Paying the Rant

Jessicka, the tousled, strident lead singer and lyricist of the metal-goth band Jack Off Jill, is relaying something to me that John Lennon once said about music being therapy for the masses. This is one way that she justifies her "tidings of bale" (as William Cullen Bryant once put it). In Jessicka's case, these tidings include slicing her arms on-stage with a razor, singing in shrills about picked-at scabs and cockroaches, and generally radiating fear and loathing. These antics, Jessicka insists, are a way of providing a cathartic release for not only herself but also for her fans.

"The band is definitely therapy for my own demons," explains the singer in a recent phone interview from Lubbock, Texas, the latest stop on her band's first national tour. "My writing and performing is a form of coping more than anything else. Ranting is really just clearing out the everyday toxins from your system. If I couldn't do that, there would definitely be some dead people in the world."

She's kidding. I think.
Hailing from Fort Lauderdale, this menacing 24-year-old moppet, along with drummer Laura "Lauracet" Simpson, bassist Robin "Agent" Moulder, and guitar player Ho Ho Spade (the quartet's lone testosterone infusion) have taken a stab at the big time with a seething debut CD Sexless Demons and Scars, released in September on Risk Records, a Los Angeles-based independent label.

"My first concert was Cyndi Lauper," says Jessicka in a voice that sounds quite a lot like Betty Boop's. "Then I saw the Cure, and that changed everything. Robert Smith was a demigod. He was moody and he could write pop songs. That's the direction I wanted to go."

As a kid, Jessicka (then known as Jessica Fodera) went the good-girl route, playing the model student and homecoming queen. "I was a dork until high school," she laughs. "I did all the things I was supposed to do. You know, get home from school, go downstairs and play Atari until your hands bleed." She listened to Violent Femmes, Joan Jett, and Culture Club; her cousins turned her on to Iron Maiden. Around the house her mom played a lot of Billy Joel. ("He's far more satanic than Kiss," Jessicka observes.)

As she describes her teenage years, I think about the similarities between the singer and Winona Ryder's mopey, misguided character in the film Beetlejuice. "Yeah, that's pretty much how I was," she confirms. "Except Winona's character was more out in the open -- everybody knew that she was weird and different. I played at being normal for a large portion of my life. But I was different on the inside." That became obvious after her parents divorced. Jessicka began a phase of active rebellion and eventually suffered an emotional breakdown. She also decided that she wanted to make music her life.

Jack Off Jill formed five years ago as more of a lark than anything. Back then, it was just Jessicka and a group of her friends jamming in a Fort Lauderdale warehouse. It wasn't until Jessicka met bassist Moulder that the group found its dark groove. "It was really strange," Jessicka remembers. "A friend of a friend had mentioned to Robin that I needed a bass player. I was working in a record store at the time and Robin walked in and gave me her phone number. That was it." The chemistry was immediate, and the band played its first gig just two weeks after Moulder signed on.

The group soon began recording tapes to sell at shows, with breezy, feel-good titles such as "Cumdumpster" and "Supersadist." These tracks and several others were produced by fellow Lauderdale rocker Brian Warner, a.k.a. Marilyn Manson. The band's affiliation with Manson -- whose own troupe has since achieved national infamy -- eventually brought them to the attention of Fort Lauderdale's Neurodisc Records.

Because Neurodisc handles primarily dance and techno acts, the label opted not to sign the band but to shop them around to other labels. (The exact nature of the relationship between band and label remains uncertain, and Neurodisc has since filed suit against the band, seeking payment for the services it purportedly provided.)

Ultimately, Jack Off Jill's demo made its way into the hands of Risk Records president Frank Volpe, who had previously managed the band Concrete Blonde. Recalls Volpe: "I got their tape from a radio promoter, liked what I heard, and flew down to hear them at Squeeze. I made them an offer within days." The band was quickly signed and whisked into Criteria Studios in April, where it recorded some new material and re-recorded tracks that had appeared on some of its self-produced tapes.

Sexless Demons and Scars is a feral journey through metal and gothic, replete with caveman chords, vein-popping tom-toms, and screeching bass distortions. Atop the din is Jessicka's coo-to-wail-and-back-again vocals. "My world is evil but American made," Jessicka cracks on the disc's opening track, "American Made." This mordant cynicism pervades the record. "Girlscout" is a hushy, semiautobiographical narrative about "lashing out and wanting to hurt others," explains Jessicka, whose voice leaps from Julianna Hatfield to Sam Kinison in a one sweeping, four-note count. "Horrible" is just what it aims to be: a paean to feeling like shit. (I ask her what makes her miserable enough to have written such a song. She pauses. "Well, you've left the house, right? There you go. With people in general, there's just such a lack of consideration.")

In a Prozac moment, the band gets almost jangly on the punkish "Devil with the Black Dress On"; on the local favorite "My Cat," Jessicka's ode to her water-skiing feline, she gets downright -- well, not unhappy. "That's as close to cheery as we get," she admits.

If Jessicka revels in playing the wrathful martyr on-stage, she sounds remarkably balanced on the phone. "I hear that a lot," she says. "But would my point be any more valid if I got on the phone completely drugged out or if I sounded like some sort of lunatic? I can save that for the stage." In fact, she says, conducting an interview filled with angst or bitterness is a good way to get your music overlooked: "There have been a lot of female bands in the past that have had something to say, but when they speak to people, they take it to another level where they have to be angry all the time. I express my rage well enough on-stage that I can have a normal conversation on the phone. I don't have to be whacked out and put the phone in my ass."

So, I ask, is it all a gimmick? Just for show? Wearing black, glorifying death, entering the old Judas Priesthood? "That's like saying that your emotions are gimmicks," Jessicka shoots back. "To rant and rave right now when I'm in a pretty good mood would not be necessary. Nevertheless, a half-hour from now someone could piss me off and the next conversation would be different."

I ask if this dichotomy between her calm and cantankerous sides might detract from what the band is trying to do. Her response is immediate. "No, because the band is what I'm about, and what I'm about is being angry and intelligent at the same time. There are two sides to it. Regan from The Exorcist wasn't crazy all the time. The fact is, sometimes there is a possession. For me, being on-stage is like a possession."

Jack Off Jill plays Tuesday, December 2, at the Theater, 3339 NFederal Hwy, Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-5522, with Lords of Acid. Doors to this all-ages show open at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $17.

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