DATE OF INTERVIEW:
19th January 2015
Fronted by self-professed witch Jill Janus, American metal crew Huntress have fired out two universally lauded albums in quick succession since signing with Napalm Records towards the end of 2011 - 'Spell Eater' (2012) and 'Starbound Beast' (2013). Lyrically characterised by Janus' witchcraft/Paganism proclivities, and musically fusing elements of traditional, doom, thrash, black and death metal, their sonically retro hybrid is also driven by a potently infectious modern energy that's seen their popularity soar over a relatively short period. In the midst of recording their third album, Huntress opted to take a break from the studio at the start of 2015 to join Amon Amarth on their extensive trek around, seemingly, every corner of the UK and beyond. Metal Discovery met up with guitarist Blake Meahl for a pre-show natter in Nottingham's Rescue Rooms...
METAL DISCOVERY: Have the shows been good so far? I gather most of them have sold out…
BLAKE: It seems like every single one of them so far, and they’re all rooms about this size which is insane. You know, we’ve never hit most of these cities… well, we’ve been to about half of them. But it’s fun – all closed in like that; everybody just sweating and raging. It’s just crazy energy, you know.
(Blake Meahl on Jill Janus' wide vocal range)
"She can pull off so much crazy shit. You know, if she tried to do every noise and note and crazy fucking thing that can come out of her mouth on one record, it’d sound like a circus act!"
Blake Meahl backstage at the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, UK, 19th January 2015
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Huntress Official Website:
Thanks to Andy Turner for arranging the interview
Huntress Official Facebook:
Spell Eater (2012)
Starbound Beast (2013)
MD: I heard that Jill was on stage with Amon Amarth a couple of shows ago because Johan lost his voice?
BLAKE: Yeah, it was awesome.
MD: Were you asked to get up there and growl a bit yourself?
BLAKE: Shit, I just peaked around the corner, just like in fear of what Jill was about to experience, and they’re like, “go on, go on, do it!”; and I’m like, “hmmm…. nahhh!” I stick to the guitar for a reason, man!
MD: And they got fans up out of the crowd to sing with them?
BLAKE: Yeah, for the last two songs. It’s pretty cool, man. They’re the coolest band of guys. We’ve been on a lot of tours and I can’t think of another tour that would’ve done that. You know, they’re just like, “fuck it”. And it works for their type of music – most of the catchy parts are the choruses that people remember and they can all sing along with that, and half the shit people are singing along to is the guitar melodies anyway. So it just worked out, man. It was cool.
MD: There was a photo posted on your Facebook page a couple of days ago where you’re eating pizza and watching ‘Naked Gun’ in your hotel room – is that an average night on a Huntress tour?
BLAKE: [Laughs] Ah, man, we’re lucky if we have pizza!
BLAKE: Last night, we were in the The Gables Hotel, somewhere outside of Bristol, and there wasn’t a single food place within fourteen miles, so nobody would deliver to us and we were screwed. We just ate candy… and drank extra beer for the calories!
MD: So what’s your favourite quote from ‘Naked Gun’… is there one that sticks in the mind, having just watched it? The one that’s always stuck in my mind is: “Nice beaver!”
BLAKE: [Laughs] Yeah! That’s exactly where we started the movie. We just died laughing when he saves the Queen; it’s like: “Hey! It's Enrico Pallazzo!”
MD: You seem constantly busy as a band with a very hard working ethic, so do you see it as important to try and always keep the momentum flowing with as much touring etc. as possible?
BLAKE: I think it’s extremely important. We’ve had so many incredible opportunities that we’re super grateful for and we can’t turn ‘em down. And where we’re at right now is an example – we’re in the middle of recording a record and all the basic tracks are done, so anybody in their right mind would just finish the record and get it out and tour on the record cycle… but the Amon Amarth opportunity’s come up and, “let’s do it, man, it’ll get done eventually!”
MD: You’ve done quite a few big support tours now, so have those proved to be invaluable in getting your music out there to new audiences?
BLAKE: Yeah, definitely. I’ve always thought that even more important than showing up on stage and several thousand or hundreds of people in front of you, is that your name’s on that flyer, and all those people who are considering buying tickets are just getting that worm in there that they’ve heard of the band. Because that’s half the battle. There’s a bazillion band names out there and it’s not until someone sees your name for the twelfth time that they’ll probably even give you a chance. And, so, it’s been great for us.
MD: I think it’s gone back to the old school approach where bands have to get out there on the road to get their name out there, which is what bands used to do before they got signed. You know, these days it’s much easier and cheaper to just make a record and get it out in a lazy way on the internet. But I think it has reverted back to bands needing to get out there on the road.
BLAKE: Man, you’ve tapped into my entire philosophy about how we’re approaching this record and moving forward with this band. That’s the case – it’s so much cheaper and easier to make a record, particularly a metal record, and everybody wants to have the fastest kick drums, and the fastest arpeggios, and most riffs, and the tightest riffs, and it doesn’t sound human anymore. And now, they realise, “oh, I put this thing out on the internet and now I have to go play a tour”, and then they go on tour, and you stand in front of this thing and it’s just like white noise. And you’re like, “man, this isn’t translating to me live”. And so it’s kinda funny how technology is making it… for us, it’s more important we write songs that translate in a live environment and also that they’re songs that catch you and hook you, and aren’t a competition of some sort of extremity, whether it be heaviness or speed or whatever. You know, it’s important to write some good fucking songs. My goal is that you walk away and you remember.
MD: Yeah, exactly. I gather you originally planned to try and release an album a year when signing with Napalm but, obviously, you’re still working on the third one, so I’m guessing it’s your touring schedule that’s delayed that…
BLAKE: Yeah, right. It’s been a hell of a year with all the touring. As high profile and awesome tours that we’ve got, it’s so hard. But I never thought when I was dreaming of being a touring musician with all these awesome acts, I never realised how hard it would be to be an opening act. I mean, you mentioned it on your way in, like, “whoa, it’s going to be a tight one today on stage”… that’s how it is every day, and that’s how it’s been for the last three fucking years, is small stages, poor sound, and it wears you out… not to mention, nobody’s getting paid. And, so, that’s why this turkey over here’s quitting after this tour… [points to another band member standing on other side of dressing room]. It’s really hard, man. So we’ve had some turnover, and all these tour opportunities… like, we went out in a weird point on the tour cycle for the Testament and Arch Enemy tour in the States just recently too. So all that work has just slowed us down a little bit… at least on the record.
MD: But still good fun?
BLAKE: Oh, hell yeah! I aint complaining, that’s for sure!
MD: So far, there have been a lot of classic and old school metal elements in your sound from various subgenres, but with a more modern dynamic. Do you consciously try to keep a contemporary edge to your music so you’re not regarded as just another retro band?
BLAKE: Oh yeah, big time. I guess it’s kind of a conscious decision – part of it is always acknowledging what year it is. And all of our favourite records came out in the 70s and 80s, so it’s hard not to emulate that, and that’s when that core of killer songwriting was really focussed on what we’re trying to focus on now. But you’ve got to remember, you can’t just do it over again, so we have to put our own twist on things.
MD: What can fans expect from the new album; more of the same or has there been progression in any way with your music?
BLAKE: Oh yeah, a major progression. You know, I think there’s a very heavy progression between our first two albums and this one’s gonna be another step in our development, with that more organic, real sound. You’re gonna hear a little bit of stuff that’s not perfectly on time and that’s gonna affect the final product. The songs are focussed even more on centring around the vocal melody. And we have a production team that’s working on this record with us, that’s more dedicated to the song and to Jill’s vocal being the highlight.
MD: So with Jill’s voice spanning four octaves, are you conscious to write material that allows her to showcase her full range?
BLAKE: Honestly, no. She can pull off so much crazy shit. You know, if she tried to do every noise and note and crazy fucking thing that can come out of her mouth on one record, it’d sound like a circus act! So we just do our thing. And that’s the thing, we don’t have to worry about it. You know, granted, we try and make the songs individual and not all in the same key… but she can cover any ground we throw at her.
MD: Does Jill have total autonomy with the lyrics, and do the rest of you share her Pagan and witchcraft interests and beliefs?
BLAKE: Honestly, that’s mostly her thing but I won’t say that, after being in a band with her all these years, and all the crazy shit that she’s pulled off and this band’s pulled off, that any of us haven’t been swayed a little bit, that the possibility’s really there. We’re really open to it and it’s a lot of fun, but as far as the true witch of the party, that’s her.
MD: So she’s opened your mind a bit, to different ways of thinking?
BLAKE: Ways I never thought, you know.
MD: You had the collaboration with Lemmy on the delightful ‘I Want to Fuck You to Death’, but will there be any interesting collaborations on the new one? Or can you reveal that there will be collaborations but not with whom?
BLAKE: Errr… there are pipedreams of collaborations that I can’t talk about, but who knows what will come to fruition.
MD: Hypothetically, who would you ideally like to collaborate with?
BLAKE: Jimi Hendrix, man… [Laughs]
MD: Leon Hendrix is still going, his younger brother, so maybe him?
BLAKE: Oh yeah?
MD: Yeah, he’s still touring and stuff.
BLAKE: I want Rob Halford, that’s all there is to it.
MD: You “want” Rob Halford?!
BLAKE: Not in that sense! Although if he wanted to have his way with me then I guess I’d go, “alright, man”…
MD: Your songs have an inherent theatricality through both composition and lyrics so, as the band grows in stature and your touring budget gets bigger, have you talked about introducing a more theatrical aesthetic into the live shows?
BLAKE: That’s the dream. Jill’s got crazy ideas and we have so many things we’d like to try and pull off that, yes, budgets and stage spaces and the necessity of crew… this is actually our first tour of even having somebody to sell our merch, so it’s crazy enough just getting our gear up there, let alone having somebody setting up a fog machine and crazy shit flying around. But, some day…
MD: Maybe soon; you seem to be getting bigger pretty quickly.
BLAKE: Yeah, our first album only came out in 2012.
MD: What’s been your most amusing Spinal Tap moment while on the road?
BLAKE: Yesterday, we were in Bristol on a boat called Thekla, which is a venue, and our backstage was way up on the other side. The other guys found a way to go through the outside and in the easy way, but I ended up right behind the crowd with a guitar that I must’ve hit three chicks in the head with! It’s like, “sorry, excuse me”… I had to jump over the guard rail to get to the stage!
MD: That’s very Spinal Tap!
MD: I had a nose on your Twitter page and noticed you were getting quite excited about the return of ‘Twin Peaks’, so are you a big David Lynch fan?
BLAKE: Ohhhhh, major, and ‘Twin Peaks’, that’s the epitome of his work for me. It’s so cool.
MD: Have you thought of doing a Lynch-themed Huntress album?
BLAKE: The band we did before Jill nabbed us, we had a song called ‘The Owls are Not What They Seem’, which is a total ‘Twin Peaks’ reference.
[Jill enters the room at this point]
JILL: I was totally just talking about stealing Professor and forcing you to join Huntress!
MD: My final question then, Jill has said that the starbound beast is a creature that exists within all of us, so how would you say the starbound beast in you materialises in the real world?
[Jill starts to whisper an answer into Blake’s ear]
BLAKE: Hey, if you want to answer the question then you go for it!
JILL: It’s the longing to be something greater than you are. I think of the little monster that lives inside of you and sadness, and almost looking at the stars and wanting to return home. And you have a secret greed too – it’s envy and greed, and it’s this little beast. But it’s in all of us; it comes down to just wanting to be loved, that’s the bottom line.
MD: The ethos of your band, I guess, wanting to be greater than you are…
JILL: Of course, that’s always the goal for musicians, to be something larger than you are and to get a larger reach, and…
BLAKE: … to be able to pay your rent… to be able to eat…!
JILL: Shit, seriously, that’s it. I guess we’d love to make a living off this - it aint happening yet, but we’ve just gotta keep going.
MD: Marvellous, thank you so much for your time.
BLAKE: Absolutely, thank you.
MD: And for you interjection at the end there, Jill!
JILL: Well, you know, that’s how I roll!