Somewhereville, USA’s sludge/doom/metal duo Jucifer are embarking on a run to celebrate their 20th anniversary of skull-crushing, aurally devastating audio pummel, though “run” may be the wrong word to use when describing their touring cycles. Quite honestly, touring “cycle” doesn’t make much sense, either.
Jucifer’s nomadic existence finds them on the road year round, which should not be scoffed at or taken lightly. The road is a tough, seemingly impossible way to live for some, but the husband/wife combo of Gazelle Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood have made it work all these years. It must leave plenty of room for fun conversations, especially when you take into account cool names like “Deathdrone” and Grindgaze” that the group has come up with to describe their style and sound. Clearly, this ain’t The White Stripes.
I caught up with Jucifer right before the start of their Northeastern Twenty Years Slaying Ears tour to talk about their lengthy career and tour history, what it’s like having no formal residence besides their tour vehicle, and what we can expect from their upcoming release, позади волги нет никакой земли, set to drop on July 17th, 2013. And if anyone can translate the title for us, that’d be most helpful. Fuck it… I’ll just ask them.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! How has everything been going on the road thus far into 2013? Gas prices suck pretty much everywhere right now, huh?
A- Hey there and thank you! Yeah, gas is awful every summer. Hauling so much gear we’re super heavy; we can only get about 5 miles to the gallon. So whenever those gallons get over four dollars it’s really bad. Works out to about a dollar a mile.
G- So, Jucifer are celebrating your 20th anniversary as a band… To look back on when and where it all began, how did the two of you first meet and were you a couple prior to forming the group? Following up on that, what drew you to completely immerse yourselves in road life?
A- We started as a band and then became a couple.
We met at a show. At our first practice we realized there was a really natural creative connection, and as soon as we’d spent a few rehearsal-breaks talking we knew the connection was personal too. Twenty years later I can’t imagine this life with anyone else. When people do those surveys, “what’s your dream band lineup to play in?” I don’t even have a fantasy list. There’s no one I could choose that I’d rather play with than Edgar.
When we decided to “move in” to the road permanently, it was because this band is basically our kid. It made sense to devote our lives to it. We didn’t feel right treating it as a part-time thing.
Also, we had already lived the economics of a band trying to operate on two blue collar incomes for nearly a decade. In that time we had never been able to save up money from our day jobs. We could just barely pay the bills. And in order to tour at all we could only keep low paying jobs. Half in, half out of two lives, we figured a bare minimum income staying on tour was better than a bare minimum income in some rental house, watching our gear collect dust.
Basically we couldn’t decide to stop touring. So we decided to never stop.
G- You are gearing up for your first release in 3 years, since 2010’s Throned in Blood. Firstly, can you translate the title, за волгой для нас земли нет, for us? What does it mean and how did you come to title your album this way?
A- The title refers to a quote, usually attributed to the Soviet WWII hero sniper Vasily Zaitsev. Whether or not he originated it, the phrase became a mantra for the Russians who lived in and fought for Stalingrad during one of the worst battles known to human history.
“за волгой для нас земли нет” essentially translates “for us there is no land beyond the Volga” which encompassed the concept that retreat would be senseless and defeat catastrophic; that a failure to defend Stalingrad would lead to Nazi occupation followed by unstoppable invasion, threatening the entire Russian people and way of life.
The story of this one small area of Russia is unbelievably rich. Our album is in part about the Battle of Stalingrad but beyond that, is about the deep history of the land itself and the people who inhabited and shaped it both before and beyond the WWII era. We chose the title because it references the great spirit and tenacity of the city (now Volgograd), of the river lifeline which brought civilizations there since the dawn of Europe, and of the people themselves across centuries who lived and died with great passion for their home.
G- Can you tell us about the recording process for the album? Where did you record it, who was behind the boards this time around, and how long did the release take to record and get ready for release?
A- We recorded about half the album in June 2011, in Canada, with Joe Byrne engineering. At the time we planned on going back there to finish up a few months later. But, as you might imagine, fitting in recording can be tricky for a band that’s always on tour. Stuff transpired in Joe’s life so that during the time we’d scheduled off to go back in, he was having to move his studio. That led to us finishing tracking with Jason Tedford (Wolfman Studios) in Little Rock, Arkansas over a year later, in fall 2012.
In the meantime we’d had the awesome experience of playing a show on the outskirts of Volgograd and getting an amazing tour of the city and war monuments from our promoter and his family. This was an incredible day because we were able to take photos and stand on the ground we were making a record about. And we had so much fun with the couple and their kids, even though it was about 105 degrees. Also it was super cool for the album because they were willing to translate and record some things into Russian we’d wanted for the record and hadn’t really known how we’d accomplish.
Oleg Kotrunov engineered all the parts where you hear Russian voices and ambient sound from the modern city. Larisa Medvedeva, Oleg’s wife, translated lots of stuff we wrote from English to Russian and recorded narration. And their young children, Vladimir and Maria, voiced characters as well. Maria also sang a Russian patriotic song.
We mixed the record in Bernville, PA with Mike Radka at Akdar Studios, the same place we did Throned In Blood.
We’re in the process of mastering now with Brad Boatright from Audiosiege. He did the vinyl master for our Nadir reissue, as well as about a million kickass bands’ records.
G- Back to touring for a minute, you guys spend your entire lives on the road, and any touring player who’s been there know that the road can be a tough place. Though for you, this is more like “normal life” than “touring” at this point, but how do you guys maintain such a rigorous schedule and how do you occupy your time when you’re traveling between gigs?
A- I’m always driving, like literally thousands and thousands of miles a year. We worked it out early on that I’m a calmer driver and better at backing up the trailer. And Edgar’s a way better passenger. I’m the kind that falls asleep in the passenger seat but he almost never fails to keep me entertained! Sometimes we’re just quiet watching the scenery, or we’ll talk about any kind of crazy shit, or plan Jucifer stuff, work out song parts by singing to each other, whatever.
We both spent a lot of time in cars as little kids (I was almost born in one!) so maybe for that reason we both feel best when we’re moving. If not driving then loading gear, playing the shows, and if we have a day off we at least take a couple of long walks. If we’re not super exhausted and we have a place to do it, we’ll shoot hoops or play tennis or ride bikes. Just keep moving is our philosophy. Laws of physics right? Haha.
Being on tour all the time with the insane setup we do requires being kind of a combination of truck driver, construction worker, secretary, and athlete. Actually playing the set every night is the easiest part of the whole day. Fortunately, it also reminds us why we do all this crazy work. We just fuckin love playing our music!
G- What is the most amount of performances that Jucifer has put in during one calendar year, and do you find yourself trying to play more and more every year? Why or why not?
A- It’s funny because I don’t think anyone ever asked me that before! But the answer is the same as one people do ask all the time, which is “how many speakers are in Thee White Wall?” We never remember exactly, because we never actually count them ourselves. We’re so busy just getting it done day to day, time is a huge blur; especially after thirteen years of full time road.
We don’t try to play more or less in a given year, it’s basically just shit happens!
Sometimes we play less because we’re recording, or because of a booking fuckup. Sometimes we play more because if not we’d miss getting to play certain towns. Sometimes shows get canceled and sometimes they get added last minute.
Touring all year you would like to shoot for some kind of normal-ish schedule, like 4-6 days on and a “weekend” day or two every week, but it usually ends up more like 12-shows-in-a-row total sleep deprivation hell, then two days to drive 30 miles for no apparent reason, then a 500 mile drive in one day, etc etc… always crazy on some level. Your body goes into permanent PTSD. But that’s probably part of the addiction.
G- 4 albums every fan of you should know about and why. Go!
A- Black Flag – My War
Slayer – Reign In Blood
Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
The Exploited – Troops of Tomorrow
S.O.D. – Speak English or Die
I gave 5 because I can’t leave any of those out. People should know them because together they are precursors of most everything awesome in heavy music that happened since then. Also since your question is what albums our own fans should know: the ideas of crossing genres at will, and combining nihilism with social consciousness, are both totally integral to our music. And as a kid back then, they are 5 of the records that inspired and excited me beyond belief when they came out.
G- Do you have a favorite song you have ever written? If you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
A- Right now my favorite song I’ve ever written is ‘Fight Hard Live Free’ from the new record. To me it feels like if Cannibal Corpse took downers and wrote a summer anthem… in a swimming pool full of mud. Haha. It’s like really sparse slow thrash through my big doom guitar, with death metal-y vocals, pretty much the “deathdrone” sound i like to call this kinda stuff we do. But catchy. The words are empowering to sing, they’re just basically about survival and victory over enemies and having liberty at all costs.
We have so many different-sounding songs on our records, I mean from grind to doom to country banjo ballads. One of the hilarious fuckeries of our penchant for recording multi genres is how freaked people get if they google and get say a pop song, and expect that when they come to our show. We didn’t do this to be mean… when we started recording there was no internet!
For us records are sort of experiment zones. On tour and onstage is the main Jucifer. So even though we have some beautiful songs that we’re proud of creating that’re probably really accessible, our focus would be on making fans who will dig the show. For that I’d say out of what’s already released, something like ‘Rifles’ or ‘Throned In Blood’ or ‘Queen B’.
G- Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? Do you have a dream lineup that you’d like to see happen in the future for Jucifer? Give us 3 bands that you hope to tour/perform with, if any.
A- We’ve been fortunate to share bills with a shit ton of talented and legendary bands. One we haven’t that I’d love to is Cannibal Corpse… Slayer of course, but you pretty much can’t play with them unless you’re, like, Anthrax or Megadeth! And Dropdead. So there’s two that maybe could happen and one total fantasy, haha!
G- From the ear shredding volumes of your performances to what I’m sure are some insane crowds, what is the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
A- There’s been a lot of craziness. But because it’s fresh in my mind from your earlier question, I’m remembering when we played that show in the suburbs of Volgograd last year… it was the only time I’ve seen a pit turn into like a formless ball of humans. It was super hot and pretty much all the dudes in the audience had their shirts off and were wearing shorts, so there was a lot of bare skin. They started with regular moshing but ended up on the floor, rolling and crawling on each other in the most gravity-defying ways. So much flesh intertwined and writhing! It was like looking at a snakepit, but the snakes are humans. Pretty awesome!
G- Lastly, as an anomaly in the music business (based on your touring lifestyle,) what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
A- Do everything the opposite of how we’ve done it and you should be very successful. For real!
Touring a lot or all the time makes people take you for granted. They tend to get most excited for bands that have broken up, or “never” play live. Call it human nature, always coveting what you can’t have. Or call it supply and demand. This is why some of the old bands keep doing farewell tours every few years.
Sad as it is, that’s real world stuff to consider before aiming to hit the road full time.
It’s also really hard to “make it” while holding on to integrity, individuality, and doing things in a pure way. The kind of success you get from being an innovator or “just doing you” is mostly internal. You probably won’t be super famous and you definitely won’t get rich. Being unpredictable makes people find you confusing and if they’re impatient, they write you off. Popular music is generally not confusing.
The fans you gain through integrity, though, are the very finest kind. That in itself is a reward which to someone like me, is irreplaceable. Better than traditional ideas of “making it” — for the soul, if not the wallet. But special as they are, fans of challenging music probably won’t number enough to guarantee you security in your career.
So if you’re young, just starting or whatever, think about what you really want. If it’s money and stability, or being a household name, the path is really obvious. You can see it done all around you. Copy stuff people already like, and be outrageous about it. Do dumb publicity stunts. Be everywhere but be unavailable… play 3 shows a year as if you’re descending unwillingly from a magical throne, but be the name people see wherever they look. Use the internet. Use every person you meet. Be shameless.
If you’re a good mimic, a good salesman, and ruthless, the world is your oyster. If you’re not that person — or you have the skills but couldn’t live with yourself going that soul-selling route — accept it. Decide if you love music enough to labor for just the reward of getting to make more music. Sometimes that’s all there is. Is it enough?
If neither of those lives sounds appealing you’re probably not meant to be a professional musician. And that’s totally fine. Plenty of joy can be had with absolutely no sacrifice, just playing in your room!
Jun 26 Rochester, NY
Jun 27 Syracuse, NY
Jun 29 Hudson, NY
Jul 01 Northampton, MA
Jul 07 Providence, RI
Jul 08 New London, CT
Jul 10 Danbury, CT
Jul 11 Brooklyn, NY
Jul 12 Asbury Park, NJ
Jul 13 Philadelphia, PA
Jul 14 Atlantic City, NJ
Jul 18 Washington, DC