It's hard not to be bowled over by a band like Jucifer. Onstage, they're a two-piece sludge metal band that doesn't rely on loops or other electronic effects but rather pure, incredible volume to destroy your sensory perceptions. Second, the wife-and-husband duo is fiercely prolific and fiercely DIY, etching out a living by taking on a nomad's life. The two have lived semi-permanently on tour in an RV since 2000. Hell, they even recorded their last record, 2014's District of Utopia, in their wheelhouse.
"We've built our lives around playing music in this specific, literal, and metaphorical wall-of-sound way," explains singer/guitarist Gazelle Amber Valentine. "Everything we own and most of what we do on a daily basis revolves around moving and maintaining amplification — or the RV and trailer we haul it in. But we can't help it — we have this irresistible need to make the very most of sound that we can. Even though it's something impermanent, only tangible in the moment it's happening — that is our life's work."
For Valentine, who has toured constantly with drummer-husband Edgar Livengood since the mid-1990s, her affinity for metal is instinctual. "My earliest favorite songs were the heaviest ones I heard, [whether] in classical music, radio rock, [or] the jazz my parents played. Heavy sounds, dark melodies, dark themes were always the most pleasing to me," she recalls. "When I first discovered 'real' metal, it felt like something I'd always known. It wasn't strange, it was like, 'This is me.'"
That connection is clear from Jucifer's live shows where instruments are used as weapons of sonic fury, creating an aural assault that bares little resemblance to the group's records, where a more diverse array of hard-rock expressions and Valentine's PJ Harvey-esque vocals are often paired with classic sludge or ferocious grindcore.
This disparity makes sense, though, given the frontwoman's songwriting predilections. "Along with the excitement of creating my own riffs, I had a fear of becoming too influenced by someone else," Valentine says of her creative approach. "So on the one hand I'm the hugest fan of metal — it's everything to me — and on the other, I've never listened to it recreationally as much as a lot of fans. Beyond a fear of getting influenced, it's become a need that I fill from within."
In some sense, that primal love for metal carries over to the group's DIY approach, something that they recognize often comes off as unorthodox or plain weird. "We've always related to people who work hard and create their own destinies. It can be anyone in any field, whether artist, athlete, or inventor ... scientists, activists, even entrepreneurs," Valentine says. "Anyone making things happen for themselves, whether it's a zine or a venue space or a band or a label — anything created with passion — that attitude and motivation totally resonates with us. You have to put yourself on the line. And anytime we've seen that along the way, it's helped us keep the faith."
To ask what the band is up to is always a bit of an odd question given their never-ending tour schedule and constant stream of albums and EPs, including unlikely concept records about Marie Antoinette and Stalingrad, but the duo has also been tackling a new endeavor: filmmaking. With a bounty of live concert material and odds and ends from various documentarians over the years, Jucifer is now assembling a new DVD, weaving the material together with their own newly shot footage — again, all from their RV.
"It's remarkably similar [to recording] in the sense that the chronology goes from having a concept to assembling materials to organizing pieces of a story in the way that best evokes emotion and serves the concept," Valentine says. "The process of editing is also like recording in that a problem with equipment can be really demoralizing, breaking the spell and making you have to fight to get your vision into documented form. It's different mainly because, unlike an album, working sporadically isn't too stressful. It doesn't feel as though magic will be lost by leaving the project for a month, like it does if a recording session has to be interrupted."
The pair hopes to have the documentary finished, along with a new album, over the course of this year, along with plenty of touring.
The level of contentedness Valentine evinces in the rather bleak digital moment the music industry finds itself in is refreshing, but that doesn't mean she isn't concerned. "As a subset of music, metal in particular has the good fortune to be beloved in a way that some other genres aren't. Fans want to protect their culture and feel responsible to the bands they like," she explains. "The worst effect of the internet on metal, in my opinion, is that the amount of music readily available to people is now so vast as to be overwhelming. Back in the day, new fans of metal, punk, anything underground were voracious about finding music. The internet hasn't changed that excitement and desire to find awesome bands. But it has created so much 'noise' in people's awareness that it's really easy to get burned out or just jaded."
Valentine adds, "The best thing we can do, as people who are passionate about this music, is to remind ourselves and each other that we as fans deserve a high level of engagement. That it probably isn't as satisfying to gorge on every new record that's released as it is to let our palates develop and to consume healthily. Love what you love, and don't worry too much about whether it's new or critically acclaimed or popular or legendary. Don't feel obligated to listen to everything in existence. But, at the same time when you listen, really listen. That attentiveness is what the internet threatens to take from us. But it's always our choice how much to click and when to pause."