So Much For Recovering

00:00 March 06, 2014
By: Emily Hingle
Memphis_musical_posterMemphis - Memphis

 Have you recovered from this wet, cold, and wild Mardi Gras yet? Whether you did or not, the hits keep on coming. This week is packed with events as we march on towards St. Patty’s Day, and you won’t want to miss a step.

The long-running, noise-loving metallers Jucifer will do their best to blast the roof off of Siberia on Friday at 10 p.m. along with locals Solid Giant and Eat the Witch for $10. I got an interview with the elusive frontwoman Amber Valentine which you can read below. Feeling a little bit country? Willie Nelson & Family is performing at the House of Blues at 8 p.m. I wouldn’t be surprised if this show sells out.

If this past party season has got you feeling groggy, you can fix yourself up at the O.C.H. Art Market’s Wellness Market being held on Saturday morning beginning at 10 a.m. at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. This health food themed market will feature vendors like Church Alley Coffee Bar and many more. Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month?

Memphis the Musical premiers at the Saenger Theater on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. This raucous, rollicking musical explores the early days of rock when it hit Memphis in the 1950s as a local DJ tries to expose the residents of the city to the strange new sound. Memphis the Musical has been awarded 4 Tony Awards, so you know it will rock your socks off. The show lasts until the 16th. You can find more information here

For over a decade, the co-ed sludge metal duo Jucifer has been roaming the Earth in their classic Winnabego toting along antiquated and very powerful amps and speakers which fill the stage and walls of each venue that they play. The band is known for their louder-than-life, intoxicating shows and literal wall-of-sound that vibrates your entire body with great force. I had the chance to talk to the mysterious Amber Valentine, guitarist/vocalist, about Jucifer, their new album, and life on the road.

WYAT: You're rolling into New Orleans just after Mardi Gras. Are you sad to miss it or happy to avoid it?

Amber Valentine: If you're not working, Mardi Gras in NOLA can rule I think.  But for us, needing to drive into town in a huge vehicle and load four thousand pounds of gear in and out, it's probably easier to miss it haha.  Everything's just easier when a city's not so crowded with extra visitors.

WYAT: I've definitely noticed the mystique around the band, often wearing masks in photos, I've personally seen you in a hooded robe and gloves silently moving through the crowd. Why do you like to remain somewhat mysterious?

Valentine: I've always felt like this part of me making the music is a really pure, but almost alien being that's barely connected to the side who interacts on a social level.  As a musician I'm a vessel for something huge, something beyond my "self".  So anything that obscures our appearances feels to me appropriate; anything to discourage people from linking what we look like with what they're listening to.  

I understand the urge to connect bands' personalities with their music, and for some bands that makes a lot of sense.  But in our case most of what we create is channeling history or invented characters --- it's like 'automatic writing' --- basically letting ourselves be spoken through.  It's stuff that we have deep feelings for or responses to, but that isn't about us at all.  Usually very, very dark.  And while releasing or wielding that energy is totally natural to us, it's not energy that extends into our everyday lives.  Likewise, our everyday selves don't have much to do with the voices in our songs. 

So we like to present our band image more as blank canvas, or canvas with subtle implications, to let the music and stories take precedence.  That's something I think makes sense as a difference between making music for consumption and for art.  Like a "pop" figure (even outside mainstream) is always about the person's image, with their work secondary.  For us the work is more important;  I'd hate for what we're making to be obscured by the way we look.  

Because of that, my very favorite images of us are the ones where our faces are obscured or we're placed as small figures inside a landscape.  It feels right.

WYAT: In this age of constant information sharing, updates, selfies, etc., is it becoming more difficult to remain anonymous?

Valentine: Yeah, I think so.  We haven't tried to be completely anonymous, but I imagine for those who do it's become pretty hard. 

WYAT: What is the story behind your latest album, in particular, the name of the album?

Valentine: The title is a quote (usually attributed to Vasily Zaitsev, hero of the Battle of Stalingrad) which became a rallying cry for Soviets defending that city during WWII.  It means, "there is no land beyond the Volga".  The Volga represented both a literal line of battle and, as a primary shipping river to the rest of Russia, a power which could not be allowed to fall into enemy hands.  The phrase "за волгой для нас земли нет" resonated not only with the spirit of fighting, but also with the idea that a loss on this front would doom the entire land and people of Russia.  Not just "enemy, you'll find no land beyond Volga" but also, "if Volga falls we'll have no land".

Our album is about the entire history of the small piece of Russia currently known as Volgograd; ex-Stalingrad, ex-Tsaritsyn.  We're both lifelong Russian history fans and wanted to make an album about just this small piece of land, because it contains such a rich story in the span of a few miles.  Including the famous battle, we felt, was also a way to distill a lot of what's powerful to us about Russian history into a well-known reference that most people would already have some familiarity with.  The enormity of that battle, the horrific casualties and destruction, and its impact on world politics and world war is pretty much unparalleled.  Then following the war, to tell the story of a city and people uncowed, who rebuilt and sustained and are thriving now... it was very inspiring to us.  We perceived that the history of this small piece of land paints in microcosm all that is most beautiful and most hideous not just in Russia's history, but in human history.

 WYAT: Do you feel that your recorded music is the same as what you play during a live show or are they two totally different things?

Valentine: We don't approach the two situations in the same way, that's for sure.  We believe their purposes are totally different, so we think their execution should reflect that.  

An album is an intimate experience for the listener.  It's mental, not necessarily physical.  Often solitary.  A show, on the other hand, is a physical experience and a visceral one, along with being a group experience.  Social.  

When we make an album, it's about crafting everything to tell a story --- song structure, style, instrumentation, sequence, specific sounds and recording techniques, the art on the package --- absolutely everything contributes to a story we build with definite chapters and resolution.  

In a show, there are still chapters or movements, and still resolution, but the story isn't as subtle and the whole experience is aimed at catharsis and explosiveness.  The social interaction is honored by sharing the vibration of sound in our bodies, the banging of heads, pumping of fists and raising of toasts.  It's about pounding ourselves on the anvil of metal, literally abrading ourselves on the music as part of eachother and part of the audience.  It's much more about feeling and being than listening and analyzing.  Sometimes, it's more important to have a moment with eachother or someone in the crowd than to play 'correctly'.  And we're never worrying about duplicating recorded sound in a live setting --- to us that seems pointless.  We should be obliterating the recorded version, otherwise why go to a show?  We aren't into performances that might as well be lip syncing.

We're stoked on both experiences, and embracing their inherent differences is part of the enjoyment.

WYAT: Your shows are notoriously loud, and you and Edgar have been performing night after night for a very long time. Do you have any hearing problems?

Valentine: *Knocks wood* No.  

WYAT: And because you have been constantly touring for all these years, is there any end in sight to it?

Valentine: We want to do this as long as we can.  Nobody can predict the future, but we don't have plans to stop anytime soon.

WYAT: Anything else you'd like to say?

Valentine: Looking forward to seeing all our NOLA friends soon!  

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