Jessica Pimentel is pouring herself a shot of Jack Daniel's when Revolver meets her in the dressing room at the Mayan Theater in downtown Los Angeles. As metal goes, it doesn't get much more underground than this: The dressing room is literally beneath the streets of L.A., where thousands of fans are lined up waiting to see Brujeria play their final U.S. show of 2017 in the city where the Mexican-American, Spanish-language grindcore collective started back in 1989. Famous for playing inmate Maria Ruiz on the popular Netflix prison drama Orange Is the New Black, Pimentel is also the newest member of Brujeria, a band that carved out its considerable reputation with machetes and violent, politically charged, narco-fueled songs like "Raza odiada (Pito Wilson)," the Pablo Escobar-inspired "El patron" (recorded the day after the notorious coke baron's death in 1993) and their 2016 anti-Trump single "Viva Presidente Trump!"
Led by vocalist and rumored satanic drug lord Juan Brujo, Brujeria has at times included members of Faith No More, Carcass and At the Gates amongst its ever-revolving ranks. The current lineup features longtime members Shane "Hongo" Embury of Napalm Death on guitar and former Cradle of Filth/Dimmu Borgir skinsman Nick "Hongo Jr." Barker on drums. But don't think for a second that Pimentel is just some Hollywood poser slumming it as a metal tourist for street cred. She's been fronting her own Brooklyn-based death metal band, Alekhine's Gun, since 2010 — years before Orange Is the New Black came along — and occasionally plays bass in a metalcore outfit called Desolate. Earlier this month, she traded in her Alekhine's Gun stage name "The Crusher" for her new Brujeria pseudonym, Bruja Encabronada, or "Pissed Off Witch." And she could care less what her Hollywood friends might think about her latest gig. "I know the subject matter is violent and sometimes politically incorrect," she says. "We have our message, but it's a party up there, too. I'm having the time of my life."
In the interview below, we talked with Pimentel about joining Brujeria and the delicate balancing act between her Hollywood career and her love for extreme metal. About 15 minutes in, we're joined by Juan Brujo, who offers his take on Pimentel and the significance of a politically minded Mexican-American grindcore band under Donald Trump's presidency.
HOW DID YOU HOOK UP WITH BRUJERIA?
JESSICA PIMENTEL It was a completely surreal situation. It happened through Facebook and emails because I'd done a Brujeria cover, "Revolución," with [Kansas tech death outfit] Origin. But I'd been listening to Brujeria since I was a kid, since like '95 or '96, so I've always been a fan — and I met them when they played Webster Hall in 2010. Then I did "Revolución" with Origin last year and Brujo thought it was dope that I did that, so he asked me if I'd wanna hop onstage with Brujeria sometime. It evolved from that to, "Here's a list of songs I want you to learn."
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST TIME ONSTAGE WITH BRUJERIA LIKE?
My first show was in New York City, my hometown, with no rehearsal at all. Juan just told me the songs he wanted me to learn — some had female parts, but some didn't. When I showed up, it was a photo shoot as well so it was like "Hi, Nick! Hi, Shane!" and next thing you know I'm getting my photo taken with them and we go straight to soundcheck. [Laughs] It happened so fast I didn't even have time to be nervous. There was no learning curve. I just had to jump into the deep end and go for it.
BEFORE YOU JOINED, YOU SAW BRUJERIA LIVE A FEW TIMES OVER THE YEARS. WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT GOING TO THEIR SHOWS?
Yeah, I saw them several times. It's a big show, a violent situation at times. Whenever me and my friends go to see Brujeria, we've got our biggest hoop earrings and nicest bandanas. Once the last band before Brujeria is done, everyone puts their hair back and their bandana on and that's how we enjoy the show. We're singing along to this stuff that is politically charged and maybe not the most appropriate, but sometimes you feel like you wanna scream that stuff, and it's alright.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON YOUR STAGE NAME, BRUJA ENCABRONADA?
I didn't, because Brujo was like, "You already have a name — The Crusher." But everyone in Brujeria has a cool Spanish name, you know? We tried the Spanish word for the Crusher, but it's too hard to pronounce and nobody really uses that word, anyway. But I was getting real feisty the day of that photo shoot so he said I was encabronada, like "pissed off." So we started making jokes in the dressing room about that name, and that was it: Bruja Encabronada, Pissed Off Witch. It was perfect.
YOU'VE SEEN BRUJERIA AS A FAN AND NOW YOU'RE A MEMBER. HOW DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE BAND?
Well, the veil is lifted as to who they are. But when they're onstage, they are those characters. It's all tongue in cheek, all taken in fun, but there are some grains of truth that have to be dealt with [in the lyrics] as far as real situations and real life and people we know. But that doesn't mean everyone onstage is angry or violent. We know what we're saying isn't the most politically correct, but you have to make the decision, if the message worth enough, to throw the politically correct stuff out the window for the moment and just hit it in the heart.
YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE HIGH-PROFILE GIG ON ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, A SHOW WITH A HUGE AUDIENCE THAT MIGHT NOT NECESSARILY UNDERSTAND OR ACCEPT BRUJERIA. IN THE POLITICALLY CHARGED CLIMATE THAT WE LIVE IN, DID YOU HESITATE TO GET INVOLVED WITH THE BAND?
I've always been cautious about that stuff. I'm not very vocal about my political affiliations because it's just one more yapping voice, but I think it's pretty easy to guess what they are. I think you need to do things in your private live to change any political surroundings that you're not necessarily happy with. I feel like there are enough celebrity people voicing their opinion on how to do things, but I think you just gotta get your hands dirty.
Of course I know that there are a lot of people who don't understand metal in general, and that this is a big turn off. I get followers dropping me anytime I put any kind of metal post [on social media] because a lot of the fans of the show are fans of a Hollywood fantasy or a lifestyle that's not necessarily the truth. That's what they want to see. They wanna see this unattainable reality, and [Brujeria] is a little too real for them. And it's not pretty — it's dirty and sloppy and sweaty and your fat is hanging out and your hair is all fucked up and you're screaming curses. This is not the happy, gorgeous, perfect life with your Hollywood friends where everything is beautiful. This is as grimy as it gets.
BUT YOU DID IT ANYWAY…
I had to be true to my heart. This is a band that I've loved, respected and admired for a very, very long time. I always think what would 13-year old me say to me if I didn't do this? She'd be really pissed. She'd be like, "What a loser. Are you afraid people won't like you anymore? Are you afraid you'll get in trouble?" But [Brujeria lyrics] aren't my words — I didn't write them. It's something that existed before. You can take that angle, too — I'm actress coming into a machine that's already been established.
ARE THERE ANY HOLLYWOOD PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH — AGENTS OR MANAGERS OR WHATEVER — WHO SEE YOU WITH BRUJERIA AND SAY, "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?"
Of course, but the people I have with me understand me. The people who don't understand me aren't with me. It's good to have people who push you in a certain direction, who say, "Oh, Jess — just put on a cute dress and go to this charity event to raise money for a good cause." That's awesome. But then you have the metalhead criticizers who say, "Oh, she's fake because she has a nice dress on." But your clothing doesn't determine who you are. Brujo!
[At this point, Juan Brujo enters the room … ]
SO THIS ISN'T A CASE OF BRUJERIA BRINGING IN A HOLLYWOOD ACTRESS AS A PUBLICITY PLOY. YOU'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN THE METAL SCENE FOR YEARS, AND YOU HAVE YOUR OWN BAND.
JUAN BRUJO I didn't even know she was on TV. I've never seen the program. I just saw a video of her singing on YouTube with her other band.
JESS, TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR OTHER BAND, ALEKHINE'S GUN …
PIMENTEL It's a black and death metal band from Brooklyn. I write most of the songs and sing. My bandmates are Leo Mattei, Jeff Martinez, Daniel Martinez and Andrew Czegledi. We've been around for a few years; we play locally around New York. It's a passion project. And I play bass in a band called Desolate.
YOU AND JUAN FIRST MET AT WEBSTER HALL IN 2010. TELL US WHAT HAPPENED …
PIMENTEL Well, I got a little tipsy that night because the bar I went to before the show used to have this deal: ten shots for ten dollars…
BRUJO That's a Mexican deal!
PIMENTEL [Laughs] And when you played "Pito Wilson," I decided I was gonna sing that song with you guys. So I went from the balcony, through the dressing room, and came onstage to do that one with you guys.
BRUJO So we go back a ways. But I still didn't even know she was a singer then. I don't know anything.
HOW DID SHE END UP IN BRUJERIA?
BRUJO We always try to have a girl singer in the band. The original we had disappeared on us, so she was out. We got a quick replacement just to have a girl there — she was good, but she had more of a punk rock style. We need a more growly, brutal style. When I saw Jessica, I thought, "That's what we need! Does she know Spanish?" So I asked her, and it was a perfect fit.
HOW DID SHE DO AT THAT FIRST SHOW?
BRUJO She was so good she made everyone else look bad. Were like, "Oh, shit!" She's too good, actually. She's better than the rest of us. [Laughs] It's embarrassing. But it's improving the band. It's making the other guys better.
JESS, DID YOU LOOK TO THE PREVIOUS FEMALE BRUJERIA VOCALISTS FOR INSPIRATION?
PIMENTEL Of course. At first I showed Brujo this little dress I was gonna wear and he was like, "Where's the rest of it?" They always have cute girls, you know? But he said, "Nah, we don't want cute. We want you to be tough and strong and cover up. The femininity and power will still come through. You don't have to be coochie-coochie." I thought it was great when you said that, because there's not enough feminine role models that are super strong and tough.
BRUJO Exactly. There's none. They're all cuties. But we've had enough cute. And next to us guys, she looks great.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR BRUJERIA TO HAVE A FEMALE MEMBER?
BRUJO Because otherwise we come off as the macho guys. So when you have a tough girl up there that fits in with the guys, it's really good.
PIMENTEL Having a girl up there screaming about chopping heads off really takes it up a level. [Laughs]
BRUJERIA PUT OUT AN ANTI-TRUMP SINGLE LAST YEAR, NOT LONG AFTER HE ANNOUNCED HE'D BE RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT. WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT HE WON?
BRUJO I was in shock.
PIMENTEL I was on my floor crying. My guy [Tomas Haake of Meshuggah] is not an American citizen, so we had just been talking about him trying to [become one]. On election night, he took a nap because we thought there was no way Trump would win — but then he woke up to find me sobbing on the floor. When I told him that Trump won, he thought he was kidding.
HOW DID TRUMP'S VICTORY CHANGE THINGS FOR BRUJERIA?
BRUJO All the plans got blown out right there. Everything had to change. We knew we had to fight back against the guy even more, but he's doing pretty good at cutting his own throat so far so we don't need to do it onstage. [Laughs] But we're gonna keep watching him to see if he's gonna keep talking shit about Mexicans. We still think the election had to be rigged for him to win — I think the Russians did it — but we'll see if that comes out.
HOW BAD DO YOU THINK IT COULD GET UNDER TRUMP?
BRUJO It could get bad because our side would really start big fires everywhere if he starts talking shit again — and he likes to start big fires himself. He doesn't try to put them out — he likes to see the flames go. There are all kinds of people who have beef with him, so it could get ugly. And he'll take it to the end. He talks about North Korea like he's at a Raiders game, you know? He'll start killing people to shut them up.
PIMENTEL He's a spoiled brat. He goes after comedians on Twitter. It's ridiculous.
HAS BRUJERIA BECOME MORE IMPORTANT IN TRUMP'S AMERICA?
BRUJO If he wants to come after us, hey. But we're not going after him right now because we're letting other people have shots at him. And there's a lot of people having shots at him. [Laughs] But the songs could be a fuse to start something. The lyrics are ready to explode at any time. I'd have to be really mad to do something like that, because it'd probably end with them killing me, but I'm not saying it can't be done.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR BRUJERIA?
BRUJO We're gonna start writing the new record because we've got subject matter that's important. Before Trump, there was nothing to sing about because everything was pretty good. Racism was down, and then Trump wins and suddenly there's a lot of shit to write about. It's like when Pablo Escobar got killed — we went to the studio the next day and recorded a song about it. Things like that get us fired up. And this time, Trump lit the fire.
WILL JESSICA BE INVOLVED IN THE NEW RECORD?
PIMENTEL Absolutely. I'm down!
BRUJO She's Brujeria all the way — if she can squeeze us into her schedule!
Want to learn more about witches? Watch Metallica's Kirk Hammett tour the Salem Witch Museum and receive a history lesson on the witch trails of 1692.