"Anyone who was there will remember because they probably got pink-eye." Actress and metal musician Jessica Pimentel on licking Meshuggah’s faces, Orange Is The New Black and why Peter Steele was like a big brother to her

Jessica Pimentel on the Metal Hammer Golden Gods red carpet
(Image credit: Mike Marsland/WireImage via Getty Images)

Actress, musician and all-round metalhead, Jessica Pimentel earned acclaim for her role as Maria Ruiz on Netflix's Orange Is The New Black from 2013 to 2019. But she's also an accomplished musician, singing and playing guitars in her own group  Alekhine's Gun, as well as joining Los Angeles-based extreme metallers Brujeria as one of the band's vocalists. 

Hammer caught up with Jessica to talk Brujeria, growing up in New York City and why Type O Negative's Peter Steele was like a brother to her...

Metal Hammer line break

How did you join Brujeria? 

“Monte Conner [at Nuclear Blast Records] introduced us many years ago. I’d been seeing Brujeria for many years, so I was already a fan. [Brujeria frontman Juan] Brujo had heard I was a singer in my other band, Alekhine’s Gun, and thought we’d be a good mix. I had no rehearsal, just one soundcheck of two songs, then got thrown into the fire at my first show in New York City.” 

Having grown up in NYC, do you have any wild stories from the metal or hardcore scenes? 

“The infamous Coney Island High School show of 1998 – anyone who was there will remember because they probably got pink-eye. It was completely over capacity: The Dillinger Escape Plan, Candiria and Meshuggah. It was so hot that everybody was sweating, the sweat created humidity and the humidity created rain, and the rain made everyone fall and bust their faces open. That’s how I met Tomas [Haake, Meshuggah drummer and Jessica’s partner].” 

Sounds romantic. 

“I think I licked him. Ha ha ha! Or it might have been Jens [Kidman, singer]. Everybody was so sweaty and so on-fire you just grabbed somebody and licked them! That’s how everyone got pink-eye, or they got strep throat from grabbing the mic and passing it around.” 

How about hardcore shows? 

“You had bands playing in attics and destroying people’s homes. I went to a show in Rockaway Beach and there was nothing left, basically. The walls were no longer there. We helped our friends redecorate by throwing other people through walls. Ha ha ha!” 

Did you ever get thrown through a wall? 

“No, but I was a master of moshing with any type of chair or stool. I was a little smaller than most guys at the show and needed a little extra protection. I’d pick up a chair and dance around with it, and that’s when you knew it was time for me to go!”

Great for blocking crowd-killers, we imagine. 

“And, if the song is boring, you have a place to sit. Ha ha ha!” 

What about when you’re onstage? What’s the maddest show you’ve played so far? 

“It was a festival in Mexico City, on Cinco de Mayo, with Brujeria. I remember meeting Gojira at the airport and finding out we’d be playing 20 minutes after they start, on a stage at the opposite end of the field. The second our [backdrop] comes up, the crowd starts running from Gojira’s stage to ours. Joe [Duplantier, Gojira singer/guitarist] was like, ‘What’s going on?’, then he sees me on the big screen opposite, and I point to Joe like [Jessica does the ‘slit throat’ hand gesture]. He was dying laughing while he was playing.” 

Do you have any more musical projects planned? 

“With Alekhine’s Gun, everyone’s branched off into different projects at this point. I don’t know if we’ll get back together and do something else. I’m currently working with someone who I can’t name yet, but he’s the bass player in two of my favourite bands. He’s doing a solo project and invited me to be a guest vocalist.” 

You knew Peter Steele when you were younger. What was he like? 

“He was a very sensitive, deep guy. To me, he was a big brother-type person and talked me through a very hard time in my life. I was a lonely, depressed kid and I think he identified that. He made mixtapes for me and stuff. You might expect him to be a jerk or a womaniser but, if he was, I never saw that side of him.” 

You’ve said that, for the first three years of Orange Is The New Black, you were in tears every day of shooting. Did music help you during that emotional time? 

“Music is one of my acting tools. It’s how I tap into whatever emotion I need for a scene. Most of the time, it was a lot of metal and goth: a lot of Nick Cave, Zeal & Ardor, Meshuggah and Depeche Mode. But then afterwards I’d put on something completely fun: dance, Latin music, hip hop – whatever was the opposite. As I’m taking the wardrobe off, I’m putting the character away.”

Esto Es Brujeria is out now via Nuclear Blast

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.