Interview: Janel Duarte of Conquer Divide

Conquer Divide Photo
Photo via Artery Recordings

Conquer Divide is an up-and-coming band on the Metalcore scene, with an all-female lineup whose members hail from both the U.S. and the U.K. The group came together in 2012 and their self-titled debut album premiered in 2015, produced by Joey Sturgis (Asking Alexandria, Of Mice And Men, Blessthefall). The band has toured with the likes of Upon A Burning Body and Capture The Crown, among others, and released several music videos, including the songs “Nightmares” and “What’s Left Inside”.

The current lineup consists of:

Kiarely – Clean Vocals
Janel – Screams
Kristen – Guitar
Izzy – Guitar
Ashley – Bass
Tamara – Drums

I recently spoke with one of the band’s two vocalists, screamer Janel Duarte, about the band, their debut album, and some of her experiences in the rock and metal world so far.

Janel, it’s great to hear from you and I’m excited to talk with you about Conquer Divide. You guys released your self-titled debut last year and I’d like to ask you about that to start things off. Talk to me about some ideas and some of the work that went into the making of this album.

Well, the way it was written was basically sending emails back and forth between our guitar players, and then everybody kind of just pitching in lyric ideas and writing melodies to go along with the music. It was a whole teamwork kind of writing process, and as for what the songs are about, they’re based on experiences we all have been through, and so we all just put it through lyrics and made it…kind of meaningful for people who have also been through certain types of situations. It’s like, knowing a really racy kind of girl who flaunts her stuff everywhere, or experiences where people tell you to quit music and you feel lost, or if people start bashing you, you know, we have a song on our album for that. So, we’re aiming for material that our fans relate to.

You’re known as the screamer of the group, when did you first realize that was something you could do?

I was, maybe 14 years old, and I was really into the band The Used, and the lead singer Bert did both singing and screaming, and I always just found the way he screamed and the emotions behind his lyrics to be really appealing. I don’t know, one day I kind of just went for it, and at first, it was obviously not the best scream in the world – it took a really long time to craft it and make my screams not sound like I’m dying…But when I realized I could do it, I was just like “Okay, cool”, I can put it under my belt as a tool, because I also sing. So screaming was kind of like a fun side project that got me where I am now.

Who are some of your favorite metal screamers?

Well, Bert McCracken from The Used for sure, and I really really dig Dave from Crown The Empire – his vocal style is definitely a goal for me. He’s definitely my number one influence, so let’s just go with him.

Aside from being the screamer in the band, as you just mentioned, you also sing clean vocals, so tell me about that as well – how did you get started with singing in the first place?

I don’t know what it was about singing…since I was a child, I mean, I can remember being nine years old and wanting to be a singer with a tour bus one day. So, I don’t know where the passion came from, but it’s always been there. As I got older, like in middle school, early high school, I started playing with bands, because I thought being a solo singer would be kind of lame. I just strived toward the Metal/Rock scene, so as I grew up I just started playing in different bands, mostly singing and kind of screaming. Then, that just took over my life, and then here I am now in Conquer Divide actually being a touring musician, which was always my goal.

That’s awesome, and going back to Conquer Divide, I’ve heard that YouTube auditions played a big part in the band coming together.

Yes, definitely, that’s how we found everybody. Kia, our singer, she heard about Conquer having auditions so she tried out through YouTube, and Tamara, our drummer as well. Basically everyone but our bass player, and our guitar player Kristen – everyone else was all YouTube. I didn’t audition, but they found me through my YouTube channel, so I can still say I thank YouTube for that. And yeah, everybody had to audition, because we’re all from all over the world. It was good, I love YouTube. (laughs)

That’s definitely great, and it’s interesting how in this generation, that’s a whole new way of bands coming together, through YouTube and technology.

Oh, yeah, definitely. Facebook and YouTube both had a big play on Conquer Divide’s formation, so shout out to them, if they want to sponsor us, I don’t know. (laughs)

Now there’s an idea. (laughs)


Now, you mentioned Kia, so having two vocalists within the band, you as the screamer and Kia as the clean vocalist, how does the songwriting work when it comes to dividing up the vocal duties?

It’s just like, mapping out what emotions we want to be expressed at that part in a song, whether we want to be really aggressive with this one verse, that’s when I would take it, or if we want to get a message across without being so aggressive, we would give the lyrics to Kia. So it just depends on where the songwriting takes us, when it comes to splitting up our parts.

Janel, you definitely seem to be someone who’s really into rock and metal, so let’s talk metal. When’d you first get into it and what are some favorite bands of yours?

Yeah, I was in 7th grade, and I was listening to all these 10, 11-year-old music, and then out of nowhere, my group of friends found System of a Down. And that was my real first Metal band that I ever really really liked. So first it was System of a Down, and then I moved to like Panic! At The Disco, which is another big first one for me. Then I found My Chemical Romance which basically changed my entire life – they’re the reason why I’m in a band, they inspired me so much to basically do what they did. So, I would like to thank them for where I am today. And then it was The Used, of course, it was between The Used and MCR, that’s what I was really into. Then I got into Green Day for a little bit, and then after that phase, I found the genre of music that I’m doing now. My favorite band in this kind of genre of music is Pierce The Veil, I really like Crown The Empire. But I also really like Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows, D.R.U.G.S., Craig Owens’ side project that he’s been doing for like a year, I really dig them too.

Who in the band would you say shares your music taste most closely?

Probably Izzy. I know she likes Architects, who I also love as well, and she likes Parkway Drive, August Burns Red, so she and I are definitely on the same plane. Also, Kristen, our other guitar player, she also is pretty heavy into this stuff, so us three are probably the majority who listen to it. And Tamara listens to really really heavy metal, so she’s the one that has the most intense taste in music. Then Kia listens to like…Miley Cyrus…and Rihanna…and like, Beyonce. And then Ashley listens to country.

Wow, definitely a blend there.

(laughs) Definitely a blend, but it all works out. We all still like the same music.

Moving on, I’d like to talk concerts with you. Conquer Divide played South By Southwest in some showcases earlier this year, and Janel, you’re actually from Texas, so how was that for you? Had you ever been to SXSW before?

Yeah, I’ve seen it, before playing South by Southwest, I had been to – I think, 2 or 3 shows. But I remember that when I went to those shows, I always wished I could be, you know, those bands that are actually playing on stage, I’d rather be on stage than watching, and then literally two years later, there I was, at SXSW, in my hometown. The first time we played it was really surreal, and felt like I had accomplished something I had set for myself. So the whole experience was definitely a good, great experience on my end, and for the band, we played probably one of our best shows this year at SXSW. Definitely a lot of love for that festival from all of us.

You’ve also done a good amount of touring, so how do you like life on the road so far?

Oh yeah. I love, love, love touring. It’s something that I had been dreaming of since middle school, daydreaming and wishing I was on the road in a different city, playing music. And now that it’s finally here, it’s basically a dream come true. So if I could, you know, have a choice on my own, I’d be touring right now nonstop until I die. I mean yes, it does get kind of rough, the fact that you don’t sleep in your own bed, and you can’t just eat and go to the restroom and lay down whenever you want, but it’s definitely worth it in the end when you’re like, on that stage in front of everybody and everybody’s just in awe. It’s all worth it in the end, but I enjoy touring and I hope to do it until I get old and I can’t even move.

Something else I’d like to ask you about – Oftentimes when it comes to all-female bands, people tend to focus heavily on the fact that you are all girls, maybe overlooking the music a bit in the process. Does it bother you at all when you get questions about being an all-female band, or being a girl on the metal scene, things like that?

I think it’s more just an observation in my opinion, when other people say like, “Oh, it’s an all-girl band!” it’s like, “Well, yeah. It’s true. We are all girls.” and it is rare, but…in a way it kind of makes it special, and a lot of time I’ve had people tell me, “I heard your album on Spotify or Pandora and I didn’t even know it was an all-girl band, I literally thought it was just a female-fronted band and the rest were guys”. People have been like “I had no idea, and then I looked you guys up and you were all girls, and it just made you guys even more awesome”. So, at first listen, a lot of people don’t even know we’re a girl band until they either read it somewhere or look up a picture, so in the end it’s like, it’s not as annoying as you’d assume it to be. Until, you know, they start being like “Oh, your music sounds generic, blah, blah, blah”. But that’s only the butthurt guys that tell us that, the ones who are like “Your band’s better than mine, and yet I’m an all-guy band, and you’re ahead of me, but you’re all girls”…you know, the butthurt ones. So those are the ones where it’s like “Okay, you can shut up about us being girls”, but most of the time we get a good response!

Metalcore seems to be the category Conquer Divide falls under – what do you think of that label, Janel, of being a part of that genre? Do you associate yourselves with it, or do you maybe see the band as something different?

I mean, I guess you could definitely say we are a Metalcore band, I just feel like every time I hear “Metalcore” it just makes me think of a heavier band. But then again, I am the screamer so I guess we are pretty heavy. (laughs)

(laughs) That’s true.

So yeah, it’s pretty accurate. I’m not offended or anything, I feel like it’s a very proper term for this genre of metal. I know some people that say, “I don’t want to be a post-hardcore metalcore band”, but it’s like “Well, that’s the sound you’re making”, so…I’m fine with that title.

Things seem to be going well with your debut album so far, you’ve got a couple of music videos, you’re quickly moving up the rock and metal charts, so to wrap things up here, what’s next for Conquer Divide? What can fans expect to see coming up for you guys?

Well, as of right now, we’re kind of at a standstill, saving up money for our tour van that got kind of got damaged on our last tour. So as of right now, we’re going to be working on an acoustic type of rendition of our album, with some new acoustic songs going on there. And then we’re also going to start working on our new full-length album, once Izzy’s back in the states and we’re all able to write together again.

Nice, sounds like a lot of good things to look forward to!

Yes!! New material, for sure.

All right, well, thanks so much for your time, Janel, this has been great talking with you.

Oh, but of course, thank you for inviting me.

Absolutely. Thanks a lot for talking with me, and take care.

You as well.

More information on Conquer Divide can be found at: http://arteryrecordings.com/artists/conquer-divide/ and their music videos can be viewed on the Artery Recordings YouTube Channel.

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