Your favorite riot goth band Jack Off Jill is reuniting.

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photos / Remy Holwick

story /  Mary Lynn Ritch

When I was 14, I wrote the words “Some things you lose and some things you just give away,” on my Trapper Keeper.  At the time, it was one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite songs “Strawberry Gashes” by Jack Off Jill that meant so much to eighth grade me.  Like many, I felt a connection with Jessicka, Tenni and the girrrls of JOJ.  We all grew up feminists feeling somewhat repressed in the southern towns in which we are from.
As one of the many unofficial spokeswomen for people like teenage me in the 90’s Jack Off Jill kicked so much ass opening for female fronted bands like Joan Jett, L7, Silverfish, Tribe 8, Fetchin’ Bones and the Lunachicks.  Lead singer Jessicka even helped Marilyn Manson with a side project called Mrs. Scabtree when he was actually good and shocked the pants off the republican and religious right.
When the band went on an indefinite hiatus in 2000, their fans were bummed not to buy any new JOJ lady anthems. While Jessicka never stopped being the girrrl of our dreams very publicly–with her writing about being body positive, to talking about her demons on Interior Therapy with Bravo’s Jeff Lewis, to having her art displayed throughout the country, I never gave up hope that the band would find their way back to each other.  If you’ve been following them on social media, they’ve been teasing you and I’m here to set the record straight.  The Jack off Jill original line up with one addition will be headlining one show in Asheville, North Carolina on July 18th at The Orange Peel. They will also be curating two shows at The Odditorium, on July 17th and July 19th and we should all go.
I got to the talk to Jessicka and the band about this upcoming show and learn about what really inspired them to rock so hard and be the role models of so many in the 90’s.

I know Jessicka has been very active with her art and side projects.  What have you all been up to since your Jack off Jill days?

Tenni “Ah Cha Cha” (drummer and founding member): I live in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina working as a bartender by night.  I must note that one of my special talents is twirling a drumstick while mixing cocktails. I am also very active in the thriving local music scene here.

Michelle Inhell (guitarist): I am happily married, living in Denmark and working daily in Theatre and other creative projects. Currently we are creating under our two companies. The links are:www.vaerk9000.dk www.missrise.com
It took me more than a few years of wandering after leaving Jack off Jill to find a place where I could re-invent myself. Theatre and creative projects were a natural fit. I feel lucky to be able to make a living being creative. Even on my hardest days I love it. I just never thought I would be doing it in Denmark of all places. Life is full of surprises.

How long have you been working on this reunion? What did it take for you guys to get to this point?
Tenni: About a year ago, someone told me there was a Jack off Jill shrine on the bathroom door of the ladies room at a gas station in West Asheville. At first, I thought my friends were messing with me, but it turns out the owner’s 16 year-old daughter is a big fan of the band and that was her tribute. It was then that I realized we needed a reunion. I was just following the signs.
Jessicka: I think we have been in off and on discussing for a few years. It was until Tenni posted the picture of an old Jack Off Jill photo in the gas station.
Michelle Inhell: For me it was a combination of things, almost like the perfect storm. My personal and professional life are both going really well right now so my head space is stronger than ever. Tenni, Jessicka and I had been talking a bit, as we have in the past about getting together to play. I think the thing this time that is different is that this is just about us. No Barracudas, no record company, just us doing only what we want. That for me is empowering. After all these years weare back to just us, making noise and enjoying this special connection that we have together. Chemistry like that cannot be bought or faked so for me it is simply to experience the way it feels when we play together because that has always been the best part.
Was there a falling out?

Jessicka: Tenni, Michelle and I took years to reconnect and trust each other again. Our former bass player did a lot of collateral damage and it took years for us to sort everything out and become the close knit friends we once were. After many many emails we finally got see each other earlier this year via Google Hangouts and we talked for hours as if no time had past at all. Helen and I met in 1998 at a Halloween party and we’ve been friends ever since. Helen played the last Jack Off Jill show at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in April 2000.
Tenni: I was in the band for four tumultuous and thrilling years. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I left the band in 1996 due to irreconcilable differences.

Why are you guys reuniting in Asheville?  You guys have a special connection with the town?

Jessicka: Well Tenni lives in Asheville as does Michelle’s family. But our friend Vega who is producing a documentary titled, (GRRRL: 25 Years Of Riot Grrrl) needed some footage from the South and suggested we play a show. I think we might be the closest thing to southern Riot Grrrls. Though we prefer the term, “Riot Goth”. HA! Vega’s film and the gas station photo really made sealed the deal for us.

Helen, I know you are the newest addition to Jack Off Jill how did you get involved with the band?
Helen Storer: Jessicka and I have been great friends for decades and I’m a big fan of the band, so it just made sense for me to rejoin now, and I’m so excited to do so. So I play bass and guitar and will play bass in the upcoming show.  I actually played guitar for a live show with Jack off Jill back in 2000 as well.
What was it like to move from Florida to LA?
Jessicka: I don’t think I can remember a time when I wasn’t planning my escape from Florida. As a kid I would play the “anywhere but here” game, which eventually evolved into the “anywhere without humidity” game. I toured a lot with Jack Off Jill in my teens and 20’s so making the move to Los Angeles to record our second record “Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers” seemed like just another tour adventure.
Once I decided to actually settle in LA permanently I was met with a bit of culture shock. I was accustomed to being a big fish in a small pond who was surrounded by like minded feminists, weirdos, Goths and artists. South Florida had a small close knit underground scene in the 90’s and moving to a much larger city was certainly eye opening. I was a bit blind sided as “nu metal” was on the rise and not anything I was interested in. I was quickly surrounded by Adidas clad bands who didn’t understand what my band was all about. Feminism seemed like a foreign concept to a lot of people and most riot grrrl bands were breaking up or on extended hiatuses. I was lucky enough to find a group of incredibly supportive women outside of the music industry who helped me assimilate to my new city.  Without them I think I might have run screaming with my tail between my legs back to Florida. I’m glad I stuck it out.
I’d assume you started playing shows pretty young.  What was scene like for a talent that is under age in Florida?
Jessicka: I started playing shows when I was seventeen years old. When Jack Off Jill would play venues out of town I brought a Polaroid photo of myself smeared with blood that had the words, “I’m 21” scrawled across the bottom. Most people don’t want to touch or question anything with blood on it, real or fake.
The South Florida Music Scene was a living, breathing entity with tons of colorful apparitions that haunted dive joints like Washington Square, Cheers, Plus Five, Reunion Room, and Squeeze. Being underage made everything even more surreal. Imagine being in the band as the equivalent to most people’s college experience. Pre Internet there were a lot of all age shows and venues. What made the scene so unique is that shows were a major influence – not just radio and records. All of the bands in our circle used thrift store props and imagination to one up each other’s performances. It was a great time for MM & the Spooky Kids & Jack Off Jill. It was alternative humid Camelot in Wonderland…on acid.
Retrospectively would you say the recognition you received from fronting Jack Off Jill changed you? Did you feel obligated to be a role model to your fans?
Jessicka: I think all recognition changes you. You have to be strong enough to know that it doesn’t define you. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to have the time and energy you spent creating something validated by people so many years later. I am thankful that the music I made with Jack Off Jill still resonates and that my fan base could grow and change with me and appreciate scarling.
I’ve never felt an obligation to be a role model. I’ve always hoped that anyone who looks up to my art – be it as a performer or a fine artist – will want to know more about the people who have influenced me and that they will be inspired by whatever it is they are connected to in my work and the work of my inspirations. As a musician you go out onstage with a microphone and you do what you do to get the people’s attention. I guess you are going to become a role model to some degree. At 17 I never anticipated having Jack off Jill become a band that people would look up to.We were all so beautifully flawed and raw. Perhaps it’s because of that fact that people knew we were sincere and hopefully that helped some of them to embrace what they perceived to be their own flaws.
Does Jack Off Jill plan to record a new album?
Jessicka: We have collectively decided to put all of our energy into this show. After not playing with each other for 18 plus years we have our hands full relearning our previous material. It’s not something that we have decided on either way.
What are your biggest influences?

Tenni: Even though I always find myself playing heavy music, my influences range from Prince, Nina Simone, Natalie Merchant to Faith No More, Babes In Toyland and Nirvana. My favorite drummers are Sheila E., John Bonham, Stewart Copland, Dave Grohl and Animal from the Muppets.
Michelle: I really love and listen to all kinds of music but I can say that the three bands that influenced me most in my playing with Jack Off Jill are, Joan Jett, for the confidence and attitude. Heart, special thank you goes out to Nancy for teaching me to be a strong rhythm player. Black Sabbath because who knew music could sound like that? Everything I knew changed the first time I heard War Pigs. I remember it like it was yesterday. It changed my life. As far as new music, I have Daughter on repeat for a year now. I was inspired to play again after seeing Sofi Trolde play. It will always amaze me how music can move something inside of us when we least expect it. Sofi showed me that there is still magic at work through music and that there is still some left inside of me. It was just buried in a secret place.
Helen: My musical influences are bands from my hometown of Manchester like The Fall, Joy Division, The Smiths, and the Chameleons.  Also you can’t go wrong with The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Sonic Youth.
Jessicka: Lydia Lunch, John Waters, Divine, Thrift Stores, Babes in Toyland, My Bloody Valentine, Louis Wain & The Cure. Now I listen to Elliot Smith 24/7. His music truly helps me uniquely brainstorm, thinking outside the box and gets my creative juices flowing.

Jessicka, I know you formed scarling.  You are also a successful artist.  What have  you done professionally since Jack Off Jill’s breaking up?
Jessicka: I’ve basically just been working on art 24/7 since scarling went on hiatus in 2007. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do even before Jack Off Jill. In 2nd grade I wrote an autobiography saying I was going to move to Paris, even though I’m sure I didn’t know where Paris was at the time. I said I was going to move to a small apartment and suffer for my art like Picasso and that began my artistic journey.
I think one of the major things that has changed is I allow myself to have happy moments. I’m able to recycle my demons into art without becoming collateral damage. I learned that it’s okay to be vulnerable and opening up can be a cathartic process. Instead of actually bleeding my work bleeds rainbows. Becoming a fine artist was always my intention but I think I lacked the focus and self confidence to actually do it until I experienced that personal evolution. Now I’m able to channel my feelings, balancing making art and being in a healthy marriage and having a happy life. That’s something I never imagined possible twenty years ago.

Your art is definitely timeless and needed today. What’s it like being a known feminist artist who was a huge role model for so many?  Do you feel any pressure from the fans and general public who do not know you personally?
Jessicka: Thank you, kindly. Like I said earlier, I think all recognition changes you but does not have to define you. My hope is that fans realize that I’ve grown and changed 18 years later. I plan on giving as much raw energy as humanly possible so this Jack Off Jill show will be exciting, reminiscent of our old shows, but not exactly the same. I’d never want my performances to seem forced or disingenuous. The fact that any of the music we collectively created still resonates, that our fan base is willing to grow and change with us, and new Jack Off Jill fans were born during the years we were inactive is pretty incredible.
What’s next for Jack off Jill after the reunion?

Jessicka: Anything is possible. I think we are all just very excited to share the stage together again.
Do you have anything else you’d like to promote?
Jessicka: We have a pledge to help fund some of our show expenses, with lots of rare and exclusive items available. Michelle lives in Denmark, Helen and I live in Los Angeles and Tenni lives in Asheville N.C., so just the cost of flights for rehearsals are quite expensive. This will also help with expenses for all of the special guests we’ve invited along. We really want our fans to be a part of this process, and we also want to make sure it’s a great experience for everybody involved.
Here’s our pledge link: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jackoffjill
Tickets will go on sale April 24th at noon EST on the Orange Peel’s website. http://theorangepeel.net
They will be $20 advanced, $25 the day of the show.
For more information on Jessicka: visit her store at http://houseofaddams.com/


CHECK THEM OUT LIVE:

FRIDAY, JULY 17th:
Very special, rare solo performance by Daisy Berkowitz (founding member of Marilyn Manson) + A signing from 7-9 and an unveiling of new mural painted exclusively for the Jack Off Jill reunion by Los Angeles-based visual artist Camille Rose Garcia at The Odditorium (1045 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC (828) 575-9299
SATURDAY, JULY 18th:
JACK OFF JILL + Kitten Forever + JD Samson + guest DJs Lori Barbero (Babes In Toyland) and Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile, The Cold Cold Hearts) along with special surprise guests at the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801 (828) 398-1837
SUNDAY, JULY 19 th
JD Samson + Lori Barbero (Babes In Toyland) + Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile, The Cold Cold Hearts) + special guests at The Odditorium
 

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