, snare based rhythm are much more interesting to me than flashy fills. All the drummers and producers I mentioned above are known for creating distinctive beats that are an integral piece of the songs they are playing with.

Talk about your recording process and the preparation that goes into it. What are some of your favorite records as afar as drum sound is concerned?

For Screaming Females we always record guitar, bass, and drums together live. That means that we really have to understand each other's parts before we hit the studio because we can't really change things once we get there. Mike and Marissa both play very melodic and rhythmic lines. This means that I often can't just play a straight ahead rock beat and need to figure out exactly which notes they are accenting and create a beat around that. Also, I have a pretty good ear for rhythm and will often pick out trouble spots in riffs or songs. I can identify that something isn't matching up quite right. I will analyze each part. Sometimes I go so far as to write down the rhythms of the guitar, bass, and drums and line them up. That way I can visually identify exactly how the rhythms are interacting. 9 times out of 10 if something feels weird to me and I go through this process I will find one beat where one of us is accenting something slightly differently. Doing all that makes for really solid rhythms and distinct grooves. It all makes recording easier.
My favorite drum sound is on Rage Against The Machine's Evil Empire. The drums sound so tight without just being clicky noises. I hate drums that don't have body and tone (except for Lars, that is just his thing). I also love the drum sound on Pixies' Surfer Rosa and Weezer's Pinkerton. 

In my opinion, you approach the drums very academically. Has this approach always come naturally to you or was there an evolution over time?

As I said earlier, I am a classically trained percussionist. So I can read, write, and understand rhythms very well. But calling it academic makes it sound stuffy. I am going for the exact opposite of that. I want groove. It was the way I was taught to think about music so it is very natural.

How did the Screaming Females get together?

That's boring! Google it. Ha. Via a project my friends put together to get money from Rutgers U to put out CDs, I came into contact with Marissa's music. The only CD that the music label club put out had a song from Noun and Surgery On TV (which Mike was also in). I asked Marissa to hang out and she asked me to join the band. We changed our name to Screaming Females and the rest is history.

Did you always have specific goals set as to how far you wanted to go musically and professionally?

We very specifically have never had any musical goals. The only goal was to do what felt right. As far as "professionally" I would say that I had a very specific goal of releasing a real album. I had known some great bands that only released CD-Rs. It seemed to me that they didn't value what they were doing enough to make a lasting document of it. So in that way Baby Teeth is probably still my greatest personal achievement. I dreamed of being able to play music professionally right from the beginning. I thought that if I put all my focus into the band that I could make it work without needing to sell songs to ads or have a bullshit manager telling us what to do. I thought it was a very cool project to undertake and a place for me to focus at a point in my life when I was otherwise completely lost. SF was my full time profession from fall 2008 until fall 2012. I am now having to figure out what it means to be in a band that isn't a full time job anymore.

You seem to be the organizer of the group. How much time and effort goes into the band on a daily basis and how much has that changed over the years?

From about 2007 through 2012, I did all the emailing, phone calls, paperwork, and finances. I also took care of or was intimately involved with planning all our recording sessions, releases, and touring. From 2008-2012 I would spend about 5-7 hours doing band work most days. Some days there would be no work and other times I would spend 10 hours a day for weeks straight filling out and emailing paperwork. I enjoyed being involved in that way and learned a whole lot by making a bunch of mistakes.

I have stepped back from that role now. Mike and Marissa are handling all the managing duties now. I have had to get a full time job recently and have other projects I am focusing my time on. Mike has more time available to devote to managing the band's affairs and he definitely knows what he is doing.

Was there a moment where you realized that the band had gone from one level to the next in terms of music and fans?

Not really. Opening for The Dead Weather in summer of 2009 was the first time we had been on a stage playing for 1000s of people so that was definitely a milestone. Putting out Power Move with Don Giovanni Records was a big milestone because we were super reluctant to give up any control. It was a good thing we did because it was the first time that we realized that there could be people other than the three of us who had something important to contribute to Screaming Females.

Kind of going with the above question, how important is it that you still are able to go back and play a basement in New Brunswick or wherever?

We have always just wanted to play shows in spaces where the people there cared about what was happening. We want to have the best show possible and put on the best show possible for the people who show up. That type of show doesn't happen in any one particular type of space. Keeping our operation small but on a high and professional level allows us to be versatile. We can get up and play a festival to 6000+ people because we have learned how to do that (while the rest of the bands at those types of shows have crews and buses and shit) but than we can also go and play a great DIY show because our operation is small enough to work in that type of setting too. Being on tour with Ted Leo and Rx really showed me how that is a real possibility. They tour in a van with just the band and one sound man. And I have watched them roll into 1000+ person sold out shows and also into 60+ person DIY shows. 

What is your family like and what was your childhood like? Do you have siblings? What do/did your parents do for a living?

My family is great. I grew up in Montclair, NJ until I was 12. It is a very progressive town with a very diverse population along many lines. I grew up on the border of the "bad" side of town across the street from two abandoned houses. My parents bought that house in foreclosure and spent the next 20 years trying to fix it. I went to one of the few public Montessori schools in the country and was involved in an Orff music program there. It definitely shaped me to grow up in that environment. Then we moved to Pequannock, NJ. Pequannock is a small town full of banks, churches, and split-level homes. There was a lot of racism, homophobia, backyard keggers, and friday night high school football games. I didn't fit in and didn't care to. I was made fun of pretty badly. I left for college and never looked back.

I have a brother who is 12 years younger than myself. My mom is a music therapist and was a long time union leader for AFSCME in North Jersey. My dad was a semi-professional singer-songwriter, a wildlife removal specialist, a music teacher, and a professional sound technician for national and international television. They are both sort of retired but the economic disaster of the last 5 years has made a full retirement pretty much impossible.

Did you always want to play the drums or did you also want to be a hand model or a gym teacher too?

When I was younger I wanted to be a comic book artist. When I started taking drum lessons I stopped drawing. 

What other jobs have you had?

I worked sound for weddings at a church in my town. I worked at a deli (got fired). I worked in a cafe in New York City. I worked on an Organic farm. I worked in the dinning hall at Rutgers. I worked for a year at Starbucks. I worked in a university bookstore. I have done mystery shopping. I have written complete bullshit useless articles about crap for blogs. Probably some other stuff. Most recently I worked at one of the world's most high-end furniture manufacturers in the upholstery department (got laid off after 3 weeks because of Sandy). Currently I work a few days a week in a small kitchen for a cafe and a few days a week as a barista.

Do you have any ghost stories?

A friend of mine lived at a very strange house in New Brunswick, NJ. It was set back from the street but once you noticed it was there, you couldn't help but remark at how different it was from all the other houses in the neighborhood. It didn't match the rest of the city. I can only imagine that it was owned by the last family that wouldn't sell to the new developers who rebuilt the city some time in the early 1900s. It was all red brick with a red brick path to the front door and a red brick patio in the back yard. My friend filled a vacant room in the house and didn't know the other roommates very well. Not long after moving in he began to notice strange things. Every time he would come home his food would be moved around in the kitchen. At first he wanted to blame his new roommates but figured it wasn't worth bringing up. Then he started to notice what he could only describe as whispers when no one else was home. Finally one day he was home alone and distinctly heard the bell noise of the toaster oven being opened. He walked into the kitchen and found that the toaster oven had been opened even though no one was there! At this point he couldn't take it any longer. He got up the guts to mention it to one of the other house mates who replied by saying that he had been thinking the same thing but was too scared to mention it to anyone else!!! My friend stopped sleeping at the house. One day when the land lord stopped by my friend decided that he didn't care if he sounded crazy. He straight up said "I think there is a ghost in the house." To which the land lord replied "Oh, I know." He proceeded to tell him that when he had bought the house a year before that it had been empty for 20 years. He said that the legend goes that a infamous New Brunswick drug dealer had died of an OD in the house in the 60s. After that no one had lived in the house for more than 6 months. That young professors with full time appointments to the university had quit and left town after only a month or two of living in the house. After a few years of this the house had just stayed empty until the new landlord bought the house the year before my friend moved in. Upon hearing the story my friend decided that it all made sense, that the ghost wasn't trying to scare him. The ghost just didn't realize he was dead. He was high in the kitchen trying to make himself some munchies.

Thanks Jarrett. For more info about the Screaming Females GOOGLE IT. Hi-YO!

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