The Judges' first album, Opening Statements—written about here, before we realized the Judges’ leader, the honorable Hargrove Derby, had a nom de punk that he preferred—was a fast-paced, blustery slice of legally-themed punk-rock idiocy, but wait a minute: the songs sound catchier, funnier, and faster on their new Live! Sentence release (recorded live at the Rickshaw). What gives, Judge Derby?
“The studio album was very rushed,” Derby admits. “We did it in an afternoon, maybe two months after we formed the band, and basically got one take each. So what you hear on the live recording is three years of us perfecting those tunes. The hooks were always there, we just nail 'em way easier and way tighter because we've developed the muscle memory, and nailed the best ways to deliver each part for the best impact without really having to think it.”
There were other changes too, like the addition of a new bassist, Tyler from Squalor N’ Sloth, who sing one of Derby’s favourite songs, “Quit Yer Job”. But Derby doesn’t think that made the difference. The addition of covers by FEAR (“Public Hangings”) and the Circle Jerks (“Deny Everything”) sure doesn’t hurt, though.
The FEAR tune—off Have Another Beer with FEAR, from 1995—is something Derby used before, “in a video for my old project, the Wholesome Canadians. We did a sorta sketch comedy video thing...that particular video never saw the light of day because I had put licensed music in it; after that I just composed for the videos instead. But yeah, that tune has been around forever, and we were super excited that we could bring it into the set. Actually, when I first started recruiting for the Judges, it was ‘Gavel Road’, ‘Fresh Justice’, and ‘Public Hangings’, and I would walk around with my robe and acoustic and try and catch people's attention.” (Presumably he was also wearing a judge costume at the time—the Judges are nothing if not theatrical).
Derby has never seen FEAR, “and prolly never will unless we play with 'em,” because Derby doesn’t go to shows: “I just play 'em,” he tells the Straight. So ditto for the Circle Jerks/Adolescents bill May 6 at the Commodore—he’d love to be there, but wiggling onto the bill is probably the only way that’s going to happen. “Last time they came in '08, I called Fireball Steve at 3 a.m. when I heard they were coming and he's like, ‘Dude I don't even know who is putting it on.’ Aging Youth Gang ended up getting the slot somehow”—apparently there’s a funny story there, if anyone is interviewing Chris Hansen—“but yeah that would be a fucking dream.”
The Rickhsaw show documented on Live! Sentence “was epic for sure,” Derby remembers. “It was the Dreadnoughts St Patty's two-day extravaganza.” (We pause to spellcheck whether it is properly St. Patty’s or St. Paddy’s, and decide to let Derby’s less popular version stand). “I had been talking to Marco earlier in the year about doing something together and then we kinda lost touch. I was working late on a Thursday, and I tuned in to [CJSF program] Rad Radio, and Jonny Bones had them on the show, so I called in.... and Marco is like, 'Wait, who's this guy?' And Jonny is like, ‘That's Jay’”—excuse me, that should be HARGROVE—“'from the Judges! Have you seen them? They are unlike anything you've ever seen.’ And I'm on the phone, and I'm like, ‘Marco! We were just talking about this! And he's like, ‘Okay, fuck it, you’re on,’ so yeah, we landed the spot two days before the show, weren't even on the poster! But every time we do the Rickshaw, we go all out, so I think we had nine people on stage that night? Two justice ladies, two criminals, stenographer, and the four of us.”
The Judges’ new live album features a few songs, like their live hit “What’s Under the Robe”, which have never been previously released. A sample of Judges’ wit: “People always ask me what’s under the cloth/But the secret ain’t revealed until it’s all off/Like a priest or a Rabbi or a guy at the spa/Gotta keep it concealed, cuz that’s the law!” A later rhyme speculates “it can’t be pants (WHAT’S UNDER THE ROBE?)/ Cuz look at us dance!”
Does Derby have any favourite rhymes on the new album? He needs to think a minute: “Like, each tune has hundreds of little words, I think I spit something like 3,000 words over our 20-minute set. For instance, 'Exhibit A’; it's an alphabet song, so Tom and Ty yell ‘exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C,' et cetera, and I do the in-betweeners. So I think probably, ‘Exhibit E, half a donut and a Frisbee/Exhibit F, an uncompleted science test.’ Just a great tune all around. We made the call early that we would rhyme the in-betweeners with the sound of the letter instead of the more traditional ABAB structure. Of course, then we turned it up to 11, and decided to make it 26 seconds long so it's sorta impossible to tell what the guy is saying.”
As for other previously unreleased tunes, there’s also “Odor in the Court” and the two covers—not that much that’s new, actually—but the overall effect is fast, frenetic, and funny, and a considerable step up from the studio recordings. There are other songs yet to be released, like “Hot for Stenographer”, which as theatre is amazing, Derby says, “but it really doesn't come across as a tune.” And Derby’s other favourite Judges song at the moment “is probably ‘We Rule’, which is also not on that recording. It starts with a Gregorian chant type bit where we all harmonize and then slams into a fast brutal little tune where we talk about ourselves the whole time a la KMFDM.”
Any special plans for the album release show on Saturday? Interesting anecdotes about the other bands? Behind-the-scenes deets?
Derby laughs. “Yeah! Me and Bryce from Car 87 have been trying to nail down a show together for fucking years, like literally since they started. That was the impetus for this for sure. He goes out on boats for six-week stretches, though, and our bass player is a tree planter, so timing has been a huge issue. Spewers of course are our brothers, we did a West Canada tour in 2018 together, and Covenauts is our pal Danielle's band—to be honest, I grabbed them because a), we're pals, and I somehow missed 'em last time I went to see 'em, and b) they're gals, and as we all know this fucking scene is a hella boys club, so always trying to push the secret femcon agenda. But yeah I guess that comes from my radio days, I always try and get at least one band with girls for every show because as I say, boys club is not cool.”
As for the theatrical side of Judges, “I think we have seven people lined up and a couple funky new inventions to test out, so it should be yet another paradigm shift. Wendy"—aka promoter wendythirteen—“has been so great to me and to us since we first met like 20 years ago, so I always try and push a little harder when we're doing a Wendy show.... yeah. If you haven't seen the Judges before this would be the one to check out for sure.”
The Facebook page for the Judges’ Live! Sentence album release is here.