Game On Lock

Words by Curran Reynolds Photo by Marissa Kaiser

Currently playing inmate Maria on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and assassin Floyd on CBS’s Person of Interest, actor Jessica Pimentel is a former violin prodigy and lifelong New Yorker who also moonlights as one of the most commanding vocalists in Brooklyn’s metal scene. Pimentel exudes power and grace at every turn, using Buddhism as a guide while making her own path through this world. With Orange Is the New Black’s third season set to air this summer, Pimentel sat down with Mass Appeal to chat a bit about her past, present, and future.

Mass Appeal: You’re one of the few people ever to have played both Carnegie Hall and CBGB. I think that grants you some elite NewYorker status.

Jessica Pimentel: Yeah, I think me, Sting, and Patti Smith are the only people who have played both.

Does New York still hold any mysteries for you or have you done it all? What keeps you here?

Every day, I step outside my house and see something I have never seen before. I can be cynical and push the gentrification thing but that is not 100% the case. Every day I see something beautiful, something holy. I see interactions between people whose paths should never cross. I see something disappear and rebirth itself. I walk down the same street every day and see something that was not there yesterday. This city is magic.

Tell us one crazy story from a life spent in New York.

I don’t really think that people realize how dangerous all of New York was. I remember growing up and visiting my family on South 3rd Street in Williamsburg, which was probably one of the worst neighborhoods in all of New York, and having to sleep in the living room or in the bathtub because people used to shoot guns at each other through windows and kill people while they were home watching TV. I also remember being 14 and being able to sneak into these amazing nightclubs and the next morning sneak into an amazing opera house…I could go on and on and on.

What was your entrance into Buddhism? How did it come about?

I grew up in a very loving Christian home. As I got older some things didn’t always make sense. There were no answers for the bad things in life. So I started searching for something that would make things make sense. I would say this started at 10 years old.

And during this same period of time, you discovered hardcore and metal?

I had been exposed to hardcore through local college radio stations like WSOU and WNYU. But it wasn’t until I went to my first show that I really understood the power. It really is something that needs to be experienced live. When I was 14 I got dragged to a show at Wetlands by my friends.

It was the most liberating feeling I had ever felt, jumping off the stage into a crowd of strangers, abandoning all sense of what was appropriate or inappropriate for a young lady to do. Screaming out my frustrations and anger and sadness and disappointment and happiness with my friends side by side.

My introduction to heavy metal was through a friend in junior high. He handed me an album: King Diamond, Conspiracy. I’d never heard anything like it. It was all the things I loved about classical music, but there was this power and life to it like I had never heard before. That album scared the shit out of me.

Is there a relationship now between your spirituality and the music you make? Some people might be surprised to find that the singer of Alekhine’s Gun is a Buddhist.

Buddhism is an integral part of Alekhine’s Gun. We begin every show with Tibetan chants. Most of our subject matter lyrically comes from ancient Tibetan scriptures on Lojong mind training, the true nature of reality, and death and the realms of existence. I think there is a very popular misconception about Buddhism and Buddhists that we are all these hippy dippy people who go around talking peace and love all the time. Buddhism forces you to confront the deepest, darkest aspects of nature, these aspects of the mind, of the spirit, that stop you from seeing the true nature of reality. In order to get to a point of peace and happiness, of enlightenment and oneness, you must dig into the darkest, deepest aspects of yourself. You must face your demons eye-to-eye and have no fear.

What can you reveal to us about Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black?

Season 3 is set to come out in June and although I can’t reveal very much about what happens, I can say that it is very brutal. This season has some really violent things happen to some characters. As always there are new interactions between characters that have never spoken before, which makes for some great dynamics. New characters will be introduced which shake things up even more. All in all I can’t wait to see it myself because it’s going to be epic.

This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 56, which is available for purchase here. Read more stories from the issue here.

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