When San Antonio band Jessikill opened for Chicago's Hessler in early December at Zombies, it seemed simple enough: two female-fronted groups having a good time performing their brand of heavy metal in the Alamo City.
Afterwards, an unexpected transformation began taking shape that would affect both bands.
Hessler, somewhat knowingly nearing its final days with singer Lariyah Daniels, looked on in amazement while watching namesake Jessikill front her band. When Hessler played, the feeling was mutual.
Fast forward to Feb. 21, and Jessica "Jessikill" Marie Espinoza was announced as Hessler's new singer. The band recently released its first video with her on vocals, "Never Lost My Way" (click on video box at left), and Hessler will be kicking off a U.S. tour in its hometown March 20, marking her live debut with the band.
Hessler (Jessikill, Igz Kincaid on lead guitar/backup vocals; Frankie Sripada on lead and rhythm guitars; Erik Michael on bass and Derek Spiteri on drums) has played South By Southwest (SXSW) twice and Rocklahoma among its treks across the U.S. The band released the EP Bad Blood in 2011 and its full-length debut Comes With the Territory in 2012.
Just seven days after officially joining Hessler's ranks, and two weeks after Jessikill opened for Dio Disciples at Backstage Live, the 23-year-old Espinoza -- who graduated from Harlandale High School in 2008 and performed on "X-Factor" in 2012 in front of judges Simon Cowell, Britney Spears and Disney artist Demi Lovato -- was accompanied by Kincaid by phone in granting the SAMME their first interview with an American outlet to discuss the change and what lies ahead:
SAMME: Welcome and congratulations to both of you. Jess, I'll start with you because I covered Jessikill's show two weeks ago opening for Dio Disciples. I saw you meeting with fans afterwards but did not get a chance to talk to you. The official announcement by Hessler was last Friday, but did you and the guys in Jessikill know at that show that you were moving on?
JESS: Yeah, they knew and of course I knew. The guys, they're my hometown, and we were jamming as much as we can, but I feel that I'm moving forward with Hessler and just being as productive as possible.
SAMME: Hessler and Jessikill played together two months ago here at Zombies. Starting with Igz, can both of you give me your take on how that evening helped lead to Jess' hiring and where Hessler is at as a band today?
IGZ: Yeah, just a little bit on the last question. We read your Dio (Disciples) write-up, by the way (in blue at bottom), and thought it was great. I told Jess, "We noticed that most of the focus is on you as a singer, not the band as a whole." Which I thought was perfect for joining us as a great addition. Even before that Dio show, she stayed up here and recorded a song. We were just waiting for things to be finalized. But in regards to Zombies . . . she had a big Texas voice, and hearing her sing was a real treat. So it made a lot of sense going forward to step it up on our end to really bring in somebody to push our songs to the next level and that we'd get along with really well. The San Antonio Zombies show in December was a perfect jump into the deep end of the pool.
JESS: When I saw Hessler, right away, before they started playing, I thought, "Wow! They look good. I hope they sound good." So when they started playing, I was like, "Oh, my God." The way that they presented themselves, the sound that they had, I was like, "This is exactly, exactly what I envision I could do." I mean, I was with my friends and all, but hey man, this is everything I ever wanted in a band. And I couldn't believe I was seeing it, and I was drawn to the front of the stage.
IGZ: We were enjoying each other's show, which was very cool.
JESS: It was like band's love at first sight. I couldn't believe I was seeing this. It belonged to Lariyah, which was just fine. I was like, "Well, good for her." But then Igz gave me a call, and I was just so excited, I couldn't believe it was happening for me.
SAMME: Igz, what does Jessica bring to the band that you may not have had with Lariyah?
IGZ: She brings in somebody who's a true Rock N' Roll metal fan at heart, which is very important to us. We're the type of band that when we go on the road, we don't listen to burned CDs or stolen mp3s. We buy all of our favorite bands' music, and that's not just to come off as smoke and show for the average fan. It's true. We take a lot of pride in it because everybody's a fan. With Lariyah, that was never on the same playing field. Jess is definitely bringing back to the band. Most people on the surface don't see it, but I find that very important. Musically, she just reminded me of if Aretha Franklin and Dio had a kid. Powerful voice, but she didn't pitch the whole show, and that was something that was problematic with Lar on a consistent basis. It's a test for anybody to sing consistently with temperature changes and us being such a high-energy band. I just think for the long run, Jess' voice was not only the fact that she enunciates words and her talent and range could do so much with those songs, but I think with touring, she'll be consistent night after night, and that's very important because we take what we do really seriously.
SAMME: I imagine with the new video "Never Lost My Way" that people are having incredible reactions to Jess' debut with the band, particularly with the opening scream. Jess, is that helping to ease the transition into Hessler for you?
JESS: Yeah, I've always wanted to showcase that highlight of my voice. It's something that society is not used to, especially anything in modern times. So yeah, the goal of mine is to bring some good, kickass classic metal. It's always been my dream. I think I can showcase that with Hessler, and I think it's a great transition so people can see.
IGZ: You know, it's funny, in regards to that scream. I was showing the boys the Jessikill video here when we were contemplating what we were going to do. Everybody was worried at first -- everyone in our camp and the band members -- whether she could sing that high. And I was like, "Guys, I heard her sing 'Run to the Hills,' and she went above and beyond the stratosphere." So I knew what she was capable of, and I didn't see any recordings that really showcased that. It's kind of like a punch in the face.
JESS: It was Igz's idea, actually, for me to start off with the scream. He was like, "Go on."
IGZ: It played so well in the audition part of the video. Everything fell into place.
SAMME: That's exactly what I was about to ask. I find the beginning of the video to be creative and humorous with the wish-list of singers, especially the Pat "Nebatar," Bruce Dickinson "can't afford him" and Igz "Dear God, no!" references. Coupled with the tossing of the mic to Jess, was that all meant to represent the audition process for Jess, if there was one, with a humorous twist?
IGZ: You know, the beginning I think was, because, I'm a really big professional wrestling fan. Through time -- a little less now because everybody wants the same gratification -- they had time to build characters, good guys and bad guys, over a span of time. Nobody knew that Jessikill was coming into the band, so it was really fun for us for an entire month-and-a-half to be like, "Hey, we've got a new singer." Throw out teasers where I'd be next to a mic and Jess would be singing in the background, and people are like, "Wow, Igz, you've got a really great voice!" It was just fun from that perspective to get to mess with people and create some type of suspense that I think is very rare in today's music just because everything is so instantaneous. If the President trips walking to get a cup of coffee in the morning, six million people see it on YouTube in a couple hours. So the secrecy was a lot of fun. It was frustrating people but in a positive way. With the video, we weren't planning to do the audition originally. I think it just kind of made sense that way when we realized this was going to be Jess' debut with the band.
SAMME: Jess, it obviously takes thick skin to go on a TV show such as "X Factor" and bare your talent as best you can without expressing nerves. How was that experience for you?
JESS: Well, my mom, she's the strongest person that I know for my whole life. She's always told me, "People who don't like you don't matter." So I went in headstrong thinking, "If they don't like me, fine. But I'm going to see what happens today, and I'm going to show everybody what I do." I just want to tell everybody that no matter where you come from and no matter what circumstances you've ever faced, that doesn't mean the end. The nerves, to tell you the truth, I'm good at being social, but it's something that I have to take a deep breath and say, "You know what? I'm going in." I realized, "Here's my chance. I get to say something here." They were looking at me, but I got to say something important, and I just saw it as an opportunity. Yeah, I was nervous, but godspeed, take a deep breath, and I went in headstrong.
IGZ: That was another thing that helped us make a decision quicker to go with her. We're performers, and we love putting on a show. We know people don't have the same voices when they panic or when they're in front of a crowd or they get stage fright. When you sing in front of that many people and deliver like she did, it just goes to show you that she's not going to chicken out or have a freakout. So that was really impressive to see because we didn't know that going into that (San Antonio) show, so that was kind of the cherry on top.
SAMME: Jess, will you be moving to Chi-town permanently or staying in S.A. when the band is not on tour?
JESS: I feel like I'm moving to Chicago, but I do plan on visiting back home during our down time.
SAMME: Igz, since you're in the studio, how is the new material coming along, and what can fans expect from it?
IGZ: Oh, man, my mouth is watering over here like the Big Bad Wolf on Little Red Riding Hood. It's going to be awesome. I just finished the last two -- we recorded three songs. "Never Lost My Way" was the first one, and then we did two more. Should be a brand new extra song that Jess wrote the words for coming out this coming week.
SAMME: When can we expect Jess' homecoming here in San Antonio?
IGZ: You know, it's funny, we wanted to do -- it would've been our third year of doing SXSW. Texas is kind of our home away from home. I think that's a state we've played the most besides Illinois. Texas we've been through four or five times. But just because of the timing with her coming into the band and having to record, we couldn't go to SXSW now. In hindsight, I wish we could have because we love Texas, and people have been so receptive and nice to us. When we'll actually come to San Antonio, right now I don't really know. We are planning on touring in June, but I don't know if we can come back to Texas just based on routing. The tough part, I guess, for anybody not geographically sound, is it's an 18-hour drive to Austin from Chicago. It just has to make sense financially and routing-wise and everything else, but who knows? We're just picking out this new stuff, and there's a big buzz going on with the band, and maybe we'll be there with Iron Maiden. We'll see. Sooner than later.
SAMME: That's great to hear. Anything else you want to say for the fans?
IGZ: Support music. Our new single is up for only 99 cents on iTunes. It's $4 or $5 for a s----- cup of Starbucks coffee. Pick up a song, support bands, 'cause it helps us keep going and stay on the road, just keep bringing you music and entertainment. Without the fans -- bands like this, so many need financial backing. In Hessler's case, we're average Joes.
SAMME: Jess, how are the guys in Jessikill taking the news?
JESS: They're all very supportive, and we're all really close friends, we're like family. They're very accepting. I lost one who didn't take it too well. But the show must go on, and I have to keep doing what I do to be happy. I just love all the love and support that people have been showing me because it's been very motivating. I love that about my band Jessikill. They're a family to me, and they're very supportive, so I appreciate that.
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