“I heard a guy ask a guard if he’d ever jerked off with his own tears. It was stunning,” says Chaim Rochester, 32, guitarist for local metal band Amadis. Rochester, a.k.a. J.J. Harris, is speaking about his recent 45-day stint at the St. Johnsbury Regional Correctional Facility. “You know, it was relatively low-key. No one tried to shank me,” he says. “The number-one question I’ve been asked is if I had to eat the Nutraloaf,” he continues. “The answer is no.”
Rochester’s sentence was cut in half from 90 days, essentially for good behavior — hence, no Nutraloaf — and the fact that he was a non-violent offender. He was released on March 16 and has been under house arrest until recently, when he made parole. The timing could not have been better: Amadis has a reunion show of sorts this Friday at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge. “My paperwork comes today or tomorrow,” says Rochester with a wry grin.
On a recent Thursday evening, a reporter ventures into 242 Main, the dimly lit, all-ages rock club in the basement of Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium. On stage is Rochester, bedecked in leather from head to toe. To his left are the rest of Amadis: bassist Gustavus Adolphus, singer Sid Dystic, lead guitarist Franky Vitriol and drummer Johan Sebastian Rock. They are also leather-clad and, with the exception of Dystic, sport long, stringy hair. PETA is probably not in the Amadis fanclub.
The band is rehearsing — in full leather — for the upcoming Higher Ground show, its first performance since Rochester’s incarceration on February 1. Despite a nearly two-month hiatus, the band is energetic and musically tight, and exhibit more stage presence than the two or three listeners in the room would seem to inspire. “We always do a dress rehearsal,” says Adolphus, smiling. Taking off his studded arm braces, he adds, “Otherwise, you forget how hot this stuff gets.”
If Amadis sound like a gimmicky heavy metal band, it’s because they are, in many respects. The band formed last year, ostensibly as an excuse to buy leather pants and a Flying V guitar. Really.
Like many other Vermont musicians, each member of Amadis is in other projects. “I think I’ve had two bands start and break up just since Chaim went to jail,” says Vitriol, who also handles booking for 242 under his given name of Franky Andreas. But shortly after they formed, Amadis quickly became a priority. “This is the band everybody wants to see,” Rochester told Seven Days in a January interview.
Though Amadis’ rise in popularity was relatively quick, the band has yet to capitalize on its modest momentum — in part, of course, because of Rochester’s incarceration. Exacerbating the problem, Rock will jet to Europe for an undetermined period of time later this summer.
While Rock is away, Amadis have lined up a fill-in drummer — Cccome?’s Jon Stella — to play out a string of gigs before Adolphus goes overseas, too. The only problem? Stella is vegan.
“We had to have a real talk about the leather thing,” says Vitriol. “And we were going to make the concession that he could wear vinyl. But then he decided he could wear leather if it’s secondhand leather,” Vitriol says. “EBay leather.”
Though Amadis have some local name recognition, many Burlington music fans have yet to see them live. So what could the uninitiated expect to see this Friday?
“The Amadis personal guarantee is that you will be laughing and having a good time. That’s what everybody who buys a ticket gets told,” says Adolphus. “But you don’t have to be laughing with us.”
Adds Rochester, “You don’t have to be into metal. It’s the kind of metal that’s about having a good time.”
Vitriol concurs. “It’s not prog-rock. It’s not something that ends in ‘core,’” he advises. “It’s just straight-up old heavy metal.”
The conversation eventually turns back to Rochester’s jail time. As he’s only been out a few weeks, the novelty has yet to wear off.
“The best story is one that got told about me that’s not true,” says Rochester. “Somebody started a rumor that I was going to be in there longer because some kid was selling drugs out of my cell and I beat the shit out of him,” he continues with a laugh.
“I heard that,” says Adolphus. “It’s obviously not true, since you’re standing in front of me.”
Rochester and his band mates display good humor about the jail term. And why not? Amadis are back together and rocking hard . . . at least until half the members flee to Europe.
Impending hiatus aside, Rochester has the look of a man who is just glad to be home. “Within two weeks, my life was right back to normal. I’m back to work, back in the band,” he says. “Everything is as it should be.”