Interview with Jucifer guitarist and vocalist Gazelle Amber Valentine

- Mar 19, 2010 at 11:12AM
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Jucifer's, guitarist and vocalist Gazelle Amber Valentine answered a few questions for me about their new disc Throned In Blood. The band's bio describes their sound as: “a peasant revolt etched in bone at 140 db” and they have been compared to bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Portishead. For the past ten years the dedicated husband and wife team that make up Jucifer have been living out of an RV, continually touring and bringing their brand of music to the masses.

What is the story behind the name Jucifer?
Amber: For some reason when we started out, we were changing our name every couple of months. I think we went through about twenty different names. One day after we had been around a couple years, Edgar was at work washing dishes in a restaurant. NPR was playing on the radio and people were discussing O.J. Simpson, whose trial was about to begin. Someone said something like, if he did it, he is the devil. The Juice is Lucifer. That phrase swam around Edgar's mind until it became "Jucifer.” We were torn between thinking it was a stupid name and a great one, but we liked that it implied equal parts sweetness and evil. We had a show coming up in a few days, and we were tired of whatever name we had been going by last. So we used Jucifer. Little did we know at the time that it would end up being our final name! We still think it's both stupid and great.

Give us some insight into the record, Throned In Blood and the meaning behind its title?
Amber: The concept of the album is human depravity and corruption on the path to power, and how the casualties of conquest ultimately include the conqueror. Self-destructiveness. The title means standing on top of the bodies of your enemies, throned in their blood, but also refers to your own blood being shed in the process of gaining "victory" and how the lust to overcome others at any cost ruins and cripples us even when we seem to have won.

The band keeps things interesting thematically. Can you talk about some of the subjects you tackle on this record?
Amber: Several are very specific, things like the Chilean coup of 1973 in which ostensibly free-thinking nations including the U.S. supported installing a military dictator with terrible results for Chile's formerly free citizens. Others, like the title track and "Contempt", are more general portraits of the type of thinking that creates such violence and crushing of dissent. A couple of songs were inspired by imagining the future, both in terms of hope for humanity ("Armageddon") and with expectation of failure ("Disciples Of An Expanding Sun").

The artwork quite interesting. How is it tied to the albums title?
Amber: The cover image is Alexander discovering the body of Darius. It really links into the title and concept of the record because Alexander had sought to destroy Darius for a long time, finally succeeded, and was relatively sorry to discover him dead. After finding the body, Alexander gave his enemy Darius a royal funeral. We thought the artwork really conveyed that emotional upheaval where the idea of killing to serve a political idea becomes the reality of death. When suddenly, the conqueror laments what he has wrought.

You have been through a number of labels with Jucifer. This latest album comes to us by way of your own label Nomadic Fortress how did that come about?
Amber: Yeah, the first label we worked with was a fan run indie with very tiny and minimal distribution. Then we signed to Capricorn, a major, which eventually turned into Velocette, an indie from the ashes of a major. Next was Relapse, which is kind of the best of major and indie rolled into one. Through seventeen years of being a band we have never tried having our own label, and Nomadic Fortress is the result of us finally taking that step. We're really stoked about it because while starting something that's completely our own, we're still working with Relapse for mail-order and distribution - so nothing really changes for fans as far as availability - and Alternative Tentacles is pressing the vinyl, like they did with L'Autrichienne. We're in this great position to have autonomy as far as what we do and when we do it, along with creating a roster of cool releases, while still having the support system of the great people we've been working with over the last few years.

I understand that you guys are literally always on tour and that you live out of your RV constantly playing shows in The U.S and Canada. What is that like?
Amber: This is our tenth year without a house and being on the road all year, so at this point it feels remarkably normal. It is hard to even realize that it is an oddity anymore! I always tell people that just like life in one place, it can be incredible or very shitty. Depending on the weather, the finances, the mood you are in or the people you have to deal with on a given day. However, for us it is the best way to be where we want to be, playing shows all the time and always conscious of being in charge of our lives. Things happen that cannot be changed, but the way you handle them is always a choice. Being in constant motion really keeps that knowledge at the front of our minds.

Do you find that the rigors of touring constantly are taking a toll on you at all?
Amber: We do live in a constant cycle of sleep deficit and sleep binges, which isn't necessarily the healthiest thing. Sometimes it is a struggle to eat well. But we get great exercise - between our wall of equipment and playing the shows, we get both weight lifting and cardio. So in a lot of ways we're physically stronger from it, and definitely mentally stronger.

What is the hardest part about being in a touring metal band and what is the biggest obstacle your band faces?
Amber: We're so used to being on tour that things don't really throw us anymore... we've kind of seen it all. The main thing we deal with from time to time is the maniacally pissed off sound guy who thinks our wall of amps is stupid and yells at us about it. Ironically, this guy always ends up liking us after he sees us play. It can be really exhausting and lame dealing with that hostility after a long drive and a three-hour setup. I guess the big obstacle for us is that we fall into this weird place in that some people who love big amps and sludgy music really do not like or respect females doing it. Because we have recorded stuff that is distinctly not heavy - which is just exercising creative freedom and being well-rounded musicians - some people with narrower taste write us off. So we do not always get as much credit as we should for what we do and have been doing for years. Even some of the bands we know personally, who have very obviously taken many ideas from us, will not mention us as an influence because I guess they think we are too controversial. It is a bummer. But in the end we know, and they know, what we invented.

When you are on the road for a while, I am sure you see and experience many different things you might not even have known existed. Are there any stories that stand out in your mind as being exceptionally strange or odd?
Amber: Once we saw a young couple on foot carrying a road killed deer down a highway at about three in the morning. This was when we found out that some people scavenge road kill to eat. Another time, in the desert, we stayed at a remote little RV park where most of the other people were living fulltime. One man did not have a car, just a tiny trailer (the kind that usually hitches to a car) and a donkey. We realized that his donkey was his transportation to work. Being in the outskirts of civilization, you realize how much ingenuity people have for survival under any circumstances. I find it reassuring. We sometimes meet people who have almost nothing, yet are generous and offer us a drink or a meal. It's beautiful.

When you are out on the road, anything can happen and often does. Can you think of any disastrous events that happened while out on tour? How did you solve the problem?
Amber: We've been stuck a lot of times! The worst, so far, was when we blew a sparkplug in rural Arizona, too far from Phoenix or Yuma to reasonably be towed. One of our amazing contacts with a stranger resulted in this man driving to an auto parts store for us and installing a helicoil, which is a temporary fix. He refused to let us pay him or even pay for the parts, which were about forty dollars. At that point, we knew we were going to need a new engine, which is a $10,000 beast for our vehicle. Fortunately, we had enough book value left in our RV to refinance our original loan and come up with the ten grand. In a complete miracle, the helicoil - which was supposed to last as much as six months or as little as five minutes - lasted literally until the day the new loan papers went through. Smaller things happen all the time, like when our exhaust pipe became detached from the motor side and, realizing it was Saturday and no mechanic was around, we had to put it back and strap it into place with coat hangers and duct tape. Being vagabonds makes us resourceful.

You have been in the music business for quite a number of years now. What drives you to keep going year after year while the music business is not in a very good state?
Amber: It was never a matter of success for us. We have always understood that in order to keep doing music at the level we want - being able to put out albums to an audience and tour to an audience - there has to be some level of success. However, we never approached it with the attitude of seeking money and fame. We would have been insane to do this band with those expectations, and this band was what we wanted to do. The fact that we have such supportive fans, and enough of them to keep things afloat, is part of what makes it worthwhile to continue. The rest is that this is who we are and what we want to do with our lives. So even when it's discouraging or financially straining, it is its own reward.

Any closing words?
Amber: We're looking forward to seeing everyone on tour this year and hope everybody enjoys Throned In Blood as much as we do! Thanks!  [ END ]
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