Jarrett Dougherty is the drummer of the punk rock trio Screaming Females. When not drumming, he spends his time sewing collared shirts, rebuilding his Philadelphia row home and digging for dollar bin CDs.
Getting run over by a 1956 Buick at sixty years of age can really motivate you to get your ducks in a row. After the near-death experience, Dennis Dougherty decided he needed to leave behind the comforts of suburban life and get back in the studio to make the best record of his life. Exactly twenty-five years after his 1991 album Pony Ride, Dennis is back with 2016’s Get the Angle Right.
Jarrett Dougherty is the drummer of rock & roll trio Screaming Females. His father, Dennis Dougherty, is a singer-songwriter working within the various genres of folk, country and Americana. The following pieces showcase how the two have taught and influenced each other over the past thirty-plus years. Jarrett recently helped Dennis release his first studio album in twenty-five years: Get the Angle Right (Thinking Dog Records/Don Giovanni Records), out now on CD and digital.
Jarrett Dougherty (Screaming Females)
Touring and recording as the drummer for Screaming Females means that I’ve done a number of interviews. One of the most common questions — alongside “What are your influences?” and “Why is Marissa so small?” — is, “When did you get involved with music?” This question always takes me a moment to answer because there has never really been a time when music wasn’t a part of my life.
The foundation of my family is music. My mother, Charlyn, is a multi-instrumentalist and a retired music therapist. My father, Dennis, is a songwriter and audio engineer. The memories from my first decade of life are holiday concerts at my mother’s hospital and peeking in on my dad’s all-day recording sessions in our home studio (a rare thing for the late ’80s and early ’90s). Despite their best attempts, by the age of nine I had yet to stick with an instrument. By their measure, I had missed almost a full decade of practice and I think they started to worry that I would never pick anything up. Then, one day, I knew I wanted to play drums. It is no secret that a big part of that decision was that percussion was about the only area of music that neither of them had any expertise in!
Dennis released a pair of albums in the ’80s and early ’90s titled On the Brink and Pony Ride. He regularly traveled to coffeehouses and folk festivals to trade songs and stories with other songwriters such as Steve Gillette and Fred Koller. He had a number of jobs during that time period. The ones I remember most vividly were wildlife animal removal specialist and elementary school music teacher. Then, suddenly, in quick succession, my little brother was born, we moved to a new town and Dennis got a new job as an audio engineer for national television news programs. The home studio took a long time to get set back up, and once it finally was, he didn’t spend nearly as much time in it. The new job took up tons of time, which meant there wasn’t as much time for folk festivals and coffeehouses. The years passed and Dennis recorded little things here and there (I’m pretty sure he sent out an audio Christmas card every year), but another full-length album never materialized.
Late 2015 arrived and Dennis informed me that he had gotten a new batch of songs together. He was going to hire session musicians and had planned out a chunk of studio time. The fact that he wasn’t going to be self-recording meant this was something different. He was getting out of his comfort zone, trying something new, giving himself a deadline. It was an inspiration to see someone so close to me put himself out there after all these years.
One of the other questions we get asked a lot is, “How did you develop the DIY attitude so closely associated with Screaming Females?” It is always a two-part answer for me. The first part was finding the American DIY punk network. The second part is how my mother and father raised me. My first concert wasn’t at a thousand-plus person venue in New York City, it was in my living room. My first time recording wasn’t with a disgruntled engineer who had overcharged me, it was cutting a drum track for a song my dad was working on in our home studio. Music wasn’t something that stars did, it was something that we did.
I was rebuilding the front porch — cutting two-by-fours, screwing plywood down, resetting and sistering sagging joists — and I had Jarrett helping me. He was maybe twelve or thirteen years old. I had a portable boombox, but the cassette deck had crapped out so I tuned in the strongest radio signal, a country station.
Montclair, New Jersey, doesn’t really claim an accent, but it’s as close to the generic Northeast intonation as you will get. The singer on the radio, however, was from another planet. “I caint, I caint, I jest caint,” he wailed over and over. Instinctively, Jarrett knew it was bullshit. His radar had kicked in; it was the first sign of his becoming aware of the force-fed culture of radio and its mind-numbing programming. He turned to me and said, “I hate this music. You know what I like? Green Day. That’s what my friends and I listen to.”
I said, “Good.”
When was Screaming Females born? Perhaps in that nanosecond that a child became an adult. Free will is perhaps the most powerful force on the planet. I watched him take that force and mold it. He set the time schedule, he practiced alone for years, he listened without prejudice to new and game-changing styles — rap, house, metal — and when he got to college, he got tight with punks running basement shows. He found Marissa Paternoster and King Mike. He booked one thousand shows and drove two vans into the dirt. He did it, not me.
How has this affected me? I watched the Olympics and saw the mandatory shots of the parents in the stands, wrapped in their American flags, wearing “Team (insert child’s name here)” shirts, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those athletes were railroaded by their domineering mothers and fathers into a life of faster, better, harder.
Now here’s the good part. I don’t ascribe to the notion of art as a competitive sport. I really dislike the TV game shows that judge singing, dancing and performance. But there is a time clock and it’s ticking. Jarrett sees the big picture. He knows about the slow and steady race. He reminds me that even though I’ve been involved in music my whole life, I only live it in bits, bytes, spurts. It is time, he says, to be the artist I want to be — but, just as importantly, to be the self-activist I need to be.
I’ve seen his plan and it works. You do exactly what you want to do. You watch the radar for the bullshit. You run the tortoise race. You do it for yourself, not for the wishes of parents, judges or critics. Build your own porch. Play your own music. Keep an eye on the big clock.