Whether encountered on stage, record, or screen, it becomes instantaneously clear Jessica Pimentel is a uniquely potent human being — one capable of simultaneously channeling the primal and the transcendental as she incarnate and reincarnates her power, art, and spirit over and over again…
As Maria Ruiz intertwining pathos, mettle, and heart-rending, inspiring humanity on Orange is the New Black.
As The Crusher slaying vox in Brooklyn blackened death thrashers Alekhine’s Gun.
And now as La Bruja Encabronada — that is, The Fierce Witch — casting a beguiling and fearsome spell amongst the mysterious ranks of extreme metal legends Brujeria.
Decibel caught up with Pimentel at the tail end of her incendiary and enlivening string of Brujeria dates to find out what it was like to be asked to lend her considerable essence to one of her longtime favorite bands…
So from the outside this union appeared pretty spontaneous. Did you have a preexisting connection with any of the Brujeria players?
Although I had seen Brujeria before and had met them at Webster Hall in 2010 it wasn’t until their appearance at Gramercy theater in October 2016 that I had a formal introduction to the legendary members and kept in touch thereafter.
How far in advance of the Irving Plaza gig did you know you’d be getting up on stage?
Brujo had contacted me in May 2017 after seeing some footage of my band Alekhine’s Gun. They had a tour plan but their Bruja was MIA. He asked if I’d be willing to hop on for any shows if I was free. I didn’t think that was going to be possible as I knew that production for Orange is the New Black season six would be overlapping at the same time as tour. He understood that I only have two weeks notice of my shooting schedule but as the tour got closer we wanted to be ready just in case. I was needed on set and couldn’t make the first half of the tour. Knowing that the New York show was on a Friday night I was determined to do at least that one — even if it meant running straight to the venue after filming and possibly go on to join them for Boston and Philly but circumstances beyond our control made it so that the New York show was probably going to be just a one-off since I wouldn’t know ’til November seventh if I could go further on tour. So basically he sent me a list of songs — eight or nine in total — to start memorizing three days before the New York City show knowing that I’d surely be joining them for that night. Zero rehearsal. A brief meeting on the setlist and stage shenanigans. And jump right in…
You’ve described Brujeria in the past as one of your favorite bands. What was it like for you to perform with them?
This is a band of masters. I do not feel the need to go through everyone’s resume. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. Of course it was an adrenaline filled night. The crowd was filled with friends and family. To say that night was surreal is an understatement. They have a chemistry that is ready for anything given the stage antics, each show is different and everyone knows how to ride the wave and ride together. The crowds have been insane. They are aggressive, they love Brujeria, but in the end it’s a party. We let out our frustrations then end in a big party. El Desmadre.
Obviously it went well. How did it snowball into you becoming a full-fledged Bruja for the rest of the tour?
That was the dream all along. To be able to do this tour. Things were looking bleak as they has lost their bus for a few days and there was no room in the van for me to continue after New York. But by some geater force the bus returned and I was not in the next episode which meant I had two weeks off. I flew down to Richmond to meet them as soon as I knew.
I saw your Facebook post about feeling “every ache and pain, every bump and bruise” post-tour — sounds intense!
Brujeria is an intense experience. Everyone gives their all every set. Being that the bruja comes in at the second half of the set during this tour I had the whole first half to listen and get pumped. Hearing these songs I’ve listened to for years blasting every night got me in the place to be to play the character. La Bruja Encabronada. The subject matter is powerful and violent and extreme and it is your duty as a performer to convey these messages to the audience. If you’ve seen me perform before you know that I have certain habits on stage when I’m really in the music — many of which involve punching myself or the ground or certain acrobatics that I can only seem to do when on stage or in a trance. Although I don’t feel any pain on stage usually the next day I’ll have beautifully ugly and painful reminders of a show well done. The Bruja is a force of nature and I wasn’t going to let down this amazing band that trusted me and let me in their family and I wasn’t going to let down the Brujeria fans.
How different was the channeling you did for Brujeria than what you do for Alekhine’s Gun?
The channelling for Alekhine’s Gun is a very personal and spiritual process for me which involves ritual and meditation beforehand as the subject matter deals heavily with otherworldly subject matter rooted in Tantric Buddhist practices. While both experiences are both visceral, Brujeria comes from a more tangible place channelling anger and frustration to open the eyes and minds of the listener. There are also spiritual, esoteric and ritualistic elements to the music of Brujeria. This spirituality is best left to be explained by Juan Brujo. If you happened to catch me with the tour, there is a brief moment during the song Anti-Castro where the song calls for Chango and I go into an invocation dance. Changó is the king of Santería — the orisha of passion, virility, drumming, dancing, fire and lightning. While both bands require intense wrath to perform, they are different sides of the same coin. I think it’s always great to step into something new. Sometimes artists get stuck in their patterns and stepping a bit out of your comfort zone or out of the world you have created can add to your insight and inspire you to create something new.
What’s your personal history with Brujeria’s music? Do you recall the first time you heard the band and what it was about the songs and/or message that resonated with you?
I remember the first time I heard Brujeria in high school and being frightened. The quality of the recording, the lyrics, the style of playing and topics we’re all far beyond my experience. The fact that it was all in Spanish made it even more exotic and heart hitting. I remember getting that same feeling as when watching Traces/Faces of Death. Sick. Dark. Heavy. Something you want to turn away from… But there it is. In your face and you can’t ignore it. Your can’t un-hear it. The underbelly.
What was the vibe on the bus?
All I can say…two words: Disco ball.
Did you gel with the band in any unexpected ways?
Music was a great pass time. It was amazing to just sit and listen to music. Tell our favorite stories. This is an amazing group of people who have been through some mind blowing experiences so there was never a shortage of jaw-dropping stories and knowledge being passed around.
You mentioned the insane crowds. Is there anything else you can tell me about the uniqueness of the Brujeria fanbase you learned on this tour?
The Brujeria fans are passionate and loyal. There’s no other band out there like it. Powered by legit legends, the stage antics and the characters make for a unique experience that the fans appreciate and expect. It’s also to see so many females out in the crowd going as hard as the guys do to the music. There was one show where almost everyone flying over a barricade was a chick, dressed to the metal nines, enjoying every second and screaming right there with us. It was truly refreshing.
How have you been enjoying Ruiz journey on Orange, which just keeps getting meatier and more interesting and more substantial season by season?
I am truly grateful — and constantly surprised — by Maria’s character arc on the show. Every year I say this is my favorite season… This season has been one of epic challenges and we are only half way in. All I can say Is the fans will not be disappointed. It has been a challenge that has been worth every second. I am immensely excited for you to see the blood, sweat and tears we put in this one. Everything you know of us is about to get ripped apart. It’s every (wo)man for themselves.
You’ve had a few amazing years now. How does hitting the road with Brujeria rank amidst all that?
It was truly a highlight of my life. A full circle moment so to speak and I’m still wrapping my head around it.
What have you learned about pursuing your dreams that maybe you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Anything is possible as long as you get rid of your fear. Obstacles are a part of life and if you can’t get over it there’s always a way around it and never forget to go with the flow of unexpected things that unfold before you but you must follow through even if these unexpected things are not part of you “plan” perhaps there is a bigger better thing in store. Just be open to it. Challenge yourself as it is all a dream.
For more Brujeria insanity pick up the September 2016 issue of Decibel.