Huntress Vocalist Jill Janus Talks In Depth About Her Band’s Eventful Year, Songwriting Inspirations, Image and More
Huntress (featuring vocalist Jill Janus, guitarists Blake Meahl and Anthony Crocamo, Ian Alden on bass and drummer Carl Weirzbicky) are one of those bands that remind me why I became excited enough to start writing about music to begin with. Within the last few years the band has risen steadily, proving to be a perfect storm of heavy metal, dark lyrics and imagery combined with amazing musical virtuosity. In an era where seemingly every metal label trots out a band with a female vocalist vying for attention in the marketplace, there are a number of things about Huntress singer Jill Janus that stand out. First of all, she doesn’t give even a quarter of a fuck about reviews, critical acclaim or the lack of or anything not pertaining to her fans, her band or her music. Second of all, she’s a musically educated frontwoman with a combined knowledge of stage presence, music theory and composition that goes a lot further than just being a “girl singer”. Lastly, she’s well aware of her image, her presence and how she fits into the overall presentation of the band and it’s unique trip. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jill for the first time recently to ask her about her music and her band; read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: You guys have just come off the road for a breather and are getting set to start working on your next album before heading back out on the road but 2013 has been very good for Huntress in terms of exposure. I know I’m a little late to the party but I’m very excited about the band; is it a pleasure to be continually attracting new fans to the band and your latest album “Starbound Beast”?
Jill Janus: Absoultely! I feel that we’re going to continue to gain fans and momentum because we really are still such a young band. The fact that people are just starting to notice us now is exciting, it tells me this is going to be a long journey and we’re in it for the long haul.
LRI: I’m reading a great new book about Metallica from some British journalists and in it Lars talks about how the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal inspired him because it was evident that not only was the music heavier heavier but the bands and their fans seem to be much more about a total commitment and an overall lifestyle. I know that some of those bands and styles also were something of an influence on your band but what I really wanted to ask you is; do you see a certain level of fanaticism and similar hardcore “lifer” element with your fans?
Jill: We’ve experienced some fanatics without a doubt and I openly welcome all creeps, weirdos and freaks because I’m one of them. Our fans are the best, again, we’re still a young band but we absolutely have some very passionate fans which is great. As far as our NWOBHM influence, of course, we will always keep our roots in true heavy metal however, we’re a very forward thinking, modern, current, crushing metal band and we’re gonna continue to be modern and move forward.
LRI: Does that kind of obsession or passion make sense to you though? Can you relate to that person who feels that way about you and your band?
Jill: Of course, of course we can relate to that, all of us live for our purpose, that way of thinking and living really rings true for myself and my bandmates. Huntress is not just a band, it is our lifestyle, it is our purpose so that’s part of our path.
LRI: A lot of people have read or are aware of your musical background; that you are a Julliard graduate and have a music theory and theatrical background. Some of the compositions on “Starbound Beast” are pretty complex, the major and minor tonal shifts, the tempo variations and even your various vocal approaches within a given song. Do you think that musical education has served you and the band well or helped your unique approach?
Jill: Well, first of all, I’m not a Julliard graduate, that’s an internet rumor. I appreciate people thinking I am, that’s pretty cool. I actually graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy which is just ten blocks away from Julliard in Manhattan so they’re very closely, closely related in terms of proximity but I do have a theory background. I started in opera and I do believe the capability of me being able to sight read music and bringing that theory into the band has definitely helped at least just that one aspect of it; the guys bring the riffs and it all works out just fine.
LRI: I wanted to ask your a bit about your first album “Spell Eater”. Obviously, that era of writing and recording your debut holds some great memories for you. What, specifically, do you recall about it’s recording, release or hearing the playback on it for the first time?
Jill: I have memories of being locked in a vocal booth and nearly losing my mind, so…… (laughs). Besides that, it was a very difficult process for us, especially me having to basically shed my feminine bullshit and man-up and get the job done. For me, that was probably the hardest aspect of it all, just un-sexing myself and delivering a really solid metal production. The boys have been really helpful with this aspect but it was definitely challenging. The memories I have of that time? What can I say, it was a dream come true, I’m living for my purpose like I said but the thing is, the work never ends. As soon as we’re done with a record, very, very rarely do we listen to that record until the next cycle starts. Like we wrote “Spell Eater” and none of us could listen to it, we just put so much into it that it tore us apart a little but, not as a band but emotionally, it was just really a bit of a draining process for us because we really gave it all. We gave everything we had at that time for it so you know, the cycle is; we tend to give birth, I have a little post-partum depression and then we start writing the next one and touring. When we started working “Starbound Beast” was when I really started listening to “Spell Eater” again.
LRI: In heavy metal, cover art is pretty integral. It’s much more important and meaningful to the metal fan than it is to fans of a lot of other genres and Huntress has album covers that really stand out. What were you looking for on both of these pieces of art for your album jackets?
Jill: We have an amazing artist who we work with whose name is Vance Kelly, we work with him on every album and he has a telepathic connection with us. When I reach out to Vance, I give him a little bit of the imagery and the true line of the album. These first three albums are pretty special to me because it’s a bit of a spiritual journey. The first three albums are the maiden, the mother and the crone phase so Vance understands that and he understands the occult aspect of that. He really grasps all that and delivers something quite beautiful, yet haunting and brutal.
LRI: I apologize, I know some high school-ish Lavey stuff but I don’t fully grasp exactly what you’re speaking of in terms of the phases, can you elaborate?
Jill: Sure, no it’s fine I don’t mind at all. It’s a pagan reference. The maiden, the mother and the crone, it’s the triple goddess, the goddess in her three forms.
LRI: Sometimes people, especially critics, like to doubt the sincerity of or take down bands that dabble in occult or other-worldly imagery or lyricism; especially if they are theatrical in their approach to playing live. Do you have any idea why some people feel the need to be dismissive like that?
Jill: I honestly don’t care (laughs). I don’t care about reviews, any of that. I have one focus, one vision and that is to create music with my band Huntress and everything else just doesn’t matter. You learn very quickly, when you start to gain some success, that all of that other shit is noise and that noise doesn’t matter. That’s really very vital to our existence. We do what we want, we create music we love and we don’t compromise because if I was going to compromise, I could have done it many years ago. It took me ten years to find these musicians so at this point, noise means nothing to me.
LRI: Lemmy wrote the sexualized, romantic lyrics of your song “I Wanna Fuck You To Death” and you don’t generally write from a purely physical sense. You’ve taken some pretty sexy photos and aren’t afraid to play on some of those feminine traits but at the same time you’ve given interviews where you’ve said that your band is “no bullshit and no corsets”. Is there a clear line as far as how you use your sexuality in Huntress?
Jill: I’ll draw you closer to the flame and then I’ll burn you alive. Unless you have something to back that up talent-wise, meaning your vocal abilities or musicianship, your looks and feminine traits are pretty unimportant. It’s also very important that you realize you can’t take yourself too seriously; I have fun. I like dressing very provocatively and I enjoy a good laugh. I’m not someone who’s going to take myself so seriously although the music, of course, we take very seriously. We’re writing an album a year for god’s sakes but all the other aspects of Huntress are fun, we like to have a good time. It’s fuckin heavy metal and heavy metal is fantasy and there is that element that goes along with it so we have no problem with that whatsoever.
LRI: I know a lot of artists don’t really like to show their hand about exactly what songs are “about” or inspired by but I’d like to ask you about a few of my favorite Huntress songs and obviously, you can feel free to hold back or tell me anything you want about their creation. I know you’ve kind of famously mentioned that you feel your lyrics are “beamed down” to you, which is a really cool way of saying what a lot of artists say in terms of being inspired. I find your lyrics to be particularly fascinating and it’s a big part of what I find cool about your band, let’s start with the first album and the song “Night Rape”.
Jill: Thank you. Oh sure… “Night Rape”, that’s an interesting one. That’s a bit of a true experience for me. I don’t really like to reveal too much, I never like to lift the veil entirely so there will always be a bit of mystery shrouding my approach to lyrical content. I can tell you, for example on the track “Starbound Beast”, when those words came to me there was something sitting on my shoulder whispering those lyrics into my ear and when I gave those lyrics to Blake Meahl, our lead guitarist, he was pretty interested in how I came up with them (laughs). I explained to him exactly how it occurred and how there was like a little Starbound Beast sitting on my shoulder, he grasped that and was able to write something really doomy and spectacular. The boys are very tolerant and very understanding about the way that I do receive lyrics but again, I just don’t ever want to lift the veil too much.
LRI: “Night Rape” in particular is interesting in it’s story and the mention of white noise. Do you believe that something otherworldly resides or can be produced by white noise??
Jill: All I know is that with static and electricity and the emfs, creatures are drawn to that, some of other dimensions, if you want to give it a title you could say demonic. There are certain elementals that are drawn to electrical current and also to beings who possess a certain light around them; that tends to draw in these creatures. So, I’ve had to be very protective of myself my entire life, since childhood because of it so yes, I think that white noise is an interesting concept and also makes for good lyrical content so your asking me about it ain’t bad…
LRI: I’ll continue with another of my personal favorites, “Spectre Spectral” which is off of “Starbound Beast” and could have easily been a radio or video track; it’s just a really strong track. Is there anything that stands out to you in terms of the creation of that song in particular?
Jill: That was the very first song that I came up with for the second album. We were touring in Europe and I was on a bus at five in the morning and I went down to the main level of the bus and sat alone and I received those lyrics. Those were the very first ones and we actually contemplated titling the second album “Spectre Spectral” so I’m pretty impressed that you acknowledge that one because that song is kind of a little bit of a sleeper and that’s one song that I wrote almost entirely, I came up with that one. The boys help out generally with the music and compositions and I bring in the melodies and lyrics but that one I would say was my baby and was the very first song that I wrote for “Starbound Beast’. To me, in particular, “Spectre Spectral” is about letting go of your human life when you pass on so you can go and party in the afterlife.
LRI: I think sometimes people get so hung up on singles, videos and “emphasis tracks” that they forget to look at an album as a whole and case in point, the last song on “Starbound” is the very song that makes me want to push play and start the whole thing again, “Alpha Tauri” is just phenomenal. That song, more than any other kind of shows the diversity of Huntress and even of your vocal approaches, it’s got some surprising progressive elements to it which hint at a lot of different musical pathways for the band. Any thoughts on “Alpha Tauri”??
Jill: Thank you. When I went to the boys with the concept for “Starbound Beast” I knew immediately that it was heavily influenced by Alpha Tauri, Aldebaran and aliens, let’s just be straight forward on this. That’s the region, the Alpha Tauri region is where Aldebaran is located, that’s the 33.33 degree Stargate, that’s where you go. For me, “Alpha Tauri” is in fact, the essence of the album and it does show a maturity within the band, it shows that our musicianship is increasing and that we’re becoming better performers and better songwriters. I’m very pleased with that song and for all of us, it’s very special.
LRI: It definitely leaves you wanting more. You’re going back out on more dates with Lamb of God and Decapitated in Europe, have you got any idea of the direction for the next Huntress album?
Jill: We’ll see. Maybe the Anunnaki will reach out to me again, the Anunnaki are the ones who influence Alpha Tauri, like I said, so we’ll see. We’ll see where the next telepathic surge comes from but we are currently writing the third record and there’s no break for Huntress. We got off tour and we have one month here in Los Angeles and we’re just renting rooms cause we put everything into storage, we tour so much we can’t even really have a home. So during this down time we are already rapidly working on our next album and we plan to release it in 2014, that would be three albums within three years if we can keep that pace up, we may not. It just depends on touring really.
LRI: I think your band is tailor-made for a loyal fanbase which, when multiplied would lend itself to eventually being a serious headlining act. Obviously there are a lot of financial hurdles in that situation and it’s sometimes so much more beneficial for a young band to be a part of a larger package tour but have you given thought to the particular approach you might take with a longer headlining run?
Jill: You know, it is nice being an opener but eventually you gotta grow up. Being an opener for mega-huge metal bands rules, it’s been a great opportunity for Huntress to learn and expand our fanbase at the same time but you gotta grow up so absolutely we’re planning on some headlining shows for 2014 and we would love to do a big headlining tour, it’s just that it takes time to build that and it takes time for us to really lock in our fanbase and hone in on that type of ability to fill a venue. We’re doing well, every time we do a little headlining show and we stop to a town that we’ve played before we see that the crowds are doubled, quadrupled and we keep gaining this momentum and it keeps getting bigger and bigger so yeah, we’re gonna be growing up here. We’ve been a band together for about three years and we’re moving at a very rapid pace and people will be expecting us to headline soon and we’re looking forward very much to being able to do that.
LRI: Okay, last question. Your latest video for “Zenith” is a trip and obviously you have wardrobe and staging elements to playing a live gig…. How much do non-musical artforms influence you and are you really aware of how much non-musical entities influence your band??
Jill: That’s a little tricky of a question, I would say that being so deeply immersed in music all the time, everything is just so organic and it doesn’t feel like there’s anything going on that’s non-musical. It definitely feels like everything is just naturally connected and true and organic. As far as “Zenith” is concerned Phil Mucci is a visionary and he really delved into our album and went into “Starbound Beast” and found certain characters that he wanted me to play. I come from a theatrical background and grew up doing Vaudeville Theatre so I’m never gonna fully shake the musical theater nerd thing, there will always be elements of that in Huntress and while that may not be everyone’s cup of tea but that’s who I am and I just can’t seem to kick it. Musical theatre and certain aspects of other bands like, for example, Freddie Mercury of Queen and Rob Halford of Judas Priest, they’re all really flamboyant and I sometimes feel like I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. I’m always gonna be a little theatrical and any other outside elements that come into play with Huntress, like of course Witchcraft, The Occult, Fairies and Shrooms, Weed, all these things are non-musical but they create or contribute to beautiful music, they all influence us. So, one day when I’m old and living in the woods, tripping my tits off and thinking back I will realize it’s all a part of it and it’s been one helluva run.