Legendary riot-goths Jack Off Jill cheat death again to reform for one night

July 17, 2015
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When Jessicka Addams announced to the planet earlier this spring that her band proto-“riot-goth” band Jack Off Jill were reuniting for one show only at the Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, on July 18th, the response was celebratory, perplexing, vitriolic and curious. And why not? Those very adjectives fit the band as perfect as glove shoes. Formed in 1992, JOJ—Addams, guitarist Michelle Inhell, bassist Robin Moulder and drummer Tenni Ah-Cha-Cha—sprouted in the cultural void of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, revving up their estrogen engine to create some inspired music that could be cuddly in a backpack ’n’ barrettes indie-pop vein, fierce as such proto-riot-grrl fulcrums Babes In Toyland and Hole, or significantly textured and dynamic, like on their swan song release, Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers. JOJ had a lot of things going for them, from sharing stages with sonic mentors like Joan Jett, Babes In Toyland and Tribe 8 to being part of a Southern Florida freak cabal with Marilyn Manson in its center. But after releasing the ambitious Clear Hearts in 2000, it all went to hell with vicious in-fighting, departing members and assorted adventures in backstabbing. It seemed as though JOJ were remanded to the alt-rock history books, with the rock coroner’s report listing “death by career misadventure” as the reason.

And then there was the toilet shrine.

“Something really funny happened,” says Jessicka. “Tenni was in a gas station in Asheville, North Carolina, and she saw a photo of Jack Off Jill stapled to a wall in the ladies room. Random. It turned out that the owner of the club’s 16-year-old daughter was a huge fan of the band. Jack Off Jill photos and My Little Pony stickers were her tribute to us. And in some weird way, it started the ball rolling. Who knew that the band would get back together because of a photo stapled to a bathroom wall—in Asheville, North Carolina?!

“It was the idea that we were relevant after all this time,” she continues. “You have to be careful: Social media is not really a barometer for how popular you are. You always feel that if you were to get back together, no one would come. It’s really easy to click ‘like,’ but for someone to make that gesture to the band in a ladies room got us thinking. I think we got the [ladies room] photo on social media about a year ago and we’ve been planning ever since.”

If you can’t get into the Orange Peel tomorrow, don’t sweat it. Jessicka saw the gnarly prices ticket brokers were demanding, prompting the band to enlist a camera crew to capture the night’s activity for a future DVD release. But whether you are a middle-aged alt-rocker who was there for their original glory, a young person looking for some empowerment or an enthusiast of all things feminist, fearless and fun, Jack Off Jill (now fortified with bassist Helen Storer of Thee Heavenly Music Corporation) are going to pour confectioners sugar and battery acid on your heart. Jason Pettigrew let Jessicka explain it all.


So it took a shrine in a toilet in North Carolina to get all of you in the same room again.
Yes! [Laughs.] All of us said we were too busy with other things, but really, I don’t think we were emotionally ready to be back in each other’s lives. It took years for us to gain trust and admit where our shortcomings were.


I think it’s great that the reunion is not happening in New York City or Los Angeles. What was the band’s rationale for doing that?
A lot of people have questions about why we didn’t play New York or Los Angeles. It was really because no one [in those cities] would give us the deal that we got in North Carolina. The city has been so kind and accommodating. We wanted to do it in the South, but not Florida, because I didn’t want my gym coach showing up and asking for tickets. [Laughs.] Can you imagine going up to [L.A. club] the Troubadour with no booking agent and saying, “Hi, I played here 15 years ago with my defunct riot-goth band Jack Off Jill. Can we get a show?” They would ask me if I was drunk and make me go home. We sold out the Orange Peel so quickly, now people are starting to take notice. I love the city of Los Angeles: I like everything about this city, it’s just very difficult to play. There are certain microcosms we could play in the hipster, indie-rock venues, but really, I can’t grow a beard that fast. I do have many ironic tees, though. The struggle is real, Jason. [Laughs.]

Asheville has been so accommodating; even the local brewery is going to do a Jack Off Jill beer. Really? We’re getting real love and attention. Maybe for being inactive so long, we wanted a hug instead of a punch in the face.

Jack Off Jill band photo

Is this really going to be a one-off show? Or are there plans for more?
There are mitigating factors involved. I have some health issues I haven’t been vocal about publicly and I need to be cleared by my doctor to travel. Right now, this is our only headlining show in the U.S.—this might be our only show, period. We haven’t made any plans past this. We’ve been discussing a London gig, possibly one next year in Japan. We all have careers that we like—I know, that’s crazy—and we don’t want to jeopardize them if we take time off. The music industry does not throw money at you the way it did in the ’90s. Playing Asheville is us saying “Come to us because we can’t come to you at this time.”


Jack Off Jill had a weird aesthetic trajectory. Early on, you used the term “riot-goth.” Were you trying to convey that goths like to make noise and fuck shit up? In those early days, were JOJ aiming to unite some unlikely tribes?
Absolutely. I don’t even think it was conscious thing. That was a term that was thrown on us by the local [Florida] press, but it never caught on because there was only one band [like that]. We were reacting to our environment of racism, misogyny and the fact that we were in a boys club. There were some singers, but I don’t remember many all-female bands from South Florida at the time. We were angry by nature and politically aligned with the riot grrrl movement, but we dressed what people would consider goth. At that time, it was very confusing to both people and the press.

But at 17, 18-years-old, are you consciously uniting the tribes? At that age, I felt like I had roots in Lydia Lunch’s realm; I also loved Siouxsie and the Cure and the minute I heard Babes In Toyland, something just popped in my psyche that made me want to do that. Tenni was one of two female drummers in Florida: Every time she played, she got pissed off at hearing, “I didn’t think that was a girl behind the drums.” How many times do you have to hear that before you become the band that we became? We were reacting to our environment. All of our influences went into a blender. We didn’t do it consciously, though: Our songs just happened.


Over the course of three records, Sexless Demons And Scars, Humid Teenage Mediocrity and Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers, the band blossomed into a dynamic rock group with great songwriters with vision, as opposed to merely a riot-grrrl pressure-valve release. Point blank: What was the official cause of death?
To be completely honest, it was stress, bad decision-making, our record company being very unstable and unscrupulous, the deterioration of the relationship between the former bass player and myself and the fact that we simply wouldn’t fake it. At 2000, that was the end. After finishing Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers, I remember being in Los Angeles thinking, “We worked so hard on this record. Chris Vrenna produced it; Mark Ryden did the cover art. And no one is ever going to hear it.”


Obviously, you were wrong.
But I’m glad I wasn’t right: I really don’t know how Clear Hearts didn’t just disappear. But miraculously, people did hear it and they shared it. There are 16-year-olds that are listening to it who were born the year it came out. By the way, that record is being pressed and sold on the interwebs, but we have no control over it. Jack Off Jill didn’t see a lot of money: Once the band disbanded, we had nothing. So the idea that we were wealthy when people started liking the band after we broke up is a fallacy. The best decision we made was having Chris Vrenna produce that record: He was keeping a sinking ship together with bubblegum, tape and good intentions.


What do you think was band’s contribution to the underground-rock canon?
Two things: There weren’t a lot of overweight women ’90s-girl alt-nation and I think I provided an antihero for women who were overweight at the time. Being the band that we were, we lyrically—in a tongue-in-cheek way—stood up to misogynists, racists and the white male corporate machine that said we couldn’t because we looked a certain way and owned vaginas. We made people see that you could do it. It was going to be painful, and it was going to feel like eating glass. I’m not going to pat myself on the back for being an overweight singer, but I can’t tell you how many times I heard that “if I just lost weight, Jack Off Jill would be the biggest band on the planet.” I never believed that and I wasn’t going to compromise anything. What I fear now is going onstage with the weight I am and have people think, “What’s happened to her? Is she dying?” And the answer is, yes. We’re all dying. [Laughs.]


Nice segue. You had a near-death experience. While the old Jessicka would be about blowing things up, sashaying through the ruins and maybe starting over again, you’ve been a lot more mindful about what you put out into the world on social media. Is that experience from age or a personal psychic re-evaluation?
I don’t want to get into my personal life too much, but I know because of my ’90s reputation, people thought I had a drug overdose. [The near-death experience] was from an undiagnosed disease I had for years that was caught in emergency surgery. I was at my mother’s in Florida after I had been on a cruise with friends. I thought I had the flu. I had a fever of 105 and I had a vision of my late aunt—who passed young—walking into the room and asking me for my passport. I had my mother call 911 and the last thing I remembered, I was looking down at myself from above an operating table and being sad that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to all the people I loved. The next thing I remember is waking up on a respirator.

Post-JOJ, the world is fucked with bullying and social media and I don’t need to fuck it up any further. I do not want to produce girl hatred. There is so much hate in the world right now, I don’t need to be the hateful being—to anyone, including myself—which I was in the ’90s. I have come to terms with the fact that you don’t control everything and everything I have can be gone in a second.

Jessicka performing in Jack Off Jill

What would older, wiser Jessicka tell her wilder, 19-year-old self?
“Don't allow anybody—especially your current boyfriend—to verbally ridicule you, psychically abuse and rape you, fat-shame you, break your spirit, make you second-guess yourself and ultimately steal your identity. Don't worry: He’ll get trapped in the green dress he stole. It becomes his curse rather than a gift, trust me.

Don't believe in false prophets and narcissists who pose as friends looking for material to steal. Don't worry: You'll come up with better ideas down the road. The whole breaking a beer bottle over your head thing onstage in order to impress Fat Mike is a terrible idea. You will never have flat bangs for the rest of your life: You look way cuter with a sassy fringe.

“Cut down on the drugs. You don't need to keep up with the self-proclaimed ‘cool’ kids. Buy some dot-coms; you'll need the money. Tell Jennifer Syme you love her every time you see her, even though have not yet met her. And for fuck’s sake don't write songs like “Cumdumpster” and “French Kiss The Elderly,” knowing fair well the much-older you have to sing them with a straight face on July 18th, 2015. [Laughs.] You sarcastic sadistic bitch!” alt

Written by Jason Pettigrew