My first introduction to Liv Jagrell, the outgoing vocalist for rock band Sister Sin, was well before she came up over pizza at a conference table in Chicago. Sister Sin’s fifth full-length release, Black Lotus, came out in the United States late last year, but the band — a product of Gothenburg, Sweden, also home to metal gods In Flames — has finally started to gain major traction here in the United States.
It’s due, in part, to the rapid rise of female-fronted rock. It’s skyrocketing. Bands like In This Moment, Halestorm, Sister Sin, Butcher Babies and a growing number of others have proven the listening public will spend their money both on the music and at the shows. Halestorm has already won a Grammy, and vocalist Lzzy Hale’s contemporaries are in line to fill those nominee spots, spots once dominated by acts featuring male vocalists. There are cracks in the dam.
For Jagrell, a woman both openly confident in her body as well as her persona, it is the positive aftershocks of women becoming more comfortable with being their inner self on the outside. It’s especially reflective in the rock and metal genre, showing itself true with more female-fronted bands being added to main stages at every major festival. Over lunch with Sister Sin’s label, Victory Records, in the tundra of the Chicago winter, they told me Jagrell, a supremely dedicated fitness fan, would be taking some shots in a controlled setting for an interview running in Penthouse.
Talking to Jagrell about the importance of individual expression was a mutual glass slipper; it was a great fit for some publicity for the band, but also a wonderful opportunity to talk about body image and the emergence of a new breed of leader. Jagrell, herself, one of those leading the way. But when the Penthouse news was released, it was mostly misunderstood Jagrell would be posing in a Penthouse pictorial in what was truly an interview about the band’s new release, similar to other ones in this magazine’s issues. The photo that ultimately ran with the interview was PG-13.
If the misconception surrounding the inclusion of the band in the magazine led to judgment, it would be intellectually tragic, as she is one of the most self-confident females I’ve talked to about the modern role of women on stage. She follows her own formula where the first step is vigilantly knowing and protecting who she is. The work she’s done both towards that goal, both physically and mentally, translates to her demeanor on stage. Even better, it translates to her happiness, regardless of what the air around her is filled with, and even when the modeling and stage lights finally dim.
Where are you right now?
Right now, I’m actually in Stockholm, which is my hometown. We play here tomorrow. We have, like, one day off in the city. I can go home and change some clothes, and then we play tomorrow.
Maybe take a shower, right?
Are you doing something special for your hometown show?
No, not as planned. It’s actually just my hometown. The rest of the band are from Gothenburg.
You have a very interesting story. I think it’s very pertinent to a lot of our readers, especially now that there are a lot of female vocalists taking charge in the heavy music scene. Back when you first started this thing in 2002, what was your goal? Did you just want to play some rock and get in some trouble?
I started playing when I was 14 or 15. I started my own all-female band. Actually, I forced my best friend to have a band with me.
I wanted to be a rock star. That’s been my life goal since I was 14 and picked up my first guitar. I wanted to play music. I wanted to play heavy metal.
I had this female band for a couple of years with my best friends — and continued on to some other bands in between — before 2002. I’d just moved to Gothenburg, and I put in an ad in some paper that I was looking for a band.
Our former guitarist — not the one we have now — he called me and asked me if I wanted to come to an audition for their band. Actually, he was the only one that wanted a female singer. Everyone else in the band wanted the whole Motley Crue thing where a Vince-Neil-good-looking guy was singing. He wanted a female, so he asked me to come anyway.
So I did. They hired me on the spot. They were like, “Hey, we want you.” I think I made an impression (laughs).
“Your body is built for movement. I’ve done a lot of things. I played volleyball. I’ve done gymnastics. I’ve done dancing. When I found weight training, I think I found my thing. I really wanted to be a personal trainer. I was always interested in healthy foods. I’m a vegetarian. I figured out, in 2005, I wanted to become a personal trainer and help other people also to get healthier lifestyles.”
I think a lot of people would argue you are the face of the band, either way, and you’ve largely taken on a life of your own. Tell me a little bit back when you were starting that band, because I know fitness has been very important to you throughout your life. Can you talk a little bit about that side of your life?
It helps a lot. I run around the stage very much. I need to be in good shape. Actually, yeah, I’ve been working out my whole life. My father was a teacher in gymnastics. I was brought up in movement. Your body is built for movement. I’ve done a lot of things. I played volleyball. I’ve done gymnastics. I’ve done dancing. When I found weight training, I think I found my thing. I really wanted to be a personal trainer. I was always interested in healthy foods. I’m a vegetarian. I figured out, in 2005, I wanted to become a personal trainer and help other people also to get healthier lifestyles.
And you’ve done that alongside all of your releases throughout Sister Sin. Is that correct?
That is correct.
Now your latest one, Black Lotus, came out late last year. Let’s talk about that. I want to know about the title first. I don’t know if you know this, but the card-based game Magic the Gathering has a sought-after card called Black Lotus.
(Laughs) I didn’t know. The thing is, it doesn’t actually mean anything. We were thinking about what the album should be called. I think it was Dave. He’s good with words. He just put together those two words and said, “Hey, what about ‘black lotus’?” The first songs we wrote were a bit darker than the songs from the previous albums; we wanted to have something with dark or black that would suit the newer music style. Also, we knew we could do something artistic with a black lotus. It doesn’t mean anything in particular.
You might have inadvertently gained a lot of Magic fans without knowing about it. The album has been out for a little bit now. What songs do you enjoy the most from it? What has seen the most response from it since you’ve been out and people have been listening to it?
I think “Desert Queen” is one of the songs people react to most, and it is one of the songs I love to sing. It’s a little different for me to sing. With the other songs, it’s not 110 percent all the time and very fast. I like to sing that song. I can put more feeling into it. I see the people like that song, too.
Other than that, “Say No” seems to be a very popular song when we play.
You’re also going to join the Mayhem Festival this summer.
Yes. That’s going to be awesome. I can’t really believe it. … We’re really looking forward to it. We need to come back to the U.S.A. It’s been over two years. It’s perfect timing.
What are you looking forward the most to from the United States? Do you expect a pretty good response? Coming on the Mayhem Festival is going to be good no matter what. You’ve got a solid roundup all around you.
I’m expecting a pretty good response. Of course, I know that a lot of our fans may not be coming to Mayhem. It’s a festival. There are a lot of fans wishing we were doing headlining shows, too. We are going to try to squeeze in some headlining shows in between dates. We’ll see.
What do you like to do most to pass the hours? Do you write more music? Do you write lyrics? Do you paint? Do you do anything else to keep your brain active?
We are in our very, very, very tiny little van. We have come to like nothing in that. There’s no doing any music when you’re squeezed together in a five-seater.
“I did that because I like being in front of the camera. I’ve done modeling work. I’m not afraid of being in front of the camera”
I read books, and I watch some movies. I do a lot of reading when I’m in the van. I love books. I’ve always been a book lover. I don’t have time when I’m home or whatever. I don’t have time, anymore. The only time I have when I’m on tour is when I’m sitting in the van. I read books.
Let’s also talk about something else that happened to you recently. You got to be in Penthouse. I think a lot of Americans misinterpreted the news as you were supposed to be in a spread for the magazine when it was more of an interview and you agreed to the picture. Can you phrase how that lined up and about the response you’ve seen from it?
Yeah, absolutely. Victory reached out to me. They said they have worked together with Penthouse before; several Victory bands have had interviews in Penthouse. Penthouse had asked for an interview with me since we were releasing a new album. They were asking to do one with the band, Sister Sin. Of course, since I am a female vocalist, they also asked if I could consider doing some shoots for them for the interview. From the beginning, it was an interview.
They asked if I could take separate photos for them so they could have the rights to those photos. I did that because I like being in front of the camera. I’ve done modeling work. I’m not afraid of being in front of the camera. I’ve done a lot of work that’s extremely more nude than that. I picked my photographer myself, a female photographer from Stockholm.
We worked out the photos together. We wanted to have it to be a rock queen. That was the goal with the photos. Not nudity. It’s not so much nudity. We just wanted to have a feeling of “rock goddess queen” doing exactly what she wanted to do.
I’ve seen the photo. It’s nothing you wouldn’t see on TV here in the U.S., which is my next question for you. I would imagine you saw a wider gap in responses from the United States than you did in Europe where there’s less of a stigma on that. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Of course. We don’t have Penthouse in Europe. We don’t have Penthouse in Sweden. Most of the responses, of course, came from the U.S.A., both the positive and the negative ones.
For me, I hadn’t seen the magazine much. I didn’t know exactly what it was. I was just, “An interview! I want to do some photos!”
I liked the interview very much. They asked good questions. There were no sleazy questions at all. I liked the photos. That’s why I can be proud of myself, even though I know it might not be the most tasteful magazine.
Some people think it was wrong of me to do that. That’s their opinion. They can have it. I feel good about myself anyway.
You were in control of the environment. You got to dictate a lot of the terms in which it came out.
Yeah, exactly. When people tweet about it or the websites talk about it and say it’s wrong — then they get another response because people are defending me, etc. It’s good publicity.
We have a saying: “All press is good press.”
Exactly. I’m thinking that way.
When you come over here to play Mayhem Fest and you see younger women that look up to you, could you speak a little to body image and how that plays a part in not only (your portrayal in) Penthouse, but also in the minds of young women.
For me, I’ve actually done modeling long before. I’m short, so I’ve done alternative modeling, tattoo modeling, that kind of thing. I’ve done that for a very long time, before I even released a record. For me, that’s been one of my professions, too.
It’s not hard for me to do things like that. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything I’ve never done or never would have done. I’ve never been forced to do it. I have always used my body in a way to express things. That’s the way I am.
Some people are not. I have much respect for Angela, former singer of Watch Enemy, who’d never done these things because she doesn’t think it’s good for females. I really respect her opinion. It’s not for me. It’s not my opinion. I’ve always done the things I’ve wanted to do.
If I use my body for it, it’s my decision. It’s everywhere today. You see naked bodies. It’s not only females. It’s males, too. Naked bodies and sex sells — a lot. You see it everywhere. There’s nothing taboo anymore about it. Maybe it should be, but it’s not.
Also, I think we should be proud of our bodies. We should not be ashamed of it. I don’t understand why we’re ashamed of showing our bodies.
I think a lot of that comes with the Western mindset, built more on a more private, buttoned-up moral projection.
I am nothing like that because I was brought up in a hip family. I am nothing like that. I think we should all be proud. It doesn’t matter how your body looks. You should be proud of your body. Of course, it’s easy for me to say.
I’ve had my troubles with the images of a female for a very, very long time. It’s hard, sometimes, to be a female, especially in music or show business. You know that people will judge you because of your looks and your body. That’s been hard for me.
I will not say anything else. I don’t know how to get around that. I don’t have a good answer to how we (can get) around that. Since I’ve been older, I’ve been accepting my body more. I don’t think anybody should be ashamed of their body.
There’s definitely a maturity that comes with age where you learn to grow into your body and feel more comfortable with it. It sounds like you matured on that level when you were younger.
I don’t think that’s something Americans are as used to. I don’t think that kids get exposed to that as young as they do in other parts of the world. A lot of times, we’re thought that it’s off limits and bad — parents sleep in different beds until they’re older, that kind of thing.
I do still want to still talk about Black Lotus and where you guys are going with that.
We are trying to tour as much as possible on this album. We feel like it’s been too long a time. We felt a little bit that it had been too long since we hit the road together. We will try to tour as much as possible.
We’re a live band. We live for the touring and the live shows. Our plan is to start working on new songs and a new album early next year.
When you guys finally decide to go back into writing that new album, do you guys write now more — because you’re five records in — would you write more for the live show, or do you guys still have a dream or an idea of the — like a concept album. Are you guys saying, “No, we’re going to stay on the road. We want to get out there. We’re going to write as if we would play it.”
I think the last one is more like us, actually (laughs). We don’t plan so much. We just do the music that comes to us. We just write the music that comes to our minds and inspires us at the moment.
The only thing we know is we want to keep a certain sound so you can hear it as Sister Sin. We tend to get a little bit heavier every record. Maybe we get even heavier. I don’t know. We tend to do that, a little bit more heavy and aggressive every record. Maybe the next one will be even heavier. We’ll see.
Sister Sin’s Liv Jagrell was posted on May 11, 2015 for HM Magazine and authored by David Stagg.