On the road with Gazelle Amber Valentine of Jucifer

With a show-per-day tour schedule, averaging ten hours on the road, three-hour loading and unloading of equipment, playing the show, and sleeping for maybe three hours, Gazelle Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood of the doom/stoner/hard rock duo Jucifer don’t have a lot of time to talk on the phone.

In an interview that was originally set to run as a feature article in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch for their show at the V Club Wednesday night, singer-guitarist Valentine talks about constant life on the road for the Athens, Georgia natives, and the love(s) of her life -- her husband Edgar, and making sweet music as Jucifer…

WVRockscene: How has this tour gone so far? How have the shows been? Anything get broken or stolen? Any fans bring you anything cool?
Gazelle Amber Valentine: We started this year’s tour in January after a short break in December. It’s been good, actually some really good crowds considering it’s winter and the weather makes staying home really appealing. Broken? Our stuff is ALWAYS breaking, haha. Just ‘cause it’s always in use. We just had to replace our heater core, and suspension on the trailer (imagine!). Mostly drum stuff lately. Edgar’s broken three snare stands and two crash stands so far this year.

rockscene: Does Edgar still vomit during or after shows?
Valentine: Yeah, but I mean it’s not something that happens every show. It comes from exertion. It happens more when it’s hot.

rockscene: You’re notoriously nomadic in nature, touring in an RV, where, if anyplace in particular, do you two call home?
Valentine: We call the RV home! We don’t have a place anywhere, so that’s literally our house, where we live. And we’ve been that way for 10 years, so we really don’t feel tied to any particular city or state. We grew up in DC area and rural GA respectively, and then we lived in Athens, GA together... but we’ve lived in the RV for as long as we lived in Athens, so we’re more connected to this nomadic life than homes from the past. I put on our Twitter “nomads, northern hemisphere” and that’s really where we feel we live. We’re so familiar with all of North America and a lot of Europe... that’s where we spend time, that’s home.

rockscene: Have you had any significant downtime in between shows or dates to get out and see sights or get out in nature or just enjoy yourself? Or has it been one big grueling experience so far?
Valentine: Since we’ve been on the road fulltime it’s a little bit better as far as getting to see stuff... we can tell the booking agent to leave us a few days off if we know we’re gonna be somewhere awesome. Like last year in Canada the agent was worried about us trying to play during some kind of vacation week in BC, so we just told him to give us that week off and start us up again when people would be back from vacation. It worked out rad --- we got to have a little time in the mountains and then our shows worked out great too.

But as much as we love to get out in nature and explore places, playing shows is always our priority. So it’s not like being retired or on vacation. We’re always on a schedule, and we have to drive past stuff we’d like to stop at a lot. Or don’t have time to hang out with friends. It’s more work than we ever did at our blue-collar jobs, that’s for sure. It can literally be 22 hours a day for days in a row. But you always gotta respect that you’re doing something you love, and that not everybody gets to do that or see the world even on the limited basis we see it.

rockscene: Throned in Blood got a good bit of critical praise, how cool was that?
Valentine: It’s always rewarding to get that. Sometimes people forget, but the critics are just music fans with an outlet for their thoughts. So anytime music fans get what we’re doing, whether they write for a big mag or their own tumblr, it’s cool!

The first level of satisfaction for us is ourselves... like, if we like our record, nobody else’s opinion matters as much. Still, it’s good to see fans are psyched on it. Because being able to make people happy with something that makes you happy is really special, really a fortunate situation. We have total respect and gratitude for our fans.

rockscene: You two are married, right? How long have you two a.) known each other and b.) been married? Does being married and touring in a band make things simpler or more complicated? Do you get tired being asked these kinds of questions?
Valentine: We got together as a couple within about three months after we started playing together. A little over 18 years ago. But it was pretty much fated. We’ve gone over the weird chain of events that led us to meet and obviously, it was just meant to be.

We were basically married as soon as we met. For us, the kind of couple we are, everything about our life and our band makes perfect sense. Like, if we didn’t play music together we’d never have met. So it wasn’t like, oh let’s be in a band honey, and then oh shit, this is hard! It was like, here’s the soulmate I’ve been looking for, the ideal partner who’s down for the crazy ass life I want. Match made in heaven!

So our relationship was built to include being creative together and working together. I’m sure in some ways it’s more complicated because we’re a couple, but in other ways it’s less. Like we just had Sourvein do some shows with us, and those dudes were missing their girlfriends and wives. So a “regular” band isn’t gonna be happy on permanent tour... because they’re stressing relationships left at home. In that way it’s simpler for us. And YES! It does get kinda old answering questions about it. I guess we understand that it seems like a novelty for other people. But it’s not a novelty for us, y’know...it’s a beautiful, sacred thing.

rockscene: You’re notorious for the amps and volume levels, how many amps do you play through right now and have you had anyone complain about the levels?
Valentine: Right now I’m using 16-19 cabs, depending on the space. Yeah we’ve had noise complaints for sure... we try to make sure we don’t get booked in the wrong places, but it still happens. Every once in awhile our agent will be like, look, you guys can play but they’re gonna want you to turn down. If they’re respectful about it, like the club is cool but their neighbors are giving ‘em hell, we’ll try to cooperate.

But like last time that happened recently, we’ll say look: we’re Jucifer. We can’t physically be quiet. But we’ll try to be like, regular loud instead of apocalyptic loud. Most of the time venues know what they’re booking and audiences know what they’re getting... We’ve been doing it for a loooong time!!

The funny thing is that for every person holding their ears and wincing, there’s some bastard saying it wasn’t loud enough. For us... we just want to feel it and hear it, this mass of sound. And I want to shape it, ride the feedback. It’s not some stupid volume contest --- if it was, we’d do without drums and vocals.

But yeah, it’s loud. Think of it as a free massage!

rockscene: Have you released your book “The Grease” yet? Seems like something people would love to read.
Valentine: I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who want the book. I haven’t finished writing it yet. But seeing so much interest, I’m definitely gonna try to get it done soon!

rockscene: While you two are metal, Amber from what I’ve read it seems like a lot of your early influences were more punk, is that fair? Ian MacKaye, Rollins, Watt, and meeting Joey Ramone; were you more into punk growing up or metal, and did that influence your sound now?
Valentine: I didn’t experience that much of either punk OR metal --- where I lived was too isolated. My parents didn’t listen to it, and I didn’t have older kids around. I was definitely drawn to it when it grazed past me... the little bit of stuff that made it to radio, the mix tapes I got from a few kids.

But I’ve never felt like stuff I heard created my writing or playing style. To me it feels like the things I liked or will like, are attractive to me because of that instinct I have for certain sounds. An instinct that I had from an early age, that couldn’t have developed from listening to music because it was always there.

Kinda like I loved the color purple, loved horses and dogs, I loved certain notes together, certain deep distorted guitar sounds, heavy drums, pissed off screaming. I think I just gravitated to the place I belonged, y’know.

rockscene: You’ve been on a few labels but now have your own thing, Nomadic Fortress, and release stuff through Relapse; how satisfied are you with the label situation right now? And how comfortable are you with your own fan base who “get” what you’re going for and where you “fit” into metal?
Valentine: Really satisfied. It’s amazing to completely own our music for the first time. And to see the level of support we get, for being true to who we are and being brave enough to mix shit up and do our own thing, is really gratifying.

I think people’s minds are opening more as they get bored with super-predictable bands. I mean, sometimes it’s nice to know exactly what you’re gonna get. When every album and song and show is the same. It’s reliable. But there’s a place for a band like us, that’s gonna surprise you, maybe even piss you off, but never stop growing. The support we get and the understanding that we get as far as being that kind of band, is awesome.

rockscene: Aside from touring will there be anything big in 2011 you two are looking forward to? New recording or anything at all? Make another DVD? European festivals?
Valentine: We’re re-issuing our first “album” (‘Nadir‘) which was done on 4-track and only on homemade cassettes when we made it... planning for that to come out in May. And Nomadic Fortress is also gonna put out some splits and side projects. We’re gonna do one with Aaron Deal from Salome... planning for that to come out in the summer.

We’ll also be recording a new album to come out in 2012. We’re touring the US through April, then go to Europe for May and June. We’re super stoked to go to Russia for the first time ever!! And we’re doing some cool festivals in Europe... I know Asymmetry Festival in Poland and Durbuy Rock Festival in Belgium. After Europe we’ll go to Canada and the Western US.

rockscene: How much farther in the foreseeable future do you see yourself continuing this nomadic, non-stop touring lifestyle?
Valentine: Until we can’t!! And hopefully that’s a long time off ;)

--- Jucifer plays the V Club in Huntington Wednesday, March 16 with The Midnight Ghost Train and Satchell

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