Employed To Serve x Pupil Slicer: How new British metal is in the best of hands

When Employed To Serve and Pupil Slicer hit the road together recently, it was one of the heaviest pairings we’d seen for ages. And if you’re looking for a reading on the health of British metal, you’ve come to the right place. We tracked down singers Justine Jones and Kate Davies in Glasgow to learn about touring life, crap showers, getting pumped up watching each other every night, and bad pictures with Jack Black…

Employed To Serve x Pupil Slicer: How new British metal is in the best of hands
Nick Ruskell
Andy Ford

Justine Jones doesn’t seem to have a setting where she isn’t having a good time all the time. Onstage during Employed To Serve’s thundering, carnage-inducing set at Glasgow Cathouse, as she calls for several hundred people to “fucking move” in the voice of a drill sergeant, she does so while grinning her head off. Rarely will you meet someone who likes gigs as much as she.

Hours earlier in an upstairs dressing room, before either Justine’s band or Pupil Slicer, or tour openers Going Off have played a note, she’s already smiling.

“I just fucking love going on tour,” she enthuses. “It’s like a holiday from reality.”

Sat next to her, Pupil Slicer’s Kate Davies is similarly jazzed.

“It’s fucking sick,” Kate agrees. “All I want to do in this band is play shows, and to get to do it with a band like Employed To Serve just makes it even better.”

Both bands represent the sharp end of British heavy music. Employed To Serve have long been one of the finest outfits in the land, while Pupil Slicer’s 5K-rated Blossom album has seen them bloom in a similar way – an irresistible, potent mix of musical skill with an uncontrollable chaos factor.

It seemed sensible, then, to get the pair together to chat about all things tour. And if nothing else, we’ve learned never to let Pupil Slicer be in charge of accommodation…

Whose idea was it to tour together?
Kate Davies:
“(Turns to Justine) I’ve been begging you for probably six, seven years…”
Justine Jones:
“You haven’t been begging!”
“I have been begging. I was asking you to take us on tour at the [2017 album] Warmth Of A Dying Sun release show – that long! I remember chatting to Sammy [Urwin, ETS guitarist] outside going, ‘I’m in a band called Pupil Slicer, we’d love to play with you one day.’ He told me to send him a demo, so I went home and sent him MIDI stuff we did on the computer with vocals recorded through a webcam microphone.”
“We wanted to sound like you, then spent six years begging you for shows together. We even had a song on [2021 debut] Mirrors that had a working title that was just: Employed To Serve Rip Off.”
“We do that! We had one recently that was just called Meshug. But yeah, the tour – I wanted to make this special and bring cool bands out. We haven’t really done a proper headline tour for Conquering, despite it being out since 2021, because of COVID, and going on tour with Gojira, and festivals. We haven’t headlined in London since 2020, right as COVID hit. At the Newcastle show on this tour, people were pointing out that on that tour it was the very last show before lockdown. I think gigs became illegal the day after.”

How did you two meet?
“I think it was at a show in London. I went to uni in London and I saw, like, 300 gigs over two years. I must have seen Employed To Serve about 15 times. The first time I saw you was at a free-entry show at The Unicorn with Full Of Hell.”
“That show was sick.”
“It was an amazing gig. It had all the sickest hardcore bands on the bill.”
“Was that with Svalbard and some others? Or was that a different show?”
“How many times did you play at The Unicorn if you can’t remember!?”
“Oh, millions. We were like the in-house band. Nobody would book us in the beginning, so I would put on shows at The Unicorn and just conveniently put my band on there. That’s how I learned the business.”

What were the first gigs that you went to as kids?
Justine:Billy Talent and Reuben at the Astoria, I think. And then I saw Enter Shikari at Hammersmith Palais. That was when I was 14, and then a couple of years later when I was 16 I started going to all the death metal shows at the Purple Turtle in Camden. We just existed at the Purple Turtle or 12 Bar to see London hardcore bands like Six Foot Ditch. But yeah, literally from 16 to 18 it was that and death metal. The only drink I could stomach was Bee Sting cider from the Purple Turtle – seven per cent! Oh god, I wouldn’t do that anymore…”
Kate: “My first gig was Tenacious D at [O2 Academy Bournemouth], and it was well good. Tenacious D are where I got all my riffs. I met Jack Black afterwards, as well. My mum took a picture of me and him and it’s like… colours. It’s such a blur. She basically ran past and got the picture. It was a sort of forced thing – my mum more or less pushed me onto Jack Black going, ‘I’ll take a picture!’ and he’s in the shot reeling away, like he’s trying to get into his taxi or something.
“I didn’t see any other gigs until I moved to London for uni. My third gig was a post-punk band called Dope Body, from somewhere in America, and they were well good. They played in this tiny dive bar. I was about 18, on my own at uni, and I just went to this random post-punk gig and stood next to the speakers. I remember I hadn’t really drunk yet. I was like, ‘What beer do people drink? What do you drink at a gig?’ So I ordered an India pale ale [IPA] because it sounded cool. It was horrible. I stood there nursing this one pint over the whole evening, just trying to get through it. Then I got home and I couldn’t hear through one ear for about four days, but I thought, ‘That was sick. I want to do that again.’”

Touring together, do you watch each other’s bands going, ‘Shit, I’ve got to up my game…’?
Justine: “I never really think of it in those terms because I just get really hyped. I like watching other bands and getting hyped before I play. I have my hype playlist as well.”
Kate: “There’s some bangers on there. I was walking down the hallway to get to our dressing room and all you could hear was Justine blasting Missy Elliott down the corridor.”
Justine: “Missy’s how I get hyped. But for bands to tour with, I like choosing bands that I’m excited to hear daily. And then it makes me gassed to play on the night. Especially if you’ve been sitting in a van all day, and it’s been like today where it’s been raining, and it’s dark and grey. You need to get yourself in the mood to perform, so it really helps when you’ve got great bands like Going Off and Pupil Slicer to get you going.”
Kate: “Yeah, totally. Yesterday was such a long day, with getting everything in and getting to the venue and stuff. We’d had a pretty bad night before that – we stayed in this caravan site at Billing Aquadrome. It was freezing cold, and the pull-out bed from the sofa was broken. It had these metal bars sticking out. There was one less bed than we thought, as well. So I stayed on this sofa that was, like, a foot across that I had to balance on in case I fell off. So when I got to the gig last night, I was not that into it. But then I saw Going Off, and the room was packed and people were flying through the air, and I was like, ‘Cool, everything’s gonna be alright!’ And then we played and that was good, and then I remembered that I get to watch ETS, too. So it definitely gets you in the mood, being on tour with sick bands.”
Justine: “I’m glad we helped solve your accommodation woes!”
Kate: “Mate, last night… the shower. We were in a family room in this hotel. We got in and there were six beds in a room that looked like a DFS showroom with an office-tiled ceiling. We opened the door to the bathroom and it was flooded. We didn’t get any money off or anything, they just put loads of towels on the floor. And then the shower was some kind of gravity-powered shower where the water just trickled out, and if you turned it on its side or upside-down it stopped working altogether. You just had to dangle it over your head and hope the water hit you. It was incredibly tepid. It makes you question your life. But, again, you get to the show and it puts you right.
I’ve gone off on a tangent, here…”
Justine: “Showers aside, playing with other sick bands does make you want to do your best. When everyone else is great, you can’t just be like, ‘Oh, that’s good enough.’ Everyone encourages each other to step up.”
Kate: “Touring with you guys, we see it as getting our education. It’s like when you’re in your office job and you’ve got your mandatory e-learning. When we played Bloodstock and we went to see Lamb Of God after we played, it was like, ‘Right, here’s our e-learning, make sure you’re taking it in.’ Except it’s incredibly enjoyable e-learning. We’re often like that, we’ll think we’re pretty good as a band, and then we’ll see someone amazing and go, ‘Ohhhh, there’s a long way to go.’ It’s the same with Employed To Serve. They’re an amazing band and they’re so tight and so sick. It keeps you on your toes, going, ‘What do we need to do next to be better?’”

Who’s partying harder on this tour, Employed To Serve or Pupil Slicer?
Kate: “Mate, I’m fucking boring on tour. I’m incredibly sensible. I haven’t had a drink since we left three days ago. I have my cup of tea and go to bed.”
Justine: “You don’t have time! I can party, though. If I had no responsibilities and we could just turn up and do the set, hell yeah,
I’d be partying loads. And I’d still be on time for bus call the next day. I would be a corpse dragging myself to the van, wanting to throw up, but I’d be on time. Being late makes me really anxious.”
Kate: “Our bassist Luke’s probably the one that gets most fucked-up, and has a load of beers. But he’s also incredibly on time with everything because at work he’s a project manager. Tomorrow, he’ll see, like, ‘Oh, we have an 11 o’clock departure,’ and get up and go for a walk in the hills for two hours first.”

Finally, tell us why each other’s band is brilliant…
Kate: “I’m gonna get kicked off tour for being embarrassing here! ETS are a very influential band, and Pupil Slicer wouldn’t be the band we are without them. They’re incredibly important to the UK scene, with their amazing shows, and the time they take talking to their fans pays dividends for the community. They’re the stalwart icons of the British metal scene.”
Justine: “Fucking hell, how can I follow that, with words?! I think Pupil Slicer are flying flags for a new wave of British metal. And I think they do a brilliant job of being inclusive, being original, and just having great personalities.”

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