Jucifer interview (Amber Valentine)

"We make albums because we feel deeply about a story and want to tell it in our own way"

07/11/2013 @ 12:34
Travelling all the time, without home or land, Jucifer, the nomadic duo of Gazelle Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood, arrives at Athens for a sole night that is expected to cause permanent ear damage. Despite the fact that they won’t have their own awesome gear with them, I expect nothing less than a thunderous pandemonium. In addition to this, having their latest sludge poem "за волгой для нас земли нет" released earlier in the year, we had plenty of reasons to talk with the frontwoman Gazelle Amber Valentine, who passionately speaked about her love for Russia, the concept of the new record and even more, what does music mean to her.

JuciferYour latest record is clearly heavily influenced from the Russian culture. From where did you gather inspiration to make a lyrical concept about such a delicate subject?
We've both had a lifelong interest in Russia and its history. So we had a wealth of knowledge, accumulated literally since childhood, to inspire us. Ever since meeting and forming our band and discovering this common interest (one of very many haha) we knew that we'd make some music about Russia eventually. A few years ago, when we began recording that album, the time was right.

Jucifer - за волгой для нас земли нет (There Is No Land Beyond The Volga)Why did you choose to exploit the Russian culture? What is this that is so intriguing about Russia and you wanted to speak about?
Our music is inspired by our observation of humanity. We don't write about our own lives or about more common stuff; we write in response to stories and information that really move us. The themes are much larger than ourselves. The lyrics are always written as if I am a character in the story; at times, like with some stuff on this album, the 'character' isn't even a person. We study a lot of history and perceive that humans are capable of massive evil as well as incredible heroism and kindness. Russia isn't alone as a crucible for human acts in history, of course. But who can say why someone is really drawn more to one country, culture, or language than another? It's something like having a favorite color, flavor, instrument, whatever... you just like what you like. I did discover recently that my family ancestry includes some original Rus' people, actually founders of Russia.  So perhaps there's a little genetic reason for my own interest. Regardless though, I can't imagine anyone not being at least somewhat intrigued by such an enormous, powerful, extreme and historically rich land. The album specifically focuses on the history of one small region, that of the city now called Volgograd. First inhabited by nomadic peoples, it developed into an important industrial center by the twentieth century and was the site of the Battle of Stalingrad, which as you may know was a huge turning point against Hitler during the second World War. It was also one of the bloodiest battles known to history, with casualties estimated at about a million people. Despite being almost entirely decimated during the Battle, Stalingrad (later re-named Volgograd) was rebuilt and eventually regained its status as an industrial hub. It is sister city to Hiroshima, because of the awful war damage received. We are moved by the lives of the people who walked this land through centuries, who by sheer will changed their world, and who during a few months of insane warfare changed history for the entire world. We're moved by the way the inhabitants of Stalingrad not only retained and rebuilt their city but also kept alive their spirits and the legacy of the hundreds of thousands of loved ones they lost. To us the stories of this place through time represent or reveal all that is admirable and all that is evil in humanity. That's inspiring.

JuciferThe outcome proves that you approached the specific matter very passionately. Were you needed to travel to Russia and blend with its culture so that it becomes even more intimate?
We already had a great passion for this subject, but it was very cool that we could visit Russia just before recording all the music. Going into the studio with sense memories of the tastes, sounds, smells and even the way the air feels there did make it even more immediate for us emotionally.

What exactly does "за волгой для нас земли нет" means? Google translate is very ambiguous about it. It’s something like 'no land beyond the Volga'. If this translation stands, could you explain a little bit more what does it mean to you?
Your Google translation is okay, but just lacks context. The title is a quote that was a rallying slogan during the Battle of Stalingrad. It's usually attributed to Vasily Zaitsev, a hero of the battle, and it really just means that there is nothing for the people here if the battle is lost. Also, that there will be no land beyond Volga for the enemy: they won't be allowed to reach it. You can see in that context that it's a very important idea and very strong reflection of what the album's about.

JuciferUnlike your previous records, "за волгой для нас земли нет" shows a straight, incredibly heavy and slow sludge edge that it flows in a somewhat ritualistic manner. Was that also a part of the general concept?
Yes, of course. With each album we use music just as much as lyrics to tell the story. We've never made albums to, for example, market ourselves or develop an image for the band.  We don't really care to do that stuff.  We make albums because we feel deeply about a story and want to tell it in our own way. So each album has a sonic theme that matches the lyrical and conceptual theme. Here in "за волгой для нас земли нет" we're telling with music the story of centuries of human life, of violence and endurance, of survival and stoicism.

JuciferYour previous records showed some more varied styles of music such us indie rock, grind and hardcore punk. Why did you choose to simplify things in this record?
As I was saying we make sounds to express the story we're telling. So when we've felt it fit the story to do some different styles of song, we've put them into the albums. With this album it seemed obvious to us that the sound should be such as it is. Emotions are conveyed differently with different sounds. We feel that song structures, instruments, vocal styles and all of the choices we make are like what a painter does with their palette. Sometimes one may paint in monochrome and make a very strong statement, other times it's best to use many different colors and brushstrokes.

JuciferIt’s now twenty years since when you first formed Jucifer. How do you judge your course from 1993 till today? Are there any mistakes that you regret? Is there anything that you would change if you could?
We've made many of our visions about music and art come true, as well as many dreams we had about what life could be. The mistakes we made, we made knowingly - things like being unpredictable and hard to market, not pursuing music as a business but pursuing it as a truth. So we don't regret those choices, because they came from the heart. If I could change anything it would be the way the world works. I'm very happy with what we've built and who we are. It's just too bad that devoting your life so passionately to a craft means sacrificing security and at times basic needs.

You characterize yourselves as 'a nomadic duo'. Now, I know that the nomads are a group of people who don’t have a home or a land and they are one the move all the time. How do you correlate with this term?
I guess people have called us a nomadic duo, but we don't really go around calling ourselves that haha! It is a fact that we're nomadic, though. We haven't had a home or land for the past thirteen years. We live in our tour vehicle and we're traveling all the time, staying on tour all year long each year. Even knowing this, people always ask where we're based... it seems impossible for them to relate to this idea of literally not having a home. It's a very hard life, but again, as with having our own musical path, it's the life that we chose. We wanted to be playing music all the time, and this was the only way to make it happen.

JuciferAre there any other cultures that they excite you and that you would consider making a record about them?
We already made a record about the French Revolution, and one about American mining during the 19th century.  And for sure, there are a lot of other cultures and histories that excite us! We like to sort of let each album choose its own concept... we don't map out a path, but just let things flow. We're always writing about a lot of different topics... eventually we start to know which topic is most inspiring to us at that moment, and so we focus on it and gather the songs we already have, see what else we want to say and write the rest. Some songs have to wait for years to get recorded, others end up getting written and recorded the same day. Maybe it's a weird way to work, but it suits us. I can't say what we'll write about next, but I can tell you we have no limits. We'll write about anything that feels important to express.

JuciferThis will be the first time in your 20-year career that you’ll play in Greece. What can we expect from you live show?
We're a little nervous not knowing what gear will be provided at the shows, since they're fly-ins and we're usually traveling with our own really loud and awesome amps! But hopefully the sound will be good. As far as the set, our live show is always really heavy -the softer and catchier songs from certain records are studio choices only- so for fans of heavy and extreme music it should be great. We'll be playing a lot from the new album as well as Throned in Blood and some very old stuff as well.

Do you know anything about Greece’s current situation (financial crisis, rise of the nazi party, etc.)?
I don't know enough about Greece to comment, as we don't get reliable news traveling so much. I'm looking forward to learning from people there what life is like; it's a great benefit of touring around the world, to learn from real people the real situation they are living. What I find most of the time is that from place to place, people have many of the same problems and same wishes for change.

Amber Valentine (Jucifer)Do you have any other plans for the future from now on?
I don't make a lot of plans, except to keep fighting for whatever I feel strongly about.

What’s your favorite record of 2013 until now?
I haven't been listening to a lot of new music so I can't really give one. Sorry I know that's a bad answer!

Thank you very much for your time. I’m looking forward to watching you live next week.
Thank you very much for the interview, and I look forward to meeting you. Cheers!

Manolis Klironomos