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Interview with Huntress
04 June 2014
HUNTRESS: Interview with Jill Janus
Interview by Carl Buxton
Huntress have been on the scene since 2009 and are gaining a growing army of fans among the Metal community, primarily due to the striking appearance of New York native lead singer Jill Janus, with her pagan photo shoots featuring heavily in the Metal press and on-line, but also for the rapid-fire release, by today’s standards, of two albums – 2012’s ‘Spell Eater’ and last year’s ‘Starbound Beast’. She is an amazingly determined, vibrant and well-versed woman who embodies total purity when it comes to looking after herself, particularly her voice. No Rock ‘n’ Roll debauchery or excess, despite her image, for this smart lady. And when she talks, you listen. I was invited to a backstage dressing room for a one on one discussion with the lady in question at Southampton’s Guildhall on the opening night of Lamb Of God’s UK tour. Her demeanour was one of friendly and welcoming with a softish New York-come-L.A. accent that no-one who has heard her guttural screams would connect her with. After the usual introductions and general chit-chat I enquired about the present state of the band.
Is the band still yourself, Blake Meahl, Ian Alden, Carl Wierzbicky and Anthony Crocamo?
The band is four at the core. We never had an official fifth member of Huntress. We’ve had friends who have come and gone. We started off with one line-up which consisted of a band named Professor. Professor joined forces with me to form Huntress.
They were in L.A. when you moved up to L.A.?
Yes. I saw them play. I was promoting and DJ-ing at the time and I booked their band. The first moment I saw them I said “I want this band.”
Did Professor have a male vocalist?
Actually it was Meahl, the lead guitarist, who was singing, as well as Alden. They would kind of go back and forth. But Professor is actually one of my favourite Metal bands. I booked them and I played them a couple of demos I had recorded and we had our dress rehearsal. After that dress rehearsal we joined forces and Huntress was birthed. At this time we’ve always kept it four at the core which is Wierzbicky on drums, Alden on bass, Meahl on lead guitar and myself on vocals, and prior to that we had Eric Harris on bass for the first record, but we decided to shift Ian to bass because Eric has his own project, Gypsyhawk. So he was never a permanent member, but Alden’s very suited for bass. So then we brought in our friend Crocamo, and he helped us write the second album, but he was never an official member. He just went on tour with us. Now we have another friend on tour with us (Jordan Ryan), so it’s really the four of us and then if the universe so wants us to have a permanent member then so be it. We’ll just have to wait and see.
You were on tour with Testament and Killswitch Engage in North America as well as Lamb Of God – how was that?
Oh, it was mind-blowing to be on that bill. I mean, you work many years to get to that level, and for us we are very blessed. We had the opportunity to be part of that fantastic line-up, only having been a band for three years. So the pace we’re moving at is rapid but it takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication, and one thing we’ve learnt immediately is that you can never get too comfortable. The hard work never ends, especially when you’re writing and releasing one album a year. The pace we’re working at is quite neck breaking.
Yes, that’s quite unusual for bands these days isn’t it?
We love Heavy Metal; we wanna keep producing Heavy Metal, creating Heavy Metal and touring with Heavy Metal. You know, I know no other life. When I decided that Huntress was going to be my purpose, my only goal, my only focus - fortunately I have band members who agree with me on this - and so nothing else matters. You know you abandon all other ambitions and once you choose to focus on one goal, and one goal only, you start to see success. I think that as a core is working for us.
Your style is described as traditional Heavy Metal – I don’t know if you’d go along with that description?
We stay true to the roots of Heavy Metal, but at the foundation Huntress is a Modern Metal band, a solid Metal band, but we have several influences which also makes us an interesting act to tour with because we can tour with a super-heavy Death Metal band and then even go with a Power Metal band like Dragonforce. We’re on tour now with Decapitated and they’re heavy as fuck! But we can still mesh and blend and their audience still accept us because the vocals – you know I have a wide variety of influences…
I do have four octaves and what’s exciting is being able to use that range and also use different vocal approaches in sounds and different voices. King Diamond is such a huge influence on me as well so there’s a little bit of that, a little bit of Mercyful Fate in there too, so I have fun. Every album I like to challenge myself and take the voice some place it hasn’t been before.
I’m quite interested in the North American tour. I mean Testament are an old school Thrash band, you’ve got Killswitch Engage who are a very technical band, especially with all the fast arpeggios, but with an extreme side, then you’ve got Lamb Of God which is extreme Heavy Metal, and then Decapitated which is technical Death Metal. Do you find that by going on tour with all these sorts of bands it’s broadening your fan base as opposed to say sticking with someone like Iron Maiden for example?
Absolutely, we want to bleed all over and it’s working. We want to win them over and we do win them over and there will always be misconceptions or preconceptions about Huntress, especially being a female vocalist. You know, I have to prove myself to the boys. It’s fun for me to do that, its fun for me to come in and win you over.
You see it as a challenge?
I love a challenge.
As opposed to being daunting?
No, it’s not daunting at all – I feel very involved in Metal. Especially when you’re touring with such a major league of heavy hitters like Lamb Of God; them reaching out to Huntress when our first album was released and saying “Hey, we love what you’re doing, we really support your band and we hope one day to tour with you.” The past tour whilst we’ve been on the road with Lamb Of God, we are building friendships within the Metal scene and I almost feel like they are my big brothers and they’re helping me, so I don’t feel threatened at all – I feel welcomed and protected by these big burly bearded Metal men, and it’s awesome! (laughs)
So they came to you as opposed to the other way around? I assume you manage yourselves, or at least Meahl does?
We’ve got an amazing team around us. We have fantastic booking agents and we have an amazing manager, and they really believe in us. A band that is from Highland Park, California, playing underground Metal shows to maybe a handful of people, them seeing something within us, something that is tangible. So, I would say Huntress was on the verge of a profound shift in 2010. We had just released our three-song EP ‘Off With Her Head’ and at that point, there was…
Changes in personnel as well, I think, wasn’t there?
Yes, I fired the original drummer because he didn’t share our vision… he didn’t have the commitment to the vision, and if that didn’t happen, a crack would occur, which it did. So I decided that we needed to take the band in a different direction, and, what do I need when I need guidance? I consult the Tarot cards. So I asked the Tarot to reveal one card that would become an epic Metal song and bring Huntress success. I flipped that card over and it was eight of swords. I wrote the song with the boys, at that moment I knew it was on. Everything seemed to fall into place. Simon Chan the video director magically appeared. We put all of our money into this video, being an unsigned band, and I just knew, I knew if we put this video out onto the internet, that we would gain a lot of attention. And sure enough we did. When we released it on Noisecreep in 2011 it caused a frenzy. I didn’t expect it to be that crazy but we had about nine labels trying to sign us. And…that was really the profound shift.
Were there any major labels amongst them, or were they mostly independent?
There were major labels.
It must have been a hell of a job to decide?
Not only that, there was a lot of back and forth. I think what it taught us was we really needed to stay together as a family more than anything, that the band really needed to remain intact and close and supportive of each other (because) there are a lot of sharks who swim. The one aspect of this journey that I despise is the legality of it. It can be really scary, you know, once you’re signing a contract and if you’re not really armed, you can be fucked! So, being with each other and realising that you’re going to make mistakes along the way, but finding the one label that we started out with, which was Napalm Records, they really shared the same vision, to us and that was the most important thing. So we went with Napalm and they’ve been very cool with us, especially in our artistic choices; they’re very supportive of our choices, which is what we wanted.
So, it’s great that Lamb Of God came to you guys, you’re on tour, you didn’t have to do any hard work, you didn’t have to put yourselves out there, apart from the videos and stuff.
Well, it didn’t work just being present. You know, we’ve been touring non-stop, considering we’ve released our first album, so we’ve really been saturating the tour circuit and also with our videos which are a part of our legacy – we really put a lot of effort into our music videos – we have three of them now, but they all are something we can be proud of and stand behind. Our first set of touring, again, these bands would reach out to us and show support, and then our management and booking agents would work it all out. We’ve been on tour with so many amazing acts that we actually had on our list - we’ve made like a little wish list - and we’ve ticked off several. I mean even touring in the summer with the Rock Star energy drink mayhem festival in the States…Amon Amarth – amazing! You know we wanted to tour with the Vikings of Sweden and that still – I would love one day to do a full scale European tour as support to Amon Amarth. So, we’re seeing, already, dreams come true for Huntress and it takes a lot of dedication and I think our track record speaks for itself. We’ve not missed one show. I never lose my voice. The boys are always maintaining their health as well. It’s really a very well-tuned, well-oiled machine, Huntress.
With regards to your voice, I saw at your sound check just now that you’re straight off of the bat screaming high. I mean for anybody doing that kind of thing, your voice has got to be spot-on, health-wise you’ve got to be spot-on, you’ve got to make sure you get enough sleep, enough rest, drink plenty of water, because it’s very easy to damage the vocal chords screaming like that. So for you to do that straight off of the bat, and you’re saying that you’ve never had to cancel a show yet, then that’s quite impressive. So how do you keep your voice in shape?
The voice rules me. That’s the first rule; that you have to abandon any other interests in life. You have to realise that you are a slave to your voice and you must have the training to back it up. Fortunately I started very young with classical training and now that classical training is the foundation for my dream. I have a very strong sense of self-worth, of dedication to my art and a determination that’s almost insane. I’ve worked very hard at what I do and I won’t put myself in a situation that would harm what I’ve worked and lived for. This is it. So, Melissa Cross has been amazing - for me being able to maintain the vocals night after night. I first learned about her from her DVDs about screaming. Turns out Cross is not only my vocal coach, she is Randy Blythe’s vocal coach (Lamb Of God), Angela Gossow’s (Arch Enemy) vocal coach, Andrew WK as well. She is the vocal coach of all the biggest Metal singers that are active right now, and I think that speaks volumes. She really helped me also strip away a lot of my classical inflections and bring out my true Metal voice, and despite thanks for that classical background, I won’t ever put any Operatic inflections in Huntress, (I’ll) save that for easy listening Metal, that’s not for us.
It’s very difficult apparently to switch isn’t it?
No. (laughs) No, it just takes dedication, it’s not difficult.
What about the other way then, maybe it’s harder to do that?
I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know about the other way. I started classically and then in my teens I started to sing Rock and then Metal, but again, like the great Dio once said, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.
And he was famous for not rehearsing or doing anything special with his voice.
No. He would have a beer and smoke a joint before he would take the stage.
And that was it – and his voice was there every time.
Hey, you know, not for one moment do I take it for granted. Every day when the boys are still present and it still slices and it’s still crushing and it’s healthy, there’s not one night when I say “do you know what? Fuck it! I’m gonna have a drink, I’m gonna smoke a joint”. I never do. I go on vocal rest and I go to bed, and that’s the way it is for me on tour. I never take it for granted, so for some reason within me I still have that fear that it could all go away. So I’m very protective and I’m almost a bit batty because of it, you know, I really, really dedicate my life to the voice and that’s all.
So if I take you back a little bit to when you met Professor, and you decided on a name, how did you come across Huntress? Is it to do with the comic book?
No, not at all. I named the band Huntress many years ago. It starts with my Pagan roots, the deity that I worship, Artemis, Goddess of the hunt, she’s also known by the name Diana – many different names - but at the core she is the Goddess; Nature, Mother Earth, the whole Pagan imagery which I read within Huntress. It all beckons to my upbringing, growing up on a farm, growing up on a white-tailed deer farm. I was surrounded by deer as a child, and that really started in my youth, so I always had the name Huntress within me and I always knew I wanted to do something with that name. I trade-marked it many years ago and I had been searching for musicians for ten years. If that other project had been another band, but I always knew that Huntress would ultimately be my true legacy and my true purpose. So I waited, and I waited for musicians and I’ve been through so many terrible musicians, terrible auditions, and then finally I saw this band Professor and the moment I saw them, even before they hit one note, I knew, I just knew that they were going to be my band.
Do they share the same Pagan vision as yourself?
They are grasping it more now. They’ve seen things that they can’t quite deny and we always trance certain levels of magic. But I would say that the biggest element that we all share is the power of visualisation. Together as a band, we do visualise things together and I think that that is also a key source itself.
Regards touring the U.K. is this the first major tour that you’ve done?
We’ve played several dates in the U.K. but this is our first large, national tour of the U.K. with Lamb Of God. This is it. This is the big one (laughs).
I was going to ask you about how you’re being treated and in general how is the European tour going - packed out audiences?
Sold out! Every night. It’s just building and building, and we’re starting to see fans that we’ve seen at prior shows in Europe and the U.K.. We can see progress occurring and being a pretty young band and seeing it happen before your very eyes is breath-taking. To have a fan-base building and pulsing right before you… and again we never take it for granted, I’m very close with my fans and I’m very involved in our road together, with them, Huntress and the fans together we’re going to blaze a new path for Heavy Metal, for true Heavy Metal. It’s going to thrive again and it’s already starting. So, to me, it’s not just Huntress on this journey alone, it’s Huntress and the music fans that have been supporting us from the very beginning. I’m very involved with them on-line and that’s where it all starts. I start to meet them on the computer, and then it turns into always meeting them after every show, so tonight I’ll be meeting fans after our set. I do it after every single performance, I go out and I meet them, take photos with them and we talk and we make plans to see each other again at the next stop, so I’m very involved with them. My time is limited on-line and it’s limited only to my fans. I don’t read reviews, positive or negative, it doesn’t affect my path. I don’t ever let the ego-monster take hold; I never let negativity from the tour take hold, so I’m very focussed on exactly what I’m doing with my purpose. The fans, together, we create this – it’s our world, so others don’t matter. It’s the fans and it’s Huntress, so here we go.
Is that through Twitter or Facebook or anything like that?
It’s Facebook, it’s Twitter and it’s Instagram. There are many mediums and being involved with social media is a huge aspect of our life.
It’s also a very good way for promotion as well.
It sure is. You’ve got to play the game. I started off as a promoter – I know how to play that game. I worked the night life for many years to fund my music, so to me, promotion is always going to be a big aspect of Huntress.
Holland and Germany I think you go to after this tour with Lamb Of God and you’re actually headlining aren’t you? Starting in Haarlem on the 23rd and finishing in Frankfurt about a week later.
Yeah, we play a few shows to close out the tour with Lamb Of God, so once we’re done with our run with Lamb Of God, we play a few shows just to make a little extra money and then get back home.
And how easy was it securing those gigs in Holland and Germany?
We have a great booking agent and word of mouth is spreading so it’s at this point it’s not too difficult to get those headlining shows. Eventually we’ve got to grow up and be a headliner so it’s kind of like a little bit of a test. These shows along the way are to see how we’re doing as performers, how we’re doing with our draw. It’s all part of the greater plan.
How did you feel about Sweden Rock and Download last year and what kind of response did you get?
Sweden Rock was insane! The scope of that stage, the size, the reaction, it was such an amazing opportunity for us and I am so grateful to the promoters of Sweden Rock for putting us on that bill. For a virtually unknown Metal band, it blew my fucking mind! Sweden Rock reached out to my management and booking agent and they’d heard of Huntress and…I stay quite removed from certain aspects - I don’t like to get too involved in the business side - but I hear we got quite the buzz (laughs).
Download, again we went and we performed. Right after our performance we were offered more deals again.
I’d like to mention that ‘Starbound Beast’ was voted number five in L.A. Weekly’s Best-Selling Metal Albums 2013. You must feel really proud about that?
Of course we’re very proud, especially getting recognised for our music in our home town. I mean I’m originally from New York, the boys are from Los Angeles, and that’s where I found them, so our new home is in L.A.
You’re kind of an adopted L.A. woman.
You know what, I’m kind of adopted, but it’s kind of like purgatory paradise, it’s always beautiful there, so no matter where we are in the world, we always know that we can go home to paradise and it really is, it’s quite peaceful and it’s a lovely place to end up. Yeah, getting that type of recognition, and also the recognition we’ve received for our video ‘Zenith’, directed by Phil Mucci. We’ve won a slew of awards for that video and that’s been also really, really wonderful for us.
It was number three on Noisecreep wasn’t it, and number four album I think in the top ten of last year – so that’s pretty impressive when you consider who you were up against?
Yeah. You know when you’re placed amongst the bands we’ve admired for so many years. Again it’s just that we are so humble and so grateful. You know sometimes, I need to step back and just live in this moment and realise how blessed we are to be where we are. And again it could all go away in an instant so we’re going to live life to the fullest and embrace all of this magic.