The band’s unique sound and accompanying artwork come directly from frontwoman Marissa Paternoster. “I’ve been drawing ever since I was a little kid and my mum was an art teacher,” she says of her creative influences. “She’d teach me a lot of things and let me sit in on her classes. I got really into comic books and Mad Magazine around the same time, which probably is what got me into punk. Watching Ren and Stimpy and enjoying weirdo stuff has always been what I’ve been into and what has influenced me.”
During live performances the band is known for often extending songs, jamming on new riffs or taking old songs down new and unexpected avenues. “We definitely have songs that have changed a lot live over the years, but then again we have other songs that we try to play as close to the recordings as possible,” says drummer Jarrett Dougherty. “I think it just comes down to trying to play the best possible show every night. For us that means having a little bit of the unexpected involved. At any moment one of us could try and change the song slightly and most often we’re good at knowing what parts are good to expand and change. Occasionally it crashes and burns but that’s no big deal. If that happens you can just start bashing everything and pretend you’re Sonic Youth.”
Complex songwriting and technical musicianship has been a staple of the band’s sound on all of their albums, however 2015’s Rose Mountain took the opposite approach. “I think that Marissa’s guitar playing gets a lot of credit and attention for obvious reasons,” says Jarrett. “For Rose Mountain we really tried to strip everything away that was extraneous and build the songs back up from there. Most often we’d write an instrumental track first and then add vocals on top of that. So for years that meant Marissa would be playing a lead line, Mike would be playing a lead line on the bass, I’d be playing a melodic line on the toms and Marissa would try and fit a lead vocal line on top of it. Since then we’ve become really focused on managing the whole project a lot better and simplifying some things.”
“We did a tour with Garbage around the time that we were working on those songs and we were playing some of them to Butch Vig, trying to pick his brain,” says Jarrett. “He said something that I thought was very insightful which was ‘it sounds really cool what you guys are working on here and it’s a great way to go as a band. But remember the best thing about your band is that it sounds like three people all going nuts at the same time and it somehow works.’ I thought that was a cool thing to come from someone who’s worked on so many radio friendly records reminding you that it’s OK to be crazy.”
“We always just try and put out something that makes us happy and I think we were all really proud of that album. It was the first time we made an album where we didn’t have some sort of emotional breakdown during the recording,” adds bassist King Mike.
The state of the music industry in 2016 is confusing at best, with no clear method of ensuring a pro table or safe career. Jarrett believes that their approach to controlling their art and direction is one of the only ways a band can achieve longevity and freedom. “Doing things DIY and independently is pretty much the only way we’ve ever known. Whenever we’d try to talk to people who are more important or have more money in the music industry, they look at us like we’re crazy when we talk about what we think is important about being a band,” he says.
“What we say misses their ears and what they say misses our ears. But somehow it’s worked for us over the years. I’ve also noticed that a lot of bands these days don’t even get an opportunity to do a lot of things for themselves. Very quickly people swoop in and promise them lots of money for their new record or management offers. To me it seems like a detriment because bands never learn how to manage these things for themselves. If you don’t have the knowledge to handle these things you’re going to get screwed in the end,” says Jarrett. “There’s been a very small minority of people who have been able to be financially successful in music. We’ve always wanted to avoid those pitfalls in the industry. If you go into it with the intent of capitalising on the monetary side of it you’re destined to fail.”