Here is the third installment of our interview with Jimmy Yu.
One thing we forgot to point out is that the day before we did this interview, Jimmy drove out to Montville where Mike still lives and just randomly showed up at his house. He had not seen Mike since leaving Judge in early 1989. Mike was having a family BBQ but he and Jimmy got to talk for a little bit. Jimmy goes into this later on in the interview, but just figured we’d bring it up since Jimmy references it here.
SSD, Minor Threat…the straight edge bands from then, we listened to their music, but slowly it got deeper than that. You see, a lot of those early hardcore bands, their lyrics were good, and I hate to say this…but they were just similar to other normal punk bands that were writing songs. So, these straight edge bands were so much different from what we had been hearing, because they had a deeper message, at least to us. It attracted us, and it meant something more. And when we really started listening to this, we started putting Xs on our hands, because you know, that’s what you saw on the cover of their albums! And gradually, we just went in that direction.
But people in New York, Vinnie for instance, I remember him being like “what the hell is that on your hand?” Because prior to that, Mike and I definitely were not straight edge, we were pretty crazy, and we hung out with those guys. Drug and drink wise, you name it, we probably did it. Vinnie and everyone else had been there with us doing it. With the exception of shooting up, we did everything, it was fair game. But shooting up, we at least had enough common sense to not do that. Because we knew that doing that you would just get addicted, and you’re fucked, you’re done.
Still though, Agnostic Front was really a big influence on us and on us deciding to do DBD. They were always playing. At CB’s, there would be an 8 band matinee, and they would always be one of them. Because you know, each song was like two seconds long! Vinnie was not like a master guitarist, but he was a good rhythm guitarist, he was hard and he played it like that, you know? We always went to see them. So once we had the idea to do a band, we had our spot. We knew where we would be going, who we would try to tag along with. We had found our scene.
So, Mike bought a drum set. He just picked it up and started playing, Mike was very talented. And I had always played guitar, even before punk, I bought my first guitar. I would play AC/DC and pretend I was Angus Young. Eddie Van Halen? Nah, too hard to emulate, I can’t play that. But AC/DC, yeah. So it was natural, “let’s start a band!” But my brother also played guitar and he wanted to be the guitar player, and of course he is just as tight with Mike, it’s the three of us always going to shows. And he was older than Mike, he was driving before Mike. But he said he was playing guitar, case closed. So then it was like, “ok, you play guitar, and I will play bass.” My brother used to beat me up all the time, so whatever he says, I’m just like, “Ok, fine, I guess I’m playing bass.”
So the three of us started going up to Mike’s house, either his room or his garage, and started figuring out songs. And Mike is a very smart guy. Maybe people don’t give him enough credit. I don’t mean like a scheming type of smart. I mean he was a very thoughtful person, kinda quiet. His brother also beat him up all the time, I guess we had that connection as well – even though Steve was cool and Mike’s friend too. But Mike’s older brother was a lot older, much older, and definitely not into punk. He was like a redneck cowboy, he rode a horse and shit. And he hated the whole punk thing and would come down on Mike about it. So Mike had that coming at him at home, as well as at school. Later on he would pour out his own feelings in his lyrics in his own way, and it was very smart. It just came out in such a great, heavy way. But yeah, we just started playing, DBD was on it’s way. We didn’t have a name yet, but I’ll get to that.
I don’t know how we met him exactly, but we met Mark Ryan from shows long before DBD. He was in New Jersey too, and we got to know him real well. He was into hip-hop even back then, even when we were skinheads. I think he liked the energy of it. We were all just kids that were looking for something. He would joke around and act like he was a hip-hop dude, he would talk like them, like the whole, “Yo B what up yo?” He was totally white, but he would talk like he was black you know? But he was a mosher too! It was like how the Beastie Boys were. We were friends with, and they turned the same way. They had a total hardcore edge at first, then they disappeared for like a year or two, and then out of nowhere they are opening up for Madonna at Madison Square Garden! Like, that was just crazy. We were like, “what the fuck was that!? How did they go from CB’s to Madison Square Garden?” I don’t know what their connection was, but they did it.
And talking about Mark, this reminds me, there was a real gray area between straight edge kids, hardcore kids, punks, Hare Krishnas, and hip hop kids in NYC. It could all blur together, and it did. Especially hip-hop, it really came from the streets, and it had that element of violence. So, these boundaries were really blurred. It wasn’t like, “Ok, you are a rapper, and you are a straight edge kid, and you are a hardcore kid,” it wasn’t so strict and defined. So, Mark, he listened to that stuff, and he liked the violence and the reality of it. We can’t project back our current situation to what was happening then. Back then, it was like, “Hey, are you a little crazy? Cool, then you are one of us!”
For Mike and me it was a little difficult, because in Jersey, that boundary was pretty fuckin’ clear. You were either a jock, or an outcast, or a rapper…well actually, no, because there was only like one black kid in Montville. And I’m going to his wedding next month! But in NYC, around the street kids, that boundary was just really gray. And that was the thing with Mark – so for him to go that route, it was cool and natural. I’m not even sure if he moved to the city, but if he did, then those boundaries were gone, for sure. And back then, if you were white and listened to rap, that was fuckin’ rare.
Similarly, it was just like us listening to Metallica before the Kill ‘Em All record came out. We saw their show, and they were throwing out their demo of the record before it came out. Somehow Mike got a copy of it, and he played it for us in his car in our high school parking lot. So he says, “Jimmy, listen to this shit.” We were blown away, like, “what the hell is that?!” And he says, that’s called “double bass drum.” To us it was like hardcore just gone crazy. We had never thought about something like that in hardcore. It was like hardcore kids playing this music, except they had long hair and were more talented. That was great! And we just absorbed that too. And I think some of that came out later in Judge. I mean you can’t really see that many traces of it, but it was in Mike’s head, and mine too.
I remember listening to the song “Fade To Black” over and over and over. The way James Hetfield characterized dying, that song just spoke to me so much, because I didn’t think I was gonna live past 20, and it summed up how I felt. I mean it was just so crazy, before finding straight edge, there was just no hope. After that we found some meaning to life and something to stand behind. But before that, it was very grim. As a drummer, Mike really loved that stuff. To him, it was an invention, with that speed and that energy. We really just absorbed it. Even the “chugga chugga chugga” crunching in Judge, that was Metallica. Cro-Mags, they absorbed it too. And they were more metal. Judge was more straight edge and straight forward hardcore, but the traces were there.
But like I was saying with the boundaries not being so clear, back then that’s just how it was, and I think maybe that’s how it was even for the guys in Metallica in California, I don’t know what was in their heads. Maybe they were into punk? Where did they get the idea to play so fast? Misfits? So you know they were drawing inspiration for their art from all sorts of places.
But anyways, DBD, we would drive to Nutley, pick Mark up, and go back to Mike’s and rehearse, or go straight into the city and practice at a studio. Mike always paid. His family was upper middle class, their farm was a big animal farm, and they did well. They sold horses, everything. So Mike actually had money. He took care of all of us. If we needed help or needed something, he’s the man. He worked hard for the family on the farm. But Mike always did it all when it came to paying for things with DBD, we tried to chip in some but it was mostly Mike.
Mike and I wrote the music for DBD, and Steve came up with some too. Then we would present the music to Mark. Mark would send us lyrics, Mike would look at it, and then we would come up with the music. Or sometimes we had the music, and we would see how Mark would want to sing to it. It was pretty free flowing. Mike even contributed to writing some of the lyrics in DBD, but it was mostly Mark. But that shows you, Mike was already starting.
We didn’t have a band name right away. And the other thing is that back then, Mike was just Mike, he wasn’t “Mike Judge.” But Stigma way back used to always come up with names for us. All sorts of crazy shit. Before we even had a name for DBD, we had songs and would play, but we didn’t have a name, and Stigma would try to come up with names for us. One time he was like, “Yo, you guys all have shaved heads. So how about calling your band ‘Chemotherapy’?” We were like, “Umm, NO!” Or he would say, “you guys are from Jersey, so how about the Jersey Moshers?” Again, we were like, “NO.”
Actually just yesterday, Mike and I were talking about this. I remember driving Mike’s car in Montville, getting gas at this gas station in Pine Brook. A biker pulled up and was getting gas. As he is doing that, we were sitting in the car, and we are trying to figure out names. One of us looked over at the biker, and we saw he had a tattoo that said “Death Before Dishonor.” Right then, one of us said, “that’s it, Death Before Dishonor, that’s the band name.” That’s how I remember that.
We played out a decent amount, but I don’t know why we never had a legitimate recording. We had a full set of songs, but there was never a formal demo. We taped everything, every rehearsal was a supposed “demo.” But we were really poor, so the money we did spend went towards studio time in the city. I think we may have thought that eventually the “demo” would become a record. Back then though, to make a record was not that easy, it was a big deal to even do a 45. It would cost a lot of money, and you would have to find a guy to product it and mix it. It was a little beyond us. When DBD was around, Agnostic Front, who was a big band, they only had an EP, and that was a big deal. Later on they came out with their LP, and that was a very, very big deal. By the time Judge came around, bands could put out their own records and everything, but a few years earlier in DBD, it was a different time.
We saw every hardcore band that played in New York City, or at least we tried to. And DBD played with a lot of bands. We played with Youth Of Today and we were big fans, so we knew Youth Of Today before Mike ever played drums for them. Cappo had a presence. Maybe not like HR, but he could certainly hold a crowd. We were definitely into them. So we all started hanging out. They lived far from us, but anytime they came to the city, we hung out. At some point they got Mike to play drums. DBD kinda fell apart. Mark formed Supertouch, we weren’t involved in that.
Mike and I, we did a new band. And of course, that band was Judge…
TO BE CONTINUED