Interview: Jill Janus (Huntress)

Huntress are a band that seemed to just appear on the scene with video and album at the ready. With a female vocalist boasting a four octave range, some meaty heavy metal riffs and some impressive support slots around the world, they have quickly made a name for themselves. We got a chance to speak with Jill Janus in Glasgow to discuss the bands growth, the occult, her vocals and more.

They were in the city’s Classic Grand venue with Amon Amarth and Savage Messiah (subtle review plug here) in the midst of a small club tour. “It’s probably the most interesting tour we’ve ever been on, for sure” says Janus. With the incident involving the voice of Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg, interesting is almost an understatement.

In Plymouth in the preceding days, the singer had lost his voice and Janus had to step up to the plate. “I’ve known the Amon Amarth boys for a while now, we toured in the states with them on the Mayhem festival in 2013 so we became friends then” she tells us, “Johan blows his voice out so they asked me how we might be able to save the show together, so I said “let’s do an instrumental set and I’ll come on in between the songs, do some banter and sing Guardians of Asgaard.”” She tells us they even managed to bring up a couple of fans at the end. The whole experience “was a really beautiful, very special night that won’t ever happen again… let’s hope.” Janus then tells us how she is “very happy to help out anybody in the metal community,” but that “I was so much happier the next night when I was able to see him back up there, being the powerful Viking he is!”

Will that brief stint fronting Amon Amarth perhaps inspire some more Viking themes on the upcoming album though? “When is there not? I mean there’s always a little Valkyrie in me” she replies. We would discuss Pagan themes later, but for now we focussed on the new album, a creation that is “going so well,” and when she says that it comes with a lot of conviction. Janus then elaborates further; “it’s going better than I expected and everybody’s just been so positive, the producers are just kick ass, there’s a lot of support coming in from our team and this one, I think, is going to be our greatest album thus far.”

A bold, yet commonly heard statement so she promptly backs it up; “you hear bands say that, but I can definitely tell you truthfully that that is the natural progression. You can hear that we’re becoming better musicians, better songwriters. It’s a bit catchier; it’s going to stick harder”

With the future covered, we look at the history of Huntress and of Janus herself. “I’ve had such an interesting, fun life,” she begins, “and prior to Huntress anything I did was to make money to fund my music.” One of these things was DJing which happened after a group of guys said ““let’s start getting you into clubs.” Before I knew it just took off and that was my career for many years. I’m really thankful that I had such a colourful fun job, better than most people have” she reflects. Before adding “Whatever comes your way, you’re dealing with a lot of drunk dudes, I’ll tell you that right now.” Dealing with drunk dudes in a club is certainly one way to prepare for fronting a metal band.

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When the band appeared on the scene it almost felt like an overnight thing instead of a gradual build. Janus breaks down the comparatively short road to the record contract, it may not be overnight but it’s certainly fast for metal; “I’d been searching for musicians for a while but by the time it came together it was 2009. We really started as a band playing shows in 2010. We got signed to Napalm Records at the very end of 2011, and yeah, we ascended pretty rapidly.”

One thing that sets Huntress apart from a lot of female fronted metal bands is the type of metal they play. It’s almost becoming a stereotype that if you’re female and can hit an operatic range, you’ve got to sing cheesy power metal. There’s a simple reason Janus didn’t get into that field, and it’s as follows. “I don’t want to wear a fucking corset and sing elevator music. Not going to name no names, but I ain’t gonna do some easy listening metal. Fuck that shit.” Fair call!

While on the subject of her vocal style we learn about her history. “I’ve spent a lifetime performing opera and musical theatre and my true purpose, what I want to do, is expand my voice” she begins, “my early life was spent doing opera. The natural progression again for me, a vocalist, is to see how far I can take it. I’ve got four octaves; I can do various voices, different techniques. From the time I was thirteen I was obsessed with Suicidal Tendencies and thrash metal was all I wanted to do. Thankfully my mother was really strict with me and said “all of that will come, you’ll need to proper training so you don’t lose your voice.” So, thanks mom. As I said before, that classical training is the foundation of my screams, I’m able to do this night after night and not blow out my voice because I had the training”

Anyone who has looked for more than a few seconds at the music of Huntress will realise there’s a lot of influence from the occult. In metal it can be hard to tell if a band is doing it for the imagery, or believe the underlying messages. We ask Janus about this. “It’s absolutely authentic. I grew up on a farm surrounded by nature and magic. My family was very nourishing with the pagan way of life; cultivating my beliefs in magic and especially visualisation. And you asked why we’ve come so fast so far, a big part of that is witchcraft in the aspect of visualisation. So it is absolutely authentic, and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not surrounded by magic and beauty of nature. So being pagan that, is absolutely going to be woven into everything we do. And that’s the way the first three albums are, pretty much the triple goddess; the Maiden, the Mother and The Crone are the three albums. Now we’re in the Crone phase, and let me just tell you, I’m going to be glad when this one is over because she’s…she’s kind of a cunt.” We have to ask for an expansion on that. “Oh, you know, old horny, mean, nasty. Blake’s seen her, he doesn’t like her. He can do without. “

With time running low we only have time for a couple more questions. We ask about any horror stories from the road because, sick or not, everyone loves a good tale of misery. However, “It hasn’t happened yet, luckily. Who knows when it will and what it will be. We just are very, very fortunate to have such support from bands that travel with professionals. We’ve been in very processional set ups so there’s not been a lot of mistakes that way. It’s just been an interesting journey. One thing I could say is that I don’t remember a lot of it because it happens so fast. It’s just been a big blur!”

One final question before we depart; does she feel like they’ve made it as a band yet? “You never make it. One thing I’m really against is the idea of being a rock star, it’s a bunch of bullshit. I don’t believe in rock stars. This path is not to make it, I’m not looking for success as a musician, I’m looking for my personal victories and I’m looking to fulfil my purpose. So it’s going to be a long road, we’ll have a lot of small victories on the way, but in no way will I ever feel like I’ve made it.”

For more information, visit Huntress on Facebook. For now the tour rolls on, you can find the dates above in the interview.

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