To the uninitiated, or perhaps to those without earplugs, Jucifer, the Athens, Ga. duo of singer/guitarist Gazelle Amber Valentine and drummer Edgar Livengood, is not a band as much as it is a wall of unrelenting volume. Eschewing the pedals and effects that guitar-drums duos often use, Jucifer simply brings noise, and lots of it. They typically use terms like “OBLITERATE” to describe their sound, and using a wall of amps 10-feet tall and 15-feet wide, they aim to reduce audiences to a pile of rubble.
It could be called metal or thrash or hardcore or any of those loud-hard-fast genres, but a closer listen (which admittedly takes some guts) reveals a more sculpted, conscious style than one might glean at first. Since forming in 1993, Jucifer has been shaping and manipulating the noise as much as they have been blasting it out. And in their natural element, that is, onstage, the band’s music can have a twisted, shimmering kind of beauty, even if it’s the deafening sort.
“Everything from the variety of amps and speaker configurations to my tunings and pedals and playing is very exact and purposed,” Valentine says. “It's all done to make this very specific tone and surrounding power. The trade-off we accept is that playing so loud means that when people see us without ear plugs, we become white noise. There's lots of nuance, but as with everything about our band, it won't necessarily make sense to the casual observer.”
In fact, it even takes other accomplished musicians a while to figure out that Jucifer does more than crank the amps to 11 and play.
“I always think back to a tour we did with a really great 'technical’ band,” Valentine says. “After six or eight shows, the bassist was like, ‘Oh my God, I just realized you are doing your parts exactly the same every night, I seriously thought you were just improvising noise but now I get it, and you guys are so tight.’ He saw us in a completely different light, understanding that within our primitive-seeming excess of sound we're actually doing complicated and technical things.”
Valentine says that the band’s goal is to entirely immerse the audience, and themselves, inside a cocoon of sound that seems like a complete world of its own.
“it's an incredible, enveloping physical feeling,” she says. “It's an adrenaline rush for us and for the audience, so it's totally worth being misunderstood sometimes.
Their live sound is a completely different animal than their studio approach. Over the course of seven albums and five EPS, the band has developed a slightly more nuanced approach, occasionally opening up their maelstrom of guitars for more textured arrangements and putting a spotlight on Valentine’s shrieking demon vocals. It’s still brutal and merciless, mind you, just a little more varied.
“Twenty-five years ago, we discussed whether we should limit ourselves to recording only music we would be playing live, exactly as it would sound onstage,” Valentine says. “It wasn't a very long discussion, because neither of us wanted to amputate our creativity. We loved being the savage, live band that belongs behind a circle pit or row of happily sweating headbangers and in front of a wall of pounding speakers. But at the same time, we liked crafting studio songs that could be quiet or have harmonies and layers of instruments. The studio was awesome for making things that were sedate or meticulous. But we didn't want our shows to be, either.”
And in the band’s mind, there’s no conflict between those two approaches, because Valentine and Livengood see recording and performance as entirely separate disciplines.
“To us, the live band should always be something more than any album,” she says. “A show should have its own life; something you can't quite recreate. Something that feels like seizing lightning in your fist, if just for a minute or two. We know this wasn't what a band is expected to do, and we knew it would create obstacles for us. But we chose to do it anyway; we make albums as art pieces and we make shows that feel like wielding elemental forces. That's the only way our band feels right to us.”
And most recently, the band has been doing it on their own label, Nomadic Fortress, home to their last two releases.
“Having our own label is like a final layer of freedom,” Valentine says. “We still like to work with other record labels, but we have autonomy. Obviously, a big team can do stuff that we're incapable of, but our label allows us to experiment or collaborate without having to get someone else's permission or waiting for their schedule.”
Catch Jucifer along with Aswel on Mon. April 23 at Tin Roof. $7. 9 p.m.