Jessica Pimentel: Jailhouse Rocker

When she’s not donning her orange jumpsuit to play prisoner Maria Ruiz in Orange Is The New Black, the dark comedy about life in a women’s prison, Brooklyn-based actress Jessica Pimentel plays in not one but two metal bands! We talk to her about her love of New York hardcore, balancing her passions and how she gained her nickname, ‘The Crusher’…

Which came first for you: playing music or acting? “I started off as a musician. I began playing classical violin when I was very young, and I got a scholarship to this music school in Brooklyn when I was 12. But I was playing very vigorously, and with a demanding schedule, and around age 14 or so my hands started hurting. I was told that I had done some nerve damage, so I changed my major to drama but I was still taking sight reading classes and composition classes. It was around then that I got into hardcore, metal and punk. I taught myself guitar, and my friends and I started to play music together, hanging out after school and playing covers.”

**You’re in two bands, Alekhine’s Gun, in which you do vocals, and also Desolate, where you play bass. What different sides of you do they bring out? **“Desolate has rotating members, and it’s our band for pure pleasure. It’s a groove metal/hardcore band. Whenever we forget that playing music is fun, we play a Desolate show! For our 10 year anniversary, we played this one song that requires cowbell and gave a cowbell to everyone in the audience. Turns out drunk people and cowbells are good friends: they played the cowbells for the entire show!

“In Alekhine’s Gun, I’m the vocalist and co-composer. The music style is a mix of everything we all like: At The Gates, Carcass, Meshuggah, and we all come from the New York hardcore scene so that’s very much instilled in us, like Minor Threat and Bad Brains. We have two EPs out already that you can listen to on our Bandcamp, and we’re working on our new album.”

**In Alekhine’s Gun, you have some seriously brutal vocals. How did you discover your ability to growl like that? **“When I was a teenager, I went to this show at CBGB in New York. I can’t remember the band that was playing, but their singer was in jail that day – he’d just gotten arrested! But he did those extreme vocals. I’d never tried to do it before, but the band needed someone to sing with them, so I just got up and did it! I don’t know where it came from. Even now, if someone asks, ‘Can you do it right now?’ I say no, because you have to be in a certain mindset! It’s like another person just comes out of me!”

**How did you get your nickname ‘The Crusher’? **“When we first started playing in Everybody Gets Hurt, we all had superhero names. I was Captain Boy Crusher. I was told, ‘Any man who enters your life, he will exit your life a boy… you’ll crush them!’ But over the years it became The Crusher ha ha! Anything I do, I crush. It’s all about crushing goals and obstacles. If something seems insurmountable, you take the bull by the horns and crush it!”

**How did you get involved with Orange Is The New Black? **“Actually, before I got the job I was kind of done with acting. I’d been working as an actress for 10 years, and I felt like it was all getting malicious. There was this one show I’d auditioned for, and I was so sure I’d gotten it. The list of people auditioning got smaller and smaller, and I kept getting called back. In my head, I had it. Then I went back again, and there were 30 people there for that role. It broke my heart, I was so pissed off. Then I got the call for OITNB. I was like, ‘No, I’m over it. I need a break!’ But my friends convinced me and I got a call the next day – that was a Monday – and I started working on the Friday. I was totally prepared to be a Microsoft tech for the rest of my life and play in a band!”

**How does being in metal bands influence your acting? **“When I have to do scenes that require a little aggression or emotion, I listen to metal. There was a film that I made where I had to shoot someone, and I just played At The Gates’ Need over and over. Sometimes when it’s a darker or heavier powerful emotion, you have to tap into it. And music for me is the easiest way to get to that emotion. I’ve absolutely done that for Orange Is The New Black, too!”

Season three of Orange Is The New Black is out now on Netflix.

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.