Two's Company...
Chit chat avec un très sexy femme, avec un fucking massive amplifier: Jucifer
by: Daniel Cairns
Simply put, Jucifer are the best kept secret in music. There's only two of them, but they make more noise than a vengeful warrior God getting his balls caught between two bricks. Last year, they released _L'Autrichienne_, which was basically 2008's best record. It's seventy minutes of doom, pop, thrash grind and folk, and it hangs together fantastically.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Amber and ask her some questions. We waxed lyrical about many things, ranging from touring with other bands, singing in French, Kurt Cobain, the future of the industry and Kirsten Dunst's canon. Word of warning though: this interview will be hella long.

CoC: It is with great regret and embarrassment that I must tell you this: you hadn't been featured on the 'zine until I reviewed your most recent record. Would you like to introduce yourselves to the readers who may not have heard of you, as well as a brief history?

Amber: I'm Amber and the other half of the band is Edgar. We both started playing and writing music when we were kids, back in the '80s, and joined forces in 1993. So Jucifer has been around a pretty long time. We had a 7" put out by a very small indie label in '95. They also put out a full-length in '98, but with very limited distribution. We were on a few comps and did some tours. In '99 we signed to a major, but for some reason they didn't believe in European distribution... they put out two albums and two EPs, but it wasn't until we were on Relapse that our records became available in Europe. Relapse released _If Thine Enemy Hunger_ in '06 and _L'Autrichienne_ in '08. When we started playing together we were both living in Athens, Georgia. In 2001 we moved into our tour bus for good. We haven't lived in a house for going on nine years, and probably won't again. Sorry if that was boring, but you asked for history! <laughs>

CoC: We've heard worse. <both laugh> A few months ago, I was perusing through Kerrang! in the newsagents and came across an interview with Matt from High on Fire. I can't remember specifically, but he described Jucifer as the loudest band he's played with. Did you know he said that? It must be pretty cool to have someone like Matt give you the thumbs up.

A: Matt's awesome. We enjoyed touring with High on Fire a lot. I think Matt and I get possessed by some of the same spirits, energy or whatever... and we both love playing loud. Some of the dudes in heavy music don't want to allow female musicians any credit, but Matt was all about supporting what I do. It's great to have respect from someone like that, not so much because people think he's cool, but because I myself appreciate his talent. And he's just a nice guy to hang with.

CoC: Any other notable rock types mentioned you favourably? My Internet stalking reveals that Michael Stipe is a bit of a fan.

A: Mike Watt has said some great stuff. And the Melvins. They're very good people to be around. Jello Biafra is a fan, which is amazing, because I was a huge fan of the Dead Kennedys as a kid. He's also a very interesting person to have a conversation with. Scott from Local H. Cattle Decapitation. Babes in Toyland. Veruca Salt. Vic Chesnutt. Mike Mills. Recently the singer from Lamb of God was at one of our shows. And the drummer of Slipknot. Guitar player from the Stooges (rest in peace). I've heard that J Mascis likes us. People tell us "oh so and so was here or said good things". Brent from Mastodon comes out if he's in town when we pass through... we've known each other since probably '96. <laughs> Same with a couple of Torche dudes. A couple guys from Shadows Fall and from Cephalic Carnage have been at several shows. I met one of the guys in Satyricon last year and he knew about us. My friend was talking to Morbid Angel and they knew us too.

CoC: It must feel pretty awesome to be appreciated by so many peers.

A: Yeah, definitely! It means a lot to have respect from other musicians. You know that they understand what you're doing on a different level from someone that doesn't play... they sort of see past whatever is surface, your light show or what clothes you're wearing or how many records you've sold. They tend to cut to the bone of what you're doing. So if they respect it, it carries some weight. Oh! One of the crazier stories I can tell you is that Kurt Cobain liked a demo that I'd handed to Courtney Love.

CoC: No way!

A: Yeah, Michael Stipe introduced me to her. She was very cool about accepting the tape, despite her reputation. She told me how she'd once given a tape to Frank Black of the Pixies and said he was very rude, so she wanted to be gracious. In the next couple days I got a phone call from Michael Stipe telling me that Kurt really liked the tape, but it was warped. He wanted another copy. Very soon after though, he was dead. That was a really strange experience. To learn that someone like that, already a huge star and icon, liked my songs... then to have him die.

CoC: Oh lordy. That's intense. Speaking of intense (see how I segued that there?), your live performances. Basically, how do two of you manage to be so fucking loud?

A: <laughs> For one thing, Edgar beats the living shit out of the drums! And my regular touring amp rig is ridiculous. It's a literal wall of sound, over six feet high and more than ten feet wide.

CoC: Jesus!

A: For many years I used seventeen to twenty cabinets, most of them large bass cabs. This year I'm "only" using eleven, just because we are doing more singing on the _L'Autrichienne_ songs and want the poor sound guys to have a chance with getting vocals heard! <laughs> Oddly though, when we did Europe last summer, we somehow managed to be louder than everyone else while sharing the same small amp backline. I guess the way I set up my guitar and my particular distortion pedals had more boost -- that and Edgar's smashing. <laughs>

CoC: You've been touring extensively in support of the new record. Has the newer material gone down well live? I imagine something like "Blackpowder" blows peoples faces off with your live setup.

A: Yeah, it's been good. We've been playing at least five or six songs off the album, which wasn't the case for all of our records. We've moved toward trying to make sure our records have songs we'll want to do live a little more... but we still end up seasoning our set with songs from every period of our band. We'd go nuts if we didn't play some brand new stuff all the time, and we know our more old-school fans are psyched on hearing something from the '90s when they least expect it. Seems like a lot of people know the _L'Autrichienne_ songs right now, which is cool.

CoC: Speaking of which, mind if we talk a little bit about _L'Autrichienne_?

A: No, go ahead!

CoC: _L'Autrichienne_ was a proper downer of a record. I listen to lots of depressing doomy music, but there was a sense of dread on _L'Autrichienne_ that made it especially appealing.

A: The dread was a lot of the attraction. I find I'm always inspired by really dark subjects. Both for lyrics and for music. I'm kind of a medium, in the sense that I am very moved by certain tragic or violent events. Then I compose songs to deal with that emotion. I have very strong empathy for the people I'm voicing, so it's like translation. It's also self-exorcism, as a lot of people who write doomy or hyper-aggressive music would probably agree.

CoC: What inspired you to write a record about the tragedy of Marie Antoinette?

A: Marie Antoinette is an incredible example of celebrity and human fickleness. To go from this immensely popular figure, like a Princess Diana or Jackie O -- fashionplate, good wife, loving queen, whatever... to this arch villainess, wanton woman, traitor, devil worshiper -- all at the whim of public opinion. Add in the gluttonous violence excused by revolutionary patriotism and you couldn't ask for a richer palette.

CoC: Did you see Sofia Coppola's utterly rotten Marie Antoinette film with Kirsten Dunst? If so, were you driven by an inner determination to tell her story properly, and not portray her as a vacuous flibbertigibbet?

A: <laughs> I haven't seen the film! I've heard it was bad, and I also know I'd have trouble believing Kirsten Dunst in the role. Nothing against her, but she'll always be the "Bring It On" cheerleader to me. Not that I've watched that movie. And all its sequels. Not me! <laughs>

CoC: Aye, I believe you... <laughs>

A: But yes, I wanted to paint her in a different light from the popular misunderstanding. She was a whole person, certainly with flaws, but not without redeeming qualities. She was used by the revolution. An easy target. History has commonly made scapegoats of women, and any female will have her share of haters. To be considered attractive by some invites vicious insults from others. To be seen as powerful is to be worthy of being toppled. The quickest way to demean a woman is to throw her virtue into question. And the best way to eviscerate a leader's power is to show them as haughty and removed from the suffering of their people. I think it's telling that Marie Antoinette is still known and reviled so long from her time, whereas Louis is almost a minor figure. Being female and beautiful she was elevated, first to fame and then to infamy. Most people now know her for a horribly insensitive statement that she actually didn't make, and for her supposedly insatiable interest in fashion. Perhaps if her head had been less pretty she could have kept it? <both laugh>

CoC: On the musical side of things _L'Autrichienne_ flits from genre to genre at the drop of a hat (no pun intended), and has some of the most raucous stuff you've ever done. Did you always know it'd hang together, or were there jitters during its creation?

A: We knew it was cohesive, at least for us. It was like movements in a sound track. When we got done we felt like we'd gotten it right. We're happy with the record. But we knew it would be a challenge for a lot of people, because it's long and because it's so multi-faceted. I'm actually surprised at how well it's been received! It's hard for people to get a real understanding of our band from our records... we've always been a lot heavier live. So the grindy stuff is more an essential part of us than a song like the title track. I've laughed about how we play our fast songs twice as fast and our slow songs twice as slow as they are on the records. Part of that is based on being a band that does both. In the studio, Edgar's huge drums just can't cut through if he's playing super fast. So we'll slow it down some to make the parts audible. When we play live, the adrenalin and volume make us kind of insane. We're addicted to that catharsis. We're in a trance state that feels really good, but in the studio, we're more like builders. We make a blueprint, we build the house, we decorate and landscape it so it's picture perfect. It's the difference between painting like Jackson Pollock and like Norman Rockwell. Our band is kind of a fuck-off to everyone who's narrow minded, and a come-hither to everyone that isn't. As a whole it's ambitious, and scary. But change is our status quo.

CoC: The album has a great production, and sounds pleasingly raw in an age of Pro-Tooled nonsense. Looking through the sleeve I see a lot of familiar names helped bring it together, like Steve Austin and Scot Hull. How did they come to be involved with the record?

A: Thanks! We had a short time to record _L'Autrichienne_, only three weeks to track and mix 21 songs. Our engineer, Andy, was moving to Taiwan directly following our session, so we needed to find a different place to do sequencing. We've never let anyone do it without us there, because we're very particular about the spaces and fades between songs -- they're so important to the whole experience of an album.

CoC: How did Steve and Scott come aboard?

A: We'd been told that Steve Austin was a big fan and also knew he had a studio. And he's in Nashville. So we MySpaced him! <laughs> He was very cool to squeeze us in and made sure we were completely happy with the sequence. Also we had a lot of fun just hanging out and playing with his machine guns! Relapse suggested we master with Scott Hull, and knowing some of his other work, plus that he liked our band too, we were comfortable with the idea. He did a really great job. We're actually talking about recording our next record at his studio. Again with both of those guys, it's an honour to have their respect.

CoC: As an artiste (I have my pretentious hat on for this question), do you prefer creating your music, or the subsequent marathon tours? I know some bands (like Mastodon) thrive off the live arena, but some musicians have expressed a distaste with the obligatory touring. Obviously, touring is how you make your living, but if you could, would you rather stay at home and create music with Ed?

A: This is a trick question right? Cause our home is our tour vehicle!

CoC: Doh! Sorry!

A: <laughs> No worries -- is your pretentious hat a beret? Or a top hat?

CoC: It's a dunce cap at the minute. <both laugh> Anyway, as a hard working, touring band, does it piss you off that records are far easier to obtain via nefarious means than ever before? Do you think people like Trent Reznor and the aforementioned Mr Austin (who sell their music at reasonable prices in digital form from their own websites) are paving the way for musical consumption in the future?

A: I think the future may well be record label-less unless they can adapt. The whole business (and it sucks to accept, but it is indeed a business) is changing so rapidly. At the same time I don't understand why music fans think their favourite artists can survive while giving everything away or selling it cut-rate. I guess you could be that kind of musician if you already own the tools to record on a computer, and you don't care about getting quality sound. Then you could just track, upload, give away, and stay home, because no one can get or stay on the road without having something to sell. Steve Austin is in a good position, because he has his own studio. he doesn't have to pay to record, except for maintaining his gear. so he's managed to eliminate a huge expense. I'm sure Trent Reznor has his own studio too. It's a situation pretty much every band would love to be in, but not so many really are. The fact that some fans have trouble accepting is that this is a real job. It may seem too glamorous or idealistic to be called that. But musicians give a great deal of time and effort to produce their "product". It shouldn't be stolen. This might be classed with, say, looking at a pretty girl. That's free. But you aren't allowed to touch her or take her without either her giving you that, as a personal gift, or you paying her! It takes a tremendous investment to record well. It takes a constant flow of money to keep a band going. Equipment, vehicle, fuel, food, and all the same bills that anyone else has. I think a lot of non-musicians feel that if someone has their picture in a magazine or has a lot of friends on MySpace, their band must be making money. So untrue. For most of us it's enough to survive, but not enough for things like health insurance, buying a home or having a family. Even though I love the idea of more people being exposed to our music, I have to ask that if you got it for free, make a point to buy something from us later. Otherwise we might well cease to exist, like fossil fuels. If you just take and take it will someday be gone.

CoC: What have Jucifer got coming up in the future? Are you still touring, or have you started thinking about the next record? Any screamo-crunk or crabcore influences going to come through?

A: We're on the road all year unless we record, so we've been out around the US since the first of January. We're ready to record and just trying to work out the schedule. Not planning any screamo-crunk or crabcore. <laughs> Maybe more stonerdoom powerthrash -- one of the descriptions of us I saw recently. <laughs>

CoC: Final (and most annoying) question. Will you be singing in French again on any future records? I hope you sing in the language again, as it was a little bit sexy.

A: Oui, I will say it's pretty likely! I love French, but I'm not fluent, and according to the French band we toured with last summer, not even correct in my accent! <laughs> I had guessed as much, but hoped to at least get by on being charmingly wrong. Regardless there was just no way I'd pass up singing French on a record about the French revolution, and I'll probably butcher it again. C'est la vie! <laughs>

CoC: Thanks Amber!

_L'Autrichienne_ is out now on Relapse Records. Head down to your nearest record shop, or off with your head.

(article submitted 24/9/2009)

2/24/2009 D Cairns 9 Jucifer - L'Autrichienne
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