The Deciblog Interview: Jamie Myers

Jamie Myers: her voice is the stuff of both fever dreams and Byzantine nightmares. Since getting involved with underground music back in the 90s she has progressed from punk bands to playing bass and singing in Hammer of Misfortune and a guest slot with Wolves in The Throne Room.
After returning to Texas to start a family she put music on hold. But Dave Nuss of Sabbath Assembly was a fan of her work on The Locust Years and tracked her down. She has since become not just a vocalist-for-hire but a vital reason the project is compelling; her voice is equal parts haunting, seductive and frightening.

Myers appeared most recently on the band’s third album Quaternity, which was released in March. She talked to Decibel about her journey and finding her place with Sabbath Assembly.

When did you start singing?

My father was always in bands and I came from a very musical household. My parents were always blasting the stereo and listening to records. My Dad taught me how to sing harmonies. He would play a song on guitar and show me how to sing with him. There was no formal training; just your typical singing in the house with family and then joining punk rock and metal bands.

As you were developing as a singer and bassist why did you pursue punk and metal?

I met a likeminded group on my path that seemed to like more aggressive types of music. Something about the danger and the rawness of it – the energy – was really appealing. It seemed like a natural choice. I remember going and seeing a lot of bigger metal shows and stadium tours like Iron Maiden. As fun and energetic as that was there was something about punk. It was on a smaller scale and it was more in your face. Once I got older and experienced some DIY shows I really got a taste for it. I was sitting watching all of these dirty boys have all the fun and I had to become a part of it. I started at 16 just doing vocals and from there it picked up pace a few years later.

Dave (Nuss) came from a hyper religious background. Did you have a similar experience?

Well, I can relate to Dave because I grew up in the South and in the Bible Belt. Whether you live in a religious household or not you tend to have that force-fed to you by your surroundings and a smaller world view is presented. I was fortunate enough to have a very open minded family and we lived all over the world when I was younger. I got to see other cultures worshipping — not just your typical Southern Baptist mentality. I was encouraged to explore anything and everything. But growing up in a small Texas town probably pushed me into punk rock. Music offered an out from small town living.

When did you decide to relocate to San Francisco? What was it like joining that music scene?

I’d been in a few different bands that had toured out West and was able to make some really good connections. My roommate and bandmates would also book and promote shows. We built a cross country connection through the extended scene. Luckily, they extended the same courtesy. I was touring with a band that played the old Covered Wagon Saloon in the city. At that show John Cobbett (Hammers Of Misfortune and Ludicra) was doing sound. He’d heard of me through a mutual friend and they were looking for a bass player and vocalist. We sat at the bar at the end of the night and he was like: “would you be interested in doing this?” I got home and he sent me a copy of their music and the album which hadn’t been released yet (The August Engine). I was just blown away. It was good on so many levels. It was metal but it was also prog. When I thought about getting to sing with Mike Scalzi I was like: “yes, I want to do this.”

Was it like a Henry Rollins get in the van thing where you have to uproot your entire life to join your favorite band?

In some ways, yes. At the time it was a very difficult decision because I was in a band in Texas and had recently gone through some personal changes and was very pleased with them. And then there’s this offer hanging above my head that seemed within my grasp. I had to let go of everything at home with no guarantee that it would be be worth the sacrifice. But I was young and didn’t have a whole lot to tie me down. I had to trust my instincts and go for it. I knew if I let the opportunity pass me by I would wonder “what if?”

So what was it like when you got to the Bay Area and had to pay the rent?

It was 2003 a shocker to pay more for a bedroom than an entire house in Texas. Maybe I was naïve and thought I would figure it out. But I had a stable job with Whole Foods and was able to transfer. I called the Berkeley store and they had an opening similar to my job. Not losing a job made all the difference. I had some good friends who did the house hunting. So compared to some stories I had a soft landing.

Then, you are working and watching people who can pay $400 for groceries while trying to carve out a creative life in a very expensive place.

It was a real wakeup call in a lot of ways. The job was 40-plus hours a week and I didn’t have a car like a lot of folks. I relied on public transportation and my bicycle. We practiced three times a week in the city. I’d get up at 5 a.m. and go to work and immediately go to practice after. There wasn’t a lot of down time. Looking back, it probably kept me out of trouble. A lot of people get into the bar scene and party hard but there wasn’t any time for that. I went out there for a purpose: to learn this incredible music. That band became my family and my social outlet. But it was hard because I was stretching to support myself, do well at work and live out there. For someone coming from Texas the cost of living was very challenging. But I like to think I rose to the occasion. I was able to maintain a somewhat comfortable life.

Did you channel these experiences and feelings into The Locust Years?

Hmm. Well, The Locust Years was so long in the making. John is a perfectionist and has a vision for what he wants to achieve. I really respect that drive, ambition and clarity. You can bring your personality and own experiences and channel them. But I almost felt that coming into the room it wasn’t as much about me as an individual as being part of something bigger. There wasn’t a lot of room for ego in that band. You had to show up and know your stuff and perform. During live performances, each and every person has something they bring. But I can’t say there was anything from my life in Oakland that needed to be brought into that room.

When did you decide to go home?

That was kind of decided for me (laughs). I’d been dating my now husband in Texas and he was one of the things I had to leave behind. After leaving, he joined me a year or so later. And a year plus after he was there we had a child. At that point we started looking at our lives and thought: “We’ll live out here because we want to live in a hip, progressive environment,” but looking back it seemed ridiculous. We were in a duplex and were paying $1,200 for a dive. And it was shitty neighborhood in Oakland and it was tiny! We realized we wouldn’t have any family or tribe to help raise the family. So it was some eye opening medicine. Six months into my pregnancy we realized it wouldn’t work.

Were you worried at all about losing the creative opportunities?

I’d been part of a very productive scene in Texas but life goes on without you. You don’t think three years is much but people move away and change. I’d worked so hard to get to a certain point in Oakland and I did think I’d lose some of that. I just had to trust my instincts and think it’s not just about the place. Part of moving back was to focus on my child and be a stay-at-home mother for a while. Really quickly you find out it’s not about you anymore. When my son was old enough I started to tiptoe back in the waters. It was difficult but I persevered and found some people. And when Dave contacted me it opened the floodgates.

My understanding is that Dave loved your vocals on The Locust Years and he just contacted you out of the blue about Sabbath Assembly?

It was completely out of the blue. He said who he was and the band and said he’d been in the studio working with other musicians. He wanted to know if I was potentially interested in the project. I told him I was familiar with Sabbath Assembly and we should get on the phone. It was a very surprising email. From that point we just started talking about logistics and how we could make it happen.

Do you remember what he said in the email or on that call?

I’d have to look back at it. The first one was very brief; I think he was just touching base to see if I would respond. When we finally got to specifics he talked about how much he liked my work with Hammers Of Misfortune. There was one song – The Widow’s Wall – that he just loved. We started talking about me doing just a few tracks since there were a few things on Ye Are Gods that he wasn’t happy with. He sent me what they recorded and a few tracks stood out: “In The Time of Abaddon” and “Bless Our Lord And Master.” I sent him some garage band demos and after he got those he said I had to do all of it. Then I was in the studio recording. It was a very interesting initiation.

The Process Church Stuff is pretty intense. If you work with Dave do you need to share his worldview or just emphathize?

One thing I appreciate about Dave: he comes from such a stern upbringing that the last thing he would want is to oppress someone or make them think the way he does. Once he branched away from his family he also grew up in punk rock and metal bands. What brings those kids together is that they felt limited or couldn’t be themselves. He’s very intellectual and I never thought about him as a “my way or the highway” person. It does help to be familiar with it and know the story. There certainly was some connection between the two of us but there’s no requirements.

How do you explain something like the Process Church to a family member or do you even go there?

I’ve had very open conversations with my family about. Strangely, they don’t think it’s that odd. I’ve heard Dave say he’d want to talk about it but there’s no two-way communication with his family. I think the story is so intriguing. My conversation with my family was talking about the history and showing them the Feral House publications. In the beginning they were just kids looking for a place and something to identify with. Luckily, my family is pretty open and I don’t need to hide anything.

You’ve been a part of many projects … Hammers, Wolves in The Throne Room. With the second Sabbath Assembly record do you feel like the music reflects you?

I feel like I’m a more integral part of this group. Dave and I have jumped a lot of hurdles. He’s been very open in allowing me to express a certain aesthetic for our live performances or videos. And he’s been very open with my expressing myself while creating the vision together. It feels more cohesive and I feel like I have more at stake. A lot of what you hear on Quaternity is us bouncing ideas back and forth and having fun with them. Ye Are Gods was a little more like “things are done and your voice will float on it.” I feel more connected to these songs and they feel more personal.

It’s not a very conventional record. We were living in different states. (Guitarist) Kevin Hufnagel was key. We worked with him a bit on Ye Are Gods and he also played Roadburn with us. He was very instrumental in this album and we developed a certain kinship. We’d express an idea at the most basic level and he’d come back with these beautiful guitar passages. I would hear that and layer vocals. Then we would send it back to Kevin. I’ve never worked with someone like Kevin who is so humble yet so well-versed in his craft. He does ukulele records and solo stuff. He’s just a truly inspiring individual and so approachable.

When you aren’t playing what are you doing now?

First and foremost I’m a mother. Beyond that I just try to stay creative with painting and photography. I’ve also been delving into some video. I don’t get to be social too much unless I’m on the road. I just try to stay busy. And I also love cycling and work in a bicycle shop in Fort Worth. My co-workers know all about the band and keep tabs on it online. Luckily it’s independently owned (laughs).