"This might sound weird, but I kinda like it when there's less girls at the show," says Justine Jones of U.K. metallic hardcore troupe Employed to Serve. "Because then I can use the women's toilets as my dressing room." She laughs. "Obviously backstage areas are tiny at club shows — and boys smell. You probably smell good, but my lot don't."
And while it's true that the men and women of Revolver both smell equally of peppermint and sandalwood, Jones' point is taken. As Employed to Serve's lead vocalist and co-lyricist — alongside guitarist Sammy Urwin — the self-described "band mom" helped shepherd the ascendant Brits on numerous tours across the U.K. and Europe, making her more than qualified to comment on the general state of travel hygiene. But don't let her olfactory sensitivity fool you. Jones is no shrinking violet.
In the video for "Force Fed," the first single from the band's latest album, Eternal Forward Motion, Employed to Serve rock a packed club with a staccato fusillade of groove metal and hardcore as Jones plays the venomous Ms. Hyde to Urwin's clean-voiced Dr. Jekyll. Amid vicious guitar dive-bombs, machine-gun drums and matching windbreakers embossed with the band's logo, Jones spits pitch-black vitriol on the decline of civil discourse: "And the words that I speak just don't get a chance to leave my mouth before you cut me out."
"I have this pet hate," she reveals. "You know when you're talking to someone and you can see they're just waiting desperately for their turn to speak? I hate when you're constantly talked over, like when someone asks you an opinion on something and then they force theirs on you. Or people on the internet who just sort of monologue."
Toxic social media rears its misshapen head again on the Eternal Forward Motion track "Suspended in Emptiness." The song was partially inspired by Jones' daily two-hour work commute, during which she often catches herself refreshing Instagram over and over again. "It's almost like a twitch — you don't realize it," she observes. "And [as you scroll through the images], you go down this horrible little rabbit hole of 'I'm not adequate' or 'I look like shit' or 'I feel fat.' It's a slow progression that starts with 'I don't have this' and then kind of snowballs. It's an absolutely mental situation we're in as the human race. It's this whole new level of socialness that we haven't quite adapted to yet."
"But," she adds, "I've gotten better about it because I've started reading again."
Taking early sonic inspiration from the likes of the Chariot and Norma Jean, Jones and Urwin started Employed to Serve in 2012 out of their apartment in the London suburbs. Soon, they expanded to a five-piece — which currently includes drummer Robbie Back, guitarist Richard Jacobs and bassist Marcus Gooda — and released the Change Nothing Regret Everything EP on London-based Holy Roar Records, where Jones is now employed as label manager. Though Employed to Serve have since moved on to a bigger label (Spinefarm/Universal) for Eternal Forward Motion, Holy Roar retains the majority of the band's back catalog. She says working at her alma mater allows her to "do music 24/7, which is the dream."
Jones spent her childhood in the London suburb of Woking, where early exposure to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana established her love for guitar music. Video games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and SSX Tricky sealed the deal. "I loved all the playlists they had on in the background," she explains. "We had a rubbish dial-up connection back then, which would knock out whenever someone called us, so I'd have to write the bands down and have a look around [U.K. record store chain] HMV."
In her early teens, she joined a music club at the youth center run by her local church. "I'm not Christian personally, but Woking is a strangely Christian-driven town, so I played guitar in this band-club thing at the Woking Christ Church," she says with a laugh. "We were called Rainbow Dimension. But in my defense, I was 13."
It wasn't long before the more extreme sounds of Pantera and Slipknot caught her ear and sent her down the path of heaviness. And after years in the trenches with Employed to Serve, Jones discovered that her love for Slipknot, in particular, had transcended the band's music.
"I really admire their work ethic," she says. "Slipknot have got so many members. Sometimes it's difficult getting on with four other members — and also organizing them. 'When's the next practice?' And everyone's available on different days. Imagine that with nine people. And it's not like they were big from the get-go — they had to want it. As someone who does a lot of organizing with the band, along with Sammy, I respect that. And I can sympathize."
As it turns out, Employed to Serve have a potentially challenging band dynamic that not even Slipknot have to contend with: Jones and Urwin are a couple. In fact, they're engaged. "Don't worry — he knows," she jokes. "He actually proposed."
Jones and Urwin have been dating since they were 16. "So it's been 11 years," she says. "We were together for about five years prior to the band, so I felt like we were already settled into a good groove in terms of co-existing instead of a dependency thing, if you know what I mean. I think when you become dependent rather than co-existing, I could see how problems arise. But both of us are quite docile people — we don't really have hot heads — so that lends itself all right. Because I know other couples in bands, and it's not great."
When asked about the pros and cons of being in a band with her significant other, Jones lays it out like this: "The pros are that you don't miss them when you're on tour and you've always got a safety blanket of familiarity. The cons are, if something is annoying you about the band, logistically speaking — like we didn't get a tour or something — if you've got a partner outside the band, I think it's easier to not bring that home. Whereas if you're both in the band, you'll end up ruminating about it together a bit."
But Jones is trying to cut back on rumination these days. That's actually one of the messages behind Eternal Forward Motion. "I'm in my mid-twenties and I haven't got a mortgage yet," she says. "My parents owned their own house when they were in their early twenties. So you think, 'Am I fucking up?' You're having all this inner dialogue and end up doing that awful thing where you compare yourself to other people around you. So lyrically, this album is about getting the blinders on. You don't need to look around. You can improve yourself and move forward at your own pace and just be the best person you can be."