Passion, determination, organisation…apart from luck, these are all attributes that any band needs to be in possession of if it’s to have any chance of making a career in the music business these days. It takes less than a minute into my conversation with Jill Janus to realise that the front woman of the US Heavy Metal quintet Huntress is fully aware of these facts – presenting and, at times, defending her music in a pretty admirable way. A couple of hours prior to performing a support slot for Lamb Of God at the O2 Academy Brixton, Jill explained the creative process behind Huntress’s second studio effort “Starbound Beast”, described how a collaboration with Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister of Motorhead fame came to fruition and presented her band’s plans for the next few months.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi, Jill. Nice to meet you in person. How much time do we have for this interview?
Jill: Hi. Ten to fifteen minutes tops, please. I just want to make sure I am propped as we are playing a big show tonight.
- No problem. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us – we really appreciate your time. I have to say, I really wish you guys were doing a headline show tonight as, and no disrespect to either Decapitated or Lamb Of God, but I would have preferred to see Huntress performing a full show instead.
Jill: Well, eventually we will have to grow up and do a headline tour so it’s not too far off (laughs).
- You are currently on tour with two well-respected bands here in the UK – bands whose style is far different from yours. What is the connecting factor here? Is it the energy involved? How do you enjoy being on tour with these bands?
Jill: Huntress is a band that’s very versatile. We can be placed on many bills, we can be placed on a bill with Lamb Of God and Decapitated or on a bill like the one we did with Dragonforce back in 2012. We are, at the root, a Heavy Metal band with many influences. We have Death Metal, we have Thrash Metal, Black Metal, so it really works well as an opener. When we grow up and start headlining our own shows it’s going to be very fun to see what occurs.
- That combination of different styles and sounds in your music: how much of that was a conscious decision and how much a natural approach to things?
Jill: Huntress has always been authentic! We’ve never had pre-meditated ideas with regards to our creativity and do not put into consideration everybody else’s opinions. It’s always been a very organic, natural process and you can hear us progress even more on our second album. We’re becoming more confident in our song writing, our musicianship has been raised, so it’s also exciting knowing that it’s always going to be an organic process.
- Second albums are notoriously difficult for most bands, with many actually dreading the process of creating them. You, however, seem to have gone through it fairly unscathed as “Starbound Beast” is a very impressive album. When you first started working on the material on offer did you have at all the idea of creating a follow up “Spell Eater” in mind?
Jill: Once again, everything happened in a very organic way. We didn’t premeditate anything, except…my spiritual journey with Huntress which is this. The first album “Spell Eater” describes the journey’s ‘maiden phase’ and I am speaking in terms of being Pagan. “Starbound Beast” is in the ‘mother phase’ so you’re going to hear a different sensibility. It’s more thoughtful, more…you know, I would say you could get a different sensibility – one that’s more mother-based. Now we’re going into the third album which we are currently writing and are planning to release this year which is the ‘crone phase’, where she’s (note: the character Huntress) vicious and brutal and horny and I am really looking forward to writing this one as well. So, it’s a trilogy in a way: they’re not thematic albums but they’re all tied together in a thin red line.
- You know, when I was preparing myself for this interview I was thinking to myself: “These guys seem really determined and focused on what they do” and it really feels like these last three years you have not taken any break away from Huntress. You recorded your debut release, you went on tour, then almost right away a second album came out and again you’re touring for it nonstop. How do you manage to avoid burning out? How do you manage to prevent this from happening and remain totally focused on the task at hand?
Jill: It’s a lifestyle choice that you really have to make a commitment to – you need to live only for this purpose. Nothing else exists. Once you surrender to that, everything else is easy – things become so simple. There simply is no time off. As soon as we’re done with this tour we’re right back into writing our next album and right after that we’re back into the festival circuit. I am very happy to be on this journey with my band mates who have the same vision and drive that I do. I am definitely a bit of a ring leader with the whip, you know, keeping everybody in line and making sure that we are meeting our deadlines – that if we decide to do something we will follow it through. A long time ago, I made a decision that once I commit to something I will never give it up – I will see it to the end. That’s how I feel about the Huntress and there’s simply no looking back.
- Jill, your personal history is well documented. People know about your difficult upbringing and all the things you had to go through in order to reach the point that you’re now. I guess that this strong and determined attitude you have just described is a direct result of these experiences, right? Do you think that you would have been equally motivated had life made things easier for you these last ten years?
Jill: It might have been different but I know what it is that I was born to do and that’s to sing. There’s never been a moment in my existence that I hadn’t known that. I was singing before I could speak (laughs). So, you know, once you…it’s weird. I’ve always known exactly what I was going to do – I was always going to be a vocalist. Then I discovered Metal and I finally realised that I really belong on this planet. Anything that I’ve had to go through on a personal level, any hardships growing up, the way I did and, mind you, I had quite a magical upbringing, I think that my dedication and determination definitely came from a very disciplined childhood.
- Ok, let us focus a little bit on “Starbound Beast” now. You chose to collaborate with Lemmy…well, I am not sure if ‘chose’ is the right word to use…
Jill: The universe chose it (laughs).
- That sounds good to me! Now, you two came up with a song that certain people have described as slightly controversial in nature in terms of its lyrical context…
Jill: … “I want to F**k You To Death”! I think it’s a love song – it’s the most romantic thing a boy has ever done for me! I asked Lemmy to write the song for our album “Starbound Beast” and he did. When he handed me the lyrics I remember him saying to me: “Now, if it’s a little bit to f**ky I can change the title” to which I replied: “Absolutely not – it’s a love song, thank you”.
- I see but you appreciate, of course, that certain people may just find it a little bit too much and…
Jill: (interrupting me looking slightly annoyed by my question)…I don’t care: why should I care? I don’t care what everyone else thinks. I love it. I don’t even see this being a valid question – not at all. I don’t see the validity behind that.
- What I am trying to squeeze out of you is something deeper – an attitude thing. Certain people believe that Heavy Metal has become way too tame over the years and your band comes across as one that really wishes to stir things up, that’s not afraid to provoke. To bring back that 80s feeling into…
Jill:…that the fire’s back!
- Exactly! Is the inclusion of such a song part of a strategy to prove to the world that Huntress is a band that’s not planning on taking things easy – a band out to play the kind of Heavy Metal that we all grew up loving?
Jill: Sure, that can be one element to it but I’ve got to say, if Lemmy had not given me a song that was titled “I Want To F**k You To Death” I’m sure wouldn’t have written it for myself, you know? It’s Lemmy. I had a rule which is never to put any curse word into my music – ever. Our first album “Spell Eater” has none. The only reason why the word f**k is on “Starbound Beast” is because of Mr. Kilmister and, I’ve got to say, it belongs in there. That’s my stance and unless there’s another collaboration with a curse word in there don’t expect it to come from Huntress again.
- Jill, yours is a very skilled band: you have a pretty impressive vocal range and the rest of the guys are doing a pretty good job supporting it. Now, this day and age we see hundreds of new bands appearing on a daily basis but only a handful have managed to capture people’s attention as well as Huntress. I know it’s a difficult thing to ask but, from a purely objective point of view, what is it you think about your band that managed to win people’s attention?
Jill: I feel that what we are, at the core, is a true Heavy Metal band and together we’re going to blaze a new path for Heavy Metal. It all starts with melody: what you’re hearing is melody and it’s coming back! It’s not like it was ever completely gone but it was just a little ‘sleepy’. Now, in Heavy Metal, what you’re hearing is a resurgence of melody. It’s not a throwback or not necessarily an attempt for one to relive the past. We’re a very modern, forward-thinking Metal band but our heart is into traditional Metal with melody and that melody is drawing people into Metal again. It’s sad for me to listen to Metal music with no melody. I mean, I myself love screaming and you hear a lot of that in our music; Death Metal is still very prominent in Huntress but without the riffage and the guitar melodies, with inspiration coming from acts like Uli Roth, Scorpions and 70s proto-Metal…all that’s in there and that’s what’s been drawing people in – in the heart of it it’s melody.
- You are one of the many people I have interviewed recently who seem to both acknowledge and support this resurgence you’ve just referred to and I am talking about people who have been recording music for the last twenty or thirty years. Most say the same thing which is that many musicians forgot about the essence of Metal, turning a song into a technical exercise along the way.
Jill: My lead guitarist Blake Meahl has said it the best: if you cannot play a song on the acoustic guitar then it’s not really a song! You’ve got to be able to trip it away and turn it into a song that is simple to sing along to.
- Following the culmination of this tour you will be performing a few dates in central Europe, predominantly Germany.
Jill: It’s four dates in Germany and two in The Netherlands.
- Right. Would you say that, as far as the European market is concerned, that part is exactly where the majority of your fan base in the ‘Old Continent’ is located?
Jill: We initially thought: “Oh, we’re going to be, you know, in Europe” because there’s a melodic vibe about us and we indulge more in fantasy. Especially when our video “Eight Of Swords” first came out which is pretty fantasy based. But we’re finding that our fan base in the US is growing rapidly – especially when we toured last summer on The Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival we started to see a lot of US sales happening and a certain buzz. It’s been quite incredible for us touring over there with Lamb Of God and meeting fans afterwards…it’s more than we ever expected, to be honest with you. The fan base in the US is growing rapidly and now that we’re here in the UK and we’re meeting fans after the show I am always surprised to see people singing back our lyrics to me. I’m still so humbled by this experience and quite bewildered. I mean, we’ve only been a band for three years and we’ve been placed in some pretty significant roles now.
- Everybody says that the US is a particularly difficult area to tackle sales-wise. To make a name for yourself you need to be able to travel a lot and the distances involved are pretty massive. Do you have a separate strategy on how to approach that specific market?
Jill: Hmm…in the US we find ourselves driving around in circles just constantly (laughs). Literally, we just tour non-stop and that was the motivation for us giving up our homes and putting everything in storage – being, in a sense, gypsies. You do have to tour a lot and it’s endless and it’s relentless and can be pretty difficult, but, you know, you live for what you love. When you’re on the road…so many bands would love to be in the position where we’re now and, to me, it’s true freedom.
- Summer festivals: I saw that you guys have already confirmed Graspop Metal Meeting in Belgium and one more…
Jill: …Nova Rock Festival and also Rock am Ring in Germany and also the Download Festival here in the UK.
- Download? That must be fairly recent.
Jill: Yeah. We played Download last year and, get this, they like us – we’re coming back a second year in a row!
- That’s very impressive – congratulations.
Jill: Thank you very much.
- Are you aiming for anything more apart from these already scheduled appearances for 2014?
Jill: Pending our recording schedule…you know, as I said, our plan was to record three albums in the first three years so we are writing and recording our third record now. That’s taking the most time – we’re taking off three months, so we won’t be touring for the next three months after the Lamb Of God tour is over. We will focus on writing our album and then in June we will come over for the festivals and then we will see what happens after that. There will be more announcements coming.
- Great. Jill, there are many things happening but you certainly seem to have a firm control over them. Good luck with everything.
Jill: Thank you very much. It was really nice meeting you and thank you so much for being a fan of Huntress.
- Thank you for creating good music for me to be a fan of.
Jill: It won’t stop – we’ll keep doing it! (laughs)
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