Noun, and the Virtues of Being Sad and Horny
The project featuring Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females and Mark Bronzino of Iron Reagan produces a weird chemistry that works. Just don't call it goth.
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“There isn’t really a word to define what kind of band Noun is. We are like a polyamorous band. We are about love, not possession,” Marissa Paternoster describes of her long-running music project, Noun. When discussing Noun, she hesitates to call it a solo project because that’s not 100 percent accurate. While people will associate Paternoster more as the lead singer/guitarist for Screaming Females, Noun came into existence long before. Noun began alongside Paternoster’s musical inclinations and as she grew and found her voice and style, so did Noun. “It only was [a solo project] for a short period of time. In the recordings, at least, there are almost always some auxiliary people playing on it. Throw Your Body on the Gears… is the first record I wrote with somebody—that somebody being Mark Bronzino—but before this record, I wrote everything. So in that regard, it definitely was a solo project and this record is an exception to that.”
With the release of Throw Your Body On The Gears And Stop The Machine With Your Blood (Noun’s second LP) on Don Giovanni Records, Noun have crafted an album full of dark yet catchy hooks and melodies that defy simple classifications. Taken at face value, the record could be misunderstood as the musings of two angsty and depressed people, but this overlooks an entire dimension of the record. Stationed inside the back of Mark’s minivan and parked on the side of a busy street in Brooklyn, I caught up with Noun about their project, why it’s not just a goth record, and the intricacies behind their latest video for the single “Loveblood.”
Noisey: Marissa, I read that you claim to have started writing and recording songs as a way of proving that you were good enough to be in bands. Is this something you felt that you had to prove to others, or was it directed more at yourself?
Marissa Paternoster: I’m from Elizabeth, New Jersey and there really isn’t a lot to do there and there weren’t really many kids playing music. No one in my school was interested in the type of music that I was interested in. I would hang out with the emo kids, and they’d play me the first Dashboard Confessional EP and I’d just think, “Ah, there’s no place for me in this world.” So I started recording stuff on my own in hopes that someday I might come across somebody that might have similar interests and, since I was socially inept, I could just give them a CD to show them the kind of stuff I like to do. That’s how it started, just recording at home when I was 16 on my dad’s laptop and I just got obsessed with it. I recorded like 60 bad songs that are embarrassing in high school. [Laughs] Eventually, I met the people who would be in my band, Screaming Females, but Noun has never really stopped, it’s just had different incarnations. It’s such a malleable project and people can come and go as they please. I feel like that makes me a more flexible and better songwriter.
Having both lived—and Mark still currently living—in New Brunswick, I imagine that with it being a college town, it’s a bit transient, but do you think the city helped to foster a community that affected both of you?
Mark Bronzino: There’s always something going on. It’s not like when we had our heyday, but it always ebbs and flows. I was still doing shows at my house until a year ago, when basically it was either we stop doing show or we don’t have a place to live because the pipes are bursting and the basement is flooding. I mean, there are still people doing stuff but I feel like it’s not, you know, it’s not the same. But I feel like saying that makes me sound like an asshole. [Laughs]
Marissa: I perpetuate that sentiment, but it is probably because I don’t live there anymore. Whenever I look at the website that has the show listing, I’m like, “Who are all these bands and where are all these houses?” but then I realize, “Oh yeah, Marissa, you are old. You don’t know what’s going on anymore.”
Mark: Part of what made New Brunswick cool was that there was always a hardcore scene and there was always an indie scene, and when they are working together, it is really great but they get separated a lot.
Marissa: Rutgers and New Brunswick could probably have a really cool cultural and arts community if they did a fraction of what they do for football for the arts. But they literally do nothing and systemically will remove institutions that do so they can build parking decks.
You mention Noun always being around, do you think that there is going to be a point where it becomes your main focus?
Marissa: I work full time with Screaming Females, and Mark travels a lot with Iron Reagan and Mammoth Grinder, so neither of us really has time to focus fully on it. It would be unfair to the project for me to lie to myself and say that I did have a lot of time to do stuff with it. It would be nice to one day have a proper studio session to do Noun stuff, but I do think that, for the most part, I use it for an excuse to hang out with musicians and songwriters that I admire, to hang out and use different instrumentation and force myself to compose in new ways that I haven’t before. That’s primarily the way I look at it, but if the opportunity arises and I can focus on it a little more that would be lovely.
Is there something you are able to express in Noun that either of you aren’t able to expresses in your other bands — whether it is lyrically or musically?
Mark: I would never write the kind of music I wrote for Noun with anyone else. Those songs are specifically written for Marissa, for her voice. It’s cool for me because there is a lot more anonymity, in certain ways, since I am not the one singing it. This is what I am feeling but I am not saying it. It also gives it a different perspective. I mean, how many songs are there about a dude who is horny and sad about a girl?
Marissa: That’s the name of our next record. [Laughs] Horny and Sad.
Mark: But, you know, it does change the dynamic in a lot of ways, it makes it a little more interesting to have a lady…
Marissa: …sang by a gay lady…
Mark: [Laughs] to have a gay lady signing the same horny, sad lyrics about a lady. It adds a layer.
Marissa: It happens to people, to all of us.
Mark: I guess that is one of the points of the records. Everyone is horny and sad. [Laughs] It doesn’t matter who you are.
Marissa: That’s a truism. That should be in the bible somewhere. If I abode by the scripture, I would write it in there somewhere.
Mark: I think it is. What’s his name said it. What’s his name?
Mark: Yeah, Jesus. [Laughs]
Judging by the way that you two bounce things off each other, it sounds like the recording and writing process was loose and fun?
Marissa: Yeah, Mark and I had a fun time on this record using what we had access to, in terms of instrumentation. He had a really old synth…
Mark: Yeah, the KORG Wavestation.
Marissa: And it wasn’t like a hip, KORG synth. It was not outdated enough to be a collectors’ item—it was from like, the 80s and had like 28 tones on it and it took floppy disks—so it’s not an artisanal synth or something that somebody would seek out. That’s why I liked it, because it really flew under the radar but it still had a lot of fun sounds in it.
Mark: I guess neither of us have really done a drum machine or synthy type of thing, and we just did it our own way.
And the record reflects that, it’s a much more synth-driven and, in a lot of ways darker work than the previous Noun LP.
Marissa: I understand why a lot of people think that we made a goth record, and, yeah, of course, we have both been fans of “goth” music but we also we just like, “We have a keyboard, we have a drum machine, and we’re here, so what are we going to make?” And that is just kind of how it came out. There were a couple of reviews of the album where it was such a superficial glossing over of an album that really was just so Mark and I could enjoy ourselves, spend time together, and write music that we thought was engaging.
Mark: It is kind of funny how the record came out so dark but in actuality it was just hanging out, goofing off, and having a good time. The listen back was just like, “Oh this is like super sad.” [Laughs] I don’t know how that happened.
I think you get that in the video for “Loveblood” as well, because, on one hand, it’s this very tragic tale of lost love, but on the other hand, you can really see your sense of humor shine through. How much time went into developing the concept and story, and then actually directing the video?
Mark: There are a lot of different angles. My friend Pedro Serrano, who’s in the video, inspired part of it; he’s a New Brunswick/New York skinhead legend who is very open about being a gay skinhead and what that’s all about. He’s a very traditional skinhead, in every way—you know, he has a bat tattooed on his head and he wears bomber jackets. I spent a lot of time with him and I kind of felt that the skinhead, and especially the gay skinhead, was a really interesting taboo, so to speak. I’ve always found skinheads fascinating because when I was a kid going to shows, skinheads were like the scariest fucking things in the world. They just beat the shit out of people all the time.
Marissa: The gay skinhead really is the really ultimate dichotomy. I have a very cursory knowledge of skinhead culture, but, from what I understand, they are not a particularly tolerant group. So I can imagine they wouldn’t be too fond of homosexuals. So it’s funny that Pedro found a place for himself in that world.
Mark: Well, there are some that tolerant.
Yeah there S.H.A.R.P.S. and a lot of Trads that I have met have been much more open. In fact, the first skinhead I became friends with as a 14-year-old punk was actually gay as well.
Marissa: If you are part of a marginalized group like that, surrounding yourself with people who will take a hit for you or protect you, that’s appealing.
Mark: We all know the reasons why people get involved with crews. But another thing about the video is that I’ve been starting see a lot of punk art that is homoerotic in certain ways. I think that punk and metal culture have always taken a lot from gay culture and I’ve been noticing it coming back amongst punks. The video is like the Agnostic Front “Punks and Skins United and Strong” taken to the next level.
Marissa: Taken to an intimate level.
There are obvious nods to political aspects on the record. So lyrically, how much of Noun comes from a personal versus a political position, or is it impossible to distinguish between the two?
Marissa: The way that we both live our lives, our personal politics are relatively similar; we are not looking for infinite growth when it comes to our careers, we are looking for sustainability. So I think that everything we do probably has some political inclination involved in it. Whether it is the way that we choose to purchase things from local businesses, or how often we drive our cars, that stuff is all part of our personal lives. That and the fact that we both live in poverty, have bad health insurance…
Mark: No health insurance.
Marissa: And that is all reflective of the broken machine that we live within, which is capitalist America. Someone actually asked me about the Mario Savio quote the other day and I was like, “Actually Mark and I were just watching a lot of Battlestar Galactica and they appropriated the quote in that.” But then I thought a little bit about it and I thought about how it is a really powerful speech and how applicable it is to so many different facets of human life. So I am supposing that, yes, politics is involved in our day to day lives, but I would be hard pressed to sit down with you and talk about the particulars about what is happening in Syria right now. It’s not that kind of politics, it’s personal politics.
Joe Yanick is on Twitter - @joeyanick