An in-depth history of their early years
Interview with Tim Stutz by Pete Crigler
As anyone who knows me or follows Perfect Sound Forever or the other site I work for, you can easily tell I am a fan of the JudyBats. Those first two albums, 1991's Native Son and 1992's Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow are two of the most underrated alt rock records of the '90's. I was perusing around online and discovered long lost original bassist Tim Stutz. He has a new project entitled 'because of robots' and a Bandcamp page, so check out his stuff. He was very gracious about answering a self-described obsessive fan's questions about things that happened over 20 years ago.
PSF: How did you get interested playing bass?
Tim Stutz: Back when I was a kid, and I mean like 4 years old and up, I would listen to LP's all the time and the radio. We had some records at home, things like The Ventures, The Beatles, Mama's and Papa's, Arlo Guthrie and other records of my dad's, cool jazz like Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal, George Shearing. But no one in the family played an instrument. But I was fairly obsessed with music early on. I am a frustrated drummer and a poor trumpet player (I played that in Jr. High). Playing the bass came out of wanting to play music with some friends and that had the least strings. A friend loaned me a homemade bass it weighted a ton and I bought a cheap practice amp, learned how to tune it and away I went. I would play along with records and start to figure stuff out. It took a while. But really it was when my friend Scott Davis and I would hang out at his apartment in Knoxville around 1985 or so and drink cheap beer, listening to the Violent Femmes, The Jam, Adrian Belew and others and he would show me stuff on the bass. That was when I really started to get a handle on it. Scott is a great bass player and trombonist.
PSF: How did you join the band?
TS: I didn't join the band I helped start it. Johnny (Sughrue, acoustic guitarist), Terry (Casper, drummer) and I were from Cleveland TN and we knew each other from High School years, jobs, etc. While we were in Cleveland, we started to play music together and making recordings sort of called ourselves 1000 Years (taken from "Heroin" by VU). We did a little of this in Knoxville at the house we lived in on White Ave. across the street from Jeff (Heiskell, singer) and Ed (Winters, electric guitarist). I met Jeff one night at Hawkeye's. He picked me out as the guy across the street and wasn't it us that was making all that noise. Yes, it was and we started talking about music. Jeff told me that he and his roommate, Ed Winters, were doing this acoustic thing around town and maybe we could try and get together and make some music. So over whiskey and beer, we agreed to get together. Once we did, it became apparent that Ed was a much, much better musician than we were and that Jeff really could sing. It was a little intimidating but I came from the punk ethos of three chords and an idea is all you need. So we persevered and that was really how it started. Peg (Hambright, keyboards) got involved soon after she was my and Johnny's roommate. We didn't know at the time that she was also a kick-ass keyboardist and had a beautiful voice. During this time, Terry was actually living in Atlanta and coming up only on weekends.
PSF: What was the scene in Knoxville like at the time?
TS: It was very casual and there were some pretty great rock bands around. UTK (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) has a good music dept. so there were some mighty fine musicians around. The biggest band in town around then, this is 1986 was Smokin' Dave and the Primo Dopes, the originators of what Knoxvillians called "sneaker rock," along with The Taoist Cowboys. There were other bands that had a pretty dedicated following, like, Wh-Wh!, Beyond John, The Big Stickmen, Red, Teenage Love, The S.T.D.s, Ministry of Love these were mainly punk or post punk bands. There was some funky prog stuff like Awfully Anglo they were Scott Davis's band and the band we played with the first time we played out. It was a cool scene with healthy competition, some back biting, fighting for telephone space to put your flyers up, that sort of thing. Of course no internet but there were some local zines, like Hard Knox Review, The Warm Jet, Township Jive. Folks saw us as a poppy dance band type thing like Talking Heads and B-52's which is true, most of the early songs were pretty black humor and strange. We got a lot of dancers at our shows. The really punk bands acted like they hated us but really it was a sort of a put on. Some great bands came through - Love Tractor, R.E.M., Tiny Lights, Minutemen, Black Flag, Fishbone, Husker Du, Pixies, The Blue Nile, Robyn Hitchcock et al. At any given time, there were about four or five places to play, earlier there was City Side Café, Vic & Bills (rock n' roll) Deli, The U Club/Library, and then Planet Earth, Ella Gurus', Gryphons, Vatican Pizza, China King and people's houses and back yards. And then the theaters, Tennessee Theater, Bijou, Alumni Gym.
PSF: How did the band get signed by Sire?
TS: Short story is Peg did an internship for her brother in DC. Her brother was friends with a woman who was dating Dennis Oppenheimer. Dennis was looking onto managing bands full time. Peg gave him our early demo tape and he was interested. Peg came back to Knoxville, rejoined the band, and Dennis eventually saw and signed on as manager. We got really big in Knoxville and did a little touring. We shopped around demo tapes, eventually Warner Chappell Music was interested in a publishing deal. They gave us money to make a professional demo in NYC at RPM Studios in Jan. 1990 with Richard Gottehrer, who I knew about from Marshall Crenshaw, Blondie, the Go-Go's, Richard Hell and others. We did the demo, it was circulated around and dear old Shirley Divers at Sire really liked it. The way I understand it was that Seymour Stein wasn't interested but he and Shirley reached a deal where she got to sign us up as long as she also worked the band that Seymour was all into, Too Much Joy. A band that she never liked. So that is what happened and we signed with Sire in March (I think) of 1990. I was really into going with Sire because a good portion of my record collection was Sire records the Smiths, English Beat, Talking Heads, Ramones, Echo and the Bunnymen, etc.
PSF: What was it like recording those first two records?
TS: The first one was a big learning experience. We knew how recording worked at least Terry, Johnny and I knew but what we didn't know was how long it can take. And that was frustrating because Jeff does not have a lot of patience and he has high opinion of what he does in comparison to others. Ed would really just click into his own thing and knuckle down and do it. Terry was a mediocre drummer so it took a lot of takes to get the track no digital assistance like you have nowadays. I was a pretty simple bass player mainly because it was all I could do. Johnny will play all day long, just tell him when to start and when to stop. And Peg really pretty much did all her stuff first takes.
We had the songs but we never really did have an idea what kind of sound we wanted the record to have. This was something that frustrated me all the way through the JudyBats. I love to record but I also like records to have themes and some continuity if they can. Jeff and Ed wanted to do whatever Richard or the label said. From the start it was a point of conflict for me I and to some extent Johnny and Terry always wanted more of a DIY ethic, Jeff and Ed wanted to make the label happy. Peg just wanted to be left alone.
But it turned out OK, though there are few songs now that I really never need to hear again "Incognito," "Don't Drop The Baby," "In Like With You," "Counting Sheep." Jeff always had this thing with putting 12 or more songs on a release and so we had too much filler in my opinion.
The second release, which is my favorite, was difficult mainly because we fired Terry after two weeks of rehearsals and one week of studio work that we could not use. It came down to Richard saying that we had to do something about it. He could play live if we wanted but otherwise he would bring a drummer up from NYC and bash it out. By this stage Terry and Jeff hated to be in the same room with each other. Terry was acting like an ass and also just not cutting the mustard he could not play what we wanted and would say the reason was because he didn't like it or didn't hear it. It came down to me finally being the one that told him he had to go home and he was out of the band. I had known Terry for years and it was a hard thing to do. But once Kevin Jarvis showed up we tore through the songs and got to work.
For the most part, I really liked the songs on that release. But once again Jeff demanded that it have 12 songs on it and so we resurrected "Witches Night" (that song is waaaaay too long and BORING) and also added a cover, which I like a lot "Animal Farm." Making that record up in Woodstock was fun. We were there in autumn which is beautiful, hung out most nights at a local Mexican place and we were mixing while the B-52's were in the studio next door. Really nice folks and some of my heroes their 1st LP is the bomb and Wild Planet is killer. We got invited to their Halloween Party which was great fun.
But one thing that really sticks out was that while we were finishing our record, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" had been released in Sept. and it started to climb the chart. The first time I heard it was on MTV with that iconic video and I knew something was up. I loved the song, the video... the whole thing. And pretty much, Boom! college rock was dead, hello alternative and grunge had landed.
But I still like the 2nd record - I was just talking to Johnny about that and we agree that the best song the JudyBats ever did was "Our Story." The thing has some great tunes on it, "Lullaby," "Saturday" (originally called "Killing Machine," but the label wanted a different name), "Down in the Shacks"... pretty good stuff. I did hate the title though but Jeff was adamant about it. I wanted to call it Geography but the song was used on the next record.
PSF: What was 'success' like and how did the band handle it?
TS: Not sure what you mean by "success." Yes, we were on the radio, but really not much "success," in my terms, came our way. Certainly no money, we were broke. For me to be successful would have been to make great music with folks who shared a similar goal. The JudyBats did have that, sort of, but I never trusted the label and Jeff and Ed did. For example, here is a band full of young bitter atheists and our first release was a Christmas song that Sire asked us to write. I like the song now, to a certain extent, but man, at the time I was dead set against it. And it didn't do anything anyway. I hate to sound bitter about it but this was theme during the bands entire existence, even after I left. How did we handle it? Mainly by humor, (I still miss the jokes we use to have) and by choosing sides.
PSF: How was it hearing your songs on the radio?
TS: It was a great thrill. I loved that. Some stations were really good for us WHFS, WDRE, WXRT and others. And college radio was very good then... just like (the Replacements') "Left Of The Dial" says.
PSF: What was the reason for Terry leaving the band; did that change the dynamic?
TS: See above. Change the dynamic? Yes, we were happier, especially Jeff. And whether you like his style or not Dave was a much better drummer.
PSF: How did bringing in Kevin Jarvis and later Dave Jenkins help or hinder the band?
TS: Kevin is a great guy and very good drummer. He stepped in, did the job, drank some beers, cracked some jokes and then flew back to Portland. We knew him from touring with John Wesley Harding he was his drummer. It definitely made Down in the Shacks a much better record. Dave was a Knoxville friend and played drums. Not a very hard hitting drummer but much better at time keeping and dynamics. Turned out though Dave had some demons that he was dealing with and apparently after I left the band, those came to a head. He was OK to tour with and I got along with him well.
PSF: What caused your departure from the band?
TS: I was the only guy married and I often wanted to be with Steph more than I wanted to be on the road. Steph did tour with us as a merch person and that was cool. But that gets old. I didn't mind touring and I enjoyed playing live but I did get tired of it not being especially fruitful. Fact is, I had come to think that the JudyBats were an OK band not great, sometimes sort of brilliant, but not very interesting. I had hoped that that as we had more success that would happen but really the opposite happened. Also, the label had pretty much thrown up their hands about us after grunge hit. I don't really blame them - we were product and we weren't moving units.
I was excited about the new songs we were writing but then Peg said that she was leaving she had enough. She told me and Dave first after we got back from playing the largest gig we had ever played in Chicago. With Peg out, it was going to be less fun and interesting. It got me thinking and after talking to Steph about what we might do I decided in late summer 1992 to get out. I offered to make the upcoming record and then help my replacement but I was told by Ed, "nah, you are either in or you are out." So I was out. So I then got a job at the library, Steph and I saved up a bunch of money and moved to the UK (Steph is English).
PSF: Do you keep in touch with anyone from the band?
TS: Yes I do. Every now and then I email with Peg and I have seen her every now and then when I venture back to K-Town. Johnny was just up here in DC visiting. Our birthdays are 2 days apart...same year 1966. I reconnected with John a couple of years ago and that has been nice. We have known each other since we were 11. I never hear from Jeff or Ed, I don't even know where Ed is. I saw him back in 2001, here in DC but nothing since. Terry and I hung out one evening here in DC about 4 years ago now. I had not seen him since I fired him back in 1991. It was an odd reunion. I don't do Facebook so I never stay in touch that way.
PSF: What did you end up doing after you left the band?
TS: Like I said, I worked at the local Public Library. Moved to Yorkshire, ran a small branch of a library in a village called Gargrave, we lived in Skipton. Moved back to Knoxville, worked at the Disc Exchange. Then we moved to DC, I got a job as a library temp, worked at a Jazz Club, and then got a job at the US Senate Library. Now I am at the Library of Congress as a digital conversion specialist in manuscripts. Played in a band here in DC for a few years, The High Signs, with some friends and that was fun. But playing out became a drag and with kids and a job... well, it had to go.
PSF: What inspired because of robots?
TS: I love to record music. I love tinkering with sounds and instruments. After I became a better guitarist and started to write actual songs, it was a natural thing to do. I could do this in the basement of my house, kids asleep, late at night, a little drink, a little smoke, a drum pattern and mess around to my hearts content. And as I have gotten older, I have enjoyed music by writers that address getting older and how you might see life differently. Well, I wanted to join that party.
PSF: What do you hope the Judybats' legacy will be?
TS: I don't mean to sound callous but I don't care. I mean really, we were just another band making records in the early '90's. I helped make a couple of records that except for a few dud songs, I still think are fine records. I am not ashamed of them and I have no regrets. Well, I do have two. Those god awful videos we made for "Don't Drop The Baby" and "She Lives." God they stink... terrible, terrible. The other videos aren't that good either... the least offensive I think is "Is Anything?" That was another point of contention in the band.
But legacy? Hell, that's for others to figure out. The purpose of musicians is to make music... it is up to the listener and the public to figure out a legacy... or if anyone even cares. My time in the band and its creation is precious to me, I would not trade it for anything. It was a hell of a lot of fun, except when it wasn't, and I think about it often. And by all means kids, enjoy the records when you find them and keep the faith. Goodness, even my teenage son like some of the tunes. So not bad, yeh?
Also see our Judybats article
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