Exclusive Interview With Jess Pimentel Of Orange Is The New Black & Alekhine’s Gun
She is best known as the fiercely loyal Latino prison inmate Maria Ruiz in the world renowned TV series Orange Is The New Black but Jess Pimentel has another identity the world needs to know, as vocalist for blackened death metal band Alekhine’s Gun. BLUNT has the Australian exclusive on all sides of her story.
The Bars Are Iron, The Walls Are Stone, And All Jess Pimental Needs Is A Guitar Tone
The title of this article is actually a modification of the infamous song by Tom Waits entitled “Fish In The Jailhouse” from the 2006 triple-album Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards; the track is nowhere near the metal genre (which this story will mostly negotiate), but it carries an eerie heaviness with a pummelling drum beat and Mr. Waits’ esoteric vocal bark enforcing a powerful presence. This power is the stature which Jessica Pimentel embraces as an actor, musician and person which translates superbly when she morphs into Maria Ruiz from the hit series Orange Is The New Black. However, as Pimentel explains, the character of Maria is actually very relatable for her from not just her own perspective, but all that watch the series too.
“Absolutely I see myself in Maria, I think everyone sees some of their self in Maria. She’s a good girl, she had a specific dream to do something with her life which required hard work and going to school to study. You see where her mind is at and her heart and that is to make people smile, it’s not about money or becoming rich, she wants to help people find happiness. In her core, she is a good girl but growing up she is surrounded by bad things and bad people doing illegal things. Illegal doesn’t necessarily mean bad, it’s an unfortunate connotation that comes with the word, she knows she’s against it but it is just a big part of her life. Maybe she doesn’t have the state of mind to know what is completely wrong or right being brought up in that environment.”
She continues – “Still we don’t know exactly why she is in prison, but what we do know is she has a VERY strong backbone and she will not back down. As most would know that in season four she completely shows her true colours.”
Jess Pimentel’s passion shouts radiantly when she discuss her work, not only is it heard over the phone it is deeply felt which is why Maria is such a special personality to millions of fans worldwide. What is extremely fascinating is how an actor translates words from a script to a character on the screen and in the case of Ms. Ruiz, Jess had one of her most inspirational people help her reach that aspiration.
“Maria actually reminds me a lot of my mother. It’s how I got the accent for the character, it’s a mishmash of being a first generation kid growing up in New York around people who are not from where she is are from. As well as coming here at a very young age, so she still has some of the accent from the really early part of life when she moved and then what she acquired from the people around her. That’s kind of Maria’s context which is exactly my mum. She’s a great character to play because of her commitment to her family whereas a few characters on the show are actually trying to get away from their family.”
“Pantera, Metallica, Slayer and a lot of New York hardcore definitely shaped my musical up-bringing and taste to who I am today.”
Jess’s upbringing is actually what informs this article the most, as it would be rather surprising to discover for millions worldwide that she is the ferocious front-woman for blackened death metal band Alekhine’s Gun. Upon one listen of the …And The Kings Will Fall EP, there are traces of Austrian titans of the genre Belphegor present, but the delivery exhibits hints of New York metallic hardcore flourishing throughout the six tracks. Whilst this information alone is probably a lot to digest for the standard OINTB admirer, Jess actually grew up around this amazing culture and music was bestowed upon her from a very young age.
“I started playing violin at a very young age, first just taking lessons but quickly I advanced to playing with local orchestras in New York from about the age of five. It was overwhelming at times because it was something I took very seriously; I don’t know if I would say that I had a choice, but it was something that was given to me and I enjoyed it as a child, so we ran with it. My mum is one of those people who think that ‘focus’ should not be dispersed around, it would be better to be incredible at one thing instead of OK at a lot of things (laughs). So it became my main focus.”
However, as Jess describes classical music was not to be her career. – “Unfortunately I began to develop carpel tunnel, tendonitis and arthritis in my hand around my early teenage years; I actually still suffer from it, if I am having a busy day on social media or emailing or texting my thumb will quite literally lock. I have to ice it, I call it ‘Thumbritis’, it’s very painful, annoying and has followed me all my life. If it wasn’t for having to give up the violin or take a step back and try other instruments to see if I could play those better, I would have never got into the music scene that I am now. To add more to it, if that hadn’t happened I would have never picked-up acting and I am very happy I did because now I am part of Orange Is The New Black.”
This impairment did not falter Jess’s enthusiasm one iota, it pushed her to expand her horizons. After hearing King Diamond her world changed and heavy music became part of her DNA. Like a fish to water (back to the Tom Waits song?), she immersed herself deeply in the NYHC scene and before she knew it she was screaming into fellow hardcore admirers faces.
“Pantera, Metallica, Slayer and a lot of New York hardcore definitely shaped my musical up-bringing and taste to who I am today. In a way I discovered all of these bands at the same time, I wouldn’t say that it was a graduated process, there was just a sea of people involved with that sound in New York. The NYHC Scene is a community in itself, it’s a family. It may not be as popular as metal and even metal is a small community too, it’s a small community inside another small community in essence.
“It was a really big part of my growing up in life, it helped me be wild and free and proud and allowed me to express myself how I wanted more than any other avenue, both physically and mentally. I could just let it all out.”
“Next year, Alekhine’s Gun will bring out a new release – most likely and EP, but I
wouldn’t rule out a full-length.”
Soon birthed Alekhine’s Gun and the EP which followed was an expression of the turmoils which Jess has faced in her life; as she expresses it hasn’t been an easy ride, but it’s one that will never immobilise her. This mightiness is also inspired by her Buddhist beliefs which lyrically she involves in the six songs.
“The whole EP is just me expressing my feelings toward certain topics, there is no story line; it all comes from experiences and mostly really bad ones. I wrote it during the worst couple of years of my life where I had to seriously think about who I wanted to keep in my life and what life was worth and how to approach the future. There was a lot of emotions I was dealing with which come through the lyrics, one of the topics is suicide and I wrote about how it affects the people around the person who decides to end their life. So it is very dark, the main themes are cutting ties, starting over and humans’ souls. It was in a way a big ‘F**k You’ to the people said that I couldn’t do the things I have accomplished. I couldn’t be in a band, I couldn’t sing in a band, I couldn’t play a part, I shouldn’t be an actor anymore… Basically I should just roll over and die (laughs). So the EP is a big middle finger to them.”
Her fortitude is contagious and after nearly an hour long conversation this writer had nearly experienced a life-altering heart-to-heart. this was mostly due to this excellent phrase of wisdom that she conveyed with addictive liveliness: “Life is full of obstacles, if you choose to keep them as obstacles”.
But as the readers of this publication probably need to know most, what is in store for the future of Jess Pimentel in the context of OINTB and most likely Alekhine’s Gun?
“Next year, Alekhine’s Gun will bring out a new release – most likely and EP, but I wouldn’t rule out a full-length. Just with the time constraints it will probably be easier to do an EP and crank it out faster.”
And Orange Is The New Black?
“Of course season five of Orange Is The New Black is happening and Maria is more at the forefront this season so that means a lot less free time for me. That also means I have to be a lot more selective of the shows I can play while we are shooting. That’s about all I know and I’m very excited about that!”