Employed To Serve’s Justine Jones: “I was a mosher kid… now I’m a mosher adult!”

Employed To Serve have spent a decade growing into one of the best metal bands in the UK. As they prepare to hit arenas with Gojira, singer Justine Jones explains how the band and the label she and guitarist Sammy Urwin run are just an extension of being the same mosher kid obsessing over bands in Kerrang!…

Employed To Serve’s Justine Jones: “I was a mosher kid… now I’m a mosher adult!”
Nick Ruskell
Paul Harries

When she was at school, some of the older kids had a nickname for Justine Jones: Slipknot Girl. As a title, it wasn’t exactly an un-earned one. During breaks, she’d stand in the playground in her Slipknot hoodie, listening to Slipknot on her Walkman, reading about Slipknot in Kerrang!. She was, she says, “A total mosher kid.”

“I was mega into wanting to be Hayley Williams from Paramore as well,” she recalls. “I had the red hair, and the choppy cut that she had.”

Justine still is a total mosher kid. There’s no Slipknot hoodie as she recounts this from the home offices of Church Road Records, the label she owns and runs with her husband and Employed To Serve guitarist Sammy Urwin, but that’s pretty much all that’s missing.

Currently, Employed To Serve – one of the UK’s very best metal bands, authors of Kerrang!’s 2017 Album Of The Year, The Warmth Of A Dying Sun, and an outfit rising even higher on the back of 2021’s brilliant Conquering – are between two runs opening for French metal titans Gojira. Summer was spent with them in the arenas of France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Poland (you get the picture).

“The tour was going to places so big that they were loading lorries into the venues, which blew my mind,” she says. “Just a full-sized lorry going into the backstage area…”

Heading out expecting to play to early-evening emptiness, instead the band found themselves, on most nights, staring back at the most faces they’d ever played to. When the tour picks up in February and heads to the UK, stopping at no less a place than Alexandra Palace, it’ll be a similar state of affairs. “And we get a bus this time,” the singer excitedly notes, having done the last run in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van.

“It had leather seats,” Justine recalls. “When you drive in a heatwave, you end up stuck to them and having to peel yourself off when you stop.”

Meanwhile, Church Road business continues apace. There’s already releases on the docket for the whole of 2023 in various stages of organisation and production, while the mail-order wing of the operation is a job in itself. So big, in fact, she and Sammy have just had to move their non-house-based wares to a bigger storage unit.

“The people at the Post Office have started to like us,” Justine smiles. “They used to roll their eyes when we came in with bags and bags of stuff every day, but they’ve realised we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to take them mince pies at Christmas, because they’re proper solid.”

She’ll tell you, somewhat redundantly, given the rundown she’s just given of her current life, that music is “everything”. There isn’t really a lot of time for anything else anyway.

“Between doing the label all day, and doing Employed To Serve stuff at night, and going to shows, it’s like doing two full-time jobs at the same time,” Justine says. “But even when I’m really tired, I love it. I feel really lucky that this is my life and this is what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Justine got into music as a teen. Discovering rock and metal via Kerrang! TV in the early 2000s, she’d sit and watch it rotate, absorbing nu-metal and millennial punk at its peak. Inspired, aged 13 she decided to pick up the guitar, heading to the local church youth centre in Woking – a Surrey commuter town with no music venue – in search of opportunities to actually do something with it.

“I’m not Christian, but Woking has quite a big Christian community, and back in the day they had a centre that had children’s band workshops,” she explains. “They would teach you how to be in a band, and we’d put on shows for parents. That’s how I started playing live.”

Guitar didn’t last too long (“I have a tendency, especially when I was younger, to get into something intensely, and then go, ‘I’m bored of that now’”), but the music stuck. In the “barren musical wasteland” of her hometown, finding other kids in metal shirts was an exciting rarity, from which Justine would try to strike up conversation. Only…

“I’d kind of inadvertently call boys out!” she laughs. “I’d see that they’d be wearing a T-shirt of a band I really liked, and I’d be like, ‘Ooh, do you like this album?!’ and they’d look embarrassed and go, ‘Um, I just really like the shirt…’

“It was really bad because I didn’t even mean to do it! But I was just stoked, because not many people were into this music,” Justine continues. “My Chemical Romance and bands like that were super-big, which meant that people who were low-key into music were into them. So anytime there was someone smaller than that, and they were in their shirt, I’d always like try to befriend them because I would be like, ‘Arrrgh! You’re a nerd, too!’”

It was one such interaction going right that introduced her to Sammy. At a mutual friend’s house party (“When we were 16 I was probably way too scene with my hair extensions for him to notice me before that”), an “incredibly drunk” Justine noticed the shirt he was wearing. Sweetly, she remembers it was Bavarian gore metal supremos Defeated Sanity. A conversation about Cannibal Corpse led to a first date seeing The Dark Knight, led to starting a band.

Originally started by Sammy as a bedroom recording project, he suggested Justine came into Employed To Serve on vocals. So she learned to do vocals. As it grew legs and they began playing shows, the nerves about performing would take her to the bar, where she would bend the elbow to wash away pre-stage nerves.

“At the first couple of ETS shows, I would get blind drunk because I was so nervous,” she admits. “I’ve always wanted to perform, but I’ve always felt quite anxious about it. I would see people who are naturally really good at music and who could listen to things once and practice it, and I had the harsh reality that I wasn’t one of those.

“For me to get motivated to do something I have to have fear,” she continues. “I’ll have a fear of letting someone down, or the need to do something because I’ll think, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to play shows. I should probably practice.’ It was quite terrifying, but now I love it.”

These formative years also taught Justine and Sammy a DIY self-sufficiency. Finding it hard to get shows as a new band, they simply put the onus on themselves to make gigs happen. Quickly, they were putting on regular stuff at metal and hardcore hotspots like The Unicorn in Camden or The Grosvenor in Brixton (which isn’t a music venue anymore).

“A lot of the time, if we couldn’t get on a band’s show, we would book the show for them and put ourselves on opening,” she says. “I used my maintenance loan from uni to fund it.”

It’s an attitude and a work ethic that’s carried through into running both Employed To Serve and the label. Neither of which, it should be noted, were enterprises Justine ever thought could be a living. At university, she studied animation and special effects, with a view to working in film. When she began work, she found herself getting home at 1am feeling unfulfilled. Soon after, she started at a label as an intern, eventually leading to a full-time job. When that closed, she and Sammy created Church Road.

“When I realised I didn’t enjoy filming as much as I thought I would, I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis, because I didn’t know what else there was,” she admits. “For some reason I hadn’t thought about working in music, because it was just such a passion thing for me, I didn’t associate it with the fact you can actually make a living from it.”

The rise of both Employed To Serve and Church Road has come during a period of change in the music industry. Bands are increasingly not having to rely on old business models to make things happen (“There’s less interest in screwing people over when there’s no money to be screwed over for – that slice of the pie is getting smaller”). And even in times in which costs of living versus the financial reward of being in a band is an increasingly uneven graph, new heavy music persists. Just as it always has.

“People just like it and want it,” she muses. “There’s loads of new bands who are sick. I never want to be that older person in a band going, ‘There’s no good music anymore, blah, blah, blah.’ It’s just wrong – you’re not looking hard enough.”

And look Justine does. Running the label can actually be a change of perspective from ETS business, because you get to see bands – and here Church Road have bragging rights on Zetra, Heriot and Narrow Head, to name but three – making a mark and doing well. And that benefits everyone.

“For me, I love seeing when a new band does a great show, or gets played on the radio, or get a wicked support, because that’s just sick,” she says. “And when I see bands we came up with get announced for big shows, that’s really exciting. It makes it a lot nicer and less isolated, because it’s very easy to start getting jealous or being competitive with it.

“A while back, Kerrang! did an interview with Oli Sykes and Sam Carter where they talked about Bring Me The Horizon and Architects coming up together. They were saying how one band can’t carry a music scene. And it’s true. To keep things alive and to keep metal growing as it has been, you need more than one band to carry it.”

Justine says that the best way to describe her approach to what she does is “passionate”. She admits that when COVID forced Employed To Serve to put the brakes on, she had a “mini-meltdown” because she saw how easily something that means so much, that you can spend years building, can be taken off you.

“I never took any of it for granted anyway, but it really made me appreciate everything we’ve got and everything we’ve worked towards,” she says. “I’ve spent almost a decade of my life getting to this point in this band, and building this life where I go to shows and do band stuff. To have it forcibly taken away, you almost think, ‘Is it worth working for anything, if it can be taken that easily?’ Luckily, the winter passed, and
I now feel a lot more positive. I’m really grateful for it.”

Both band and label are up to speed again, and Justine enthuses that, even in the chaos of having to move to bigger premises and get ready for another arena tour (“It’s actually quite easy – you just turn up when the headliners tell you, play, and then get out of the way!”), she’s found a groove, as well as a sense of balance.

“I’m able to live the dream being in the band, but I also like kind of help other bands do the same. I find that really rewarding,” she says. “That really balances me out. If things are being slow on the band front, or things aren’t going to plan, or I’m getting frustrated about something, it’s really nice to have that separation. It’s nice to feel like, ‘I’m helping this band get their first Radio 1 Rock Show play,’ and see them get really stoked about it. That keeps you excited.”

From fan in the playground to one of the leading lights of British metal, Slipknot Girl done good.

“I was a mosher kid,” she laughs, “now I’m a mosher adult.”

Employed To Serve tour the UK with Gojira this month. This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of the magazine.

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