Maple Ridge's punk-rock Judges are stupidly (theatrical) fun

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Punks in Maple Ridge tend to know each other. It’s a small subculture, and there are certain figures you see all the time, moshing on the concrete at Adstock or turning up for the odd hardcore gig at the Wolf Bar. From Jonny Bones to Johnny Mongoloid, it’s not a huge scene.

      Former Likely Rads frontman/present leader of the Judges Jay Raymond is one such person; you’re as likely to run into him in front of the Fuller Watson as you are to see him onstage.

      Somewhat to my surprise, Raymond isn’t from Maple Ridge originally (which is what I had assumed, because what punk not born in Maple Ridge, actually moves there?). In fact, he tells the Straight, he grew up “out in the country” in Ontario.

      “I couldn't see a whole lot of opportunities either music-wise or career-wise out there for me,” Raymond says, “so when I was 17, in 1995, I spent $10 on three packs of darts, strapped my guitar on my back and hitch-hiked out here. I ended up landing in Maple Ridge, at a punk house called PFR. I was already in love with punk rock, although I didn't have too many tapes; Nevermind the Bollocks, Ramonesmania and basically whatever you can find in the single music store in a small town, along with my treasured Surfin' on Heroin and Feed us a Fetus tapes.”

      The PFR punks introduced Raymond to the Dead Kennedys, the Circle Jerks, and Minor Threat, among other bands “not even on my radar at the time.” Later on, Raymond would get into DRI and SNFU, bands more noticeably in the wheelhouse of both the Rads and the Judges (Raymond gushes at one point that he absolutely loves SNFU, and takes “a lot of cues” from Chi's vocal style.) 

      Like any other young punk marooned in Maple Ridge—between his suburban disadvantage and not being old enough—he missed out on a lot of gigs in Vancouver, those first years. “That was a pain in the ass for sure. Everyone else at the house was nineteen plus, so I missed a lot of shows that I couldn't get into and mostly stuck to all ages local shows… though I did make it to the New York Theatre for a couple bangers, like NoMeansNo and the Dayglos.”

      Flash forward 20 years or so, and Dayglos' frontman Murray “the Cretin” Acton would play a key role in the formation of the Judges, at a gig in Maple Ridge. “Murray came out to play an acoustic set at the Wolf last spring. The opening act cancelled and I joked to the promoter that I could throw together an acoustic set of old Rads tunes and a couple covers, maybe a couple other originals I had written. He asked if I would do it. I'd been out of the music game for a good five years” – the Likely Rads had hung up their punk patches in December 2012 – “so I was a little apprehensive, but after a couple days and some new strings I decided to go for it. The night before the show I was feeling like my set was still a little lacking, and ended up writing the music and lyrics for ‘The Gavel Road’.”

      That song eventually appeared on the Judges debut, Opening Statements, an EP of tight, fast, and funny hardcore with lyrics built around bad legal puns. Raymond shares with the Dayglos a fondness for goofy humour in his music; for instance, one Likely Rads album was called One Foot in the Grave…One Hand On My Wiener, illustrated with a cemetery-and-hot-dog-themed album cover that’s just too damn silly to be offensive. He’s also a big fan of Weird Al, and the last Likely Rads album, Legends in Denim, included what is surely the only punk song written about “Just for Laughs Gags”.

      At the time of that Wolf gig, the idea for a courtroom-themed hardcore act had been percolating for three years, with song names like “True Writs” and “Subpoenacolada” in the back of Raymond’s head.  “I already had a passable Judge outfit, so that night I wore that under my vest and hoodie, so I could pull a big reveal and drop the new tune at the end of the set. Our guitarist Tom Graham (Tad Pointer) was in the crowd, and after the set he gave me the 'so are we gonna finally do this Judges thing or what’ talk, and that was that. We jammed the following Monday at our drummer Braden Wear's [aka Pint Whipplestork] house and got our pal Andrew Hansen [Sandy Goldenrod] on board for bass. Things came together immediately, so by the end of our second get together I started booking us.”

      The first official gig from the Judges was at the Attack of Danger Bay skateboarding event during the May long weekend, 2017. “That ended up being the perfect place to cut our teeth. We played all three nights in front of about 300 drunk longboarders in the woods and they went absolutely nuts, it was completely insane. The Saturday night was just us and Dayglo Abortions with light provided by a massive fire and a few van headlights. How's that for a first weekend out? This all led to an awesome relationship with Coast Longboarding; we played all three nights again this year. And those longboard kids are some of our most enthusiastic fans. They come out to every show and just give 'er.”

      Other opening slots in the last year have included spots with DOA, the Ripcordz, and Green Jelly, “But Danger Bay was just such a watershed moment, the moment where you realize maybe we actually have something here!  Probably also worth mentioning that right off the bat we also launched our branding and marketing strategy,” with Raymond designing a “Judge-head graphic and t-shirt” from the very outset. “We sold something like 50 shirts before we even played our first show! I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around that one but there it is.” 

      Another particularly memorable Judges gig “was a party we put on at Flatspot Longboards last summer. Same crowd as Danger Bay but in a much tighter space with much better lighting.  We hit the first notes, and everyone immediately took their shirts off.  I don't know if it was planned or if it was just so damn hot that when one person did everyone followed suit, but that was hilarious. My justice box got crowd surfed, and someone grabbed my gavel and just started smashing heads with it. It was just absolute insanity from start to finish. And so much free Cariboo….”

      The Judges are a bit more old-school hardcore than the Rads, who occasionally seemed to embrace metal riffage, but that “wasn't really a conscious decision per se,” Raymond explains. “I've always skewed way more punk: catchy hooks, simple melodies, that kind of thing, while [Rads guitarist] Burger was always more of a shredder. So it's more his influence on Legends in Denim that you're hearing. I wrote most of the riffs for Opening Statements, so you're getting a lot more of my sensibilities there for better or worse.  I think we're a little broader now that Tom is writing more of the riffs, but for those first couple weeks we were just so laser-focused, cranking out a new tune or two every jam.”

      The Judges are also a bit more consistently satirical than the Likely Rads, Raymond explains. “For me this was a pretty big issue in the Rads. We didn't really have a cohesive vision, so you'd have a tune about war crimes right next to a tune about boners, and I think that held us back a bit. One of the other interesting tidbits about the Judges lyrics is that everything is G-rated, no swearing, no adult topics. I guess we're taking a page from the Weird Al playbook on that one. I'd really like to see us doing a lot more all ages stuff, school tours, that kind of thing eventually.”

      That sounds pretty hilarious, actually—a bunch of 40something punks in Judges costumes playing pun-laden legal hardcore for elementary school students? It could warp young minds permanently and set off a whole new generation.

      In the meantime, while we wait for school boards to get in touch, Raymond has some special tricks up his sleeve for the band’s Pat's Pub gig tonight (July 13), where the Judges will be sharing the stage with (the decidedly not G-rated) Wett Stilettos, as well as Functor (Judges Tom and Braden’s “wicked grindcore band,” Raymond notes); Chilliwack’s Insertion, who will be touring with the Judges this fall); and Spewers, who, Raymond reports, “are my good pal Josh's new band, he used to do Ovary Reaction, which we played a ton of shows with back in the Rads days.”

      Raymond won’t spill exactly what he has planned for Friday, but expect something fast and theatrical. “We've always had props and costumes, and we have some wicked ideas to go even bigger on the theatrical aspect. There are countless sketches of hilarious stage setups. The biggest setup so far was the Green Jelly show at the Rickshaw, where we had two Lady Justices, two weight-lifting convicts and our amazing court stenographer Caitlin. We'll be doing a lot more of that kind of thing down the road, as that was stupidly fun.”  

      The Judges play Pat's Pub tonight (July 13).