Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Todd Schwartz - Judge roadie

About a year ago, Tim uploaded the JUDGE “Where It Went” video onto YouTube. We were watching it one day and noticed that someone left a comment about being the band’s roadie. We had known that one of Mike’s friends, Todd Schwartz, was the JUDGE roadie and went onto to also play with Mike in Old Smoke. Having never really heard much about Todd, even though he seemed to be one of the few people from hardcore to remain tight with Mike after JUDGE, we thought it would be cool to see what he had to say about his time with the band and his time afterwards.

For a band that is well chronicled and documented, to me there is still just a general mysteriousness to JUDGE. Think about it: they started out as the brainwork of a young and furiously straight edge Mike Judge, who teamed up with Porcell to create an overly-blunt yet devastatingly raw debut EP that created as many fans as it did enemies…and they ended up a 5 piece metallic hardcore powerhouse that thanked and sampled Harley-Davidson motorcycles and covered When The Levee Breaks, complete with harmonica solo from Todd, on their final release (and all of that is awesome as far as I am concerned). The whole way through, there is absolutely no questioning that they were a straight edge hardcore band to the fucking bone.

I think every time I have been hanging around Porcell I have said, “please just tell me everything possible about JUDGE.” Having never gotten a friend/roadie perspective, I thought Todd might have some cool insights and stories to share.

Todd was cool to talk to and psyched to answer our questions. If you are into paintball, be sure to check out Todd's company and website at: www.sinergypaintball.com -Gordo

Where did it all start for you - getting into hardcore, going to shows, etc?

It all started for me in high school. I was part jock (mohawk and all), and part punk.

Just out of curiosity, who were your favorite bands, hardcore or otherwise, from that time period?

Bad Brains. Can you imagine listening to them just before bed? Well I did and it ain’t good for you.

At what point did you meet Mike (or any of the other JUDGE guys for that matter), and what type of connection did you have with him/them?

I met Mike in high school. Our girlfriends were friends with one another and both eccentrics. Personally I thought Mike was a Nazi because of his boots and braces look. There was no such thing as SHARP back then so I went with my ignorance on the matter. Later in high school both me and Mike had a mutual friend, Howard Horowitz, who was older than both of us, totally into punk and had a huge half pipe. Mike couldn't skate for shit, but he would hang and everyone would listen to music. At that time Mike's whole world revolved around the scene in NYC and I guess you could say that I could care less. I was all about skateboarding, football and listening to punk – i.e. The Faction, Misfits, etc. I also went to school with Jimmy Yu who I actually knew much better than Mike back in the day. There was no such band at the time, just thought I'd mention it.

Jimmy Yu is another mysterious dude. Without jumping ahead too much, any idea where he wound up post-Judge? I have heard he has been involved in Academia for a long time.

All I know is what I heard and that comes from pretty reliable resources. Jimmy Yu is a full on monk living on Canal St. in NYC, but who knows?

So what was your involvement with JUDGE and the late 80s straight edge scene prior to becoming a JUDGE roadie?

I hit a YOT show at the Anthrax when Mike was playing drums for them, I think in 1987. While stationed in San Diego with the Marine Corps in the 80s JUDGE came across my radar. I was totally into hardcore and was running SHARP west of the Mississippi. Mike's girlfriend from high
school introduced me to Marcus in NYC when I was home on leave from the Marines and the rest of SHARP was history. I hooked up with Mike through the same mutual friend from high school after getting out of the service and we immediately became best friends. To us it was more about riding Harleys than hardcore. Personally I think Mike had already entered a transitional time in his life moving away from his music while most moved towards it.

The JUDGE seven inch is like a ton of bricks and is one of the most lyrically straight edge records ever written. What were your thoughts on straight edge, and how did those thoughts change or not change while being around the band?

Imagine this, here I am… this twenty-something carnivore kid, fresh out of the Marine Corps, hooking up with a straight edge band who lived what they sang about. Despite all the ball breaking, I started to eat rabbit food on tour. It was in Detroit at an African restaurant with Snow Black and the Seven Black Dwarfs on the front lawn. No shit. But, I refused to give up my beers. I wasn't a big drinker, but to have a few brews back in the day seemed like too much fun to give up. For the next two years I could confidently call myself the only Jewish, marine, vegan, anti-racist skinhead.

As a roadie, did you perceive Mike and the band's feelings on straight edge as less intense by 1990 or so due to the changing scene? Can you shed any light on this having been around them?

Fact: Mike practiced what he preached. He was a full on vegan on tour, did not drink and I can assure you we were the only band selling places out and not getting laid hahaha. Mike remained a vegan long after although.

By the time Bringin’ It Down was released, JUDGE was one of the biggest hardcore acts in the country without question. What was your perception of their place in a hardcore scene that was headed in a lot of different directions around that time period?

Unlike a lot of bands we all loved from that era, JUDGE actually knew how to play their instruments and had that professional sense about them that bands like the Cro-Mags had.

Racist Skinheads were a gigantic part of the problems that plagued the late 80s hardcore scene. JUDGE clearly took a strong stance against this crowd. Did you perceive racist skinheads knowing JUDGE was not fond of them?

For sure, not only did those shitheads know JUDGE did not share the same views, but the learned that they would most likely receive a good fucking beating if they came for a fight.

What shows from that time period stand out as the most memorable?

We played in Tampa where a bunch of Nazis came for a fight and a fight is what they got. I remember Mike calling his dad and telling him he wasn't going to make it out alive and he loved him. Anyway, these Nazis hooked a black bum off the street and brought him into the show, placed him in the middle and within 30 seconds of the first song, "Where it Went," the Nazis put a smack down on this poor guy. I jumped in, kicked some Nazi ass and was happy to see Mike over my shoulder along with me. I'll never forget Sammy standing on the side of the stage holding Porcell's acoustic guitar like a baseball bat holding back the crowd. By the way there are a hundred of these stories.

What are some of your funny memories of touring with the band?

The van broke down in Iowa on Route 80 and I was so bored I took a shit next to the van in the slow lane. For the next 30 minutes we went nuts every time a car or truck would go by. Eventually an eighteen wheeler nailed that pile doing eighty miles per hour, and splat! The whole side of the van was covered in shit. Take this and imagine 100 more stories. Another one was I broke my hand on a guys head after wrapping him up in a gas pump hose and putting a beating on him. Later that night we all got arrested. They actually rolled the dude up in an ambulance, opened the rear doors and he pointed at me. The other JUDGE guys went free.

Let's talk motorcycles. When did you and Mike get into riding together? What specifically did you ride then, and what would a typical cruise be like for you? Did you share a lot of the same tastes/interests when it came to Harleys? I am guessing you could never sell Porcell on the idea of a rigid knuckle with apes and a 180 rear, eh?

LOL... Porcell was cool because he thought it was the absolute coolest thing in the world that he had these two bikers on the road with him. Mike rode his 1989 softtail and I had a 1990 FatBoy. We both became obsessed with speed and performance long before Jesse James and the boys of Discovery Channel. We rode our bikes 300 days a year. We rode everywhere. We rode to Daytona Bike Week for the 50th (1000 miles in the snow and rain)… that is a book in itself. Both of us still have our bikes. Mike’s bike transformed to look like the bike from Harley Davidson and the Marlboro man.

Do you still ride with Mike? What are you guys riding these days?

Nah, I don't get a chance to ride much with Mike these days. I'm a firefighter and ride with a firefighter motorcycle club. Having four kids makes it tough to plan anything.

Tell me about doing Old Smoke and working with Mike on his acoustic material after JUDGE ended. This is very intriguing to a lot of JUDGE fans.

It all started out with me calling Jordan and telling him, "I'm the only one that can get Mike off the farm and recording. The only catch is that you have to do it my way.” In short, that meant Mike was going to play what he wanted to play, no catches. I hooked Mike up with a recording studio inside of my warehouse in the meat market. What made this magical was that it belonged to Richie Havens, the first man to play at Woodstock. Richie's road manager was a close friend of mine, and he took us under his wing. We began to record the Sights record on 1/2 tape using equipment from Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Land Studios… old lelies, hammond organs, sick authentic shit. The defining moment for me was we were jamming late one afternoon and Richie Havens came in. Mike had not met him yet, but I knew him quite well. We were playing Can't You See by the Marshall Tucker Band and Richie jumped in on the hammond organ. Next thing you know it we have like three or four old hippies backing up Mike Judge playing a vintage southern rock song. It was sick. I didn't want to stop, I was happier for Mike than myself. Although we recorded the album old school and as authentic as anyone could have imagined, it sucked. Not the songs, just the mix. Subsequently, Mike took his own money and we recorded in a dump in our hometown with our new bass player and drummer. Around the same time, we began to gig. Our first big gig was at the Bank on Houston Street in the village. 75% bikers, 20% close friends, 5% confused hardcore people. We played the city about once per month and NJ about the same. We rehearsed 2-3 times per week and for all intents and purposes we were busy. I loved Old Smoke and so did Mike. Mike was actually playing the music he loved. Although our recording sucked, we sounded like Neil Young and Crazy Horse to the fucking T. Mike would do acoustic gigs on his own from time to time, but mostly full band/acoustic, 50/50 sets. We were like the reincarnation of Neil Young. Mike was extremely motivated sinking a lot of his own money into recording. We felt very comfortable playing this style of music. Honestly, I liked it because it put me on a level with Mike musically that he shared with Porcell. Don't get me wrong, things were mostly Mike, but I had the opportunity to write songs, and my guitar was the backbone to the four-piece.

To wrap this up, a question that practically every JUDGE fan wants to know: what was Mike Judge really like? You are one of very people to have been tight with him before, during and after the JUDGE days.

I love Mike, he is a good man and a better friend. We started Old Smoke, and even though it didn't go far, it kept us close for years riding motorcycles, playing in clubs and just being bikers. Mike is really a talented musician that a lot of JUDGE fans will never get to experience. Out of respect for his privacy I choose to keep mum on him. We still live a mile from one another and see each other from time to time. He is a hard working guy and likes to keep things simple. If there is anybody who will get him to play again, that'll be me. I used to bust his chops but decided to let things go. Being Mike Judge would make Mike happy. What exactly that is is left to the imagination.


Damaged said...

I remember when Judge played the Anthrax with Todd, it must have been Todd anyway, accompanying them. Excellent show, but I think people where really taken aback by two things. The first, the presence of a bouncer, Todd, who aggressively discouraged stage diving. Second, when he broke out the harmonica for When the Levee breaks. I think a lot of people were surprised to hear a classic rock song at a hardcore show. From what I remember the reception was positive, but I am guessing that song may have been new to a lot of the kids then who perhaps were not exposed to much more than hardcore. I remember Tim Chunks commenting on this when he and Token Entry covered a Jimi Hendrix song. Apparently the audience was surprised at his choice of song to which he responded, "What's the matter, you guys only listen to hardcore?"

Anonymous said...

i remember the judge show in tampa, and NOONE in the band wanted anything to do with the nazis! or help any of us miami guys who were the ones who stood up to them! but hey we all need a good story.

Cargawar said...

@Anonymous Personally I think bands should be able to speak out against certain political ideas but I don't think a band should endanger themselves on stage or the continuation of the band in a whole by joining fights at shows. It will haunt them and could backfire.
Ofcourse it is to be praised if individual band members step up when not performing on stage.

I also remember Judge quit because of the violent shows. Why propagate it then? I bet Mike had nothing to prove when it came to fighting. He just got sick of it. Correct me if I'm wrong please.

xBurningxFightx said...

Todd, did you mean SHARP as "SkinHeads Against Racial Predudice"?

Not being American and too young to know about the NY skinhead scene back then, I haven't heard or read much about the involvement of the SHARP movement in hardcore back in those days (late 80's).

Although AF and Warzone made it clear regarding racism, things about skins seem ambiguous from a European perspective, but again, haven't been there and know nothing about it except from the bands that I love.

Perhaps, veterans can shed some light on that.

First time I ever read an interview with "SHARP" and "Judge" in the same topic. And that's pretty cool.

Thanks for these insights.


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