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Epitaph For A Head

Behind the Quiet: An Extended Interview with Mike Ferraro About the Life of Judge, Part II

"Anybody who thought hardcore died in 1985 missed out on a cool part of New York history."

Tony Rettman

Photo courtesy of Tony Rettman

Unless you are maintaining residency in a bomb shelter somewhere off the coast of the Canary Islands, you should be aware of the documentary series we here at Noisey have been presenting entitled There Will Be Quiet; The Story of Judge. The series tells the tale of the iconic NYHC band who raised ears and eyebrows throughout the 80s with their controversial lyrical content and matchless spin on the fusion of hardcore punk and metal riffing.

Last week, to whet appetites for the upcoming segments of the series, I presented the first part of the entire interview I conducted with Judge frontman Mike Ferraro for my (book released in December of last year by the Bazillion Points publishing), NYHC 1980 – 1990. This week, I present the second and final part of the interview where Mike talks about the characters to be found in the early days of NYHC, his departure from the scene for a brief stint in 1984, joining Youth of Today on drums, and how that led him to form Judge.

And don’t forget to join us Tuesday May 5 when there will be a special screening of the documentary at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. After the screening, there will be a panel discussion and Q&A session with Mike Ferraro, Judge guitarist John Porcell, Jidge drummer Sam Siegler, and film director Seth Lowery which will be moderated by yours truly, Tony Rettman. Get your tickets here. See you in the cinematic pit.

Noisey: Let’s talk about your first band, Death Before Dishonor
Mike Judge:
The first time Death Before Dishonor played in New York at A7. it was with me singing, before I started playing drums for them. We got there and actually left to go see the Necros and got back and were still able to play our set. We played at five in the morning. I remember being done playing and walking out into daylight. That’s just how A7 was. Agnostic Front took us under their wing and made us their little brother band. So, at this point, any show Agnostic Front played, we’d open up. If they played a CB’s matinee, we’d open up. At that point, we were playing a lot.

We’d rehearse in the city at Don Fury’s at his Spring Street studio. He had it set up that the drums were in a booth. If you gave him an extra two bucks, you’d get a board tape of your rehearsal. You would get these tapes of your practice that were very clean sounding; like a soundboard recording of a live gig. We would pick a day after we were well-rehearsed and we’d all be quiet and hit record.

What about some of the personalities in the scene at the time, like Raybeez or Jimmy G?
Raybeez had a pretty big personality. He worked the door at the Pyramid and hung out on Avenue A and then he had Warzone. Jimmy was always on the dance floor and up against the stage. He was always in the pit. He would work the door at A7. He started a band called the Cavity Creeps and those shows were just crazy. They had this song called "The Pain Song" where everyone would make a wall of people and run over everybody.

What about Todd Youth?
Todd was a Jersey kid. When I met him, he was like, "I'm from Jersey," and I asked him where he lived he said, "I live here on the streets. I ran away two months ago." I’ve known him a long time and it's fucking great he made it to where he is today. He’s one of the best guitarists I ever heard in the New York scene.

How about Steve Poss?
I thought Poss was a runaway. I could never wrap my head around him being so young and being at this shows. He’s ten years old and he’s watching the Bad Brains at a squat down on Avenue C. Why is he here? It’s one in the morning and we’re sticking together so we can get safely through to Avenue C to Avenue A and we had to go through the park. Why is this little boy here?

Did you venture past Avenue A a lot?
I went to Avenue C only a handful of times. The last time I went, Death Before Dishonor played there. Before we even got to play, a girl we knew got stabbed waiting to go into the bathroom.

How did the thing with wearing construction gloves start up in the NYHC scene? The first time I saw Kevin Crowley from The Abused, he was wearing construction gloves. Then Jimmy Gestapo was wearing them on the dance floor. I never knew what they meant or why, but I was like "Fuck it! I’ll do it!"
Jimmy would wear construction gloves on the dancefloor with a chain around his waist. John Watson always wore a chain around his waist. Same with Jimmy and Ray Beez.

Were the pits pretty rough back then?
It seemed like it back then. It was violent because it was physical, but it was still dancing. The way Watson did it and Diego and Gestapo and Harley did it, there was a style to it. Today, it just looks like a big fucking fist fight to me. Guys like Diego, the Agnostic Front bassist, had style, but he would crush you when he rammed into you. Jimmy had this thing where out of nowhere he’d bend down and go straight back.

When did the metal crossover thing come into the scene?
I’d say around 1984 was when the metal thing came in. I wish I knew how it started. I’d love to go back and just change it. The guys from Anthrax started coming to shows at CB’s and we really tried to discourage them from coming to our shows. They already had L’Amours, so I was of the mind of "You guys already have your club and scene, just stay there." But at the same time, Death Before Dishonor was listening to moremMetal and starting bringing that into our band. It seemed like that was the way things were going. We were listening to the first few Iron Maiden records and we were turning into the jocks that we hated. We were listening to the music they would get naked in the locker room to. It was a fucking weird thing.

The last show we played at CB’s with Agnostic Front, we actually did "Run to the Hills’" as a cover. Right after that set was when I left the band and left the scene for a couple years. I was like, "Goddamn, I helped this happen." I felt awful.

So what made you come back to the NYHC scene?
Mark Ryan from Supertouch called me up and said, "Let’s go see this band. They’re cool and they play hardcore the way we used to do it. They’re playing this Friday night in Philly." He talked me into driving him out there. It ended up being Youth of Today. When they played, I was blown away. They sparked it up in me again. I wound up going to see live music again. I started going into New York again in 1986 and things were happening. You had the Cro-Mags and Youth of Today. It was exploding.

Did you hear about the Cro-Mags in the early 80s when they were going in and out of formations?
I remember seeing Cro-Mags as a tag all over the city for years. I knew Harley from the beginning; he was there from day one. I remember in 1982, someone had an apartment on Norfolk Street and they called it Apartment X. It was pretty much a crash pad. After gigs, everyone would go there. I remember being outside of there, and Harley had just come back from Canada and he’s showing everyone his chest tattoo. He was saying he recorded a demo when he was out on the west coast with him playing everything. He said he was going to call it Here’s to the Ink In Ya. He let us all hear it and a lot of those songs I heard later on the Age of Quarrel record. It sounded like good Motorhead.

When I started coming back into New York to start seeing bands again, the Cro-Mags were playing and they were fucking incredible. It hit the same way seeing the Bad Brains for the first time. Cro-Mags at CB’s was insane.

What was different between the first wave of hardcore in New York compared to the second one?
The crowds were bigger. That was the first time I went to a CB’s matinee and saw a line. There were blue barricades and there were lines around the block. It was never like that. Bands were popping up everywhere and it all revolved around Youth of Today. Straight edge was huge. Johnny Stiff told Ray that there would never have a straight rdge scene in New York. All of a sudden, some of the greatest bands are popping up and everything is so fucking vibrant and new. You had Gorilla Biscuits and Straight Ahead. Astoria was still pumping out great music with Token Entry, Raw Deal and Sick of it All. The fanzines were going. It was a great time for music in the city at that point. Anybody who thought it died in 1985, they missed out on a cool part of New York history.

How did you end up joining Youth of Today on drums?
I was digging Youth of Today big time and they were the sole reason I came back into the scene in New York. If you ask Ray or Porcell, they say they remember me from them going to see The Abused play up at the old Anthrax club in Connecticut. They remember The Abused playing and all these New York kids showing up, taking over their club and being intimidated by us. Break Down The Walls had just come out and they needed a drummer to tour.

One night, I was walking down the Bowery heading over to The Ritz to see the Cro-Mags and as I was going past St. Marks, I ran into Ray and he said, "Dude, do you have any interest in joining Youth of Today? We need a drummer." I was like, "Sure, I’ll try out." He gave me the seven-inch and said, "Just learn any two songs and then we’ll meet at Giant Studios next week." I went to the Ritz and I ran into Porcell and he asked me the same thing!

I went home and threw the record on the turntable and its super fucking fast. I’m just like, "I’m not getting in this fuckin’ band." I was in and out of my house at the time because I was having troubles at home. There was a girl in town and her family liked me, so they were letting me stay there. They let me take a snare drum, a kick drum and a hi-hat into their house. All I did the week leading up to that tryout was play along to that record with headphones on.

I go to the tryout. Richie Birkenhead came in with a guitar on and Craig Satari has his bass on and Ray and Porcell were just watching. They start playing a song and I just can’t play it that fast. So I play the two songs and they say, "We’ll be right back," and walk out of the room. I’m just thinking to myself "There’s no way I’m getting in this band’." They come in and say, "You’re in! We’re leaving for Canada a day after tomorrow to play with 7 Seconds." My head spun because I’ve never left New York or New Jersey. I played in Philly with my old band, but not Canada. I didn’t even know how we were getting there. I asked, "Do we fly there?"

Then you went on the complete ‘Break Down The Walls’ tour, right?
Yeah, after that, I went on a tour of the whole country with Youth of Today. I didn’t really know about the pre-conceptions of the band people had. All I knew about them was that I dug them. I knew nothing about the whole PMA and positive thing. I was from more of a violent background. I was always getting reprimanded in the beginning; especially from Ray.

One time on tour, we were selling the seven-inch and this guy wanted to buy the record, but he didn’t want to pay the price, so Ray was like, "We can’t sell it for cheaper than this. Sorry, man’."The guy starts talking shit, so I pushed Ray aside because I was just going to fight the guy. Ray was like, "Woah! Woah!" and I was like, "What?" Ray was like, "We talk things out with this band" and I said, "Well, I’m not good at things like that."

I never got fully used to that; how you’re supposed to sit there and let some guy say shit and somehow you’re the better man by walking away. I’d rather be the better man who’s stepping over his body, you know? That’s why I wound up wanting to quit Youth of Today. I couldn’t deal with having to turn the other cheek.

There were points on that tour where I asked Ray, "So what exactly does a guy got to do to get his ass beat? Is there a set of rules? Can you make a chart? Do I have to get hit first? Because I hate getting hit first!" I was always taught "If there’s any doubt, lay him out!" Make sure you get it off first, because a lot of times there isn’t a second time and I don’t want to be the guy laying down. I’ve been put out once and it sucked. Ray’s answer to everything was, "You got to listen to 7 Seconds."

We played in Detroit and there was this band from there called Boom and the Legion of Doom. They were throwing fucking deer meat at us. I guess they were doing it because of Ray’s vegetarian thing. I’m behind the drums seething, man. I just want to kill these fucking guys. Richie was feeling the same way. We get off stage and I’m like, "Let’s tear these guys apart!" At first, Ray wasn’t into it, but then Ray is like, "Alright, but let me lead us into it." The way he put it, I thought he was leading us into battle and we were going to get bloody together.

But Ray gets up to them, recites 7 Seconds lyrics to the guys and walks out of the club! I’m standing there and I’m looking at these guys and I’m just confused. In my mind, someone should be laid out by now. This has been going on far too long! Even the guys in the other band were confused. Me and the rest of these guys were looking at each other confused and thinking, "So…should we have a fight?" I just never get my role in the band.

Finally, we got out to Phoenix and there was this Nazi skinhead gang there. Ray was trying to dance and this skinhead did something to them, so Ray was like "Mike! Richie! Get those guys!" The bouncers broke us up and the Nazis told us to meet them somewhere after the show, but they never showed up. But that was the only time Ray was like, "Okay, you guys can have a fist fight now."

So was being stifled like this the catalyst for starting Judge?
I loved Youth of Today. I love Ray. I spent many nights of that tour in a fucking van pouring our hearts out to each other. I love him as a person. I love Porcell too, but we come from different places. The end game for each of us was different. There were so many spots where they were satisfied with it, so I was like, "I’m never going to be like these guys." I was getting way too frustrated. It wasn’t worth it.

Our van broke down in Florida and we had to park it in a junkyard while it was getting worked on. We talked these girls into letting them stay in their apartment, but someone had to sleep in the van with the equipment. We’d take turns. On my night to watch the van, I’m in the middle of this Florida junkyard and I’m lying there in the van. I got these ideas in my head and I’m writing words down for a band that I don’t even have yet. I’m looking at these words I’m writing and it’s painfully obvious that these words are never going to be a Youth Of Today song. So that’s when I thought when I get back to New York I’ll start my own band. I couldn’t keep muzzling myself.

Porcell had come out to keep me company one night and we were started talking about this band that didn’t exist yet. We would be laughing going, "Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this? Wouldn’t it be cool if we did that?" Basically, we were starting Judge right then and there and we didn’t know it.

When we got back to New York, we had rehearsals for a new Youth of Today record and I told Ray that I was going to go my own way. A week later, I came up with the name of the band and asked Porcell if he was interested in helping out.

What was the writing process for those initial Judge songs?
At the time, I was living with Porcell, Al Brown and Ray in Brooklyn. Those guys were going to work during the day, so I would just sit there with a bass and write songs. I had Al Brown’s record collection, Porcell’s record collection and Cappo’s record collection. It was a punk rock library. I would just sit there and listened to SSD, Negative Approach, Last Rights and a little bit of Slap Shot and then go and play bass.

When New York Crew, the first Judge seven-inch came out, it caused a lot of controversy with its lyrics. Was that a conscious effort on your part?
In my mind, I was doing everything to get that reaction, but when I got that reaction, I was like, "Woah, I can’t believe I got that reaction! Wow! It fuckin’ worked!" When the record came out, it turned out Choke was really pissed about the Boston line. I didn’t get why. The line was written in a broader perspective of telling what happened. It didn’t say anybody won a fight or anything. I was trying to mention the Boston New York rivalry and he took it the wrong way and it went from there.

The way I write music and lyrics’ those words come out of me like a fucking disease. They come out of me like a bad toothache. It’s hurting and it’s hurting and it’s hurting and I don’t know what to do with myself and I want to kill something or break something then all of a sudden it comes to a breaking point and BAM! Out pours these words like a bad dream. And then the toothache is gone. That’s the way it’s always been.

Porcell would call me up and I would read him some lyrics as I was writing them. One night, I read him the lyrics to "New York Crew" over the phone and he’s like, "Great song but you got to change the words. You can’t fucking say that shit. You’re copping to crimes in some of this shit." When I got off the phone with him and sat back and read it, I was like, "Yeah, I think I know where he’s coming from," so I changed the whole ending.

So how did Judge become a live band?
All of a sudden, there was this demand to see it live. So Porcell called me and said, "Guy, why don’t we put a band together and play a show?" So I thought, "Okay, I’ll give it a shot." We got Drew from Bold and Jimmy Yu to play bass. We went up and played the Anthrax and it was fucking awesome. We never stopped after that.

Tony Rettman wrote a book on all this stuff. You should check it out. Follow him on Twitter.