Huntress frontwoman Jill Janus has made no secret of the traumas in her life, from the schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies she detailed in a Psychology Today interview earlier this year, to the successful battle with cancer from which she's now emerged, as she puts it, in "full beast mode."
The occult metal band's third and most overtly melodic album, Static, was released in September, and once again showcases co-founder Blake Meahl's machine-gun guitar riffs and Janus' four-octave coloratura soprano. Their new "Sorrow" video, meanwhile, offers the combination of blood-spattered sex, gore and stake-burning we've come to expect from a band whose singer was once a topless deejay and remains a practicing witch.
In the following interview, Janus talks about gender and theatricality in metal, the subtler aspects of King Diamond, and performing at the World Trade Center the night before 9/11.
Indy: I understand you were trained in opera when you were young. What did you have to "unlearn" in order to make the transition to the kind of music you're doing now?
Jill Janus: Actually, that was really important, the unlearning part. For example, with King Diamond, he uses a very nasal falsetto, with a lot of vibrato. But one thing you don't want to do is overdo the vibrato. I also had to learn how to go seamlessly from a lower guttural voice up into my higher operatic range. And the way I did that was through Melissa Cross' DVD, The Zen of Screaming. Angela from Arch Enemy and even Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, they both sing her praises. And then I had the honor of meeting her in New York City and doing a face-to-face vocal lesson. So she's really my vocal coach.
Are there women singers you're influenced by? Like maybe Wendy O. Williams or that Fleetwood Mac singer who dresses in black and spins around?
Stevie Nicks? [Laughs.] I actually don't relate to female vocalists. I try to unsex my voice. The only female that I would credit with inspiring me would be Ann Wilson from Heart. But I get a lot of comparisons to King Diamond and Rob Halford and even Freddie Mercury, and those three I really do try to emulate.
With regard to gender and sexuality in music, I know that Butcher Babies have abandoned their electrical-tape-over-the-nipples look. And I assume you're not doing topless deejaying anymore. But it still seems like women in a lot of genres are expected to display their sexuality. Is that something you've always been comfortable with?
Yeah, of course. It's a man's world, I'm very aware of that. You know, we're playing in a field that wasn't necessarily created for us. To be a woman in metal, and to be respected, it takes years and years. A perfect example would be [Warlock frontwoman] Doro Pesch. She's been in it for 30 years and is 17 albums deep. So for me, sexuality has always been part of my persona, but you've got to have the skills to back it up.
For example, with [the 2012 debut album] Spell Eater, that was in our maiden stage, where you're gonna get more sexuality and you're gonna see more skin. And that's the real nature-based Pagan vibe that I was going for. But then you progress and you want to explore different things.
I should ask about the witch-hunt imagery in the new video, which I'm assuming is mostly being played for laughs. Were you at all concerned that your Wiccan friends might be put off by that?
I'm not concerned about how anybody feels. I just do what I do, I live for my purpose. And honestly, it's show business. I have many friends who are Wiccan, but I'm not Wiccan. I'm Pagan, and I don't participate in any organized religion. But what they believe has so much in common with what I believe. We really just want a peaceful world. I'd rather leave the rage for the stage.
I've heard that you were at the World Trade Center the night before the tragedy. How late were you there?
I left Tower One, Floor 107, at 2 a.m. on September 11. I was performing in a cabaret for about five years up at Windows of the World, which is where I became known for the topless deejay gimmick, which at the time was so much fun.
Did that night feel in any way different than the others?
It was beautiful — you could just see forever — looking out the windows and seeing the stars. But otherwise, it was a typical night for me.
Were you awake the next morning when it happened?
I was already at my day job as a receptionist. I slept maybe four hours and then went in and opened the office at the usual 7:30 a.m. Then I got a phone call from the office manager saying, "You need to leave right now." The subways were already shut down, so I walked from 23rd Street back to my house on Delancey and Allen in 3-inch heels. And by the end of the day, you could just smell burning buildings and burning bodies, I was that close. So it definitely affected my life and set me on a new course, and eventually brought me out to L.A.
You once mentioned in an interview that your whole band has witnessed inexplicable things that made you feel there's something more going on out there than we know. What was the most striking of those things?
Those things stay within the band. But I will go so far as saying that there are things that we've seen and heard and done that, you know, are basically high-fives from the universe, things that guide us along our way, based in our strength and visualization. We've been able to really progress and get more success because we all share the same vision. So that's one aspect of it. That's part of the basis of witchcraft.
So they were positive experiences?
Always positive experiences. You know, black magic is not my bag. I firmly believe that what you put out there, you get back.