Jucifer: The Hellbound Interview Part One

By Jay H. Gorania

It’s that time of year again. Summer time means kids are out of school, lakes are party spots, the NFL’s ugly step-sister (the Canadian Football League) is balls-deep into its season, and Jucifer is making its annual tour through Canada.

The married two-piece band, comprised of singer/guitarist Amber Valentine and drummer Edgar Livengood, have spent the better part of the last decade touring North America in their RV, the closest thing they can call home. In their case, touring isn’t a part of a career as much as it is an all-encompassing lifestyle.

Taking a break from building her never-ending wall of amps, Amber Valentine spoke with Hellbound about the evils of war, a motif threaded through Throned in Blood, their latest release which is inarguably their heaviest, most abrasive and filthy thus far.

Jucifer has existed for 17 years now, yet the tour with Today is the Day, Complete Failure and Four Question Marks was only two years ago. Why did it take so long for a European tour to take place?

Money, the root of all evil. I really don’t get how so many crusty, broke-seeming bands can tour Europe regularly. They must have good day jobs or something. It’s a real struggle for us to set aside enough up-front to buy plane tickets and pay extra baggage fees for gear on top, even though the shows we do overseas can pay it back.

Everyone assumes that when you’re on a label, you get tour support that covers travel. But that never happened for us with Europe, though we did get some help in the States. I guess we have enough of a record-consuming following in North America that our labels didn’t feel they needed to put much effort into expanding our reach. So we’ve had to really scrape and save to make these tours happen. It’s totally worth it to us though. We love getting to play for fans who’ve waited years to see us. Some have followed us since the ’90s. They deserve for us to make the effort.

Since your initial European jaunt, you’ve stripped your enormous wall of amps down significantly. It’s obviously beneficial economically in these rough times, in that it has lessened your travel expense since you no longer have to haul around the excess weight, but are there any other reasons for the modification?

Right now we’re playing with 14 cabs. We went from using 17 to 20 cabs—through most of the ’00s up until 2008—back to 10 cabs for 2009. Ten cabs was our norm from the mid to late ’90s until early in the 2000s when, coincidentally, we bought a bigger trailer. (laughter) But this year we’re back up to 14, which feels like a good middle ground.

The European tour was a catalyst because, with only four cabs for backline, it made us realize that we hadn’t really heard the drums for years. We both agreed that was sad, considering the pain Edgar endures to beat the hell out of his kit. And we also realized that musically, we were less of a slow drone band than we had been and that a lot of our fast parts were undistinguishable mush at that volume. So we cut back to a still outrageous, still chest-rattling, but not as PA-overwhelming rig. I also tuned my guitar about three octaves higher than it had ever been tuned, to help make the fast riffing audible.

It’s funny because at the same time we made this change, a bunch of new Jucifer-esque amp wall bands popped up, tuning super low and playing super slow. We’re probably dumb to abandon the brown-note worship right when it’s riding a wave of popularity, but hopefully people will realize how much that trend owes to us. I mean, there are several clubs in the U.S. that revamped their stage size and electricity specifically because of Jucifer.

And we’re not really abandoning the brown note. Our low-end will still tingle your nether regions and there’s still a bigger wall of amps onstage than anyone else outside stadiums is touring with. We’re just playing with more nuance. And adding drums and vocals to the aural experience—where before, they were usually impossible to hear.

Your new album, Throned in Blood, captures the brutality, grit and high energy that you’re known for on stage. Did you consciously go into the writing and recording of Throned in Blood with this intention in mind?

Yeah, we wanted to make a record we could actually play a lot off of. Except our EPs, we’ve never had releases with more than a couple songs we’d play live. We’re crazy, I guess. We didn’t approach music as a business, so we just did what we felt like. Play loud heavy shit live, record ballads and pop songs.

We like to stretch out and do different things in the studio. It’s fun to record stuff with layers and play instruments we don’t usually get to play. But we never liked playing pop structures live. Pop songs are so fucking simple, we actually feel like idiots playing them for an audience. I don’t know how people do whole bands and careers based on that kind of music. It’s the easiest thing in the world. It just feels lazy.

Which is ironic, because almost uniformly, we get praise for “songwriting” directed at the pop songs, and the complex, multi-part tracks that are based in metal, which is based in classical, get overlooked as if they’re dumb. If only music writers wrote music!

Anyway, yeah, we wanted an album that we’d be excited to play. As much as we appreciate that people love a song like “Amplifier,” we don’t want to play it. So with Throned… we can finally give fans a set with songs from the current album that we actually get off on playing. Maybe we’ll disappoint some people who like our albums because they’re not so abrasive. But in the end, we have to consider what pleases us. And arguably, the fans that don’t attend our shows are not the ones we should aim to please.

Throned in Blood seems to be a major statement against the evils of war? How did this concept come together?

The evils of war and of human nature are a constant in our writing. I guess we feel most comfortable expressing ugliness, pain, sorrow and anger. This is what gives us catharsis and what goes with the kinds of sounds we like to make. Anytime a Jucifer song sounds happy, you can safely assume it’s satire.

So we had a few songs that expressed this theme, which goes beyond war. It’s the deeper theme of human self-destructiveness. The title expresses two ideas: that of the conqueror drenched in his enemy’s blood, but also, that of the conqueror drenched in his own blood. Those outcomes are inextricable; our conquests end up destroying us in ways that we don’t foresee.

We had several songs which fit that idea, that we’d been playing in sets on and off for years. So we knew we could work within that theme for a good record that’d also translate live.

Your description of “Disciples Of An Expanding Sun,” bringing up the inevitability that the sun will destroy the Earth, seems to set it apart from the more overtly war-centered topics on the rest of the release. Is it entirely unrelated?

It is related, because the album is more about our imminent destruction as a civilization and a creature than being simply about war. We feel and act as though we’ve conquered the Earth and even space, but we’re setting ourselves up for annihilation no matter what power we pretend to have gained.

The track “Rifles” is about the 1973 Chilean government coup in which elected president Salvador Allende was violently ousted from power, making way for military dictator Augusto Pinochet, a power shift that entailed horrible atrocities. Since protesters were violently targeted, what options remained? Isn’t this a case that supports the necessity of going to war? Doesn’t it, in fact, validate the George W. Bush quote (“No, I know all the war rhetoric, but it’s all aimed at achieving peace”) that you use in your description of the title track?

Aha, playing devil’s advocate, are you? Well, one could argue that after Pinochet was installed, violent interference could be necessary and morally right in order to stop the atrocities of his regime. But the song is about the manner in which he was installed—in order to control Chile’s government from afar against the will of its people—and how appalled we are that the U.S. and other essentially democratic, supposedly freedom-loving, first-world powers supported his dictatorship. For what, almost thirty years?

To answer in terms of the “necessity” of war, I firmly believe that a group of allies capable of ousting Allende and placing Pinochet in power could easily arrange to get rid of Pinochet or someone like him without involving citizens in a war, and that most wars could be prevented by strategically targeting the bad guy in power instead of an entire country or countries.

But war is a money machine, and to politicians, that reality overwhelms the ethical wrongness of collateral damage.

For a list of their Canadian tour dates, go to www.myspace.com/jucifer

Part 2 of this interview will be published Monday

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Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.