Cloaks, Melvins, and Integrity:
The Jucifer Interview
Oh Yeah: And Debbie Harry IS the Shit.
Jucifer is making a name for themselves with frightening speed… and frightening volume. G. Amber Valentine and G. Edgar Livengood are a romantically-linked duo who are equally at home with death metal and downtempo shoegazer pop, as can be heard on their new album I Name You Destroyer (Velocette); but what they’re really known for is their live show. They’re currently stomping their way across the U.S. and we were fortunate to get a phone interview with Amber a couple of weeks ago.
So where are you now?
We’re just outside of Austin. We just finished eating.
How has the tour been going?
It’s been fantastic; the best yet.
Are you still opening for The Melvins?
Not anymore, now it’s just us. Damn, I’m really going to miss them! I love The Melvins; they’re an amazing band. I think they’re heroes to many people. I was lucky, because when they were playing I was selling T-shirts and stuff, and I just sat there and watched The Melvins. By the end of the tour I knew every song in their set.
How’s the reaction been for I Name You Destroyer?
It’s been great, which is always nice. We never have any expectations, because every one we harbored initially hasn’t been met. But we’re hearing lots of great things from people.
You’ve said in interviews that you two don’t have a division of labor when it comes to songwriting. Was that true on this album too?
There are always songs on each record that Ed wrote or I wrote, and then we collaborated from there. We frequently come up with stuff where one person’s integral to the song.
Do you consider yourselves a singles band, doing things a song at a time, or an album band, thinking about the big picture?
We just make music, man. Does that sound hippie, or what? [Laughs] But I mean it. The world wants you to be defined, and have these goals and ambitions; but our goals have always been these: stubbornness and integrity. On our first album, a friend of a friend heard it and asked, “Where’s the single?” [Laughs] We try for cohesion on our albums, you know, a balance, the ebb and flow, rather than a mentally contrived arrangement. And we don’t need to prove our integrity so badly that we do something completely inaccessible. We’re not that pretentious. But we also don’t worship any one artist so much that we’re trying to emulate them. I mean, if you love David Bowie or Black Sabbath, why would you do a bad copy of them? Why not be original?
A lot of bands just seem to try to copy The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
Yeah. It’s sad.
Can I be a pretentious music critic and ask you about your lyrical themes on I Name You Destroyer?
Drugs. Lots of stuff about drugs.
Yeah, that’s there. For whatever reasons, a lot of our music lends itself to the idea of self-destruction.
Ed and I are both hypersensitive people, both very empathic with (maybe even imagined) people’s distress, so that’s where that comes from. I think that’s a common theme in humanity. Plus, with the way we sound, it wouldn’t work if we sang a lot about joy.
The third and last theme: Surrender. Giving in to someone else, or something else.
Wow. That’s real insightful. I think all those themes are just ones that people deal with. You know, I’m not a depressive drug addict or a jilted lover, but I can relate to them.
Who do you think is the most underrated musical act?
The Shocking Blue. It was basically this Swedish guitar player, Robbie Van Leewen, who wrote lyrics from a woman’s point of view and gave them to his singer, who sang them even though she never learned English. It was way ahead of its time; you listen to it and you hear grunge, you hear hip-hop, but it was all done in the mid- to late-’60s. I always assume that the singer writes the lyrics, but she didn’t even comprehend what she was saying. I still hink she must have known, somehow • maybe he told her what the song was generally about. Those were some great girl-power lyrics from back in the day.
What’s the best music you’ve heard lately?
I tend not to get new music except through playing. For example, The Melvins. It’s funny; they’ve been around so long but I’ve missed them somehow. They’re underrated as well. I just went to their fan site, and they have reviews of all their albums by their fans, who love them so much — and they’ve always made such challenging music for 18 years! It’s sad to see how people who’ve been influenced by them have risen “above” them, so to speak… they’ve opened for Kiss and for Tool, but they’re so great!
Well, relating to one of the things you said before: The Beatles. They did some great stuff, but they did a lot of awful stuff too.
You might, in fact, be my wife: she’s made the same argument for years, and I agree.
I mean, George was the most talented of them, but he was also the most overlooked. I was just thinking about this today, how fantastically The Who and The [Rolling] Stones raped the blues. They just took it and changed it, made it very English… and very cool.
What was the first band or song or album that made you say, “Oh, yeah, that’s what I want to do!”
The Best of Blondie. That was another amazing band. Debbie Harry was the shit!
Debbie Harry was the shit. I agree completely.
She IS the shit! I love her. A friend of mine grew up gay in a rural area, and Blondie kind of helped him get through a lot of tough times; he got to meet her and told her how important she had been to him, and she was just so happy about that. People vilify her for “Rapture,” like she was ripping off rap music, but I think she was just doing it because she loved it.
Grandmaster Flash still plays “Rapture,” so how bad could it be?
My motto is always, “What Would Grandmaster Flash Do?”
We should make some bracelets: WWGMFD?
That’s a brilliant idea. What was Jucifer’s best gig ever?
We have very few we feel bad about, but there is one that stands out. We played an illegal skate park upstairs in an abandoned building — all our stuff was set up on top of the half-pipe while kids were just goin’ off.
Excellent. Worst gig?
Easy: in Athens, we have this thing called the Human Rights Festival, where they have bands, street peddlers, everything. There’s an outside stage; when you’re a new band, you have to go on at 1:00 p.m. for about 20 stoned hippies, we did that a couple of times. But then we got a 9:00 spot, and we knew we’d be playing for three or four hundred people, including young kids who usually can’t come to our shows because they’re in clubs. All these young people were coming up to us going, “I can’t wait to see you guys!” But when we took the stage, during the second song, a stagehand • who was pretty clearly not an experienced real stagehand • walked behind my amp and broke some cords inside it. We stopped to fix the amp, and then the festival people herded us off the stage because they were running way behind and they couldn’t wait for us. A lot of people were really mad at us: “Why did you guys only play three songs?” They thought we were on a big diva trip.
Do you have a great Spinal Tap moment from a show?
We were playing at the Knitting Factory in New York City — have you ever been there?
I wasn’t cool enough to ever go there when I lived in NYC. I was a schoolteacher.
Well, it’s great, but the backstage is upstairs, above the stage. I have this cloak that I wear when I hook up my equipment, just because it makes me feel better, I don’t know. But I had to walk through the crowd to get back from the stage, everyone was staring at me wearing a cloak — and the door’s locked! I was pounding on the door — in my cloak — yelling, “Could you let me in?”
Who are the coolest music people you’ve ever met? And you CAN’T say “The Melvins.”
I’d have to say Michael Stipe. He’s really supportive of his town, all the local bands and the culture, in a way that most multi-millionaires aren’t. He’s dropped our name a lot of times, and he didn’t have to; I mean, he’s big, and I’m like a miniature! But he’s my older brother in rock. We haven’t spent that much time together, but he’s been everywhere and he’s taught me a lot of stuff. He’s also really into historic preservation in Athens, which is really cool. Also, Joey Ramone was the nicest, sweetest, most unassuming person. I was a busperson at a restaurant and he was there, and he remembered me from the show the night before.
The liner notes from I Name You Destroyer say the record was recorded without “Pro Tools, loops, samples, studio musicians, big shots, or lackeys.” Do you think all that stuff gets in the way of good music?
It doesn’t have to be that way, but it’s irritating that people assume that you use cheating tactics, and we don’t. People will say, “I really like that loop,” and Ed’s like, “I played that loop!” That backwards guitar solo? I played that live, I figured out how to do it backwards and played it forwards so it would sound backwards. We just wanted to make a record that wasn’t “fixed,” or pitch-corrected or time-corrected. I love hip-hop, it’s all I listen to when we’re in the van, and in hip-hop it’s cool: the electronics are the whole basis of it. Kids in the park without instruments, you know? But I think that when you listen to those radio stations that mix classic rock with new rock, you can hear the difference, even with the cheesiest music. Music made today is soulless-sounding: there are no mistakes, no time changes, it makes something bland even blander. And we’re all accustomed to hearing that stuff and thinking it’s real.
And you feel like your album is more real and organic than that.
Well, it has to feel right. We’re not going to do something just to please the radio people. We’ll be the poor bastards NOT selling records if it means that we can do a record that feels right.
Last question I have: you and Ed are a couple. Is it hard to work creatively and live together with someone?
Any of the difficulties are eventually outweighed by the positives. Of course, when you spend 24 hours with someone, and there is constant stress, with parking, getting directions to the gig, all that can cause stress and can erupt into a dumb fight. But in most bands you have to leave the person you love behind, and we don’t have to do that, so it’s great. But the band is part of our relationship; we probably wouldn’t be together if we hadn’t been in a band.
Finally: what is the one question you’ve always wanted to answer?
I can never think of anything when people ask me that. Don’t ask me that? Ed? What’s the question he should ask us? Ed: (in background) Ask us what our dog did this morning?
What did your dog do this morning?
He pooped inside. We were lazy and we didn’t let him out in time. Luckily, it wasn’t on anything important.