Music thrives on contrast, and Jucifer — a duo, convenient for duality — have got it. Cute girl; grungy guy. Melody; noise. Mystery; craft. Helpless little voice; enormous waves of guitar and drums.
Still, megapopularity could elude Jucifer; they hit too close. The approach pop prefers: “Lookit my glitter whorehouse and light-strobing spaceship and exploding brains and demonic hellfire smoke!” Jucifer: “You don’t know who I am.” Which could really move you? Which could move more product?
It‘s fortunate for Jucifer (name: O.J. plus Satan) that some of their subtlety gets lost when they play live in places with yard-sale sound systems, as they did last November at Zen on their previous trip through L.A. That way folks can take in the show, have a beer and rock. Emotional complications are minimized.
There’s Amber Valentine, cradling a Flying V guitar with a stock shaped like devil horns. She‘s wearing a short black shift, and a blond wig that could’ve been ripped from Joey Heatherton. Are those huge fake eyelashes or tiny sunglasses? Can‘t tell from here. Her pretty blankness lends universality. You could accept most anything from this face.
To the side, Ed Livengood could be any guy playing drums with hair in his face. But his sound projects personality: recklessness, moment-to-moment feeling. This is a dude dedicated to rocking. His beat is human, real and heavy, slopping over the edges on the slow ones. The cymbals slosh all the time, even on the fast ones, which push a manic punk edge.
Valentine is a guitarist with a vision. Her dexterity and rhythm more than support the simple riffs she’s created, but what got her a recent big feature in Guitar Player is her conception of the instrument. She plays really loud, through a series of amps, with a larder of dense tonal variations you could make a month of sandwiches from. Also: An octave splitter generates low frequencies that throb through a bass cabinet. So between Valentine and Livengood, there‘s not a spare cubic centimeter of sound space in the whole room. Even when Valentine’s voice kicks into occasional screeching-hellion mode, the vocals are distant, like a small child down a deep well.
The 60 or so clubgoers shuffle closer and closer to the stage like zombies. Then they stand there.
Jucifer have been around for some eight years, gaining fans in ever-widening circles beyond their Athens, Georgia, home. After a period of well-received eclectic-pop inventiveness, they‘ve settled into a portable sound that ranges from stark dirges to grinding metal to slamming punk. Last year they released a seven-track CD that features the mini-epic “Lambs,” an artful, touching condensation of their distinctive message. Jucifer’s full-length I Name You Destroyer (Velocette), which amplifies and solidifies that message into an undismissible slab of layered noise and extracurricular touches (violin, piano, vibes), will arrive in June, a third of the way into the six-month tour they‘ve just launched. Valentine was reached by phone in Athens as she and Livengood were tossing gear, stuff and dog into a Winnebago.
Was she popular in school? “I was never the most ostracized kid, but sometimes number two or three. Waitressing saved my life. It forced me to break out of my shell.” She sounds cheerful and down-to-earth, laughs easily. Chili and coffee, please.
How does she know when she’s got something good? “It‘s like sinking into a hot bath when you’re completely sore and exhausted. But more exhilarating.”
Where did she get her odd collection of influences? “I grew up in rural Georgia. I was limited to what my parents listened to, and what I could pick up on the radio.” Pink Floyd, Heart, Ozzy‘s “Crazy Train.” “I would occasionally meet someone who was from a city, and they would give me these little glints of light.” Glints like Black Flag’s My War, and Minor Threat‘s Minor Threat — “I played it until it absolutely burned into the ground.”
She and Ed watch TV? “Basically a bunch of stuff that we would probably never watch if we had cable.” So no The Osbournes.
The similarity between her guitar riffs and Black Sabbath’s? “I can fairly safely say that it‘s completely accidental.”
Seems literate. Read a lot? “Not as much as I used to before music. We’ve somehow got someone else‘s subscription to Atlantic magazine, and that’s kind of been keeping my brain alive.”
Los Angeles? “I had been told horror stories about both Los Angeles and New York — tales of really snobbish people with horrible attitudes. And I love L.A. I completely enjoyed both of the times we‘ve been there. We’ve been fortunate to encounter just really cool people and have great shows.”
Glad to see ya.
Jucifer play the Stone, 5221 Hollywood Blvd., on Friday, April 26, at 11:30 p.m.