There is definitely a history of actors who perform double duty in rock bands. (Oh hey, Keanu!) But in Jessica Pimentel’s case, she’s a triple threat: Actor, musician and internet DJ.
Television fans probably know Pimentel best from her role on Orange is the New Black; she plays Maria, a Litchfield inmate who early in the series gives birth and immediately has her daughter taken from her. Her struggle with separation from her child, plus her rise to one of the leaders of the Hispanic gang inside the prison – not to mention Pimentel’s excellent performance – has made Maria one of the most interesting ensemble players to watch as the show has progressed.
Meanwhile, in real-life Pimentel has forged another gig of an entirely different but equally bad-ass nature: She fronts Brujeria, a Mexican death metal/grindcore band that merges intense live performances with socially and politically relevant songwriting. On top of all this, Pimentel also hosts her own radio show on the internet via heavy metal broadcaster Gimme Radio, entitled “Crushing Metal.” We’re stoked to offer a Loot Crate giveaway via Jessica’s show this week! – tune in using the link above, and be sure to enter the contest at the bottom of this page!
We spoke to Jessica about her influences and passion for metal, as well as what we can expect for Maria in the highly-anticipated new season of OITNB, which drops this Friday on Netflix!:
Hi Jessica! So, we have to ask, with regard to being on a popular show as well as having a second career with your band, which came first for you?: Acting, or music, or both?
I began playing music at a very early age, starting with classical violin and I spent most of my childhood taking private lessons and playing with chamber music ensembles and orchestras. I also took piano lessons briefly and my grandmother would teach me songs to in to the church congregation every week. I discovered metal about the age of 13 when I heard King Diamond “Conspiracy”. I immediately fell in love. I continued playing violin until I had some problems with my hands that forced me to take a different direction, and it was then that I auditioned for the drama program in my high school. The LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York, also known as Fame. I had also taken an acting class in junior high school and decided that it was something that I liked; I thought it was a great form of expression and release, and…. I was still able to take music theory classes. I also found that with the problems in my wrist it was easier for me to play guitar. I picked up bass when my bass player abruptly quit one day right before a show, and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. Eventually that lead up to screaming as I started participating in the New York hardcore scene, where singers disappear and stealing mics is encouraged.
Overall metal can be a largely male-dominated genre; was it something you grew up a fan of, and do you have particular artists that you gravitated towards as you were developing your own style?
As I stated earlier my first introduction to heavy metal was King Diamond at 13. I knew before then that I did love rock and roll; I was a huge admirer of Joan Jett, I remember that being one of the first videos I ever saw and thinking “Boy does she have the right idea! When I grow up I want to be like her.” I remember Joan Jett made a compilation album called Hit List and I guess I just worked my way from there starting with those classic rock tunes. Growing up in New York I was very lucky to have some really great rock and heavy metal radio stations, both mainstream and college radio, that introduced me to many of the bands that I still love today. When I was first starting out I would say my biggest vocal influences would be Phil Anselmo (Pantera) and James Hetfield (Metallica). Hetfield as far as guitar style as well. But as I started to get into more bands and different genres, I think I tried to learn from all the bands that I listen to as I don’t particularly stick to one singing/playing style. I change my style depending on the project I’m working on.
If you could only choose three albums to take with you on a desert island, which would they be?
Ah, the dreaded desert island question. I would hate to have to make this decision! I don’t only listen to metal. I am a musician and I love all kinds of music from all around the world. For me to pick three albums would be impossible. But if I had to I would probably avoid conventional music and bring some Tibetan monk and nun chants… and possibly an album called “How to Get Off a Desert Island.”
Tell us about how you got involved with Gimme Radio, and what made you want to get into internet broadcasting?
Radio has been a very important part of my life. If it wasn’t for some great shows like New Sounds on WNYC and some amazing DJs, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So I felt that it was very important and kind of a coming home to pay homage to the great DJs out there that opened up the world of music to a young Latina girl from Brooklyn. I was approached by an old dear friend, kickass musician and fellow Gimme Radio DJ Dean Rispler about having my own show where I could play whatever I wanted, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to not only share what I love but promote and support my friends who are out there making great music. When I saw who else was involved in the station, so many people I admire on stage and behind the scenes, I just couldn’t say no.
What about “Crushing Metal” in particular stands out, in terms of the programming you are doing for the show or any specific interests of metal fans that you’ve geared it towards?
I think my show is one of the more mish-mashed shows. I don’t keep it to only one category, I like to play songs that move me. So whether it’s black metal, hardcore, thrash, death, doom or any other subgenre or guilty pleasure that you can invent this week, I select, sincerely from the heart, music that speaks to me and will hopefully speak to the listener as well. I try to play something for everyone, not everyone wants to hear two hours of stoner rock. Not everyone wants to hear two hours of death metal [or] black metal. I like to keep a nice balance between different styles. My show is basically what I have been spinning all week personally and I like to think about people who don’t necessarily like metal but maybe tuning in because they’re a fan of Orange is the New Black. If I can get that one person who’s not a metal fan to like a a song or get a die-hard metal fan to like a new band, then I think it’s a successful playlist. I also really enjoy interacting with the listeners. I find that makes Gimme Radio something extremely special.
It feels like forever since that cliffhanger ending of Season 5 of OITNB. Without giving any spoilers away, what can you tell us about the challenges your character, Maria, faces in the new season?
Well, without giving any spoilers, we can say karma is a bitch. Maria took a major role in Season 5 [during the prison riot] and now she has to suffer the consequences of her actions. Even though towards the end she was looking for redemption and doing whatever she could to get back to her family and her daughter, that doesn’t take away what she did before then to get to that point. This season is very much about facing the consequences. We are in an entirely new place where the rules are different and we really have to figure out how to survive.
Maria has been an interesting character to watch, as she’s been quite antagonistic but also was introduced in a very emotional and relatable way with regard to her daughter. Do yourself and the other cast members get a chance to collaborate on your character’s arcs?
For the most part, Jenji Kohan has a very good idea of what all the character arcs will be at the start of the season but because our writing team is so brilliant, they do pay attention to chemistry between actors and unexpected jewels of plot twists and comedy that could happen as the season unfolds by observing what the actors bring to the table. It’s really been a wonderful experience to work with such a great team of creative people. These characters are alive and well-rounded and extremely complex. Maria’s story has been a rollercoaster to say the least.
If you could pick your favorite episode of OITNB to date, as well as your favorite scene to perform, which would they be and why?
My absolute favorite episode is Maria’s backstory in Season 4. It’s the only time we really get to see what a good-hearted and intelligent girl Maria is. You see her sweetness and her loyalty and her fierce determination to rise above her given circumstances of the place she lives and the family she’s born into. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out the way Maria planned but it was so nice to see that softness and that strength manifested in her youth. As far as my personal favorite scene goes not many scenes can top the one where Piper gets branded. It was an extremely difficult and technical scene to shoot as we had to do physical fighting, work with actual fire, and bring a super intense urgency in the acting in order to make it look as real as possible. Taylor did such a good job that I had to reshoot my takes in order to match her level of fear. I think the end result was believable and terrifying. There was also very special irony in the the fact that I’m a Buddhist, having to brand a swastika on someone which in Buddhism is a very holy symbol. It’s a special marker of how so many things of this world have been corrupted with delusion, anger and hatred.