Singing the Song of the Huntress - A Conversation with Jill Janus

Often in literature, we see references to a person who has a piercing gaze, or is said to 'look right through you.' Never, until I sat down with Jill Janus of Huntress, did I fully understand what that meant. Her eyes are a pure, icy blue, and her gaze is somewhat magnetic. You lock eyes with her and get the impression like she's seeing inside you, watching your spirit. That said, she's also incredibly friendly, very gregarious and extra charming. We had a the following conversation about her band, her personal life including her Wiccan influences and, you know, Lemmy. Read on!
M.DREW: You just released “Starbound Beast.” Why release one album so soon after the first?
JILL JANUS: We’re a very inspired group of people. When you’re that inspired and you already have the songs getting ready to be birthed within you, there’s no reason to wait. We released “Spell Eater” in 20012, “Starbound Beast” in 2013 and we’re going to be releasing a third one in 2014. It’s like a trilogy, it’s all been planned since the very beginning, like maiden, mother and crone.
M.D: So what’s the common theme that runs through the entire trilogy?
JJ: Again, the maiden and the mother and the crone phase. I’m pagan, so witchcraft guides all aspects of my life. With the first album “Spell Eater” it was a little bit more provocative in the way that I dressed and you can see in the promotional shots, it’s more seductive, more sorcery. We’re now in the ‘mother’ phase, this album is more thoughtful. You can tell, the promotional photos are a little bit more reserved in a way, just because when you become a mother, there are the things that occur. With “Starbound Beast” the songwriting is better, the musicianship is better. After being on the road with these boys for a year touring relentlessly, you just have a new telepathic way about you. So the third album will be in more of a ‘crone’ phase – here comes the dying, here comes the desperation, here comes the viciousness. For us as artists, and having an awesome record label like Napalm records who support our artistic integrity, it’s a no-brainer, we share the same vision. So it’s really fun to put out these first three. We’ll see what happens with the fourth, fifth, sixth, but I feel very happy about the way all this has gone down.
M.D: Is there a sense that you’re trying to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, and do as much songwriting as you can?
JJ: Not at all. I just really feel strongly, and my bandmates do as well, that we want to write music. Since we’re on a label and we have an outlet for it, let’s write. It’s not any sense of urgency, I really believe that fans will be there, the ones who understand us and have faith in us. It doesn’t matter if we release and album two years from now or whatever, we just want one a year.
M.D: Recording a second album and promoting it so soon after the first, were there any lessons from the first record that stuck in your mind as you went back in the studio?
JJ: Yes, don’t lose my shit. [Laughs] I think my first time was my very first time recording a full length album, and I felt like I was going a little crazy. This time around I really pulled back a little bit on the insanity and got a little bit more focused and professional this time around. I don’t want to hurt myself – I felt like the first time with Spell Eater, I felt like potentially my mind couldn’t have been more ragged, due to that process. I don’t need to put myself through such viciousness recording. I thought I needed to be more brutal with that aspect, but I don’t. You really do learn just to take good care of yourself, the first time I didn’t [do that]. This time I did.
M.D: What does it mean to a young band like you guys to have someone the stature of Lemmy come down and help you out writing and recording?
JJ: I am forever grateful. Lemmy, as you know, is virtually the godfather of heavy metal. For him to put his seal on Huntress like this - it raises our credibility of course, I’d be silly to not admit that. But at the same time, it means a lot to me personally that I asked him if he would write a song and he did. That just shows that this man has a lot of integrity when it comes to that. I’ve known him for a few years, we’re friends, we hang out, get drinks together at the Rainbow, I asked him if he’s write a song on the Huntress album, he said sure and it turned out to be “I Want to Fuck You to Death.” Which I think is the most romantic thing a boy could ever do for a gal, and who wouldn’t want to die that way, you know? So I was just very, very flattered.
M.D: He has such a mythos about him – Is he a regular human being when you’re sitting next to him, does he speak in complete sentences, stuff like that?
JJ: Oh, sure. He’s just superbly intelligent and also quite psychic. So when you get to spend time with him and you see that he’s really not of this world in a lot of ways, I really do believe there’s something else going on with that guy, I think he may be part extraterrestrial.
M.D: I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m speaking out of my depth or patronizing you, but I’m not as familiar with wicca and paganism as I probably should be. Can you speak at all to what you feel Lemmy’s energy or aura is?
JJ: Lemmy is a very, very old soul. I think anyone can understand that. Sometimes you meet people on this path who just have fucked up a lot, that don’t really know what their purpose is in life. Lemmy, sure he’s fucked up a lot, but goddamn, that man has known exactly what his purpose is from the time he was born. And to us old souls or kindred spirits, I’ve known my purpose since the time I was born. There’s never been another thing for me to do but sing. I knew I was going to be a vocalist, I sang my entire life, my mother said I was singing before I could speak. For me, I found my home in heavy metal. I was raised doing opera, classically trained. So now that classical training is the foundation for my screams. It just so happens that along that path, I found heavy metal. I feel like I belong, I finally feel like I belong on this planet.
M.D: What does playing Mayhem Fest do for you and your exposure as a young band?
JJ: First and foremost, it’s massive exposure for Huntress. We’re just a band who came out of Highland Park, an underground metal band that got signed and we’ve had a lot of awesome opportunities, Mayhem included. This is the biggest tour we’ve been on thus far in our very short career. We are in the infant stages. So there’s a lot for us to learn here. For a band like Huntress, we’re learning a tremendous amount. I’m calling it ‘boot camp’ in a way. We’re on at 1:30, we’re playing in severe temperatures, it’s insane. But for us to be placed on the bill with such incredible metal names, we are so honored to Mayhem Fest and Jon Reese and everybody who put the whole thing together. It’s really just blown our minds.

M.D: As a woman fronting a metal band, what are the stereotypes that you have to battle or overcome?
JJ: I don’t pay attention to that. I’m very happy to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. I’m not here to change the world, I’m here to live my purpose. So I don’t spend my time thinking of these things, ever.
M.D: Do you sense that others may stereotype you or try to put you in one category or another?
JJ: Of course, this is very normal. There will always be misconceptions and preconceptions about Huntress. This is the way humans are, this is the way the world works. But I keep my goals away from trolls. [Laughs]
M.D: Hey, that’s catchy. As you play and as Huntress continues to progress, I think that modern metal can be tough – everyone wants you to be one thing or another. But Huntress exists in the roots of heavy metal. What is it about the style you play that so appeals to you?
JJ: Well, there’s elements of theater in there which beckon back to my childhood. I love drama, I love performers like Alice Cooper and Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury. People that are theatric – I love Ghost. That’s a huge aspect of Huntress is that theatrical sensibility. On the other side, we love seventies proto-metal. We love riffage, we love heavy riffs, we love Pentagram and Black Sabbath. So you’re gonna get a lot of that in the compositions, we’re a bunch of stoners. So for us, it’s a merging between heavy riffage and melody. What will always happen and what we’ll always do is stay true to the roots of heavy metal and always stay true to melody. We’re not an easy listening metal band. I scream, I sing melodic, I have various ranges and voices that I work with, so it’s always fun for me, it’s always something new to discover and write for myself. We always try to push ourselves as musicians.
M.D: Does Huntress consider itself a metal band? There are so many bands in that style now, from Judas Priest and Motörhead to now Gypsyhawk and maybe even Ghost. Some of them play rock and roll or hard rock but they’ve been marketed as metal. Do you feel like a metal band, or would you call yourself a rock band?
JJ: We are not a rock band, hell no. We’re absolutely, one hundred percent heavy metal. Not metal – heavy metal. That is our genre, that’s it, we are heavy metal.
M.D: You very much identify as pagan in your personal life. How does that affect your music and your performance, if at all?
JJ: Witchcraft guides all aspects of my life and it has since childhood. I grew up in a very eccentric family who encouraged the secret sight and encouraged my pagan ways. Not only myself but all of my siblings. So it bleeds into everything I do. I don’t ever forsee myself separating from that, because it is within me, it is me.
M.D: What do you think is the biggest popular misconception about Witchcraft?
JJ: That it’s evil. Because, I walk the path of light and I don’t participate in black magic of any kind. I’m just a little stoner witch that loves animals and smoking weed and tripping my tits off on ‘shrooms in the woods. There are many of us that are pagan that are not of the dark path. I think that’s the biggest misconception, is that you get instantly pegged as a Satanist, which is hilarious because Satanism is so cute. [laughs] I’m just a little pagan witch and that’s the way I’ve always been.
M.D: Let’s get down to it – Horror movies? Yes, no, maybe?
JJ: Horror movies scare me.
M.D: In a good way?
JJ: Well…there are always elements of horror in Huntress videos, I love it. I love the aspect of horror and gore and blood and things that go bump in the night. This is really cool for us and it makes for really interesting visuals for a metal band. So, with horror movies, I prefer ones from the seventies and eighties, I think the new ones are a little out of control. I may be a bit of a prude when it comes to new horror. But I like the campy ones that you know what’s coming, like “Friday the 13th” where you’re screaming ‘Don’t go out there!’ When stuff’s predictable and you can get a good laugh out of it. I like humor in horror.

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