Monday, July 13, 2009

Jucifer: Amber Waves of Grain! (2002)

This show preview appeared in the Times of Acadiana in March 2002. I don't know what has become of Jucifer, but I hope it's been something good. Interviewing Amber Valentine was great fun. (The serial killer referred to near the end of the piece, by the way, has been caught.)

Jucifer with the Party of Helicopters
Friday, March 14
The Spanish Moon
1109 Highland Road, Baton Rouge

Meet Amber Valentine, the blond, mysterious, electric-guitar-playing half of the heavy-metal punk duo Jucifer. She’d be the undisputed Ice Queen of loud-slow rools if “loud” came near to capturing the sonic onslaught that emerges from the 4,500 pounds of amplification that she and her bandmate/soulmate Ed Livengood lug around in their V-10-powered RV. “Fire and brimstone” describes their sound more accurately, as one might guess from Jucifer song titles such as “Amplifier,” “Vulture Story,” “Gunsick,” “Surface Tension,” “Dissolver,” “Model Year Blowout,” and “Torch.” It’s the audio equivalent of a tantrum thrown by Hephaestus in the heart of his forge. You’ve heard of hardcore? Jucifer is molten-lavacore. Those who can’t stand the heat should get out of the volcano.

Those who can stand it should make the trip to Baton Rouge’s Spanish Moon this Friday night, where, following the opening set of their Velocette Records labelmates the Party of Helicopters, Jucifer will deliver a non-stop, sixty-minute set in support of its latest album, I Name You Destroyer. “We don’t want to do more than an hour,” says Valentine. “Any band, even the greatest band in the world, becomes not as exciting after a certain period of time, and both Ed and I think that somewhere around thirty to forty minutes is the peak set time for any group.” Besides, the time Livengood actually tried going past an hour proved less than felicitous. “We have proved,” Valentine says, “that Edgar can’t play longer than that without passing out.”

The laughter with which the Athens, GA, native punctuates this confession is typical of her downtime demeanor. Whereas onstage she often sings and plays at full linda blare, looking for all the world like Bad-Girl Barbie right down to her prominent nostril ring, offstage she’s soft-spoken and lighthearted, the epitome of Southern charm, laughing her way through a cheerful discussion of the inherent absurdities of her and Livengood’s chosen lifestyle.

On whether their pre-show physical exercise sessions are “workouts” or “warm-ups”: “It’s not so much a workout as a warm-up, because basically our show is a workout, aerobically and for our muscles (laugh).”

On why she needs to warm-up before each show: “I have to be able to scream my head off while also playing guitar and sort of thrashing around. So if I’m out of breath, I’m in trouble (laugh).”

On why she and Livengood don’t abuse substances like real rock stars: “A lot of bands can get pretty wasted and continue to fulfill their duties. But with all our equipment, we end up with about an eighteen-hour workday everyday, so we really couldn’t do what we do if we were messed up (laugh).”

On the difference between going from a whisper to a scream in the studio and doing so onstage: “It’s actually harder to record that way than to perform. When we’re playing a show, I’m very hyped up, and the screaming just flows out. It’s like if you’re really angry and you scream, it doesn’t hurt (laugh).”

On the free downloading of mp3s: “If bands can’t sell their music anymore, they’re going to start disappearing. Of course, nobody likes record labels aesthetically (laugh). None of us really like the idea of having this whole industry based on what most of us would rather think of as art (laugh). But at the same time if I can’t make a living doing this, I’m not going to be able to keep doing it. Maybe the whole music world is going to alter at some point to where bands are making their money only off touring and merchandise and not off records, in which case God help the record labels (laugh)!”

On whether, with two-and-a-half tons of gear, Jucifer is the “heaviest” band on the road: “Maybe (laugh)!” Not counting Emerson, Lake and Palmer, of course: “Yeah, you can’t count the people who actually have equipment trucks (laugh).”

On how Jucifer compensates for the absence of bass guitar in its music: “It’s mostly the way the guitar’s amplified. Also, I play all barre chords. That way I can keep playing the bottom string and make that bass sound (no laugh).”

On what she remembers most about the last time Jucifer played the Spanish Moon: “There was a serial killer on the loose. That was practically all we knew about Baton Rouge (laugh).”

On being reminded that the serial killer still hasn’t been caught: “Hopefully we won’t, you know, run into him” (laugh).

Valentine concedes the unlikelihood of being attacked while armed with a “modified” Fender Jaguar and having her back watched by a drummer wielding sticks at blackout-level intensity. Besides, there’ll be a phalanx of fans so devoted that they sometimes show up early and help unload the gear.

“We’re starting to have pockets of people around the country who’ll come out early and either say or ‘hi’ or help out a little, and it’s really cool when they do,” Valentine says. “But at this point we actually enjoy all the physical work related to our gear because it really does keep us fit. And when you start exercising regularly, you kind of get addicted to it, you know?”

Addiction--now that’s rock-and-roll.

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