Song Writing

Jill Janus of Huntress

by Dan MacIntosh

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Jill Janus, frontwoman for the heavy metal band Huntress, took her own life on August 14, 2018 at age 43. She had been dealing with mental health issues for some time.

This interview is from before the Mayhem Festival in 2013. Huntress released their third album in 2015 but were mostly inactive in the following years. Janus sang in the hard rock cover bands Chelsea Girls and TheStarbreakers, DJ'd under the name Penelope Tuesdae, and at the time of her death had a rock opera in the works with Angus Clark of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Her family issued a statement that read: "She was a beautiful person passionate about her family, animal rescue and the world of natural medicine. She will be missed more than she could have ever known."
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): We're all about songs and songwriting. So let's start with the process of writing songs with the band.

Jill Janus: It's a very interesting process, because I'm the one who writes the lyrics and the vocal melodies. I'll get inspired - I'll say, "This is kind of the vision I have for this song." And then I go out there, man. I go into a trance to receive my lyrics. This has been happening since childhood.

Songfacts: A trance?

Janus: Yes. It's true. I will lock myself up for a few days and then I just feel as if it's being beamed into the top of my skull. And that really is how I get most of my lyrics.

We have two albums out now. We're releasing an album a year. We have Spell Eater that came out last year. Starbound Beast comes out in a few days. And we have a third album that we're already coming up with ideas for and a vision. But predominantly how I receive my lyrics is through a trance.

Songfacts: Do you ever suffer from trance writer's block?

Janus: [Laughing] No.

Songfacts: Never have?

Janus: No. I'm always inspired. There's always something that inspires me. Magic is always all around, so it's never like I'm not inspired. The same thing with the boys. I have a band of men that are awesome, that are terrific musicians that are really inspired. And you have to all be inspired all the time, because if you're going to be releasing an album a year it takes a lot of methodical planning - you can't wait around for inspiration. So we really help each other. We feed off of each other's ideas. And when I'm coming up with these far-out ideas and giving them wings, it really inspires the riffs and the music behind it.

We're just big nerds that smoke a lot of weed. So it works for us.

Songfacts: Well, Songfacts is a site where people go to find out about the meanings of songs.

Janus: Yes.

Songfacts: So are there songs that you think your fans would benefit from a little more explanation? What songs do they question you about most?

Janus: Absolutely. I think they could benefit. And the thing about all Huntress songs is there are secrets woven within each song, and they're all connected, and they all have little heartbeats. They're like my children. So each one is really divine and tells its own little story, has its own little heartbeat. For example, on Spell Eater, our first album, it was really deeply rooted in witchcraft, paganism and the occult. And there's a song in there called "Aradia," and Aradia is the queen of the witches. So that's something that you can research and find more about her. But she's quite amazing and from the region of Tuscany in Italy, and just this wonderful character. That one gets a lot of comments.

I often write on the first album about the tarot card. There are references to the Eight of Swords, which was really the way that we were discovered, so to speak. I asked the tarot cards to reveal one card that would become an epic metal song. The Eight of Swords chose us. After that, I just wrote the song with the boys.

We funded the video, released the video online, it went viral. We had several labels fighting to sign us. That was quite an experience - it was a bit overwhelming. We chose Napalm Records because they shared our vision, and as a songwriter that's something I won't ever compromise on, and the boys won't either. So you either get it or you don't. I'm not here to change the world, I'm here to live for my purpose.

Songfacts: You talk about the occult. Is that something you explored long before you played in the band?

Janus: Absolutely. I grew up in a really eccentric family on a farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Ever since I was a child I was always encouraged to follow the Pagan path. I was always encouraged to seek the secret site. My brothers and sisters, we've honed our psychic abilities for years together, and this is just something that's really normal for me. It surrounds my everyday life and it continues into Starbound Beast. But with the lyrical content in Starbound Beast, I go further. It goes into the cosmos. Talks a lot about meeting the Anunnaki, extraterrestrials. So it's longing for the stars, wanting to return to where we came from. And it's just really, I think, a more thoughtful album. I'm in the mother phase right now, and the next album will be the crone phase. She's horny, she's old, she's vicious. So that's going to be an interesting album to write and I'm really excited about it.

Songfacts: Do male bands find you threatening at all?

Janus: I don't know. I never gave that any thought. I have no idea. All that I do know is that I'm very content to be a woman in a male-dominated world. I have a bunch of bearded Vikings that got my back. They've only shown such love and support. Every male metal person we've encountered has really been supportive.

Songfacts: Do people ask you about the place of women in metal?

Janus: Again, I don't really give it too much thought when it comes to the sexes. I just really know I'm living for my purpose. When I do receive questions like that, it's as simple as "it is what you make of it."

You have to learn to surrender to the road. When I first started, being a women in a band with four guys, I went a little crazy. So what I had to do was really learn to control myself and to maintain my health, find ways to get away from the band for a while, find ways to just go Zen out in the woods. So for a woman, I would say that the best advice I could give would just be drop your female bullshit and man up. Because it's really, really difficult if you don't surrender. There's no room for drama, especially when you're doing a tour like Mayhem or in a band touring the US. You just have to be one unified team with one goal and there can't be any drama.

Songfacts: Who were your inspirations growing up? Who were the ones that inspired you to want to take this path?

Janus: The first time I ever heard Suicidal Tendencies, that really lit my fire. Thrash was really my first love. My mother discovered I had a big voice when I was about 10 years old. I started training in opera, so my foundation is all classical. I have a very big range, and that's why I'm able to have more fun with my singing.

I like pushing myself, and I really enjoy expanding the ability of the voice. A lot of my inspiration comes from Rob Halford, King Diamond, Mercyful Fate, Freddie Mercury. All these men have really, truly inspired me. Also there's one woman I have to mention, and that would be Ann Wilson of Heart.

Songfacts: Have you ever met any of your heroes?

Janus: I just met basically all of them in one night. It blew my mind. Danzig as well. I was presenting at the Golden Gods Revolver Awards. And I was such a dork, I met all of them and I actually got on a knee and kissed Danzig's hand.

Songfacts: Should we not print that?

Janus: Fuck no! I've been waiting to do that since I was in high school. Oh, I got to meet Rob Halford. We spoke for a while about vocal technique, and boys. I got to meet Alice Cooper. And he was amazing.

Songfacts: Alice Cooper was my first concert.

Janus: Oh, yeah. He really inspires me, especially with his stage setup, his theatrical aspect.

Songfacts: Tell me about what you're looking forward to most about this tour.

Janus: What I'm looking forward to most about Mayhem is learning. To me this is a learning experience. We've never been on a monstrous production like this. They cost a lot of money - we really had to have a lot of help from the fans to be here. I want to know how it all works. I want to know how it breaks down, how it moves onto the next place.

We want longevity. I want to be doing this for a very long time. So this type of experience is important for us. Of course, it's going to be a blast and I get to connect with fans. But the biggest thing for me is I want to learn, and I think Mayhem's going to be a really good learning experience for all of us and only make us stronger performers.

This interview took place in July 2013. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available if you need help: 800-273-8255.

Photos: Instagram: jjhuntress (1,3), YouTube: YellMagazine (2)

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