Interviewed: Todd McTavish
Band: Judge Jackson
Latest Album: One Diamond
Interviewed by: Dave
Links of Interest:
Judge Jackson Official Website
I always like to do live interviews when I get the chance. I was lucky enough not only to get a live interview, but for Judge Jackson to come play the town I live in. The band absolutely shredded with their set and ended up gaining new fans as a result. The band have an excellent abundance of energy live and if they come to your city, I would definitely recommend checking them out... you will not be disappointed! As far as the interview, I obtained this just a little bit before the bands set. I sat down with lead vocalist and songwriter Todd McTavish to get the rundown on the band and what's going on with them. Judge Jackson is without a doubt one of America's rising stars, and if they are given the chance could prove to the rest of the country that Rock is still king!

Heavy Metal Resource: Thanks Todd, I do appreciate the time given to do this interview. Let's first start off by giving an introduction of the band as there are gonna be fans who are curious who you are.

Todd McTavish: Lee and I met exactly 10 years ago today in June of 1995. We met Ryan within two days after that. We had another drummer in the band at the time, JJ is fresh in the band, which is the greatest thing to happen in this band as far as I'm concerned. We had a second guitar player for a spell, but we reverted back to the four piece which we were for the first five years. Our other guitar player now plays for Great White, he replaced one of the kids that died in that fire in Rhode Island, Ty. So that's what happened there. We are now promoting our third record. We are getting ready to go in the studio to work on our fourth record now. I'm not exactly sure when that will get recorded, but the songs are in the can. We have been doing this for 10 years.

H.M.R. : I was looking at the tour dates on your website and noticed that there was an album release party in September. What album is that going to be for?

T. McTavish: That would probably be for an e.p. we are doing.

H.M.R. : Oh ok, I wondered. Okay, I wanted to talk about JJ Garcia next. We know that he came out of Stone. How did you hook up or meet JJ?

T. McTavish: Stone got together about the same time that we did in '95 or '96 and we were just always crossing paths, playing together on bills. We knew JJ all of this time. When we had problems with our drummer, as it was escalating, nothing happens overnight,. It had been building, so we had our eye on JJ. Finally, when we hit that breaking point we started auditioning drummers. JJ was always our number one choice. Finally, his life fit around to a point where it opened up, Stone was no more. He just slid in like a perfect fitting glove. Now, after 10 years, it really feels like we are a band. I know it sounds kind of weird, but now it feels like we are going downhill instead of uphill. That was how it felt all along. It's been a good ride, but now we're having fun doing it.

H.M.R. : You get into a good chemistry, but sometimes it does take awhile and necessary changes.

T. McTavish: Chemistry is a huge word and don't take it for granted with any relationship with a band, a marriage. Chemistry is what it is built on. If that's not there, that love or respect, you've got nothing.

H.M.R. : Looking at the album, great album by the way... I did notice a fair amount of diversity in the music.  'King' was basically one of the rockers, we had some good light stuff, and I noticed a good Southern feel there as well. Tell me a bit about the bands influences and where you intend to go from here as far as direction.

T. McTavish: Well, good question. I think this next record will be indicative of where we are heading. 'One Diamond' was that plateau record, where are we? We can be heavy, we can be real light. We can be everything in between. We need to pick a direction and get that niche going on. We have even found with booking, after we play a place people say 'You guys are heavy rock, but then you guys aren't heavy rock'. I think our next record from start to finish will be consistent as far as the texture of all of the songs. With 'King' to 'Amazing' on this album, you have day and night opposites. Metal to like...hey this is a beautiful little piece. My kind of influences to what I bring to the band, I grew up listening to John Mellencamp, a band called Tesla, I was way into them. Bruce Springsteen. I am an 80's kid. I was into that classic rock almost.

H.M.R. : I was actually feeling the same way about Judge Jackson. While I was listening to the album, I felt that you guys had alot of the same qualities Tesla had. They definitely came to mind. I was curious about the title 'One Diamond'. Tell us where you came up with that title and why?

T. McTavish: That came from my camp as far as that goes.  It was actually the last thing my Grandfather said before he died. He was into Bridge. He was a tournament player. He was a mathematical genius really. I am talking humbly about him. He was family so of course I'm going to get excited about that. He was a great man and died of Cancer not too long ago. At his death bed, my Mom was there and we'd play Bridge which was often. Even as he was going out, he was playing Bridge. He would play his hand, deal the hands and with the last two hands he played, One Diamond what do you want to bid? I'm leading with a club, what do you want, One Diamond. Look at his cards, you don't have a One Diamond. What do you want to bid, One Diamond. He must be losing it now. We'll try another hand. We did it again. I'm going to lead with an ace of spades, One Diamond. Again, you don't have the Diamond Pops. Maybe we'll call it. Within a few minutes, he took his last breath and died. Later that night, she was driving home after the paperwork was all done and started thinking about that. That was kind of strange, he must've been delusional. It was unlike him to call a bid that he didn't have. He was so into Bridge at one point that he wrote a book on the game. How to bid, Bridge is a game of bidding, you play with a partner and you bid. He had devised this new plan of bidding. One Diamond was a signal to his partner that he had nothing. She kind of put that together and thought that maybe he wasn't delirious, maybe he was just letting us know in his own way. I liked the story so much, that this being our third record at the time in '03, it to me was just a way to wrap up the batch of songs and saying this is the best we got. If this isn't good enough to get us a fourth record then we're not worthy. That's the why I put the Diamond, the Black Diamond on the front indicating a card, but without the Diamond being red gives an off take on it. So that's where One Diamond came from.

H.M.R. : That's pretty interesting. It really gives a whole new insight into the album for sure. I was feeling as I went through the songs that there was alot of emotion wrapped up into them. Tell us a little about where or how you develop these songs and what they are about.

T. McTavish: As far as the writing goes, we all kind of put our input in. Often, Lee, the guitar player, will come over to my place and break out the acoustic. Every tune we've written starts on the acoustic guitar. If it's good enough to be heard unplugged, then we build it up from there.  So, he would drop a riff, that's the best way I can do it as a lyricist, I don't really write lyrics, I'm a translator. The music talks tome and I just write out what I hear.  I know that sounds hoaky, but that's the best way I can describe it. One could call it a gift, this is what I hear. This song is gonna be called 'King' and this is what I heard when it talked to me. I just like to write about life, real stuff, not hoaky stuff, only stuff I know about or have experienced. I can't write or talk about anything I don't know about. I take pride. I've never been married and I don't have kids. These songs and records are like my kids. That's how passionate we treat it. This is a way of life, it is life to me. 'Moving On' as far as the batch of 10 songs from 'One Diamond', was the fastest song I wrote lyrically. Lee dropped that riff off, I tape it on my recorder, then I'll sit by myself and write my lyrics. That tune came out line by line, one take, hanging from the rafters. I couldn't have written a tune quicker than 'Moving On'. 'Amazing' came out pretty quick too as far as once the idea was there, (sings) 'Isn't it amazing', the words just popped up. 'Love Keeps bringing me Down', that was the one song that was written by our other guitar player that is no longer with us, and it was recorded live at the MGM in Las Vegas for Star Search. They flew us out there and we won with that track.

H.M.R. : At this point I am in curious about the channels that the album is being distributed. It's out here in the States in places like CD

T. McTavish: Everybody can buy it online of course. We now have a distribution deal out of Phoenix, Arizona. They are now doing their thing.

H.M.R. : Who's handling it there?

T. McTavish: A guy named Dave Tedder.

H.M.R. : Oh okay, I know Dave. Should have figured that out I guess. Anyway, is there anything going on overseas?

T. McTavish: I think that's in the works as well. I recall him telling me like 13 different countries, from Australia to Japan, England, with all of those countries. I think that it's just a matter of time before we are going over there and our record will be over there. It's all in the pipeline right now.

H.M.R. : I ask that because I get alot of great support from readers in those markets and there are alot of them. I like to keep them informed of what's going on as well. It's a great market that you are going to want to tap.

T. McTavish: Oh yeah, we will be tapping it for sure.

H.M.R. : Okay, moving on, right now I visualize the whole music scene, and it's a mess. There's not alot of solidity to what's there. What in your opinion would it take for Judge Jackson to step out in front of the rest?

T. McTavish: Well, our scene has been the L.A. scene. We have definitely been involved in that scene. We know that strip. We've probably played every club a dozen times. The industry as you guys know, has changed over the last few years. It's not like it was.  It used to be, lets make a demo, shop it, and get a deal. If you've got that attitude still, you had better change your attitude because it isn't gonna happen anymore. It's not what they can do for you, but what you can do for yourself. You put enough numbers on the board, they will come to you then. It's all about numbers for taking you to that next level. It's all about money, they are just a bank. With that bank, you can do more promotion and they got the contacts. We are really taking our own destiny into our own hands and moving it, doing what we can do on our own. Moving Soundscan product. Those are the numbers that I am referring to. That is the bottom line in the industry. It's how many numbers they've got. They don't need to like you, they don't even ask those questions. They like the money they are making off of you. So, it's what you can do for yourself actually. The record doesn't lie when people put it in their stereo, if it sucks it sucks. They will tell their friends. You gotta get out and do those shows, you gotta go to Vegas, Oklahoma, Utah or Indiana. Get a following out there. With what we are doing, kind of Countrified Southern Rock 'n Roll, the Midwest eat that shit up, where in L.A. they almost don't get it. It's not heavy enough to be the heavy ones, but it's not light enough to be the light ones either. It's in the middle ground where 'I don't quite know where to put you'. It's not rocket science, it's rock 'n roll. There's really only two types of music, good music and bad music.

H.M.R. : And that really is the truth too. I want to kind of elaborate on all that in my next point. Some bands get to the point where they aren't too worried about success. They like what they are doing and are content. If success comes along then great. How does Judge Jackson feel about this in particular?

T. McTavish: I think we've all been doing this long enough that we treat it like we treat anything else in our lives. Obviously, it's a priority. It's like writing songs, hit songs, the hit will change your life.  To a certain degree, all you can do is do it. If it hits, it hits. Alot of that is out of your hands. Some of it is in your hands, but alot of it is a lucky break. So as far as getting to that next level, these guys are the bomb and everybody knows of you, you have to just get out there. If it's meant to be and the magic is there, things might happen. The planets might all line up and you might get a really big break. That's not gonna stop us or anybody from doing what we can do in the meantime. But yeah, you keep at it with the songs and the right connections start panning, the sky's the limit in this industry. It comes down to a little bit of luck too. Do as much as you can do, but you can't make people listen to it. I realized that a long time ago.

H.M.R. : With you coming from L.A. and we know how L.A. used to be, I was curious on your take on the scene there now as opposed to what it was once upon a time.

T. McTavish: Oh yeah, it's not like that anymore. Now that we've been to a few different cities, Austin, Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans, there are scenes there and it's hardly like that in L.A. which is depressing for me to say, I don't take pride in saying that. There are little clicks, we've got our friends bands and everybody's out there doing it. It's not like a full fledged scene. If you bring in 50 people to a club, you work that 50 people. You can't make a couple of phone calls and expect the place to be full. You've got a gazillion things going on in the city you live in. To bring people down to your show, you gotta work it a little bit. I'd love to say the scene's great and thriving, but it's not.

H.M.R. : Okay, I was just curious about it these days. When it died, it died hard.

T. McTavish: Almost overnight from the stories I hear. I wasn't even in L.A. back in '92 when the scene seemed to end. One day you are trudging through flyers like snow on the ground and the next day, where is everybody? Everyone just kind of disappeared.

H.M.R. : As far as touring, you guys are getting out and doing club dates and the such. Is that all you are going to do this year or are you trying to grab some festivals?

T. McTavish: Yeah, we are starting to do festivals and fairs and stuff like that. We are opening up for Steve Miller next month in Big Bear, the Big Bear Chopper run. We played a half dozen shows for the Hell's Angels. Those are always fun. We are trying to get into the Fair circuits. Casino's, like in Vegas, they take care of you. You can get good gigs out there. Of course you make most of your money on cd's and your merchandise. We're trying to get out of the clubs and get to that next level, the arenas and amphitheaters. The normal course like anybody. You've just got to take it one step at a time. Until you've really got a hit, you ain't shit. You are just like everybody else. How do you get a hit? Once again, perseverance and luck.

H.M.R. : Unfortunately, one other thing comes into play as well. You have to lean on radio play a bit as well. How much radio exposure have you gotten to this point?

T. McTavish: Radio is really tough. Basically it's money. You've got to hire people to work your single. We've done our first campaign with 'Amazing'. They work it on certain stations in certain markets where they think the song will go over well. We're starting to get some sales from the single and done some shows because of the single. That's exciting. KLOS featured us, that's a station in L.A.. They played like four of our songs off of our record. It was huge to us. Radio campaigns come down to money. The bigger the band and the label, the more money they can put into your campaign of your single. If you hear it enough, if every station is playing your song, you start thinking it's good. The radio, that's where it is at. Radio waves or satellite radio can get your songs heard out there and from there if people like it, I can't count how many times I've heard people on the radio, found out who it was and went out and bought it. The power of radio is huge, but it certainly can be frustrating if you don't have the money behind you.

H.M.R. : I would like 'King' as a single. Good heavy track with a great vibe.

T. McTavish: We are getting ready for a new single and we keep hearing people mentioning 'King'. We actually did a video for that as well. I think 'King' may be an obvious choice. I actually had a buddy call me from up north of New York. One of my best friends got married recently and he was telling me that at the wedding they played a couple of our tunes. 'Amazing' for one and they also played 'King'. The best part about it was when they did 'King' was when he took the garter off. His wife, his pride. He put his head up underneath her dress and when he came out with the garter, it was right at the first point where you say 'I am the King'. Let me tell you what...It worked. The crowd went off.

H.M.R. : Okay, I always let the artist at this point interject anything they want to at this point.

T. McTavish: It's just good to be here in St. George. It's our first time here playing this town and it's a pleasure being here.

H.M.R. : Alright, well thanks for coming here!

T. McTavish: Thanks Dave.

Get the new album 'One Diamond' from Judge Jackson by clicking the cover!