Rock It: Huntress vocalist Jill Janus discusses Mayhem, new album, occult references

Posted on November 11, 2013

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Rock It: Huntress vocalist Jill Janus discusses Mayhem, new album, occult references

Huntress (Photo Provided)
Huntress (Photo Provided)

By: Rachael Mattice

Since its birth in the 1970s, heavy metal has always formed an unofficial fraternity, admitting more men than women.

Still, young female metal musicians have always idolized the talented men of earlier eras, striving to hone their talent in tribute to their male idols.

However, metal still being a man’s world, women in the genre are still expected to be a sultry rock vixen to win an audience.

But many female vocalists don’t like the stigma of being “just a girl” in the band, and so often train to unsex their voice and use it simply as an entity of the music – a tool and an instrument.

Arch Enemy, the Butcher Babies and Highland Heights, Calif.-based Huntress are just a few popular female-fronted heavy metal bands. The gargantuan strength in their vocals can match any male-fronted death, thrash or black metal band.

Jill Janus, vocalist for melodic metal band Huntress, also grew up admiring male vocalists over female rock singers of previous generations.

But the front woman of the band, which released its debut album “Spell Eater” in 2012, draws attention for more than just her beauty. She has earned respect for her Bruce Dickinson-like coloratura soprano while honing her metal inflections.

You might recognize Janus from all-chick rock band Chelsea Girls, also featuring Corey Parks, Allison Robertson and Samantha Maloney. But as the vocalist of Huntress, which is heavily focused on pounding riffage, spectral solos and her occult and enochian beliefs, Janus is centered, spiritual and intellectually raw.

But before you gather a horde of angry villagers to burn the witch and throw words around like Satanism or liberalism, listen to the musicality in Huntress’ latest galactic-inspired album, “Starbound Beast,” released July 2.

Along with Rob Zombie, Amon Amarth, Five Finger Death Punch, Mastodon, Children of Bodom, Job for a Cowboy and several others, Huntress will stop at Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville Friday for the country’s biggest touring metal festival, Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest.

* Flashback to Mayhem 2012: Interview with Phil Bozeman of Whitechapel

Janus’ vocal contribution is proving to chart a path for future generations of female metal musicians. Here is what she had to say about the journey to Mayhem, how her witchy ways influence Huntress’ music and her songwriting collaboration with metal demigod Lemmy Kilmister.

Question: Congrats! This is an exciting summer and year for you. You landed a spot on Mayhem festival and simultaneously released your second album, “Starbound Beast,” on July 2. This is huge exposure for Huntress. How did your participation in Mayhem happen? What will you be looking forward to the most with this tour?

Answer: Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind. We released our debut album “Spell Eater” last year and were all really committed to releasing our second album a year later, and we did it! We are really thrilled with how the album came out and are already working on ideas for the next one. We are trying to do one year and are trying to stay inspired and focused and hope it works out.

We are so honored to be put on this bill for a new band and what we are which is melodic heavy metal. We are just so grateful that Mayhem took us under their wing.

I think what I’m looking forward to most is using this opportunity to learn. We’ve never been through a full-scale tour like this – it’s a monstrous circus – it travels by night and sets up the next day. I’m looking forward to getting a feel for that kind of summer festival. The heat is going to be extreme and there are so many costs going into it it’s kind of neck-breaking. A lot of fun, but first and foremost a learning experience.

Q: Huntress is still somewhat new in the metal world and fans are getting to know you better. Can your explain some of the concepts and philosophy behind the band as a whole?

A:What’s most important is that we stay true to the roots of heavy metal. Our melody we won’t compromise; we are really heavy still. There is a lot of new metal out there and I cringe, I can’t listen to (it). We really stay true to the roots and melodic to our approach.

A lot of our imagery is occult-based. I put a lot of care into my lyrics and a lot is driven by witchcraft. It’s the sound and imagery and riffage. We are five stoners who love heavy metal. For us, its a dream come true to travel the world and play music. We are all so humbled and happy to play music.

Q: Your voice in metal is unique. How were you originally trained and what eventually brought you to metal?

A: I can hit four octaves classically, but I would never use those in metal. The ability is there, though, and I was trained as a coloratura soprano for many years.

My classical training and ability to scream and maintain my voice is because I had that training at a very young age and am so happy that I did. It took me a year, though, to really hone in my metal voice and strip away those classical inflections.

I’ve always been in rock bands and always had a side project of some sort going on aside from my opera stuff. But I always knew my voice didn’t quite fit in in an opera setting, it wasn’t cookie cutter. I wanted to have fun and that’s where metal comes in. The first time I heard Mercyful Fate I thought, ‘Dang, I can do that.’ That was really what inspired me to write my own music and do this for myself.

That range and octaves allow me to sing with stamina and breath control. It allows me to expand vocally. It can be gone in a second though if I f— up. I understand I have mortality and that’s why I’m really strict with myself on the road getting enough sleep and vocal rest because I could have all the octaves I want; if I mess up, it’s gone. I can’t go to Guitar Center and buy new vocal cords like you can guitar strings. It’s something I take very seriously, the voice.

Q: Why did you want to add elements of theater and fantasy to the band’s character? Your album “Spell Eater” is very other-wordly; is the occult an important aspect in Huntress? How has it woven into your new album “Starbound Beast” and do the guys share the same beliefs?

A: They are very tolerant of my weirdness (laughs). The way I get inspired is that I essentially fall into a trance and that’s how I receive all my lyrical content. They know I get weird and lock myself up for a few days to write and it just comes in spurts, for inspiration.

With the boys – they see things, they understand things more this time around with my witchy ways. But the lyrical content is really inspired by the cosmos and particularly the alpha constellation, algebron and enochian. This is all extraterrestrial essentially, which is really the driving force behind this album. It’s not a concept album, but my inspiration did come from deep space and the guys are big sci-fi nerds so they were pretty pumped when I told them about the messages I have been receiving. They will bring in a composition, I’ll bring in a song title and we inspire each other. It’s a really nice way of working.

It’s taken awhile to get that locked down. I was kind of nuts the first year, being a woman touring in a van with four guys feeling like a caged animal; it definitely took me awhile to surrender to it. I think even in “Starbound Beast” you can hear that we are better musicians this time around and things are a little more thoughtful. It’s all part of the plan.

You really just learn to surrender to touring. You learn to pee in bottles and be a dude and if you don’t become a dude, you perish.

Q: I read that you find little inspiration in other female musicians, particularly female-fronted bands. Is that why you to “unsex” your voice? Why do you feel you relate better to men?

A: Well, I haven’t really heard any music that has really struck me as much as a male vocalist has. Judas Priest, King Diamond, Danzig – these are the people I grew up listening to and worshiping.

At the same time, many female musicians inspire me. I was honored to present Doro (Dorothee Pesch of Warlock) with the Legend Award at the Golden Gods Metal Hammer awards show in London. I’m not really familiar with Warlock or her solo stuff, but got to meet her and it really struck me that she was so real. I also met Christina from Lacuna Coil, a genuine woman. I’ve been stepping into this now and getting to participate and meet a lot of these women in metal. It’s really no joke, you’re a fighter and you are in it or you’re out. I really respect women that can do it and make something for themselves.

Why I choose to unsex my voice and take that approach is because I feel that I want to be recognized as a vocalist, not necessarily as a woman. That has always been true for me. I’ve always wanted to surpass that gender. However, I will admit that I use a lot of sexuality in my imagery and promotion to draw you closer to the flame. I’m no stranger to sorcery in that aspect.

As far as the voice is concerned, let the voice stand on its own. I’m a woman, of course, but it is more male driven just because these men are the ones I looked up to and inspired to be like.

Q: I saw that Huntress sponsored a crowd-funding indiegogo campaign. You offered artwork, pre-order packages and even objects like your old contact lenses and your bass player’s beard hair. How did you choose which items to add? What was Huntress’ goal with the funds accumulated?

A: We like to have fun with it. We are so grateful to have so many fans that have helped from the beginning.

When we decided we were going to do a crowd-funding campaign, it comes with a stigma. It’s not easy to surrender and do that. At the same time we want move to the next level and we can’t do that with limited funds from the record label.

We were given the opportunity to play Mayhem and have never been on something this huge before; it’s monstrous. Our little tour van can’t withstand that heat, its 112 degrees and we’ve had trouble with the van overheating. We’ve also had to pay liability insurance which we have never done before.

Battlecross and Huntress decided to get a bus together and it leveled out.

This campaign is a humorous outlook on it. We’re just a bunch of goofballs. I really make an effort to meet every fan after the show and take photos and give hugs and get to know the fans that support Huntress. Building those new relationships with people, this is the way of the future.

I’m getting prepared with the oxygen canisters. There is no place to hide out on tour. You are just sitting in a parking lot cooking, so we’re so grateful for Jagermeister, too, for letting us play on their stage.

I’m going to be hosting the first ever Guitar ShredMeister competition that Jagermeister is sponsoring on Mayhem daily. They have no idea what’s coming, it’s going to be awesome. It’s a great opportunity for guitarists that need some more visibility and this is a great platform for them. Everyone is going to be there. Chances are you will get discovered if you play the competition.

Q: “Starbound Beast” is your second album; is there anything you were able to expand on or maybe fine-tuned more? What message did you want to give out for an overall album theme?

A: “Starbound Beast” is our evolution. I feel stronger as a musician and performer after touring relentlessly last year. We have a new commodery between us that you can just sense on this album. There is more melody on this record and I tend to go new directions with the voice. It’s still heavy, its still very much Huntress, still brutal but I put more thought into the way I’m presenting it.

“Spell Eater” was really vicious and even recording it I was losing my mind. Our producer for this album really put me at ease as a vocalist and it was comfortable for me. I was able to grow and expand my mind and vocal approach.

The guys, we have a new bandmate, Ant Crocamo, is taking on guitar with Blake Meahl and brings a new dynamic to the band as well and you can sense that in the songwriting. We’re going to be putting out an album every year as long as we possibly can. We already have ideas for the next album. It’s like a trilogy – I planned these three albums that way – “Maiden, Mother and Crone.” You’ll be able to see that once you have all three set next to each other and tell a story.

Q: Your song “I Want to F— You To Death” is written by Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister. After hearing that, the title seems very fitting for something he’s involved in. Tell me more about the experience working with him and how he got involved.

A: Lemmy and I are buddies. I asked him a few months ago if he would write a song for the Huntress album. A few weeks later when he was recording at the studio with Motorhead, he handed me two pieces of notebook paper with the lyrics to “I Want To F— You To Death.” My first reaction was – so romantic. It was the most romantic thing a boy has ever done for me. Who wouldn’t want to die that way, you know?

He wrote the lyrics, we wrote the music. When we were writing the music and I was coming up with the vocal melodies, I really wanted to make that chorus more melodic. The obvious way would be to take more of a gruff approach, but to me it’s a love song. I wanted to keep that chorus a little haunting. It’s been fun growing as a songwriter and working with Lemmy and I am so grateful that he took that time for me.

He’s such a great guy and a godfather of heavy metal; I couldn’t be happier. It’s pure Lemmy, he kind of stepped into my persona and Huntress. Seeing these lyrics, it’s really coming from a deeper place within me. Lemmy is one of the most psychic people I have ever met, extremely psychic. I think it goes deeper than what anybody knows and why he chose to write that song.

He’s not just a dirty old man; he really tapped into something. He’s supernatural and shows a lot of faith and it’s always a fight to earn respect and you never take respect.

There will always be misconceptions about Huntress, and it was just an added high five from the universe making it easier on us.

Q: What’s something Huntress has lined up post-Mayhem? What are you usually doing when you’re not touring?

A:We are doing some off shows in between with Amon Amarth and Children of Bodom, Battlecross and Job for a Cowboy. Then we are heading up to Heavy MTL, the Montreal heavy metal festival afterward and then we have some pretty big hot tours coming up that we are really pumped about.

Mattice is a producer and music journalist for the Journal & Courier. She can be reached on Twitter @RachaelM_JC. 

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Posted in: 2013