Following on from writing about their recent release Kill White Lights we sat down for a bit of a chat to find out more about our favourite Philly garage rockers The Judex to find out more about where it all started, what’s it all about and more excitingly, where is it all heading.
So let’s start with a bit of background, you are a relatively new band, what’s the musical family tree and back story that gets us to the birth of The Judex?
W: I wish I had something more engaging and exotic to start out on, but the birth of The Judex is relatively mundane although it does involve a musical family tree, as you put it. Basically, the four of us all played together in various forms as teenagers with various degrees of regional success… we lost touch and went our separate ways. Fast forward to last Winter. I had been singing in a rockabilly band in New York and, while it was a quality project with great people, it wasn’t the same as a ‘real’ band, the sense of priorities are different, and so forth. Not wrong, just different.
I had started to get back in touch with Sean and we had a lot of the same ideas about how self-indulgent and interchangeable bands had become and acted- and both Sean and J were really blue collar in a sense, not jaded and cynical like a lot of musicians I’d been interacting with in the city. It was kind of refreshing to be around that kind of attitude again, where people just wanted to throw themselves into it and who shared the mindset of, let’s talk less about ourselves, and just get shit done.
And also to be around guys who were just as aghast as I was that any band would go on stage in cargo shorts.
We didn’t immediately decide on a band or form right away. Sean and I decided we’d go into a studio proper and record a demo, just to see what would happen. I think neither of us wanted to get our hopes up, since musicians are the fucking worst. As the session date got closer, Sean brought up J. J was open to coming in and playing on the demo, simply to help us out. We went in with a drummer we had literally never met in person prior (see below), and ended up cutting and releasing the first Double A-Side from that session. The electricity was palpable right away- and while that drummer didn’t stay on, it was very apparent to us that we had a band.
2. Sonically you come from, I would say, a very American place, one that sort of threads through early New York punk, 60’s garage rock and back into the raw end of blues, what influences are you consciously working with here?
W: That’s a great assessment. It’s true that we are consciously, if subtly, trying to harken back to a more garage-ish approach and, like a lot of white rock & roll singers I am extremely influenced by classic Blues singers like Howlin’’ Wolf as well as Little Richard and so forth. Because I tragically do not sound like a righteous black man, I can only convey that influence through the spectrum of what I am able to do; but a lot of soul and intensity hopefully comes through. What’s funny though is that we do have a lot of European influence…
Dalton: Hmmmm, tough question. I’m influenced by so many drummers across the musical spectrum, its hard to pinpoint one, two or even three people to identify as a conscious influence. I guess I have to fall back on the old drummer commandment of “serve the song”. One song might call for Bonham-ish grooving while another song may call for the strait ahead attack of a Marky Ramone. Also the commandment of “less is more” is one I’m definitely trying to apply to The Judex.
Sean: I’m into music that’s bass driven… Black Sabbath, The Misfits, Samhain.. with guys that can really sing. Geezer Butler, Jerry Only, Cliff Burton, Jack Cassidy, Roger Glover, those are all bass players I enjoy and admire.
W: Yeah, we’re a very bass driven band which is largely driven on the velocity of Sean’s playing as much as anything else. When we were teenagers, Sean and J were very into Black Sabbath and I was very into Joy Division so it’s an interesting melting pot that gets us all to this point. Oddly enough, there is one artist I’m especially influenced by in recent times that’s British and I can’t swear enough how fantastic he is and I don’t know why he isn’t a bigger deal. His name is Jesse Hector and he is, for me, a great synthesis of all the fantastically raw and soulful elements of Rock & Roll in several of it’s forms. I would actually like to implore Dancing About Architecture to write about him.
J Carr: Frankly, we have been on a Jesse Hector kick for a hot one… also, early Black Sabbath records and Link Wray are constants, and of course we can’t leave out Iggy! He wrote the book.
3. And lyrically, the last single in particular, Kill White Lights, is a social comment on the world around us. Do you see yourself as a political band or just commenting on what you see when you look outside?
W: It’s the latter. Kill White Lights is sort of a commentary on the mindsets of people and general rationalisation amongst the culture more than a specific political commentary. I’m of the mind that being strictly political limits you in the realm of subject matter you can write about- and even then, you might be limited to one specific viewpoint which limits your subject matter’s accessibility and depth of writing. That being said I do not mean to suggest that we’d dilute anything we felt strongly about in the sense of being commercial. I just mean that there’s no modus operandi or political motivation within The Judex.
I have often felt that the shitty things we inherit in this society are the result of enablers and wilful ignorance; therefore the only political intent in that specific song would be that I blame the citizen more than the elected official.
4. You worked with Mark Plati on that single, what was it like to be in the hands of a guy who has worked with the likes of The Cure and David Bowie?
W: As your question points out, it really is a case of instant credibility and I’d be dishonest if I said otherwise. Besides those two rather formidable artists, you’ve got to look at Mark’s entire body of work- and it’s staggering, the fact that he continues to work with indie and unsigned artists of his own volition says a lot about his greatness, in my opinion. I was actually a fan of his work way before I ever thought I’d get to meet him or work with him.
Sean: Working with Plati was like working with any other guy in the band… mostly fun, we all get a bit temperamental at times but all in all, a great experience.
Dalton: Mark is cool as a cucumber, pretty low key. But when he sat down in front of the board I could immediately tell that he was into it. The recording process is funny in that… when you’re in the moment, it’s sometimes hard to tell what youre tinkering will yield. You have to trust the process and the producer. We did in both cases and were extremely pleased with the result.
W: Mark mixed the very first Judex single and was really able to put a sheen to the roughness of it – just the elements he crafted from what we gave him, you know, it’s really a thing that producers are artists themselves, and Plati proves it… it’s a delicate balance, I believe, to craft an artist’s vision while still imbuing it with your own master’s touch. I think Kill White Lights is a perfect fucking rock & roll record, to be honest. We really perfected the formula together – it would not have been the same if we had another producer mix it; it’s maybe the first thing that overtook that elusive idea of the song we had in our heads and went above what we could envision for it.
It’s a professional relationship, you know… talking to people, their comments sometimes hint that they’re under the impression that Plati is routinely taking us out on his yacht or something, pointing to all his platinum records on deck… no, we learn a lot from him. I’d strongly recommend any working indie artists consider trying to reach out to him because he’s accessible if a band or artist is really working at it and hustling. I say that of course not speaking for Mark Plati – he might reach through the phone and strangle me for speaking to his availability but that’s how much I think he brings to an artist’s work. If you’re recording a record, seek him out. And he brings the same level of craft and care to our stuff as he would with far more established artists.
J Carr: First and foremost, honoured does come to mind… I mean, this is a guy handpicked by Bowie to not only produce and mix, but co-write and arrange/re-arrange some of his best work… Alice’s Restaurant (note: Plati’s private studio) is an extremely comfortable atmosphere… and Mark, at the end of the day, is just another guy living’ his life… and we can relate.
5. You have a new guy occupying the drum stool, Dalton, previously from The Founders, how did your paths cross.
W: Ahh… A mildly interesting story there… Dalton is someone who played with J and Sean years before he joined The Judex and years before he and I ever met. But we were both aware of the other, I heard recordings he had made probably a decade ago and vice versa.
J Carr: Ha! Dalton… actually, him and I have been good friends for nearly twenty years. I’d always been a fan of his playing. So yeah, in another life he lent his skills to a project Sean and I had started and the chemistry was there…
W: It’s funny. We had started out with Seanzie from The Arkhams helping us out- and really, he deserves a lot of credit, he showed up on extremely short notice and the very first session we sat down to, we pumped out the first single (‘Cult of Judex’/’Witchface’) before ever playing with him before. The Arkhams were a well known psychobilly outfit and he brought a lot of chops, a lot of credibility. But long-term with us was not where he was at, so we started playing with other drummers and nothing ever really worked out. It got to the point where I started feeling as if it would always be us as a trio, with a permanent rotating slot on drums.
One day I was lamenting the lack of drummers in our lives that we knew on a personal basis, and suddenly I recalled Dalton. I said to the gang, “Whatever happened to that guy you made that demo with back in 2006 or whatever?” They actually weren’t sure we’d locate him because he kind of shuns a social media presence. But we did, and…
J Carr: Yeah. Having Dalton behind the kit was just what the band was looking for.
6. And as people as well as musicians, what do you feel that you all bring to the table?
W: As individuals? That’s harder to say, since we’re all considerably different in certain aspects. I can say that we’re all intense and driven to an almost pathological degree, we don’t, for example, have a lot of respect for bands who get wasted and whine about their standing rather than get shit done, I would argue that this aspect, the importance of placing our output over ourselves, already makes us stand out.
I like to say that we’re pretty much like a gang. In the sense that one third of the band lacks a solid and healthy familial aspect in their life, the band becomes your family, and that communal attitude, the camaraderie and hive-mind approach, it makes a significant difference in regard to your support structure. We’re completely driven and completely ruthless. We have our disagreements and clashes, as any band does. But we all have roles within the band that we’ve all accepted, and our motto is ‘everything Judex’. When others are sleeping, we’re working. When others are socialising, we’re working. I expect 2018 to be the year of showing results.
7. Taking a more general view, what do you think of the state of music today and where do you see yourself fitting in?
W: Our answer to this is all the things you’d expect. Better artists have conveyed it a thousand times better. But the state of music today is obviously evolved and changed, so the issue becomes how we adapt to it. It’s very easy to lament the rise of streaming and feel sorrow over live music having less viable outlets and venues… it’s much harder to cultivate a new community and a new business plan towards dealing with these issues. The business model for music has changed and for a band like us? It’s never going to bring immense profit. As a thousand more prolific bands than us will tell you. But I don’t think that’s an artist’s motivation any more, maybe a young musician, who has idealised conceptions of what could await them.
Sean: It’s as much obligation as it is a Joy. All of us in the band love to create, it’s what we do… the creation would happen regardless of today’s musical atmosphere. In this case, we all feel it’s our “duty” as much as our passion, to recreate music that initially inspired us in the first place. To feel that passion and excitement we all experienced in our youth. If only we had more time and money…
W: Where we’re at is probably a cult fan base, underground level. Which is a beautiful thing. As you know, a label today operates much differently than the familiar stereotypical idea a person might have of them. A label primarily operates to help with the very significant issue of distribution, in a DiY culture, this means everything and is sometimes all that you need. We feel there’s a legit subculture of people who want to go to shows, who want to get lost in a song, who want and need a soundtrack to their lives. But they can’t often get it. Why not? Because bands have gradually become about themselves; their work is secondary to using the work as a means to talk about themselves and their feelings while producing the work. Because bands have no sense of mystique and hang around acting pretentious and moronic and pester you on Facebook to vote for this or like this or that. Because bands have no staying power, because they cannot cultivate a cult where they are connected with their audience. I could go on and on about it. The key is to realise that you are to be taken for granted, and rightfully so, by an audience, they should relate and connect to what you sing, not think about what the person singing it was doing at 2pm the previous day. The audience should relate to the work and the creator of the work should be less prominent. At least, this is our philosophy. The song ‘Cult of Judex’ relates to this, you’ve wanted to connect, but these fuckers just keep letting you down.
Dalton: Unfortunately, the state of music is in a sad and sorry shape. My hope is that The Judex will be a wake up call/rallying cry to the disenfranchised, both fans and fellow musicians: it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, all that matters is that you are your authentic self and have a burning thirst for real art and self expression. We want to create a thing that people can be a part of, hopefully that thing will feed on itself and grow in size and scope, eventually telling the established order to get fucked.
W: Dan said it better than I did.
8. So, where next for the Judex, a full album, a tour, a chance to take the musical experience to audiences out side America?
W: We’re about to go back in the studio to finish up our next release, we have a radio session for the prestigious Rock ‘n’ Roll Manifesto show, just a bunch of studio commitments. We are purposely setting up for a big 2018. Our goal is a European tour, yes. England and the Netherlands at first, or so we hope… I’m very pleased and grateful to say that we’ve got some notable figures in the UK advising us and offering their support. Of course, Dave Franklin is one of them. But also, Philip King has been very patient and has taken the time to give us his advice and point us in a significant direction, besides being a noted rock & roll scholar, Phil King is more widely known as the bassist in Lush, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and Apple Boutique.
So, we’re really blessed to have accomplished people who know their stuff taking the time for us, as largely unknown and unproven as we still are. And you know what all of that means? Just that there’s even less of an excuse now for us to ever not get shit done.