Hammer is debating the idea of the ‘quarter-life crisis’. While a mid-life crisis might force you to sell your house and buy a convertible or a motorbike, a generation of young people are freaking out at the idea of hitting 30 and having nothing to show for it.
Enter Justine Jones, the 25-year-old vocalist for Woking metallic hardcore mob Employed To Serve. Tonight they’re playing a show in the room above us, at trendy east London pub The Old Blue Last, to mark the release of second album The Warmth Of A Dying Sun – a record coloured by the pressures of growing up.
“When you hit 25, there’s an odd moment where your family suddenly start asking you what you’re doing with your life,” says Justine, sipping on her afternoon beer. “They ask you if you’re going to get married and stuff like that. This record is about being grateful for your current moment in time and not looking too far in the future.”
The Warmth Of A Dying Sun is a logical progression from 2015’s Greyer Than You Remember – an abrasive album of apathy and not giving a fuck, made by a bunch of noisy punks in their early 20s. Between albums they’ve grown and matured, focusing on the more precise goals of selling out bigger venues and making better music.
“The first album will always be special to me, of course, but this album is so much better,” Justine says confidently. “I like playing it more; it’s more challenging. We’ve played the first album’s songs for a couple of years, so we’re very comfortable with them now. It’s nice to constantly push yourself.”
But it’s not just the music that’s challenging; the lyrical spine of The Warmth Of A Dying Sun is based on social issues and mental health. And while none of the band themselves have depression, Justine believes we shouldn’t be treating it like an elephant in the room.
“It’s important to let your friends and family know that you’re supporting them through their difficult time. Just because you don’t suffer yourself, someone close to you could be really suffering. It’s important that bands talk about it – a lot of people listen to our music who could be having bad times.”
The whole record stems from personal experiences, and the song Platform 89 tells the true story of Justine seeing someone that she knew from school living on the streets; a troubling situation sometimes associated with mental illness.
“When you leave full-time education, you suddenly lose your safety net,” she explains. “When you’re at school, you’re told everything. You have to be somewhere every day. When you hit 25, you’ve had a long time of being outside of that structure and more time to do things wrong.
“It’s mad how many paths you can take in life; when you get older, you realise how many bad mistakes you can make along the way, but it’s about being grateful for what you have.”
Justine grew up on a steady diet of Despised Icon, Obituary and Ion Dissonance, before discovering Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan in 2011, which radically changed her musical tastes. The following year, she formed Employed To Serve with guitarist Sammy Urwin, and released two EPs on tape through German labels WOOAAARGH and Puzzle Records. That’s when Grindcore Karaoke stepped in, the label run by underground icon/Agoraphobic Nosebleed vocalist Jay Randall, and by August 2013 the line-up had expanded to five. Completed by drummer Robbie Back and bassist Jamie Venning (and new guitarist Richard Jacobs joining last year), they eventually signed with UK heavy music torchbearers Holy Roar – thanks to Justine’s persistence.
“I made a crow stencil and spraypainted CD-Rs, and I gave one to Alex [Fitzpatrick] from Holy Roar,” she remembers. “When we were gigging, no one would book us because no one knew who we were, so I just booked my own shows and put my favourite bands on with us as openers. I put [Alex’s band] Pariso on and wormed my way in!”
Since then, Employed To Serve have released both albums through Holy Roar, who now employ Justine as label manager, which allows her to “watch other bands’ careers, see what they did right, and try to nick that for my band”.
Sitting with her for an hour before showtime, it’s clear that she’s not only incredibly honest and polite, but a lifer. She didn’t start a metal band to be famous; it’s a creative outlet for her and her friends. Despite being signed, they still have a DIY work ethic, and even took it upon themselves to book this evening’s launch show, bringing along their pals in We Never Learned To Live, Conjurer and Eulogy.
Citing vocal influences such as Chino Moreno and Mitch Lucker, Justine reveals that labelmates Rolo Tomassi are her role models in terms of ethics and how they’ve managed to maintain their band for more than a decade.
“It makes me think I can do this for longer,” says Justine. “Slow burn is the important part here. Those flash-in-the pan bands start to dissipate at festivals because they haven’t built up that foundation of fans, and they do headline shows and nobody turns up, because they’ve been piggybacking on other bands for so long.”
There’s no such worry tonight. A jam-packed sauna bears witness to one of the most ferocious and crazed shows of the year, with crowdsurfers circling the room like sweaty planes coming in to land. Justine is like a different person onstage, the softly spoken girl in a bar now a screaming beast in a kickass Björk shirt.
Picking four new songs to play in an hour- long set might not sound like much, but when they’re as savage and volatile as the title track or Void Ambition, you almost can’t take any more. And Justine is aware it’s not as fun to watch a band play songs you don’t know. “There’s a lot of opportunities to nod out of time with our music – it’s not something you can wing.”
It’s the single, I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away), that certifies itself as an all-out warbringer. The song deals with the frustration of working a job that you hate – a situation familiar to countless 20-somethings across the UK, even those who have studied for degrees.
“It’s hard to find jobs – you can even be overqualified now,” she says. “I think it’s a symptom of being 25. I see people on Facebook complaining about their jobs, but you have your entire working life ahead of you – why don’t you just change career?”
But rather than a career problem, is this more to do with millennials feeling like the world owes them something? An Australian businessman recently sent Twitter into meltdown by claiming that young people should stop buying smashed avocado and save money instead…
“My mum had a house by now and I don’t, but you can’t hold on to that, it’s not your birthright to be given stuff,” Justine says frankly. “We’ve an opportunity to do something we actually want, but if we get hung up on stuff we can’t have, then it’s just pointless.”
And what does Justine want?
“I just really like Slipknot, Korn and Deftones. If I played with any of those, I’d be happy,” she smiles. And while those bands might be as big as metal gets in 2017, the idea of popularity all depends on your perspective. “Because I’m in my underground circle, we are mainstream in my world, ha ha ha!
“I don’t like the idea of being too popular, where people come to your shows because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do,” she adds. “The day Black Flag ends up in Primark, you know punk’s dead.”
Judging by what we witnessed today, it’s very much alive.
The Warmth Of A Dying Sun is out now via Holy Roar
Photos by Derek Bremner