Jucifer: Not Junius, Has Lots of Speakers, and Can Ride a T-Rex

By Jessica May

Edgar Livengood and Amber Valentine of Jucifer -- photo by Scott Stewart.

Among my friends, I’m one of the least knowledgeable people about new bands, music trivia, and so forth. (Why do I write these columns again?) So when I saw that Jucifer was coming to the Heirloom Arts Theater in Danbury on July 7th, I was like, “Oh, that band Howl was on tour with last year!” I had watched a few of their YouTube videos and didn’t have to work until late the next day, so I figured I’d buy a ticket.

But when I looked up Jucifer to do some more research, I was befuddled. I remembered more members, no chicks, and and a lot of beards… What was the deal with all these videos of a less-hairy two-person band and a wall of speakers?

It turns out that I was thinking of a band called Junius, another group that I am clearly an authority on. Luckily for my eleven dollars, this band Jucifer turned out to be pretty intriguing. Guitarist Amber Valentine and drummer Edgar Livengood have been touring in an RV almost nonstop for the past ten years and have released nine albums along the way. Alternative Control interviewed Valentine prior to Jucifer’s Connecticut show for a deeper look into the band’s musical philospohy and nomadic lifestyle…

AltCtrl: So, how did you guys end up as a duo instead of a “regular” band?

Valentine: Because of the way we feel about playing music (giving it first priority in our lives) and because we both found our ideal partner, there was never gonna be another person that would give themselves as totally as we have to this band. We realized that immediately, when after about two months as part of a three piece, the third dude quit. Edgar and I were so stoked on what we’d begun that we just kept going. We had all this momentum and neither one of us was gonna wait around. We each had huge backlogs of songs because we’d individually been writing music all through the 80’s. On top of that we were writing together every day.

At first we figured we’d get a new band member, but the more we kept rehearsing and recording together on our four track, the less necessary or even appealing that seemed. We didn’t need anybody to fill out the sound… and we began to realize that we had no room for anybody else’s songwriting. Hell, we still haven’t had time to record all those songs we wrote in the 80’s! Even though one or two of them has been on every record we’ve made.

And the total commitment, leading to us literally living on the road, is something that would never have been possible with other people involved. We didn’t set out to be a duo, but when fate made us one, we saw that it was best.

AC: Your recordings span a lot of different styles of music — everything from folk to death metal. Do you have a favorite out of your albums? What is the band’s songwriting process like?

V: We don’t really listen to our own records, um, recreationally. We listen to them endlessly during the mixing and mastering process, making sure it’s all how we want it, but then… it’s done. Spiritually it’s released, y’know? The exorcism is over. We don’t go back to revisit what possessed us — we move on to the next possession. So I guess our favorite album is always the one we’re getting ready to record!

We record a lot of different styles of music because we appreciate all music, and because sound is a tool for us that we can use to move the story of an album and to provoke the emotion we want to explore. We do a lot of stuff in the studio that we’d never do as a live band… it’s probably been an impediment to our career! But on the other hand it’s brought us a lot of fans that we think are pretty rad because they have the same kind of embracing love of music that we do. And I mean, why NOT mix black metal with shoegaze? What’re ya, scared? Haha…

The songwriting process on a given record can be anything. There might be one, or even a few, songs one of us wrote before we met. Or there could be a recent song that came completely from just one of us. In either of those cases the one who wasn’t part of the writing still has some effect on the song… either by adding their instrumentation, lyrics, an arrangement idea, or a whole new part.

The main way we write (together) is by jamming. We have a really special communication when we play, where we can just take off and end up with some crazy multi-part song. Like for example Queen B, we wrote in a rehearsal… back in the days when we had a house to rehearse in. Now we sometimes write by improv onstage, or by singing ideas to eachother as we’re going down the road, since we’re never in a place to practice. We start with a riff or a beat, and from there, we just build real stream of consciousness. Most of the stuff we love to play live was written that way… it’s the heart of our band. The more “songwriter”-y songs are pretty far from what we generate as a group.

AC: What are you guys’ musical influences? Bands you’re listening to now?

V: Influences, we don’t really have in the traditional sense of hearing music and deciding to try and do something similar. I think we both wanted instead to do something different, or at least natural. Something from within. I’ve actually tried to avoid listening to anyone people told me my own music reminded them of — because I have this desire to stay pure. My logic is, if people are gonna compare me to these bands, at least I can know for myself that I never ripped them off! Or in the case of all the new bands people bring up, I don’t torture myself analyzing how they might have ripped ME off! Ha!

That said, of course we don’t exist in a vacuum. We heard a lot of 60’s, 70’s and 80’s bands growing up… stuff our parents liked and whatever was on the radio. We both appreciated classical music, music from other cultures, found-sound records, jazz, big band, gospel… anything you could get on vinyl at the flea market and the thrift store. And we both got hold of some crucial punk and metal during the 80’s… Black Flag, Minor Threat, SOD, Slayer, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse. Both of us listened to a lot of hip hop too.

As far as what we listen to now… for a long time it’s really been limited to our own set, the bands that play with us, and maybe a little bit of radio. (Less radio since our antenna got broken off a few months ago — haha) We just don’t have free time. The “down” time is when I’m driving, but I can’t listen to much when I’m driving without either falling asleep or getting dangerously amped up. It’s pretty cool for that whole staying pure concept! Another good side is that we’re amassing a really sick collection of cds and vinyl from bands we dig on the road… later on, whenever we retire (WAY later i hope!) we’ll have a serious stash to enjoy.

AC: What kind of equipment do you use (guitars, pedals, giant speakers, and so on…)?

V: Right now I’m playing an 80’s custom Dean flying V… it’s the guitar I played from ’98, when I became an endorser, until 2002. I love it, but around ’02 I got seduced away by the Fender Jagmasters. I played em from ’02 to ’08 and then my Dean called to me again. I’ve always had a love of big guitars with weird shaped bodies… and more importantly, humbuckers.

Pedals — just overdrive and sometimes delay or phaser. I use a lot more stuff in the studio when I’m tracking a guitar solo or something where I want a stranger sound. But live, I like to keep the pedals to a minimum. I have enough to worry about with the wall of sound!

Current amps: Gallien-Kreuger, Traynor, Marshall, Vox, Ampeg, Peavey, Fender, Oceanic… I use some different models within those brands, a total of 14-16 amps.

Current cabs: Most shows, it’s four Ampeg 810s, two 1970’s Ampeg 910s, two 1970’s Sunn 118s, a 1970’s Sunn 215, two Ampeg 115s, two Ampeg 410s, a 1980’s Polysonics 118, a 1970’s Traynor 212, a custom 212, a 1970’s Univox 212, a Distex 412, a Behringer 410… I’ve been known to use a few more or less (usually of 12’s) depending on the size of the stage and/or which cabs need re-speakering.

AC: Why the “Wall of Sound”? And how is your hearing doing after many years of playing in front of it?

V: BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME! Really, there’s nothing like wielding that kind of sound. Or playing in front of it. It’s a huge rush, and the spectrum of sound is incredible both to hear and to control. It’s like if you could… shit, ride a Tyrannosaurus or something… feels amazing to be on top of something so powerful, and there’s always an edge of danger to it. (Multiply the problems someone could have with a standard guitar or bass rig by, like, 50 cables!) Totally worth it though. It’s the best high in the world when it all goes right.

Both of us wore earplugs for playing music ever since we were kids… we both had dads that worked around heavy equipment and knew about ear damage. So we always use protection. We’ve had our ears checked, just for the hell of it, and believe it or not we’re still normal. No doubt at all we’d be screwed if we didn’t wear earplugs though… sometimes they fall out during the show, and the difference is insane. At first it sounds the best it’s ever sounded, but after a couple of minutes, I have trouble hearing the notes. I know this’s why people sometimes say we’re just noise — they can’t hear the notes cause they’re not wearing earplugs!

AC: Wikipedia says you and Edgar are married, my friend says you’re not — who’s right?

V: Wikipedia.

Wedded bliss -- photo by Scott Stewart.

AC: Any stories of life on the road? Favorite places, etc?

V: We just finished a really long tour of Europe and Russia. And played at this crazy secret festival on an island in the Mediterranean, where we played on a giant sand dune… one of the more epic tour experiences we’ve had! We really love going almost everywhere though. There are good and bad traits to every place, but we try to focus on the good. Seeing different landscapes and meeting all kinds of people is the icing for us… as long as we’re together and playing music, not starving or sick, and getting at least a little sleep, we’re pretty content.

AC: What’s in store for Jucifer in the future?

V: We’re starting to record our next album, which should be done and ready to come out in spring 2012. In the meantime we’ll be releasing a re-issue of four track stuff that we put out super DIY back in ’94. It’s an EP called Nadir. It’s getting mastered now and will hopefully be out next month! We’re gonna do a limited edition cassette, because that was the original format… but this time, it’ll be manufactured cassettes instead of dubbed on our boombox! Haha…

And the tour keeps going, in the northern US and Canada for the immediate future… then the west coast and all the southern and midwestern cities we haven’t been to yet this year. We’ll be going back for another extensive European tour in the spring and summer of next year… We already know we’ll be doing a couple of festivals that we’re really stoked about.

AC: How is everything going w/ your label Nomadic Fortress?

V: Awesome! We have the Nadir EP coming up and also will be doing a split with Aaron Deal from Salome… it’s been pushed back because he just joined Darkest Hour and won’t be able to get the recording done as soon as we all originally thought, but we hope to have that coming out later in the fall. We knew going into it that our label would be a slow grow, which is fine. It’s very rewarding to have a situation where we can choose what to release and be totally hands-on with the whole process.

AC: If you guys hadn’t ended up in a nomadic metal band, what do you think you’d each be doing right now?

V: Honestly, I don’t think either one of us was going to settle for something else! We were just really lucky to find eachother and make it happen.

So, that’s the skinny on Jucifer. Pixie and I will be reviewing the 7/7 show, which also features Sourvein, Strong Intention, David Carradine, Colony, Pilgrim, Super Always, and Inevitable Demise. I’ll take Valentine’s advice and wear some ear plugs!  And maybe one of these days I’ll catch a Junius concert…

But y’know what the worst part is?  I just realized that I was thinking of Valient Thorr the whole time!