There are bands who choose to release their records on their own and try to sell them to anyone they might meet. There are bands who are attracted to one of the evil major labels and gets their records released worldwide (if that’s what Mr Major Label wants). And then there are bands who build an entire career on appearing on mixtapes all over the world. Well, maybe that’s overdoing it a bit, but when it comes to the American trio The judy’s, it is almost always that latter way, at least here in Sweden. ‘All The Pretty Girls’ and ‘She’s Got The Beat’ are just two of the tracks that with their minimalist sound have charmed many of the DJs over here in the last year or so, but who are, or were, really The Judy’s? I think we should let David Bean, singer, guitarist and main songwriter, who formed the band with bassist Jeff Walton and drummmer Dane Cessac, tell us about how the Judy’s came to be.
– We all knew each other growing up and from school. Dane and I were in the same class, and Jeff lived around the corner from me. Jeff and Dane knew each other from high school band class. We played together in different arrangements in different high school bands. The three of us made up a band called Breather – that was the name of our only song!—and we played at a county fair talent show. Later we formed a band called the Mondo Babies, which was a little more straight-ahead rock/pop than the Judy’s.
In 1979, I spent the summer in Austin for a high school science program, and there was an amazing punk scene getting started at the infamous Raul’s club. I was under age, but I still got in, and was just blown away by the creativity and excitement of bands like the Skunks, the Reversible Cords (or Re*Cords), the Huns, the Next, and the Big Boys.
So I went home excited with the idea that we could actually do something like that. Jeff and Dane had started another band with a guitarist named Sam Roush called the Cleavers. Jeff was writing the material, and I thought they were great and wanted to be their manager. Jeff didn’t want to do that for some reason, so I joined them to create a punk band called the Jets. We recorded a single, which became ‘Teenage HangUps’, but while it was being pressed, we found out someone else was using the name the Jets, so we changed our name to the Judy’s. Sam died in a car accident before the record was released, so we tributed the record to him.
The Judy’s hometown is Pearland, just outside Houston, Texas. According to David it’s a typical American suburb, like the ones we are used to seeing in all the High School movies. Almost everyone knows everyone else, at least by name or reputation, and football is the main attraction when it comes to activities outside of school.
– Actually, there were about 3 or 4 different groups in our school: you were either a jock (athlete), a kicker (cowboy), head (druggie), band fag (high school band player) , nerd, or … I dunno, a nothing? At the time I didn’t much like being in Pearland, although I knew it had its good points. Now it’s becoming a surburban sprawl. It’s growing and growing. It’s getting ugly, really. It’s losing its identity.
Instead of playing football, David, Jeff and Dane used to get together in the Beans family playroom to rehearse their songs, not to get famous or to release records. No, simply to pass the time. The boys’ influences were many, but David tells me he was a big fan of anything theatrical, like Alice Cooper, Kiss and David Bowie. When they began playing as The Judy’s , their intention was to be a punk band, but that was soon to change.
– When Sam died, we lost our main guitarist, and decided to do something a little more experimental, like have alternative instrumentation.
Well, what about that alternative instrumentation? On songs like ‘Her Wave’ and the already mentioned ‘All The Pretty Girls’, David is accompanied by a bass guitar and drums only, something, according to David, that was influenced by the B52’s and the Re*Chords. David also says that he’s a lousy guitarist, and therefore didn’t want to play that much.
– Well, we did try and audition some other guitarists, but that didn’t work out, so instead of just playing loud songs we decided to use what we had and do something original.
The first release was, as previously mentioned, ‘Teenage HangUps’, which was released on David’s own label Wasted Talent Records, a label that was created just to release the records that the Judy’s put out. He also released his own solo album (more about that one later) and the debut album by the Big Boys in 1981, a record that is now a collector’s item.
– We sold the EP at school in the school cafeteria for a few days! The school let us set up a table and we only sold a handful to our friends. People thought the whole punk thing was a joke, but they also knew we were having fun. I had a maths/computer teacher who let us bring records in on Fridays, so I brought the B52’s and Wayne County, and taught the class how to pogo! We made our performing debut at the school for the first half hour of a school dance.
At that time, the Judy’s were already beginning to come up with a different more pop-orientated sound, so they didn’t think the single was a good representation of them anymore. So when they released ‘The Wonderful World of Appliances’ in 1980, they included the first single as a freebie giveaway in a bag to get rid of them. The new EP, by many regarded as the band’s first “regular” record, was recorded in a couple of hours and the six songs were once again released on the Wasted Talent label. As they didn’t have any proper distribution, the Judy’s sold most of their records at their gigs, at some of the cooler record stores in their hometown and, later on, by mailorder. The band really liked those household appliances…
– We used a lot of gear mostly in the sense of decoration and stage show. We didn’t play all the time, so we tried to make our shows special. We also had a lot of odd instruments around…t.v.’s, tom-tom drums, noisemakers, vaccuum cleaners… we just had a lot of stuff to carry around. And then if we were doing a themed show, like a Beach Party or Guyana Tragedy Anniversary, we’d have props for that, too. We didn’t have much gear like extra guitars and stuff, and my amplifier was really small, so compared to other bands, we didn’t have much to haul around.
When coming from Texas, a state that is mostly known for their boogie-rock (ZZ Top etc), the Judy’s perhaps surprisingly did not find things particulary hard…
– Well, we were certainly not what’s referred to as “Texas music”. I really dislike that phrase anyway. The state is big, and there’s a wide variety of music here, so I hate that people talk like that blues-country-rock is what we’re known for. At the time, there was a healthy punk and new wave scene. “Pop” was a word reserved for Top 40 radio stations. Most of the punk and new wave bands had a great pop sensibility, though.
Houston has always had a lousy music scene, despite the occasional great band. There’s a small pop/emo scene here now (very small, really), and most of it’s pretty bad. Junior Varsity is (was) the greatest band in the city (if they haven’t broken up yet)! Have you heard their album ‘Bam Bam Bam’? It’s a classic! (After this interview took place, I have bought that album, and yes, it’s great!, writer’s note).
‘The Wonderful World Of Appliances’ was a breakthrough for The Judy’s, at least locally. All the clubs and venues wanted to book them, all the brat kids wanted them to play at their parties and the newspapers wrote about the band’s energetic live shows.
At this time, 1981, they recorded ‘Washarama’, the album that they would be remembered by even to this day and age. The album contained 12 songs that the fans recognised as they had played them as part of their shows for a long time. Among these songs were a re-recording of that marvellous song from the first EP, ‘All The Pretty Girls’, ‘TV’, ‘Man On A Window Ledge’ and ‘Her Wave’, David’s favourite song by The Judy’s.
– That song was recorded too fast on ‘Washarama’, but we got to where we would play it a little slower live, and I just loved to sing it. My favorite to listen to is either ‘Land of Plenty’ or ‘Jesus Be My Airplane’ both off of the unreleased (or officially released, I should say) ‘Land of Plenty’ CD. It was a fuller sound than the earlier albums, and because it was not released to the public at large, I get to appreciate the recording in a different way.
On the ‘Washarama’ album is also ‘She’s Got The Beat’, a song that may be familiar to those of you who happen to like Tullycraft, as they recorded a cover version of that very song for a split-7” they made with Avocado Baby five years ago. Tullycraft is not the only band who has covered The Judy’s though. Junior Varsity recorded their version of ‘Radiation Squirm’ on a Japanese only single, a recording that David really likes…
– It’s very different from our version, and I love it! Very poppy.
David also tells me that the future has in store a CD-release of ‘Washarama’ (for the first time, oddly enough), which will also contain a tribute-CD as a bonus, where other artists and bands have recorded the songs from ‘Washarama’.
– It’s got Lisa Loeb, the Muffs, the 220.127.116.11’s, Rodney Alan Greenblat… it’s really incredible. I wish I could give you a release date, but we’ve been working on the project almost 2 years and it’s still not done… it’s a lot of work!
One of the persons working on this project is Michael Wilson, who also runs a great website at http://www.thejudys.com.
– We don’t have anything to do with that. Michael did all of it. He’s a fan who did an incredible job of creating a site based around the band. He’s some kind of computer whiz.
A year or so later, the band began recording the follow-up to ‘Washarama’, which had been a massive hit, but at the same time they were old enough to go to college, which they did. So, the Judy’s then went on hiatus until 1985, but the fans wanted to hear more, and with an album halfway recorded. David then asked some friends to help him record the rest of the album, and released it as a solo album in 1983, entitled ‘Modomusic’. Some of the musicians helping out David on ‘Modomusic’ were on loan from another Texas band, the Dishes, and to repay that favour, David joined them on stage from time to time for the next couple of years.
But David Bean wasn’t the only one to release solo records. Jeff Walton also released an EP, ‘Danger Boy’, while he was in college. According to David, Jeff’s record is heavy on dance beats and harmony vocals, and he adds that Jeff was very influenced by Queen at the time of recording it. So, will there be any reissues of those solo recordings ?
– Yeah. All of the songs on ‘Modomusic’ will be released on CD with the ‘Moo’ album. Whenever that happens… I don’t think Jeff will re-release his. I don’t know.
Then in 1985, the band decided to get back together to play some shows and to record a new album, ‘Moo’. During the years off, David had bought a Korg Poly-800 keyboard and, when he brought it to the studio, it helped to make the Judy’s sound a bit thicker than before. On this recording, they even hired a guest horn section for the track ‘Don’t Be a Hippie’. The songwriting had also changed quite a bit too…
– I wrote most of the material. Usually the words and music would come together. I’d sing a melody around a certain phrase, and then develop that into a chorus, decide what the song was going to be about, and write verses. Writing came pretty automatically, lots of times, because I used to play the piano and write songs as an emotional release. So after a bad day at school, ‘All the Pretty Girls’ seemed to write itself. ‘Moo’ was a little different. I think I had ideas for several songs before sitting down to write them. I’m visually oriented, so a lot of the lyrics were being written around images I was seeing in my mind.
After the release of ‘Moo’, Dane left the band, but Jeff and David kept on going, and in 1987 they played a show that the fans still talks about, as that very night, they also put a brand new single on sale, ‘Girl Of 1000 Smells’, recorded in two languages (English and Russian), and which also featured a small pocket guide David had written called ‘A Guide To Good Odours’.
– It was supposed to enhance the theme of the record, I guess. It will probably resurface again someday!
The single was packaged in the kind of boxes that usually carries reel-to-reel tape, and each single came with it’s own smell! On this single, two new members joined the duo, Scott Krchnak (saxophone) and Matthew McCarthy (drums), but that was the only recording they participated on. Shortly after the release of the single, they left the band, and David and Jeff were once again on their own.
It would be a long time until we would see the name the Judy’s on a record sleeve again. As a matter of a fact, I’m not really sure if we did at all.
In the early 90’s, Jeff left the band too, and David was the only original member of the Judy’s. Yet, he brought in some musicians to help him record what would the Judy’s “mysterious” final album, ‘Land Of Plenty’. Not mysterious musically, no, but nobody is really sure whether, as David mentioned earlier, it was ever released anywhere.
So, looking back at the years with The Judy’s, how did the band develop?
– We became less edgy as we got more popular. I think part of it was that we were being accepted, and part of the feelings of anger and alienation dissipated a bit and we became more of a standard pop band. A lot of punk bands had to act angry. So it seemed a bit phoney. I was trying to write from where we were at the time. Someone said once that we had become a parody of ourselves with ‘Moo’, and I think that’s true. We would have discussions about what we wanted to do musically, and try to figure if it was “Judy” or not. We wanted to grow and develop musically, but we weren’t sure if we were being true to ourselves or our audience. So we started to second-guess ourselves a lot. We were still subversive, but in a different way, like releasing ‘Girl of 1000 Smells’ with the flipside in Russian. I don’t know what type of sound you’d call that single (other than bad), but it was supposed to be a hip-sexy love-lounge song. Maybe it did work, and the idea is so subversive that it gets me!
Did you get any national attention for your records?
– I hear stories all the time about people hearing our music for the first time all over the US (and even foreign countries), but we had very limited distribution here in Texas. So I guess it’s just people passing around tapes and stuff. I think we’re all happy with the success we had, and everyone feels we could have had more, which is true, but I’m not sure how much I really would have wanted it. We all changed a bit as we got popular, and I was honestly scared at times about how we were being affected by all of it. I didn’t want to succeed at the expense of ourselves, and I didn’t trust that that was not going to happen.
Today, David is still making music from time to time, writing songs for motion pictures, corporate work etc. But he doesn’t think it was easier being a band in the 70’s and 80’s than it is now.
– There’s too many avenues for promotion today, and there’s not a big enough live music scene across the country. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t feel like there’s the same interest and electricity around music these days. And there’s too many artists!
Right now my CD player’s got Andrew W.K., Lucinda Williams, Wim Mertens, the Pixies, Yma Sumac, Kathy McCarty, and the soundtrack to ‘Mary Poppins’ in it. Hey, do you know this singing group from Sweden called the Herrey’s, from about 15 years ago? I got their record in Russia. They sang ‘Diggi Loo, Diggi Ley’ or something like that? They did a cover of ‘Footloose’ in Swedish, too. They’re great!! I love them!!
Well, I think everyone in Sweden knows of the Herrey’s and if you happen to live in Europe, you probably remember them too. The song David mentions won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1984 and the three brothers became famous overnight.
Anyway, a reunion for The Judy’s seems unlikely though…
– We did a show together in 1995. I don’t see a reunion as very likely. We’re older now, and singing about teenage hang-ups and high school girls seems a little sick!
Well, I can agree with that.