Liv Jagrell is at home in Stockholm when we call her on the Internet phone. Sister Sin’s athletic frontwoman has been promoting the shit out of her band’s latest album, Black Lotus, for weeks now. But she’s agreed to speak exclusively with Decibel about another type of public relations: her upcoming pictorial in Penthouse magazine. “Here in Sweden, we don’t even have Penthouse,” she explains. “I think you can find it at some book shops that have American magazines, but there is no Penthouse Sweden.”Though she makes no apologies for her decision to appear in one of the most infamous skin mags in the history of porno, she’s bracing herself for the inevitable backlash from fans, feminists and folks who are uptight about nudity. As of this writing, Jagrell hadn’t even told her parents that she’ll be appearing in the magazine. And then there’s the whole selling-your-band-with-sex discussion. Even though that sort of thing has been going on since Elvis and Little Richard thrust their pelvises in the general direction of teenage girls (and boys) everywhere, some people still find it shocking. “You could say I’m selling a product with Sister Sin—of course I am,” Jagrell concedes. “But I think most of our fans think of me as a strong female that is trying to work in an industry that is mostly male. And I’m not scared; I’m not timid in my opinions. I’m a feminist in my own way. I’m not controlled by a band or a record label. I wasn’t forced to do this. But I want girls to see me as a role model, not the opposite.”
Before we get into the Penthouse thing, let’s talk about the surgery you had on your vocal cords two years ago.
Yeah, that’s two years now… damn! Time flies. They had to cut off this inflammation of the vocal cords that were making them too big and I couldn’t use them normally. It’s an easy surgery—they just cut it off—but you still have rehab. I couldn’t talk for a week because it has to heal. My doctor tells me he has other clients who are singers who have to come to him every three or four years to do this surgery because it goes back. So, hopefully it will not do that.
How long did it take to fully recover?
It was a two-month recovery. So, I was just recovered when we went on tour with Doro in the United States last year. I was very nervous about that tour because of my voice, but it was a really, really good tour for us. Doro and her musicians are very nice people. We hope to do more shows with them, maybe in Europe, because obviously in Germany and other countries she is very popular. And she’s really, really nice.
That was after Sister Sin covered Motörhead’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll” with Doro. How did you initially meet her?
In 2007 or 8, we played Masters of Rock in the Czech Republic, and she was there also playing. I think that was the first time we met. Over the years, we played some more festivals where she also played. When we asked her to help us out with the cover, she was very positive right away.
Did you listen to any Doro or her old band, Warlock, when you were growing up?
No, I didn’t do that. I don’t know why. When I started to listen to metal music, I was more into Pantera and Fear Factory and Slayer. There was a band in Sweden called Drain STH that played that kind of music, and they were all girls. So, for me, that was my idols. I know my friends played Warlock, but I didn’t feel it like them because I was into heavier music, and Warlock was more like rock ‘n’ roll. So, it came later to me. I was so much more into this heavy Pantera thing—they were my favorite band—and Dimmu Borgir, darker music, so I didn’t listen to this other stuff. I didn’t even listen to Mötley Crüe until I was 20-something and I had a boyfriend who liked them and Skid Row. That’s when I got into that kind of music. Before that, I thought it was kinda cheesy, not heavy enough for me.
Okay, so how did you end up in Penthouse?
Our label, Victory Records, has a very good relationship with Penthouse—they do a lot of interviews with Victory’s bands in the music section. So, they asked Victory which artists are releasing an album soon. Victory told them about Sister Sin and that the singer is female. That’s how Victory got interested. I think Penthouse would’ve done just an interview like they did with the other bands, but they asked me to do some pictures that would be just for Penthouse instead of using older band pictures. But from the beginning, I said it would have to be classy. And the interview is about Sister Sin, not me personally. So, it’s classy pictures that I could put up anywhere.
They’re not nude photos?
No, they’re not. They’re photos I could put on my website. I’m wearing this dress made out of steel, a leather jacket, lingerie and a one-piece lace thing in different photos. They came out really good and Penthouse was very pleased with it, so I’m happy.
It sounds like you’re not showing very much skin at all.
No, I’m not! This was done for Sister Sin and me as an artist in Sister Sin. If I wanted to be nude I probably could, but I had a choice. It’s like the pictures I normally do, but with Penthouse I was more careful because I don’t want to be put in kind of, “Oh, she just did this to get attention.” I wanted to do this because I thought it could be good exposure. It’s a big magazine. And also, I’m not a shy kind of person. I’m very artistic. I love being in front of the camera and I love experimenting with being in front of the camera. But I would say I would probably do more nude pictures if it was not Penthouse.
So, you’ve done nude photos before?
I’ve done it, but it was artistic kind of stuff where they totally [obscure] your body so you don’t even know it’s you. I had two heads and things like this. It’s artistic nude, and you would not even see it’s me. They appeared in a Swedish photography magazine that was very honoring to both me and the photographer. But I don’t think anyone knew it was me. It was just chosen as a really good artistic photo. I just happened to be nude.
Would you be open to doing nude photos in the future?
It depends what it is. I don’t want to be a glamour model. That’s not my purpose in life. My purpose is to be the lead singer of Sister Sin.
When the Penthouse offer came in, did you talk to your bandmates about it?
Yeah. They thought it would be very cool. But if they would have said no because people would mistake it for something else, I would not have done it. We are a band, so I listen to what they have to say. But they knew it’s a big magazine and that it could be good. So, why not, as long as it would be classy? I wouldn’t do it if they didn’t do the interview also, because I do it for the band’s sake also. It was very important to me that it was not just pictures. And I showed all the pictures to my bandmates, so I’m comfortable with that. They’re really nice, really beautiful. I could show them to my bandmates, who are men, and it wasn’t weird.
What about your parents?
I can, but I’m not sure what they’re gonna say because of what kind of magazine it is. But they would probably say the photos are fantastic. I can’t send them the photos because they live far away and the magazine is not out yet. I will show them—that’s no problem—but I don’t know what they will say about the magazine.
Do they even know you’ve done the photo shoot?
No, not yet.
Are you anticipating any backlash from fans when the magazine comes out?
Most of the people I’ve talked to have been positive, but of course there will be some who have concerns or hang-ups about it. It’s always like that. It’s happened before, just with our videos or outfits I wear onstage. So, it will happen probably. People will react to this, too. If you are a female in this business, you get comments on anything. It could be your clothes are too boring. Or you have too little clothes. Or you don’t need to put those clothes on. But it never happens to guys—the comments on how they look, what they’re wearing in the videos. Always to females.
Has that happened to you recently?
Just today I read a review that irritates me. It was a bad review, but that’s okay; sometimes the bad reviews are really fun to read. You find it comic. I understand that not everyone likes our music. But this guy actually talks about how I look, that I don’t look good, I don’t look pretty. I don’t understand what that has to do with music, so that irritates me. As a female, we have those comments all the time. So, I’m pretty used to it. And after this, I’ll probably get even more of those comments. But fuck it. I do what I want.
At the same time, you’re promoting your own appearance and your band with these Penthouse photos. How do you reconcile that with your irritation about that review?
I know. It’s a little bit double, I think. I very much understand. You know, I look up very much to Angela [Gossow], the old singer of Arch Enemy. She always said no to this kind of thing—to “Hottest Chicks in Metal,” everything like this. And I totally understand her point of view. At the same time, I was in the alternative modeling business before we ever released a record. In this business, you do a lot of pinup photo shoots, wearing latex, this kind of thing. So, it’s not like I changed when we got a record deal. The girl who I was before we got a record deal wasn’t shy. So, if I didn’t continue with it, that would actually be changing who I am. Maybe Angela’s view is more feministic, but I’m honored when people ask me to do a photo shoot like this. It can be something positive, not something negative.
Either way, someone’s gonna say that you’re contributing to the objectification of women. How do you feel about that?
It’s hard. I totally understand what they’re saying. At the same time, I think we’re objectifying a lot of things. You sell everything with a good look. It’s very normal, and maybe that’s bad. And when it’s sexy, it’s usually women. But I don’t think we should take the women out of the sexy pinup pictures. I say put the men up in some sexy pinup pictures. Instead of women taking a step back, I think men should take a step forward.