Jill Janus from Huntress recently talked with National Rock Review to talk about the band starting out, touring with Amon Amarth, and their upcoming third album.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us at National Rock Review, Jill. Last time you were in Newcastle was with Lamb of God.
NRR: I read somewhere that Newcastle was one of your favorite shows on that tour. So now you are back out on tour with Amon Amarth. How’s it been going so far?
Janus: It’s been a blast. We’re good friends with the boys in Amon Amarth and it’s just nice. It feels like family you know, and Savage Messiah as an opening act just really get it fired up, so it makes our job a little easier.
NRR: So what does the UK mean to you and to Huntress?
Janus: The UK is a really magical place. I think especially for heavy metal. It really runs deep here, especially the roots of NWOBHM. This is the birth place of heavy metal, so for us it’s monumental to be touring here.
NRR: Last week you filled in Johan from Amon Amarth when he lost his voice. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how it came about?
Janus: (laughing) Well we arrived for sound check, and we were told to hold off loading gear because Johan had blown out his voice and they weren’t sure what was going on yet. Fast forward, the boys from Amon Amarth asked me to come in their dressing room and we talked about saving the show. We came up with the idea that it would be instrumental with me hosting and performing “Guardians of Asgaard,” and I thought pulling a couple of fans to do a couple of songs as well, that was really fun.
NRR: Nice, it sounds awesome. So you are a professionally trained opera singer. How did you end up performing in a metal band and what made you change your musical direction?
Janus: I’ve always known I’ve wanted to sing heavy metal. Opera and classical is simply the foundation of my screams. So when I was younger and I was really obsessed with heavy metal and especially just knowing that my mother especially did not want me to do it, I wanted to do it more. She gave me great advice. She said train, get your training in, you have this four octave coloratura soprano voice and work that for a while and then down the road you can change what you want to do with it, but you know it’s limitless and that’s what’s so cool is that with Huntress it is limitless and I am the one that is able to write and to capture what I want for my vision.
NRR: You just mentioned your vision. You had a vision for Huntress which took almost a decade to find the right musicians for the band. How did you know you had found what you were looking for?
Janus: I’m pretty intuitive. I saw a band called Professor in Los Angeles actually. I’d booked them for a party that I was throwing on Mondays called Rock Mondays at Les Deux. So I booked the band and without evening hearing them, just staring at them from across the room, I knew. I just said this is going to be the band, and then comes in the trickery (laughing). I recorded some demos and I convinced them to listen and then we got together and played and then we joined forces. So it was kind of a no brainer at that point I think that the boys really wanted to be part of the project and it just worked out.
NRR: So you got your record deal through Napalm Records after you put out your self funded video for “Eight of Swords.”
NRR: What made you choose that song in particular, and what advice would you give to aspiring musicians in a similar sort of situation?
Janus: Well, we were on the verge of a profound shift. We were playing a lot of shows, underground metal, and just kind of clawing our way to the sunlight so to speak and not really being taken too seriously, just because we were such babies. So I asked the tarot to reveal one card that would become an epic metal song. I flipped the card over and it was the eight of swords. At that moment everything fell into place. I wrote the song within ten minutes. I talked to the boys, I said this is the song, let’s put all of our money into it. All of a sudden we met a director named Simon Chan, who just kind of magically appeared. Then we put the concept together, and then we shot it and launched it online. I knew it would definitely get attention, but I didn’t realize it was going to create a frenzy. We had nine labels that wanted to sign us, and at that moment we were able to kind of hone in on our sound, the vision, the imagery, and really it was the tarot that just kind of made all of that fall into place. So I really do believe in deviation.
NRR: That’s amazing. So your latest album Starbound Beast, can you tell us a little bit about it and your inspiration behind it?
Janus: With Starbound Beast it’s the natural evolution of Huntress. You can hear within the record that we’re a little bit more advanced with our song writing. It’s also the phase of the Mother. If you know Huntress, the first three albums are the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. We are now stepping into the Crone phase. So with Starbound Beast, it’s a little more nurturing. You can hear that there’s some parts that are a little bit more thoughtful than Spell Eater. So we go into the cosmos, and Starbound Beast is a little monster that lives in of all of us, that just wants more than what we have, that’s seeking something greater, and really just wants to be loved.
NRR: So how much does the occult actually play in your song writing?
Janus: The occult. It’s all aspects of my life since I was a child. I grew up on a farm surrounded by nature and wildlife, and I was just deep into paganism as a kid and this stayed true throughout my entire life, and especially in our music. As you know I often ask the tarot for guidance, but as I progress with the music it’s interesting how I’m receiving different influences. For example, with Starbound Beast I mean, I was falling into a trance and receiving messages from the cosmos. Then I discovered the Anunnaki, and Algebron, and aliens, and all this extra terrestrial cool shit like feral energy and Tesla and Maria Orsic and I mean my mind has been blown. So every time I write an album, it’s just I receive a little bit more information and it kind of shifts the way my spiritual journey is going.
NRR: That’s amazing. So I’ve heard your part way through your third album. Is that correct?
Janus: Yeah, we’re just about to wrap up the third album and it will be coming out this summer.
NRR: Would you have any plans to return to the UK and do a full headline tour?
Janus: You know headline tours are real expensive. We can barely afford to tour now. We are so grateful for these amazing bands that just kind of take us under their wing and help support us through the journey, but as far as headlining when the time is right and everything alines yes absolutely, and hopefully sooner than later, but you know it’s a long road to travel and we are in it to win it, but it ain’t over night. You don’t headline in just three years.
NRR: I know what you mean.
NRR: With your constant touring schedule where do you actually find the time to write?
Janus: Whenever we go home we’re banging our head against the wall coming up with more songs. It’s a process that never really stops for myself or Blake. It’s something that’s continuous, I mean even with these first three albums we set a goal write and record one a year. With that type of pace you have to be really dedicated. When we are on tour I’m the one that kinda comes up with lyrics and often the scope of the albums. I kind of get these messages, you know I kind of get out there and get weird especially on long drives. Then we go home and the process just is writing and putting together songs and just really honing in and getting that done.
NRR: It’s often quoted Huntress is a band that stays true to the roots of heavy metal, but which bands would you say are your influences from those true roots of heavy metal?
Janus: Right, I believe Sabbath, you know Black Sabbath would be a massive influence for Blake. That’s his all time favorite. For me, and even for Blake, he’s definitely leading in more elements of doom in Starbound Beast, and even more so in this upcoming album you will hear so more elements of doom. For myself it’s you know Rob Halford, Judas Priest, King Diamond and of course the late great Freddie Mercury, who is probably my number one vocal inspiration.
NRR: I just actually covered Queen and Adam Lambert recently.
Janus: Yeah, I saw. How are they doing? What did you think?
NRR: I was really impressed. I mean Adam Lambert, he’s not trying to replace Freddie.
Janus: No of course not, no one can.
NRR: He has taken inspiration from him, and he’s doing his own thing. He’s staying true to Queen. It was really cool, I really enjoyed it.
Janus: Yeah, I would like to see it.
NRR: If you could collaborate with any artist in particular, who would you choose?
Janus: Hmmmm, interesting. You know I would like to collaborate with Jared Warren of Big Business. You know he’s someone that we know locally just from being in the underground metal scene in Los Angeles, but he was really pivotal in my vocals coming from a classical background into my rock and metal voice. Making that shift he definitely influenced me a lot to get grittier and I listened to him and he kinda was able to tip that balance and move me forward. I really love his song writing and especially his vocal attack, so I would like to collaborate with him some day.
NRR: After every show you take the opportunity to meet your fans at the merch’ booth. How much are you actually influenced by your fans?
Janus: They walk the journey with us, you know. I feel that what they do and their support and again it’s vital to our existence. You know I will always be inspired by every aspect of life, our fans are walking that journey with us.
NRR: Last year you were out on the road with Arch Enemy and Kreator in the US. How did that go?
Janus: Arch Enemy has just been monstrous, and I’ve always looked up to Angela Gossow and really especially her vocal approach. Her vocal teacher Melissa Cross is now my vocal teacher and even Randy Blythe’s of Lamb of God. I mean she handles all the heavy hitting metal singers that have to do repeatedly night after night of screaming. So to be able to go on tour with them, and to be asked to join them especially with the new era of Alissa. She’s amazing and she’s a great friend, and I just had such a great time being on the road with them.
NRR: Yeah, they were just here just before Christmas, and they blew my mind, absolutely incredible. How do you find the UK audiences differ from playing in the US?
Janus: It varies you know. I think that all over the world heavy metal fans have a passion that other fans just don’t possess. You know it’s very obvious to see throughout the world, that there’s always that fire within a metal fan. It just depends when you play college towns, sometimes they are little too cool for school, so you will get a bunch of kids just standing there staring. It also depends on what the bill is. We went on tour with Dragonforce for example and we love those boys. That was back in 2012-13 and you know coming off stage and hearing fans saying that was the scariest band I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s like Huntress for fucks sake. So it just really depends on the bill as well.
NRR: Do you actually listen to much music when you are out on the road yourself?
Janus: No, and it sucks. I really want to but just you are kind of wrapped up in this circus you know. It’s just drive, load in, load out, perform, sleep as much as you can, drive again and you really kind of lose yourself in this strange loneliness sometimes and you have to remember how fortunate you are, also with that comes time and any time I do have is devoted to Huntress, so it’s writing lyrics, or dealing with business, or whatever the other responsibilities that come with being in a fully active professional touring band.
NRR: So the last question I have for you is what are your plans for 2015 being the start of the year?
Janus: Record, tour, tour, tour, write, record, stay awesome, stay sane which is a full time job. Ditching my female drama and just surrendering to the road.
NRR: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Jill.
Janus: You are welcome.