Beyond the Boys’ Club is a monthly column from journalist and radio host Anne Erickson, focusing on women in the heavy music genres, as they offer their perspectives on the music industry and discuss their personal experiences. Erickson is also a music artist herself, recently releasing the song “Eternal Way” under the moniker Upon Wings. This month’s piece features an interview with Justine Jones of Employed to Serve.
Employed to Serve have created some of the most exciting and energizing heavy music to emerge out of the UK over the past decade.
Now, the band — featuring the wife-and-husband team of Justine Jones and Sammy Urwin — is set to release a new album, the pummeling Conquering, out September 17th via Spinefarm. The LP marks their follow-up to 2019’s Eternal Forward Motion.
For Heavy Consequence‘s latest edition of “Beyond the Boys’ Club,” Jones checked in to discuss the new album, her Church Road Records imprint, her experience as a woman in heavy music, and much more.
On the story behind her forming Employed to Serve with her husband Sammy
We’ve been dating since we were 16, so we were together for four or five years before starting this band. He’s always been in bands, and I’ve always wanted to be in a band but didn’t have the patience to learn guitar when I was young. One day, he started writing for this project that he called Employed to Serve, and he needed a vocalist. He said, “Why don’t you give it a go?” I didn’t really think of being a vocalist and hadn’t even tried, but I gave it a go, and the rest is history.
On the experience of being in a band with her husband
I really enjoy it. Usually being at touring musician, you’re missing your other half. He’s my best friend as well as my husband.
On whether Employed to Serve’s new album, Conquering, was influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic
It was a bit of both. The pandemic did sort of have an effect on some of the lyrics, but for the most part, it’s topics like mental health and conquering. The whole point of Conquering is getting over your ego and getting over self doubt and trying to be a more positive and kinder person. Social media has always showed negative things but especially these past 18 months.
On what inspired the new album musically
With this record, we really paid homage to ’90s Roadrunner Records bands that we grew up on — bands like Machine Head, Fear Factory, early Lamb of God. That real straight-up metal that we got into when we first got into metal.
On the hard-charging album cut “Twist the Blade”
That song is about cutting negative people out of your life — the ones that tell you that you’re something you’re not. They’re a negative force in your life and make you question who you are as a person. Those are the worst kind of people. The more you distance yourself from those people, the happier your life will be.
On Employed to Serve’s upcoming 2022 European tour supporting Gojira
I’ve been a big fan of Gojira for 10-plus years now, so this tour cannot come soon enough. I’m so excited to play these new tracks in the big venues that we’ll be playing in on that tour, because I feel like they’ll translate well. We went with a bigger sound on the new album and wrote with festivals and big venues in mind, so it’s a perfect run. I hope it will open us up to new fans, and we’re playing places we’ve never played before, so we’re really excited.
On the record label she and her husband run, Church Road Records, and how they mentor bands
Because we’re quite a small label, I find that we end up doing more mentoring and helping to manage campaigns with bands, so it’s really nice, because I like picking up bands at the grassroots level and helping them achieve their own bucket list of things. It’s very rewarding to help others do that. It gives me a purpose and something else to do with my time. It also makes you more sensitive rather than just thinking of your own band and own self all the time.
On the difference in the number of women in metal music today verses when she started out in music
It’s massive! There are so many more women now, which is wonderful. I think it comes from women being represented more. I feel like, naturally, more girls growing up and seeing women in bands makes it seem more achievable to them and less daunting. I feel like our little scene in England is very good and tries to be inclusive and encourage people from all backgrounds to be in bands and work in the music industry.
On what changes she has seen for women in rock music over the past few years
It’s just creating a nicer environment for women. I feel like in metal, some cliques are still very gatekeeper-y and misogynistic, but for the most part, I feel like everyone is more inclusive. I think there is a lot of highlighting, too, and that opens up the conversation and helps inspire more young girls to start music. I think there are a lot more programs and social media campaigns about women in music and all fields, really, including sports and more.
On whether there’s pressure on women in rock and metal to look a certain way
I think yes, if you let it. I think there are definitely going to be the odd snide comments on YouTube or Instagram, and that’s obviously never acceptable. But I never go to the depths of YouTube comments, because you just aren’t going to like what you see there. So, I think if you don’t look for it, you can ignore it. I think it’s going in the right direction with body positivity and pointing out to these people that you would never say that to them in person.
On if people are ever surprised to hear her powerful growls and screams
All the time! It’s quite funny. Often times, I’ll speak with people after the show, and people are like, “Wow! Your voice is quite high and you are so nice. You seem so angry on the stage!” I get tagged in a few memes, too. But, I hear that more and more now that we’re playing to wider audiences. I feel like we’re still a smaller niche band but slowly playing bigger tours and festivals, so we’re opening up to a wider audience. At the end of the day, I’m doing what I want to do, so if that inspires people, that’s great.
On the advice she has for women looking to get into metal music
Don’t overthink it. Don’t worry. Just do it. I think there’s always a reason why you shouldn’t and can’t, and your whole life you can tell yourself that you didn’t try something because of this or that — one day you’ll be old and really regret it. So, try to achieve everything you want to with your life, and don’t worry about what others say, because usually they are unhappy in their life if they are pulling you down.