[INTERVIEW] THE JUDEX HAS COME, IT'S ALRIGHT: THE RETURN OF A WELL REGARDED ROCK GROUP AND AN IN
I remember when The Judex first started becoming omnipresent out of the gate! You couldn't escape seeing their ominous and well designed stickers or seeing their numerous interviews on various and scattered Garage Rock and Indie Music blogs, always helpfully shared on their social media, for many months. They garnered extremely positive reviews and were even in cahoots with a Bowie collaborator for Christsakes! I was going to finally take the Judex plunge and see them in Summer of 2018 when suddenly they cancelled a handful of shows including the one I planned on attending with punk outfit Bats In The Wall...
Almost a year later The Judex came back with no explanation, just announcements of grandiose releases like they once did before and catchy, 90s' influenced artwork in lieu of the kind of band photographs singer William Byron harps on below. Here is the transcript of our talk, recorded by my beloved iPhone on a late winter's night....
Q: When The Judex launched in 2018, it did so with a lot of underground fanfare. And you specifically were really kind of bold in your press releases and social media and interviews, and then right as you guys seemed to be taking off there was this abrupt and weird stop. Do you want to comment on that?
Right. Well, less to the thought that anyone really cares about a tiny Rock N' Roll band with a small if supportive underground fanbase and more to have some kind of documented record about this for our potential future audience researching us, I'll say that... there was a band member that was a cause of some concern within the band and it was significant concern, there were significant issues.. it wasn't a case of artistic disagreements. It was a case of literally deranged behavior and this individual caused such issues that it forced us to a halt. And I hate to speak on that and I hate to begin an interview like that, but that is essentially what halted the momentum we had worked for.
Q: I'm sorry to start on a negative slant then.
No, it's an understandable thing to ask because you're right, I came out extremely confident and also promised people The Judex would be a success and be a movement and... it was terrible, it had a strong effect on all of us. Since we've reconvened, we've all talked about the depression and general lull we felt which is a natural response to having our work- which was being received, which was getting somewhere- rather abruptly halted by things we couldn't control.
Q: So it's good you cleared the air then.
I have no illusions that anyone cares about The Judex enough to even recognize that we are a man down, or are gossiping about us or anything but yes, I'm glad to straighten this out because we did let bands and venues down by cancelling gigs. But there was no real choice and, uh, I'd like to stress again that this was not the usual stereotypical band stuff where we're disagreeing about this or this one brought his girlfriend to practice or something cliche and petty... this was beyond the pale, as much as I don't want to slag off a guy. But his actions and his mindset were offensive, perverse, illegal and counter-productive. And this doesn't come from simply me, all of us were pretty severe in our agreement that we had to move forward without this specific member.
Q: Not to stay on it, but have you been in touch with him?
Sporadically, but- I'll put it this way, and I say it with no glee or malice. He was, last I heard, involuntarily in an institution. This is a good thing if it helps him of course. But then I got a message from him demanding that we get him in on bass overdubs and that the band owes him $25,000 for his bass amp repairs. There's no awareness, no accountability. I officially wash my hands of this man, as I should have done a long time ago but tolerated his nonsense in respect to the "bigger picture" under which I operate. To give you context- and then to close this particular topic- when we formed, The Bowery Electric in NYC offered us a gig right out of the gate. And I think that playing The Bowery Electric for your first show, when you're not even a New York band- I think that's a good fucking start. So I discuss it with the fellows, we're all gung ho. Maybe a week before, this guy suddenly tells me, "oh yeah, I can't do the gig. I'm on probation and can't leave the state." Ah, thanks! There goes that first gig. It was a lot of stuff like that that got progressively more demented. It was a lot of suspect stuff that weared on me. I'd get in from tagging the city with band stickers or something for five hours and this guy would message me about some engaged girl he was having an affair with- it was never about our mission, it was never about music. So that's the end of our working relationship.
Q: I'm sorry I made you bring all that up!
You don't have to be sorry since it's a valid point. We were kinda flying out of the gate when we started and then we suddenly disappeared for 10 months or whatever, and now we're back. I do believe most people don't realize we were gone since we're just this very underground little combo, but that's why we were gone for 10 months. Since we're all about the work! But he was a Cancer; I say that knowing that everyone has their own problems to work out and own issues and underneath it all, we all make mistakes but... the mask of entitlement and narcissism as well as rampant sexism and arrogance is sadly the only face of his I've been exposed to all the time that I've known him. It's a shame but this is a grown man and his heart was not into music, his heart was into himself and into bullshit. I wish him well.
Q: Okay, good! So what is 2020 going to be like?
Busy and active. I'm especially frantic- in a good way- because I know we have time to make up for, lost time. We've already been back in the studio, we're already hard at work... all sorts of good things coming, which is a very generic and bland answer but it's the truth.
Q: What's the next release from The Judex?
We have a single coming out of February 1st... "Midnight Brusier" backed with "Leather Forever"... both are Rock N' Roll songs of some substance and mood and worth seeking out. We really have picked up where we left off and every single cut we release is a classic, at least I think so, there's never any filler. After that, we're working on our first EP as a trio which is pretty much completely written.
Q: I got this 45' from you in the mail...
Q: "Kill White Lights". This one has a purple color, clear vinyl. It's so cool.
Ah, yeah- part of the "making up for lost time" things we wanted to do was re-issue the first two singles on vinyl as soon as we could. That specific record is lathe cut vinyl which we really like- it has a kind of rare value to it, like an old blues record. They're made on machines from the late Forties, I believe.
Q: You can't remember which record you sent me!
I can't ! But that's because I've been mailing them out constantly, which is a good thing.
Q: I remember you told me and my boyfriend how this was about, not police brutality specifically, but the kind of "look the other way" culture we have over it...
I wouldn't say we have a "look the other way" culture, not to correct you per se but I possibly didn't explain it well enough which is amazing for as much as I talk! What that song is specifically about is the culture we have right now in general- a culture of enablers. I think it's an issue when more people are publicly vocal and outraged about which characters died in a Marvel movie or which characters were misrepresented in a fucking "Star Wars" movie or who died on "Game of Thrones" and yet feel absolutely no sense of outrage or concern for the very real people getting killed outside on their streets. There's a large sense of just not wanting to deal with it, walk on, someone else will come along... but... Q: But?
It's a larger culture concern of mine in that I think priorities are out of order by a wide order of magnitude. More people are going to bitch online about this "Cats" movie than they will attend a rally, go to a town hall meeting, or lift a finger for people of sexual abuse or so on.
Q: So you guys set out to really make a point with this song.
No... I feel like I'm contradictory to your questions and I don't mean to be, but no, there was nothing conscious on the part of the band. Lyrically, I was only speaking for myself and I do give my partners gratitude because they've never censored me and I do know that we have some different views in The Judex, albeit not about equal rights or anything huge like that. Jason (Jason Carr, guitarist) was the primary composer of 'Kill White Lights' and he, with faith, handed it off to me to sing to since we've written a thousand pretty decent songs together and are a good team. Now, not to get too intricate, but though I didn't write the music to this specific song I did respond to it's mood as a singer, as singers do. And there's grittiness in J's riff, there's tension in his playing- which might not have been intentional or even consciously but it gave me a great backdrop to make this little social commentary that doesn't need to be heard as social commentary. I don't like message songs or political songs, I think it dates the song and therefore limits it's future accessibility.
Q: But it does have a message, doesn't it? You're saying that people don't want to know or that their passion is misdirected to fictional characters...
I've not said anything new or profound and a thousand other people say it more elegantly than I do every single day, uh, but the context is that this current tension informs the songwriting process a bit, insomuch as things you'd prefer to avoid or ignore have now reached the boiling point in our current climate where ignoring it is impossible. I'd say it influences tone more than anything which spells it out- and I hate songs like that as it is. Again, I feel it limits the relation to an audience. People might enjoy Stephen Stills songs from the sixties but then still equate them to Kent State Shootings and the general climate of the Vietnam Era. That's not anything what the Judex is about; we're entirely apolitical in our approach.
Q: But you'd agree this is a topical subject, the guns and everything...
Yes but while that's admittedly topical it's also sadly consistent and sustained throughout American history; this is not anything new. Put it this way- "Kill White Lights" came out in 2017 and it could be released in 2020 and still be topical. If it had been released in 1992 it would have still been topical.
Q: Yeah, that's a good point.
Something topical would be a song blatantly about who the President is or singing about tik-tok and shit. I'm sure people wrote sincere rock n' roll songs about them hating disco or how much President Reagan sucked and so forth- and they might be enjoyable, but they're dated now and therefore limited. Now look at Otis Redding, look at Magic Sam, look at Howlin' Wolf- that's material of an era even further back yet it's not dated by references to J Edgar Hoover and shit. It's about love, loss, experience- you can listen to it today and you can relate to it. That's the magic of communication through art.
Q: But all artists speak about their times and their experiences, wouldn't you agree?
Not all artists are observers. Some artists really are mediums in which the spirit of creation comes through, however pretentious as that sounds. There exists a wide variety of expression within music, but, I don't mean to go on about this but increasingly I feel so much music is subtly diluted by the musician going on about themselves. I feel they use their status as a musician to glorify themselves, I really do and I talk about this often. There's this archtype about the singer-songwriter, a genre title in itself which I feel is redundant- where the artist talks about themself which i suppose many people expect songwriters to do, but- its very difficult for a potential audience to really lose themselves in such a thing. it's indulgent, it's misguided, it's self-glorification.
Q: So what do you think is a good song that someone wrote about their life or whatever that anyone could hear and apply it to their own life or...
A good example of- well, take the song "Save The Last Dance For Me" by The Drifters which was written by a guy named Doc Pomus. Did you know that song was written about- Doc Pomus had polio and was confined to a wheelchair. He could only stand with crutches and even then not for too long.
And so on his wedding day, he's watching his bride dance with all of these guys who can walk and from that, "Save The Last Dance For Me" comes into existence. That's a brilliant example of something relatable and magical coming from an individual's situation but i must have heard that song a thousand times before i ever knew about Doc Pomus and his circumstances towards that song- because he made it in such a way that it could be applied to any other person, not necessarily someone with polio, not necessarily someone on their wedding night.
Q: What would you like to see change in the musical community?
If there is such a thing, I suppose i'd like to see less of the super-ego in music; i'd like artists and bands to have more mystique and not lip synch in videos or always pose for these dour unsmiling band photos where one member is looking away. I say that with some humor but yeah, I'd love to see a band just come along and have some mystery to them and not look like a bunch of guys in cargo shorts or a bunch of hipsters standing about being photographed.
Q: What does it take to be innovative in music? Sorry, these are questions I had written down beforehand.
I'd say that innovation might not come out of a chord structure but more in exploration of themes and presenting things in new and different ways. I think the most innovation music has had in the past few years is in genres that are decidedly not Rock N' Roll where so much of it is rinse and repeat and people emulating what their favorite band from High School did. But it's really not for me to say because I'm a very average musician and I am quite content to keep doing Rock N' Soul as it pleases me and I find it to be sincere expression.
Q: Do all the members of The Judex discuss politics and current events?
Not at all, not at all. To be fair we don't socialize that much but it isn't because we're not fond of each other's company. We mostly see each other when it's time to mix a record or something and, when we're not talking about work, we laugh. We really get together only when there's work to be done but Dan and J hang out because they live closer to each other.
Q: So are your songs about your life and the band's life?
I write things a bit more observant than autobiographical and sure, my own personality will seep into that. I write a lot about magic and history and random things which interest me like Silent Film actresses and arcane dance crazes that we made up.
Q: How are people discovering The Judex?
It's been amazingly organic and very gratifying, but I do need to give some credit to the very fine record label Kafadan Kontak, a prolific underground Garage & Punk label headed up by Turkish punk legends Tolga and Aybike Ozbey. I cannot believe how active Kafadan Kontak is worldwide but what happened was, we were inactive and Tolga reached out to me with interest in distributing The Judex but- and this part really hooked me- Tolga actually had a plan for our material, he had ideas for compilations, he had rough designs for release artwork- it really ignited the spark, and then we also unexpectedly started getting serious radio airplay in Belgium and Germany. One thing begat another and then we couldn't ignore it, especially when payment started coming in and I had to ship off packages to people.
I also think people ritually discover things and it's something I've always consciously kept in mind with our work. I told the guys early on, "we won't make much of a profit, if any, but I really do sincerely believe that our stuff will be stumbled upon years from now, by a small but sincere audience." Looks like it's happening faster than I predicted.
Q: Now, if I can do a few follow ups to things you said that interested me... and also, you said something about how DiY bands think before I started to record on my phone... I wondered if you would like, elaborate on...
What I said is, their media, their liner-notes- they're always overcredited. I meant it jokingly, but it's true.
Q: Over credited?
Yeah- and you'll note, this is always purely within DiY, indie, "local"- I hate that fuckin' term- bands which again, i believe stems from the work itself being secondary, to it being a tool to promote the praise-worthy genius of the person putting it out. So if the guy in the band directed and edited a video, he surely credits himself fucking twice for doing so, so that his family notices this when they're gathered around the downstairs living room to watch his band's lowly music video. Again- psychology. All you do with all these goddamned credits are continue to remove people from any accessibility to the WORK. The work being the song, the album, the art, whatever it is. You made it, now stand BEHIND it. Don't stand in front of it and use it as chattel, as some kind of tool to promote your perceived genius, it's maddening and obnoxious. There's no mystique with these fuckers.
When i was a teenager i literally knew guys who had band names and shirts made and posed for band photos and yet had never recorded anything, never played a gig and so on but would promote these bands in the sense of making sure people knew they were in said band. Using the perception of being an artist as just another compontent to a persona- which is what I think many people do these days. Whereas i hustled away in private- not to say everyone should operate the same exact way i do, but i just think it's... unsavory to have such prominence over your work.
Q: Why do you hate the term "local"- isn't it important.
It's not important to an artist because art transcends boundaries and ignores state lines and city limits. Write a song and it can go anywhere. Seriously.
What's amazing in the sector of indie music is that now you have a tool to reach anyone, anywhere, and even a DiY artist in Kentucky can upload their music and have someone in Scandanavia hear it that same day. Local Music is branding and i understand the sense of trying to appear like a grass-roots community- but it makes sense to those artists, from their perspective whereas to complete strangers it's a much more different term and is very nearly a stigma. Think about it from their point of view whether you think it's unsupportive or small-minded or not- all they're going to think of is a bunch of amateur players doing an open mic who "can't make it" since non-musician types always think you're only successful if you're on fucking American Idol or something.
Am I saying that what's local music is? Not at all. I am strictly thinking from the perspective of a potential audience- which those artists desperately want, whether they admit it or not- it's not even marketing psychology, it's basic human psychology. To perform on a stage is akin to real magic; it is, and should be a BIG DEAL, an event. You can walk into a bar in dozens of cities all over the world and maybe they have a piano player there and you've never heard them before but they transport you someplace else- is that a 'local' artist? Obviously artists are free to advertise and brand themselves however they like; i do think they do both a disservice and show the limits of their empathy for the thought process of potential fans by saying shit like "support local artists"- it comes off so pleading and grating and people want to walk past them the way they do to homeless people and not look them in the eye. I say have something worth pausing for, have something worth stopping someone to make them take a second look or a closer listen and not badger people to support your local music. An Arts Lab can be local, but art can be everywhere.
Q: So The Judex isn't a local band in a sense, then.
Well, we're certainly an East Coast band and we come from the working class and there's that sensibility and flavor in our songs, absolutely. But people enjoy us in Istanbul, people enjoy us in Japan. Or else I've been at the Post Office filling out custom forms for nothing. If I can Heather, I also want to point out that I am largely speaking for myself with a lot of these opinions. Dan (Dan Dalton, drummer) and Jason might not even agree at all, or even care about this stuff. One thing we all do agree on is the work and the work reaching people. When bands say shit like "I just make it for myself and if someone else likes it, it's a bonus", I'm always flabbergasted because I certainly want to connect and communicate with as wide an audience as possible. I believe in our stuff and I think The Judex is viable, commercial, and worthwhile. I would never think that we should be wallowing away in one town, bitter over people not going on a journey to seek us out.
Q: I totally understand. So one of the things I want to do with any band I interview is, I want to pick a few of your songs and then do a kind of word-association with you about them if that is okay...
I'll do my best.
Q: Okay. This title, my boyfriend thinks it's great when he was reading the CD... "War on Fake Psychics" from your first EP.
I agree with your boyfriend; it is a great title. That song is honestly about bands and the decline of a scene and the relationship between a band, a scene, and the sustained audience. When I was a teenager in the nineties, shows were all-important. They were ceremonial, they were an escape, and there was this kind of commitment to them: you wanted to know a band was gonna stick around and not be fly-by-night, like any other relationship.
Gradually, this changed. The other aspect of the song is that many bands are self-indulgent and they believe people should automatically just come out and watch them just because they happen to be on a stage. I noticed things like guys playing on stage in shorts and pop culture t-shirts and having no power, no presence, and people mingling and carrying on conversations during their performance. I feel if you get on a stage somewhere- that is a "big deal" and you need to make your time count. Work for it.
And I thought, this is what home recording and social media have done- mildly above average schlubs can just get on stage all the fuckin' time with their basic and banal voices. There's no soulfulness. And the last aspect of that is me explaining that The Judex are here, we won't let you down, we will work until we're dehydrated, and we are generally superior to a lot of these nasal sounding fuckers.
Q: You make this easy because you give such long answers. (laughs)
Yeah, I'm thinking Stanky Hampster might be concerned with that too...
Q: Next song, "Witchface".
It's about Witches and perception... when "Bitchface" entered the lexicon and became a meme and such, I knew it was only a matter of time before someone co-opted the obvious "Witchface" name and made something goofy of it and I wanted to head them off and make something of substance with it instead... Sean (Sean Patrick, founding bassist) was the primary composer of that song, musically, and J had arranged it pretty much and they brought an instrumental demo if to me fully-formed. All I had to do was sing. I think witches have been frowned upon throughout history because they are recognized as figures of power and distinction. It's not that they weren't recognized; it's that they were and this made them a threat. So, it's basically about that. Sexism, occult knowledge, knowledge being power...
Q: "Cult of Judex".
It's sort of related to the overall theme of us coming to knock out inferior and lackluster bands but there was more to it than that; it's primarily about finding your tribe and the importance of communities and movements and empowerment, really. The first verse is about transgender kids being marginalized and abused, the second verse is about parents overmedicating kids and putting them in front of screens, the third is about shitty performers taking up valuable time and we're coming to sustain your escapism instead.
Q: Last one, and my favorite song of yours, "Wicked Pony Stomp". What a great name!
It's an homage to blues and rockabilly tropes and some of it talks about traveling and how various constants will sustain you when you're away from home, like the night sky or something. It's pretty obscure. The title in question is supposed to be the name of an imaginary dance; the 'Wicked Pony Stomp' that I imagined they do at some all night blues bar in another dimension.
Q: Last question: what do you want people to know about the members of The Judex?
I personally don't want them to know anything about us. I do want them to know about The Judex, if that makes sense. I don't want them to know anything other than, these are the guys who write and play these songs and this is what they're about as a musical unit- I will tell you that each one of us has chops, each one of us works hard, and I myself am grateful to play with such talented madmen as Jason and Dan. They're Irish and I'm not, so they outnumber me.
*Heather Storm has been a contributor to Maximum Rock N Roll and various zines in the Connecticut scene since 2008. Her blog and small press review zine will premiere in Spring 2020. She is psyched to contribute to Stanky Hampster.