by Leah Sottile, Joel Smith and Josh Smith
They're green and squishy. I've even seen them in orange. You can pick them up at the grocery store, at gas stations -- really, you should start looking now. Because if you plan to enjoy yourself during Jucifer's 7,000-watt apocalypse of sound, you will require earplugs.
Jucifer is the definition of amplified sound.
Let me give you a frame of reference: WYCE, 88.1 FM in Grand Rapids, Mich., broadcasts on a 7,000-watt transmitter. That's an entire radio station. Jucifer, however, is a two-person band, and they gobble up each and every watt through a truckload of speaker cabinets, each the size of a small refrigerator. They bring lots and lots of those vibrating little fridges with them -- for every show, nearly 70 individual speakers.
Jucifer is a man, a woman, a Winnebago, two dogs and a granite wall of sound.
They've been lugging around all that gear everywhere for the past 12 years, from their hometown of Athens, Ga., to every corner of the country. I mean literally 12 years. The married duo lives in a Winnebago and tours every month of the year, only stopping to lay down a record or return home for Christmas.
For the rest of the year, Amber Valentine sings and screeches at the mic, hammering riffs through the mound of speakers. Her husband, Ed Livengood, handles the enormous kit, hair tied back in a long sweatband, maniacal expressions of Ted Bundy and Animal from The Muppets crossing his face. The dogs stay in the Winnie.
Jucifer is all about love.
"The things that are most important to us are being with each other, making music and being with our dogs," Valentine says from Salt Lake City, where they are preparing for their three-hour load-in. They don't have roadies; it's just the two of them setting up all that gear. And it's just the two of them making all that noise.
Jucifer is a letter with no address. They can't be categorized or filed, and there's no direct means of identifying those who may or may not like Jucifer's sound. That's something Amber and Ed revel in, pleased as punch that their music can't be characterized. It's not metal, but it's not hardcore. It's certainly not punk or emo or screamo, but it's not plain old rock either. This is not the Melvins, it's not My Bloody Valentine and it sure as hell isn't the White Stripes. Really, there's no point in drawing comparisons.
"I meet so many guys who are in bands who tell me about their band by saying, 'We sound like so and so.' They think that's a good thing," Valentine says. "If someone reads that [we sound like] the White Stripes and they like heavy music, they might miss out on a great heavy rock show.
"I want to confound people from compartmentalizing everything," she adds. "I think it's unhealthy for people to be judged by what they look like or the sticker on their car. People who believe a shallow interpretation of us are going to be really confused."
It's devilish lo-fi, it's beautiful and gut-wrenching, it's heavy and soft. It's the opposite of everything you might imagine. And it's everything you ever wanted. Jucifer is limitless.
What Jucifer certainly is not is anything related to girl rock: Amber Valentine is no Cyndi Lauper, no Courtney Love, no Kathleen Hanna, no Carrie Brownstein.
"I think there just haven't been very many iconic and well-known females who scream. It seems like the longer we're around, the more people kind of go past the female thing and compare what I do to stuff that relates to it better -- which is often done by men," she says. "For so many years, it's been L7, Bikini Kill and Courtney Love. I'm not a big fan of any of those groups."
Those are constraints that took Valentine and Livengood years to break.
"When we started playing shows, there was something about me being female. I've gotten a lot of reactions from guys who say they just want [my voice] to be louder because it's pretty," she says. "My voice is something I just happened to get, but my guitar playing is something that I invented.
"Basically, when we started playing, inevitably they would not put the guitar sound through the PA," she says. "They'd crank the vocals and the drums -- and our songs didn't have any singing then -- so, I'm playing these riffs that are supposed to be like thunder. That was something that really bothered both of us."
But Valentine and Livengood ensure that her pretty vocals are turned down while her guitars are amped up. And their stage shows are whatever they want them to be. Valentine says their shows hardly sound the same as their records. That's all just a part of their amorphous image, and the duo hopes it's that promise of something different that will keep people coming back. They know that they have an audience for it.
"There are lots and lots of people who don't want the same old crap. When [people] get something they like, they keep going back to it," she says. "I guess it's kind of like food."
And Jucifer is Thanksgiving dinner.
The Grass Is Blue --- All that most people know about old-time and bluegrass music is those first nine creaky notes of "Dueling Banjos," the chill-tinged theme from Deliverance. But even just that is a start. Because that recording was made by banjo deity Earl Scruggs, whose revolutionary approach to the five-string was born from the old-time musical tradition and, in turn, gave birth to bluegrass. See, you know more than you think.
For further education, consult John Reischman and the Jaybirds, who will pick, pluck, bow and stomp a handful of new and original old-time and bluegrass numbers during two shows in the area this week. The five-piece ensemble of Northwestern musicians -- including Eastern Washington University writing prof Greg Spatz on fiddle -- is one of the preeminent groups in the genre today. And they're not afraid to tear things up.
Especially Reischman himself, who started playing guitar at age 12 and moved to his current instrument, the mandolin, at age 17. A childhood fan of the Dillards, who appeared regularly on the Andy Griffith Show, Reischman developed an interest in roots music via country rock bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers and Buffalo Springfield. And by the time Tony Rice -- the Earl Scruggs of the flat-picked acoustic guitar -- broke away from the David Grisman Quartet in the late 1970s to form his own Tony Rice Unit, Reischman had already worked up the skills to become Rice's wingman on the mandolin.
With his solid rhythm playing and lightning-quick solo playing, Reischman steadily gained the respect of the folkie and improv-jazzy circuits. He went on to experiment with Brazilian and Puerto Rican music and perform for several years with the jam-happy, bluegrass-based unit, the Good 'Ol Persons.
Reischman, now living in British Columbia, built the Jaybirds four years ago, with Spatz on fiddle, Seattle's Nick Hornbuckle on banjo, San Franciscan Jim Nunally on guitar and fellow British Columbian Trisha Gagnon soaring above it all with a clear, clean, thoroughly 'grassy voice. In February, they released their third album, Road West, a collection of bluegrass and old-time numbers so bouncy and tightly harmonized that it's hard to sit still listening to it.
In the meantime, they've won over audiences across the country and abroad -- or at least, maybe, "above" the States. Recently, Bluegrass Magazine editor Connie Jean Thiessen called Reischman "the most famous bluegrass musician we have in Canada," which is really saying ... something. Maybe something about how Canada's hipper to our native music than even we are.
Support your local fiddler, put on your toe-tapping shoes and go catch Reischman and the Jaybirds this weekend. Go see what all the Canadians are talking about. --Joel Smith
John Reischman and the Jaybirds perform at the Met on Friday, March 18, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $18; $16, seniors, $12, youth. Call 325-SEAT. They perform at DiLuna's, 207 Cedar St. in Sandpoint. Saturday, March 19, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $15. Call (208) 263-0846
Rock Folk -- Seven years ago, I discovered a love for what I think is best described as alt-folk. Figuring that we'd never have another chance to see them before they were dead, my wife and I took in a Chieftains concert at a Seattle winery. We expected a lazy time sprawled out on the grass with a bottle of wine and some traditional Irish music. What we did not expect was an opening act that attacked traditional folk music with the ferocity of a starved tiger. From then on, I was hooked, and I sought more bands like the ones we'd heard. There don't seem to be a lot of them out there, but fortunately Carbon Leaf is returning to the Big Easy next Thursday, March 24.
The Virginia band has been playing together for more than 10 years with a sound described as "mandolin rock with a Celtic groove tinge." While their Celtic influences aren't immediately evident on their latest release,
Indian Summer,their sound is shaped by the choice of instruments they've mixed into the rock 'n' roll melting pot of electric and acoustic guitars, bass and drums. For a start, they've thrown in the mandolin, penny whistle and bouzouki as tasty spices added to the most delicious of stews. The band, consisting of Barry Privet (vocals, penny whistle), Carter Gravatt (guitar, mandolin), Jordan Medas (bass), Scott Milstead (drums), and Terry Clark (guitar), has been compared to a number of different groups, but their sound defies most of the boxes you try to put it in. Alt-country? Sure, until you consider the penny whistle, or bouzouki. Folk? Please, folk never rocked this hard. Rock? Well, maybe, but so was Ratt, and I just don't think there's a comparison there. Privet describes the band as "an acoustic bass rock band with roots and a pop influence." Which I suppose works as well as anything else -- except to hear them for yourself. -- Josh Smith
Big Head Todd and the Monsters with Carbon Leaf play the Big Easy on Thursday, March 24, at 8 pm. Tickets: $20. Call 325-SEAT.
Publication date: 03/17/05