Judge at CBGB. Photo: Boiling Point
Jimmy Yu talks on Judge, Buddhism and life after hardcore. Part VI, the final piece from this interview coming soon. If you’ve missed anything, be sure to check out the previous interview entries. -DCXX
We recorded every Judge practice, because we always practiced at the same place, and they had a huge PA mixing board. This was the same place we practiced for DBD. But so many of those Judge practices run together. I don’t remember what was what, but so many were like real recordings, hundreds, with good levels and sound. But we didn’t see it as a precious recording, so we would copy over previous recordings, and we were so poor that we would even just take shitty actual tapes, like real band’s tapes, and put scotch tape over the little squares on the top and record like that. I wish we hung onto those. They could be anywhere, in the garbage somewhere. We recorded with Luke, and with Sammy. But that’s how we learned our songs, every now song, we learned it by recording it. We would be like, “What did we just play?! That was great!” And we would go back and listen to it. There was some great stuff on those tapes.
I really don’t remember recording the Chung King record, it just all runs together. There were so many rehearsals and recordings and it just is buried in memories. There is one time I remember recording and I think maybe that was the Chung King recording, but I just can’t remember. I kept in touch enough to know about that record coming out, even though I was out of Judge by that point. It was a big deal to do that record, even if I don’t remember it, doing an LP was still a big deal. I mean DBD went on for years and we never got a real demo out of it. Judge did the EP and then the LP pretty quickly, it was still a big deal. I heard about it when it came out, but I never got a copy.
I can see the transition now between the early Judge songs and the later songs, there was some progression. But at the time, they just seemed a little bit heavier with a little metal influence, and some slower tempos. But when we wrote those songs originally, the solos weren’t there. I don’t think metal influences were conscious, maybe to Porcell but I don’t think to me and Mike. Back then it was just like, “Hey look at this new tune I have!” It wasn’t like, “I wrote this song, it is a big change, it is a metal song, that’s what we should make it sound like!” But we had learned how to play, I think we all learned how to really play. Sammy became a really, really great drummer, and Porcell really knew how to play guitar. We got tight, and heavy. Mike was always very smart and musical, but the way he sang those songs, that didn’t just happen. He knew how to work in his influences and various genres, that was just his ingenuity. He was and is such a talented guy.
During Judge, I was still into going to shows and the bands that were around. I had been around for 7 or 8 years, and it was different. I wasn’t 13 years old, and it wasn’t new and scary. For me, it was just, “Yeah, I’m playing bass in Judge.” I was getting into Buddhism, and trying to get away from a violent past. But when we played, I loved it. It wasn’t boring! I always loved the moshing, the dancing, people stage diving and going off. It was a totally different era, the bands from 1983 were either broken up or much different by the time Judge was going. But I still liked a lot of the bands that were new and around. I was excited to see a lot of bands, even in Judge, and it was the same for Mike.
I think the people that say looking back, “Yeah, I wasn’t really into those bands then, I was into the earlier bands before them,” I think they are coming at it from a retrospective macro view. But at the time, when they were on the ground, they weren’t thinking like that. They were a part of it and into it, even if now they try to deny it. Maybe now they want to look back and categorize eras and what they liked more or less, and they want to say, “I liked the earlier bands more, I didn’t like the later bands.” But I saw you there, on the ground, with these bands, being into it!
Jimmy at his house, displaying a Chung King. Photo: Tim DCXX
People like to create their own narratives and glorify their own era, and they want to pick and choose what to reminisce about. And this applies to those people who want to talk about their roles in early NYHC, and the formation and development of it, and how it is not the same as what came later on. They make it sound like it didn’t happen or it was significant. It’s the same as when you talk to an old man and he is like, “OHH back when I was young it was like this and I used to this! It’s not the same anymore!” It’s the same thing. So take it with a grain of salt.
The boundaries between eras in hardcore, and types of bands and all that, maybe now it is really distinct, but it wasn’t back then. Not to me. Was I stage diving to Bad Brains in 1983? YES! Was I stage diving to Bold or other bands in 1988? YES! To me, it was all the same thing, and it was great. Ok, I mean the early Bad Brains shows were a totally different level, but it was all a part of the same thing. Even later era Bad Brains, when there was a whole set of reggae, you waited that whole set for the one hardcore song, because that was great, we were satisfied with just that. And even the reggae songs, HR was still kinda crazy and delirious looking, falling down and stuff, he wasn’t laid back.
I don’t try to diss the newer bands that are still going. I think that’s great, keep on going, keep it alive. As long as you approach it genuinely and don’t try to play out some fantasy act from the past. Move forward.
Even before Judge I had started to get into Buddhism. In 1987, I went to the School Of Visual Arts in NYC right after high school to start my freshman year of college. I was at SVA until 1991. Doing abstract expressionism for inspiration, I thought maybe I would look to Buddhism for inspiration. All of my friends were either into Hare Krishna, or Buddhism. So I thought, Ok, Buddhism. And then I really got into it.
I started to back out of hardcore while I was living above the temple, and doing Zen retreats. I started to fade out, in terms of going to shows, while Judge was continuing. I was even seeing Mike less and less because I was always in the city and he was always back in New Jersey. I had even already gotten out of skateboarding. Earlier on, Howard Horowitz and I had built a half pipe while I was still in Montville. But I broke my ankle, so I couldn’t really do a lot of the tricks I used to do, and I got out of skateboarding too.
Even when I was living above the temple, Mike and those guys would stop by to pick me up when driving here on the way to the studio. They didn’t have the number because I wasn’t allowed to give it away. Even if they got someone on the phone, nobody spoke English. So they would come to the door, and be like explaining it to these monks, trying to act it out, you know like “We are looking for Jimmy, short hair, plays guitar, lives here, crazy?” And then the monks would figure it out and go upstairs and get me.
The guys in the band could see me drifting away. I remember they wanted to go on tour, and I couldn’t do that. I was in school, and in the summer I was doing volunteer work and writing for Chan magazine. So I couldn’t do that. It was a gradual thing, I think we didn’t practice for a while, and they started practicing without me. It wasn’t a difficult break, we were still friends. But I was talking to Mike about this yesterday, and I think it was like, “Yeah, I guess it’s better if Jimmy left, so we can get someone steady.” I can’t remember my last show with the band, maybe a show at The Anthrax?
With Buddhism, I was lead to it by all the things I was into before it. That is a retrospective view now, I mean back then, I was just bumping from one thing to the next blindly. My parents wanted me to go to college. For me, it was either music or art. As a boy, I did art all the time. In fact, I forgot to mention this, but I drew a lot of NYHC flyers. The AF guys, those guys couldn’t draw. So they would give me words and dates. If you see any skinhead moshing, on an AF or DBD flyer, I did it. Me and this other kid Tim Casinda, this skater kid, we do all those flyers. Not many people could draw that stuff, moshing half skinhead half monsters and everything. So yeah, I wanted to do art.
I remember thinking, if I go to school for music instead of art, I have to learn classical music, I have to learn music theory. Ahh, forget that. Art is easier, I can just draw. So I got into illustration. During that phase, Judge characterized me so much. As I got into art more, I really looked into the meaning, and the meaning of expressing yourself through art. Then I got into abstract art, which was totally impractical. This was kinda rare for a Chinese kid to not major in something practical like economics, or engineering, or medicine, or law. This lead into Buddhism, which weighed so much on meaning and expression. It helped me figure out so much about myself…why was I an outcast? Why was I different from other people? And I still am like that. If people go this way, I go the other way. I guess it is in my genes, it has passed on to my daughter.
So with abstract art, you had to draw inspiration from somewhere. People were drawing inspiration from their own western abstract art history, and I just thought, “I don’t want to do that.” That was just reproducing stuff and spitting it out. So I looked to ancient Chinese landscape paintings. I found in this painting, within this vacant vast empty space, there was this tiny little boat painted. That showed the interplay between emptiness and the little boat that was formed by just a few brush strokes.
That lead me into minimalism, and how just a few brush strokes could express so much. I found out that those paintings from 12th century China were influenced by Zen. So I’m thinking, “Wow, yeah, I remember that stuff, my Mom is into Zen.” So I run downstairs to ask these Buddhist monks, they are right downstairs, I need to find out! So I started talking to them a lot, reading a lot, and I felt like I found something. All my life I had been headed south, and then right there, I found out, oh my God, north is the other way! And right away, I turned around and started running north, as fast as I could.