Huntress' Jill Janus: I Despise The Glorification of Mediocrity in Metal
There's a lot to love about Huntress, and it's not just because frontwoman Jill Janus is gorgeous, bad-ass and intelligent. The band's debut album Spell Eater, recorded and produced by Chris Rakestraw, earned stellar reviews. The musicians--Janus, guitarist Blake Meahl, bassist Ian Alden, and drummer Carl Wierzbicky--thrive on heavy riffs and spectral solos, occult science and bong rips, and a love for thrash and black metal. Influences like Judas Priest and King Diamond come into play, but with a modern sensibility about the heavy metal industry.
And then of course, there's vocalist Jill Janus. Trained as a classical opera singer from childhood, she was drawn to metal from the first time she heard Suicidal Tendencies at the tender age of 13-years-old. That led to metal, punk rock and then thrash with her four-octave coloratura soprano range and a natural ability to growl and scream. She's been part of a witch coven since the age of 15, and hosted a night cabaret in the World Trade Center up until the night before 9/11.
Now on tour with metal vets Testament, Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God, Huntress is all about learning the ropes, sticking to core values, and not compromising shit. Up On The Sun talked with Janus about Huntress' upcoming album, their mentality as a "baby band," and being in the World Trade Center mere hours before 9/11.
The Lamb of God, Testament, Killswitch Engage and Huntress tour is definitely one of the biggest metal tours of the year. How is it going so far? It's been monstrous. It's beyond my expectations, the level of professionalism. We just feel so humble to be here. All the bands--Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage and Testament--have been so supportive.
Was there an act that you were more nervous about or intimidated by? I mean, I know Huntress has played with quite a few legends. I think for us, it's about making sure we're on target with our stage show and being completely professional. That's really the way to go into something like this. We are trying to just stay out of everyone's way.
What band do you probably have the most in common with, or are closer to from maybe, say, past tours? Lamb of God reached out to us last year when we put out our first record. Chris Adler was impressed with out first record and gave some solid good advice. Fast forward a year [and] we're now on tour with them, so we really feel like Lamb of God has been vouching for us and we're forever grateful to them.
I'm also amazed with Randy Blythe and his vocal abilities, seeing his transformation from early albums to now. We share the same vocal coach, so we have that in common.
Melissa Cross [your vocal coach] did The Zen of Screaming, right? You got it! Coming from a classically trained background I always knew I wanted to be a metal singer. But my mother was very strict with my upbringing and vocal training as a child, so from the very start I've had very good training, classically. When I decided I wanted to pursue metal and make that my purpose I sought out Melissa Cross.
I actually watched her DVD, and it frustrated me because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to strip away a lot of my classical inflections and obtain that scream effortlessly. After about a year of trying I did it--so now it's effortless, but it does take a lot of maintaining the voice on the road, so I lead a strict lifestyle. So the classical training is a foundation of my screams.
So do you miss singing classical opera? I've done it since I was a child, so it's almost like it was another lifetime for me. I still keep the operatic repertoire, and I do that as warm-ups. I find I'm really able to keep the clarity of my voice and vibrato if I continue my classical repertoire, [so] I try to do those as warm-ups sometimes.
There's never any operatic inflections in Huntress; I make sure of that. I have a very large range, but that doesn't mean I'm going to incorporate it. We're a straight-up, true heavy metal band, with elements of thrash, death metal, black metal. I do miss opera in a way, but not enough, man.
I was intrigued to learn that you hosted a night cabaret in the World Trade Center up until the night before 9/11. Can you tell me a little about how that shaped your musical personality? Everything I've done prior to Huntress has been to fund my music career and band and search for musicians. That was definitely pivotal in...even now, talking about it is difficult. I hosted the very last party at the Windows on the World, September 10, 2001. I left around 2 a.m., and then you know the rest. But at that point I lost all of my work as a DJ, as a cabaret singer... fortunately, a couple years later, I had some opportunities that brought me to Los Angeles, and that's where I found my musicians for Huntress.
But it took me about a decade to find some metal musicians who shared the same vision as me.
It certainly sounds like it was integral to your path of developing Huntress. I feel like everything happens for a reason. You have a choice to look at it as a negative or positive aspect. I probably wouldn't have come out to L.A. You know, New York City has a punk element to it; it was never as devastating as I wanted it to be musically, and I always felt as if I was compromising when working with musicians out there. In L.A. it feels like metal really thrives, and so I could be as heavy as I originally intended.
You said that you're writing your own spiritual journey in a sense in three parts: the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. So Spell Eater was the Maiden phase. Now you're in the Mother phase with Starbound Beast. Your next album, which we are planning to write and release next year, that'll be the Crone phase. Tell me a bit about these phases.
Yes, my beliefs are rooted in paganism. When we signed to Napalm Records I wanted to deliver three records that were not thematic, but for me personally thematic. So you're correct and thank you for doing your research. This next record that we're currently writing and recording and releasing next year--it's one album a year for these first three--the Crone, of course, is wise beyond belief and quite vicious and horny and old.
With that you can expect something that have the overall sense of ancient brutality, and it's the dying phase.
It's weird for sure to be on the road and have to leave for a moment. You never know when your artistic inspiration is going to come, but the guys in the band and I are a good unit. They of course think I'm a weirdo and don't really get it, but I explained to them this next phase and the type of music and feeling and they are hot for it.
Off of Starbound Beast that was released this summer, you even have a track recorded with Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister. Are you going to have any collaborations on that new album? You never know. I actually had no idea that collaboration was going to happen, and in fact that album was finished, basically. I hung out with Lemmy one night and asked him if he would write a song on a whim for Huntress and he did. We collaborated one night and he gave me the lyrics.
And of course I think it's the most romantic song I've ever heard--"I Want to Fuck You to Death." [Laughs]
I gotta say for metal that might be romantic. [Laughs] It is indeed romantic for metal. And it's a crowd-pleaser.
Killswitch has been around since the late 90s, and are seen as one of the founders of New Wave American Metal. Then there's Lamb of God, who helped carry metal over during the '90s. Testament are the veterans on tour. Where do you see Huntress in the mix? We're the baby band that wants to learn everything from all three of the heavy metal legends. Everything they do we watch from the side of the stage--we're in the wings, watching and listening. I'm blown away by Testament's set; they are just so fucking good. And of course Lamb of God, with their legal issues they've been fighting and winning, you see it in all the fans. I've never seen so many people just light up and be on fire [as] when Lamb of God comes on stage.
That's the type of stuff we've been taking notes on night after night. We understand that the hard work is never over.
What are your thoughts about the new generations of metal musicians moving forward alongside you? What I battle every day is mediocrity. I despise the glorification of mediocrity in America and especially in metal bands. To be honest I don't listen to modern metal and I don't apologize for it. I listen to the trailblazers; the ones that cleared the way and kept it true.
We are also very conscious about not being a throwback band; we aim to be modern and [have] a current sensibility about the music business and the industry. Just don't ever lose track of the roots or forget who got you where you are.
Fans all over the world celebrated when Testament reunited years back, and people were worried about if Lamb of God were going to be able to move forward. Now Killswitch reunited with their original singer. What band reunion would you like to see? Hmmm.. that's a good question. Band reunion that I'd like to see.. Well, you know, I don't really know. You stumped me.
I'm happy with everything that is going on... actually, being an artist and understanding why bands break up, I can't ever say I would want to encourage a band to get back together for the sake of vanity. It's absolutely insanely difficult to keep everybody on the same page and vision; it's wonderful when it occurs, but it can also be completely miserable. So I guess my response is that if everyone isn't sharing that same vision, and you're fighting to keep that thing alive, there seems to be no point.
I'd rather just remember the old days. For example, I'd love for Guns N Roses to reunite; I grew up worshipping Axl Rose. But I know it would never be the same as Appetite For Destruction, and that breaks my heart, so I'd rather not see them reunite. I'd rather remember them young and beautiful.
So when a band breaks up, there was a reason for it. And so many bands break up--and reunite--because it all comes down to money. If I wanted to do this for money I would've stayed deejaying.
Huntress is scheduled to perform at Marquee Theater on November 7 with Lamb of God, Testament and Killswitch Engage.
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