During the last year, Huntress has been taking the metal world by storm. Despite having only one album under their belt, they have already toured the world opening for bands like Dragonforce and 3 Inches of Blood, hardly a small feat for such a young act.
At the heart of Huntress is Jill Janus, the singer and “spiritual leader”, for lack of a better word, of the band. Why spiritual? Well, Huntress, as it is evident from their lyrics and even from Jill herself, deeply connected with witchcraft and occultism (Jill goes out of her way to explain that it’s only the “path of light”, white magic, and not Satanism or “dark magic”) and they make no effort to hide it.
We met with Jill just before their show in Amsterdamopening for Dragonforce, on November 26th. Jill was kind enough to discuss not just the music but also the philosophy behind the band and the source for her inspiration, proving that not only is she a great musician, but also a really chill and nice gal.
Check out the transcript below and the video at the bottom of the page!
I don’t need any special attention as a woman because I am going to earn respect like the men do.
Metal Blast: Hi Jill, thanks for being with us today. Tell me about the history of Huntress.
Jill Janus: My name is Jill Janus and I’m the lead singer of Huntress. We’re a heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California, and it took me nearly a decade to find the musicians for Huntress. I started off in opera. As a child I was born with four-octave coloratura soprano range, so my mother started taking me to auditions and knew that I loved metal in my early teens, but refused to let me participate in any type of band because it would “ruin your voice”. It was an interesting upbringing, in that aspect it gave me a lot of discipline, and I believe everything happens for a reason, so that training is now the foundation for my screams. When I moved to Los Angeles I met an underground metal band called Professor and played them a couple demos I wrote, and then we joined forces, so Huntress was birthed.
Metal Blast: As a band what were your goals with Huntress?
JJ: We’re five kids that love heavy metal. We love the NWOBHM sound so we always stay true to the roots of heavy metal while keeping it modern and current and melodic. It was to write music that we love, and it just so happened to turn out that other people loved it too, and here we are touring Europe.
MB: Not counting the EP “Off With Her Head”, this year saw the release of your first album “Spell Eater”, so tell me a little bit about the style of the album.
JJ: We’ve been pegged as melodic deaththrash, melodic blackened thrash… it is strange describing what genre it is because it’s just heavy metal to me. Spell Eater was recorded with Chris Rakestraw in Los Angeles in January of 2012, and it was released in May of this year. Basically after we recorded the record we were put on the road immediately without an album, we joined Pagan Fest America. We also joined up with Dragonforce as support in the U.S., as well as a slew of metalfests this past summer, and here we are again with Dragonforce as primary support for their European tour, and all of that is for Spell Eater.
MB: I thought it was very interesting that once again you are touring with Dragonforce, especially because in some reviews of “Spell Eater” they mention that there are some Dragonforce-like riffs, and even a bit of power metal inside. What do you think of the association with power metal for an album such as “Spell Eater”?
JJ: I’ve never heard that from a review, but I don’t read them, so I just wouldn’t know. I don’t think of these things necessarily, and I just stay focused on our purpose and sound. Regarding having a power metal vibe, yeah, totally, because the vocals can be really dramatic, and I think what ties us together with Dragonforce would be that element of fantasy and the riffs. Dragonforce has been amazing for us, a really good opportunity. It’s strange because we are a lot heavier than they are without a doubt, and sometimes we can scare their audiences easily. Again, I think what ties us together are the elements of theater and fantasy.
MB: The occult and witchcraft are two elements that are very prevalent in “Spell Eater” and yourself. How serious is all of the witchcraft and occult in the album and the band itself? Not just in you, but in everyone?
JJ: Witchcraft guides all aspects of my life and always has ever since I was a little gal. Spell Eater is in a way a tribute to spells and the occult. The boys have seen things and experienced things together with me that you can’t really explain, and we try to keep it a little more private. Of course, there are many people I’ve known for years who haven’t known that I am a witch, because it’s not really something that you speak about. However, when you write an album and al the lyrics and content are woven with alchemy and numerology, it’s out there and you start getting questioned. The boys are very accepting of my beliefs and it just so happens the album guides itself. When we are in the writing process the boys bring the riffs and I’m being beamed messages from deep space and my mouth opens and words come out. That’s just the way “Spell Eater” was born; I just get these visions.
MB: There was something that I read in which you said, that your inspiration is “like I see a thin blue line coming into the top of my skull, words are given to me, and I wail.” What?!
JJ: [laughs] I’m an artist!
The best way for me to explain that is that’s how many of my lyrics come to me. I feel as if I’m very connected to another realm, and often that is just for me as an artist, there are many ways people tap into their creativity, and that’s just one way that I do. Many artists suffer for what they do and go through drastic measures to receive creativity, so this is quite mild compared to many other stories I’ve heard.
MB: The fact that there is this witchcraft element reminds me of another American band named Coven. Were they an inspiration for your or anyone else in the band?
JJ: Not really. I really do adore Coven, and I love a lot of that ‘60s/’70s proto-metal and it kicks ass. But for me I find very little inspiration in other females, especially female front people. I just relate better to men and I often try to “unsex” myself vocally. My goal is to sound sexless. I don’t necessarily need to be called a female front person, but I will be because of my look, the sorcery and the imagery that I use. But there is no other inspiration from other bands necessarily, it’s really something that is organic and is kind of magical with the way it occurs.
MB: You mention that you like to be considered sexless musically, but at the same time the imagery is very sexualized. So, why did you decide on the one side to do that imagery, and on the other you wanted to be sexless?
JJ: The imagery will always be feminine and always embody the power of being a woman and a witch. This is sorcery, this is what I use to draw you in, and I’m not ashamed of it. Vocally speaking I would like to be remembered as a vocalist; not as a female-fronted band. It’s just something I would like to achieve for myself; something that is timeless and it’s just me and not considered to be a female voice. There’s a lot of work that I do to blend in the melody and pureness, but also bring in the brutality with these lower guttural death metal vocals and screams. So the combination of those I want to surpass sex.
MB: Regarding surpassing sex, one of the interesting things about metal is that it is always a bit of a sausage fest, so what sort of negative and positive effects do you get out of this very sexualized imagery?
JJ: Well, sure, it can be negative for anybody. Once women decide to show skin and put themselves in a position where they are going to be criticized, you can get burned, so you need to choose your battles wisely. I personally am not afraid of anything; if you got it, flaunt it. I can back it up with the voice.
MB: I agree. In metal one of the sad things about the sausage fest is there is a bit of misogyny. For instance with Arch Enemy, when they first chose Angela [Gossow] to be the singer, they first showed the voice, and then they said, “it is a girl,” because they thought people were always going to be judging it as “it’s good, but for a girl.”
JJ: Her voice is incredible; she’s superbly talented. I don’t give a fuck… why should I care? I don’t need any special attention as a woman because I am going to earn respect like the men do. I’m not here to get a free ride and get more attention for being a woman. I do what I do, and you like it or you don’t. I’m not going anywhere and I’m here to prove that. I want longevity.
MB: You mention that you’re conquering the world one metalhead at a time. What stage is the conquering at?
JJ: I like to have fun and say things like “we are conquering the world one metalhead at a time.” We have been on tour pretty much non-stop since March and the progression is steady and it’s ascending. We’re still a little bit overwhelmed in a way with the response and love we’ve received. I’ve wanted this for my entire life, but when you’re in the middle of it and it causes a frenzy and there’s contracts getting signed and you need a lawyer, it can be a little overwhelming at times. Luckily we have a really good team in place and we can see the success ahead. All of this doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to completely commit yourself to this. I live a very strange existence because of it; my life is ruled by the voice. That’s it.
MB: What do you mean by that?
JJ: My lifestyle has changed. I can no longer drink on tour, I don’t do drugs -well, I smoke weed, we just talked about that… we’re in Amsterdam!- Everything is revolving around maintaining my health and keeping my voice strong night-after-night. I can do 30 shows in a row and I don’t lose my voice, but it takes a lot of care and commitment, and that’s where I feel my discipline from my training early on really helps.
MB: What’s in the future now for Huntress?
JJ: More touring. We are just finishing up the Dragonforce tour here in Europe, and then we head back to the States to join 3 Inches Of Blood on their west coast run. After that we are in the studio doing pre-production for our next record. Our second album will be coming out in 2013 and that is all I can tell you. We have many songs already written, but we’ll see where the inspiration comes from. We’ll see what comes down that thin blue line, won’t we?
MB: Do you think that Huntress cannot exist without this element?
JJ: I think that Huntress can exist no matter what. We do already exist, so therefore I’m not concerned about not existing because we already do. I think what will happen is we will grow as musicians and learn more. The process never ends. Being on tour makes you learn something new every day; you get better, you get stronger and more professional. If you want to do this for a long time and make a living off of it, which is rare to do, we’re not making any money; whatever money we do make goes back into the band or trips we need to make. The goal is longevity. Fortunately as crazy as I am, because I know I’m crazier than a shithouse rat, I have a good team of people around me that keeps me focused on the mission, so without that more than anything I couldn’t participate in this really difficult life that we are embarking on. It’s very stressful and a lot of work. More than anything without this team we wouldn’t exist.
MB: When it comes to a team you refer to Napalm Records and your band members, or are there more people behind you?
JJ: There are more people behind us and helping. My management, Jackie Kaiser of 10th Street Management, she kicks ass. Having her on my team is really valuable. I don’t talk about it much but I really feel that without that type of infrastructure, without an awesome record label and manager, that’s what we are relying on most of all. It’s more important than most people realize, especially because I am a girl. I am more vulnerable to many changes, especially on the road. We started touring in a little van, so in a van sleeping and living with my dogs with four other guys, a girl can go kind of stir crazy.
MB: You were living with your dogs in the van?
JJ: Yeah. We always tour with our dogs in the United States. They are great dogs and well behaved. We love animals, so we try to keep them around when we can.
MB: One of the amazing things about Huntress is that you signed with Napalm Records right away. You had just released your EP and Napalm showed its interest and signed you right away…
JJ: The story behind getting signed to Napalm, I asked the tarot cards to reveal one song that would become an epic metal tune; ‘Eight of Swords’ chose us. We wrote the song, put all of our money into the video, which was self-funded. We met a man named Simon Chan who really believed in the project and concept I had for the video, and it really did magically come together. We then debuted that video on noisecreep.com in the States, and when it hit we knew it was going to be interesting and gain a lot of attention, but the frenzy that ensued was not expected. We had about nine labels trying to sign us. That’s what the tarot cards told me.
MB: The thing about ‘Eight of Swords’ is that it’s a great song and am surprised to hear that it was self-funded because it’s a really good video. You didn’t just go into a warehouse and film it, you went all out. The reason why there is interest is because the band is very good.
JJ: Yeah. We work really hard at being top notch. The goal is to be excellent musicians. Put everything aside, we’re a really good fucking band, and we’re all really focused. Take everything else aside, all the metaphysical shit, everything surrounding the occult, what you have is five talented musicians that have one goal, one vision, and one focus. When ‘Eight of Swords’ came out we abolished all other ambitions. I gave up my house, I sold my car, and I was living in that van for a good six months; staying in hotels, staying with friends, whatever I could do to focus only on this band. I now have a little apartment that I’m able to keep my dogs in, but when this happened, I literally gave up everything just to focus. It could also just be that; my beliefs are my beliefs. They are what guide me, they are my creativity, it’s what makes the music memorable and gives it the other wordly sensibility. Take all that shit away, you’ve got five talented musicians with one vision.
MB: There was also another association that I saw on your website, and apparently you are working with Jaegermeister?
JJ: Yeah, we are sponsored by Jaegermeister. That happened pretty quickly as well. Now we are teaming up with them and Sweden Rock confirmed for a festival next year with KISS, Rush, Doro, Witchcraft, Amon Amarth… it’s just amazing. We are also confirmed for Hammerfest in Wales, which is also a killer line-up, and have some more announcements coming very soon about festivals, but we can’t talk about them yet.
MB: Things are only going up for Huntress.
JJ: Yes, but it can all go away in an instant, so we are very grateful and humble about the experience.
MB: Any final message for your fans?
JJ: I always say to those seeking purpose, never ever give up. The vultures can wait.
Thumbnail photo by Stefan Brending