Californian metallers Huntress play the kind of full on music that stirs the very soul of any passionate fan of heavy music. Fiercely adhering to the notion that it’s the musicians and singer that the sound should come from rather than being digitally assisted, their live shows in many ways hark back to the golden years of Judas Priest and early Iron Maiden.
This retro vibe is also present in their recorded music, it’s organic and very real. While the feel may be in the rear view mirror, the fact is that this band are right up to date when it comes to song structure and indeed, vocals. MetalMouth’s Gary Trueman spoke to guitar master Blake Meahl and then queen of screams and spells Jill Janus about the new album, touring with Amon Amarth and bus farts.
Blake, you have a new album on the way?
“Yes, we’ve finished the basic tracks and when we get home we’ll do all the fun stuff, the leads and vocals and all that.”
So you’re half way through recording. How is the new album different from the previous two?
“It’s different in almost every way. Even the way we’re doing it. This tour came up and it was impossible to say no to it even though we kinda knew it was going to screw up our entire recording plan. So we got half way through and every other time we’d have just knocked it out at once. As far as the real things that count like the song writing and way we’re approaching it are way different. I’ve been developing more of an awareness of what’s going on in modern metal and all the technology that’s becoming available to people in their bedrooms, to construct yourself a shredding metal act out of a computer one note at a time is just something you can do in your sleep.
It’s becoming more important to me to focus on song writing and quality hooks and melodies than it is how fast a double kick you can programme into a computer and pretend to play on a stage later, how many arpeggios you can play in two seconds. It’s more important to be real and play your guitar. Why spend all that time in your bedroom not talking to girls or not doing anything of value? You might as well just fuck off and let the computer fix it and keep pretending to be a guitar player, or just start a disco project or dubstep or something. Metal is just a step away from dubstep with how digital and technicalised it all is. What’s the point in having real instruments any more.”
You still have to be able to play it live though surely?
“You’d be surprised how often that’s not the case out there. You see a fucking laptop next to a drummer and he’s programming everything from back up vocals, the guitars need a little help, and he’s just playing to a click. They look cute, they’re playing their instruments but it’s like you’ve come to see a rock and roll show and there’s a danger in everything potentially going wrong. You’ve got to give it and make it real.
What we’re trying to translate into the record is that real music vibe. On the first two records the producers we chose were great but they were very into that grid editing type of thing and on the last record we pushed harder away from it. This time it’s not happening. As a result you have people see the show and they’re like “man that just blew my face off”. The record doesn’t have that same energy, the songs are great but the energy isn’t there and that’s what we’re really trying to hone.”
How’s the tour with Amon Amarth going?
“It’s killer. Today’s only day four for us but it’s been a blast. It’s the most perfect match for us. It’s just wild.”
At this point Blake makes way for vocalist Jill Janus to have a chat.
Jill, you covered for Amon Amarth the other night. What was that like? (Amon Amarth singer Johan Hegg had to pull out of the Bristol date but the band played a mostly instrumental set with Jill Janus helping out)
“Showbiz ya know. When the going gets tough the tough get going and it really comes down to saving the show and getting each others backs. When you’re in the inner circle of metal and you’re touring at this level you do whatever you can to help each other and Amon Amarth is one of those bands that really supports newer acts. We’re friends and it just kind of happened and we pulled it off.”
Your vocal is very unique. Is that something that comes naturally to you or is it something that you decided to take in a certain direction?
“My voice keeps evolving and as the late great Ronnie James Dio once said “you’ve either got it or you don’t”. It comes almost from somewhere else. I trained in classical and opera for many years but I was somewhat difficult to deal with in a contained environment. I always really wanted to do something that was heavier.
It started coming out with The Misfits, that was the gateway for me into heavy metal. King Diamond as well, and of course Rob Halford who I believe is the god of metal. As I wanted to form my metal band Huntress which has been a decade long search I found a vocal coach, Melissa Cross. She was really profound in helping me transform that classical approach and strip away a lot of those classical inflections into my very unique approach going into a scream and back to a clean vocal. It just keeps getting better and the chords keep building, I’m really excited to see where it evolves for the next record.”
You say your voice has evolved. Do you think that comes with physical maturity, other singers you hear when they’re young they sound thin and as they get older they seem to build up the ability to deliver?
“Absolutely. Night after night you get to feel your chords getting stronger. It’s like a muscle. The older you get in metal you obtain a maturity and a girth that you didn’t have being younger. Now opposite in my opera training it was almost another world when I was performing in musicals and opera. It tends to be when you’re younger able to hit that peak.
I’m not abandoning opera, I still love to do some recitals but there’s no place for opera in Huntress. It’s just the foundation of my screams”
You have a very cool deal with Jaegermeister which we love in the UK. How did that come about?
“It’s a no brainer, Huntress and the master hunter. We just worked it out with our management who already had a relationship with them. It was love at first sight and they’ve been really supportive.”
What’s it like touring with the guys on a bus. What about bus farts?
“At this point we’re grass roots, we very rarely travel in a bus. It’s much too expensive. We’re the type of band that takes turns driving the van and has a trailer. We load in, we load out, we don’t have extra help. As far as farts go, yeah that happens, and it’s the boys, and it’s sometimes brutal. You really have to learn to abandon your female bullshit and realise you’re owned by heavy metal. As soon as you surrender things get a lot easier.”
Have you had anything notably funny or weird happen on this tour?
“The other night helping out with Amon Amarth when Johan Hegg had to step out for the night to protect his voice, It was the first time he ever had to do that , he went to the hospital because he blew his voice out.
The boys asked me what can we do to save the show? I’m good with banter having performed in night clubs so I said let’s just do an instrumental show and banter in between and we can bring up some fans on to the stage. I happened to sing Guardians Of Asgard which was a mind-blowing dream come true. I couldn’t sleep for the last two nights. I’m so honoured that they respect me and that we were able to do that.”
Spell Eater + Starbound Beast albums available now on Napalm Records. New album coming early 2015. www.shopbenchmark.com/huntress
Follow Huntress online: https://www.facebook.com/HuntressKills