Unsung Heroes No. 6 - David Judson Clemmons

07 Nov 2021 - Thorsten

One of the most striking record covers of the last twenty years must have been JUD’s cover for Sufferboy because it looks a lot like the protagonist of tthe Hellboy-comics. And when one then listens to the record behind the simplistic and effective cover, it is as if stepping back into the best moments of the 90s. And the voice behind these songs is David Judson “JUD” Clemmons. Being a huge fan of his work, Thorsten had to take the chance of interviewing David, who now resides in Germany, talking about his life in Brandenburg, his work, his music and much more.

Since moving to Germany, David has not only spent his life making music - which he has always done for the last 30+ years, but he also worked as a craftsman, restoring old furniture into his version of their splendid past. He has released records under his name but also as The Fullbliss and JUD. We also try to shed some light on his life before becoming an expat!

David, first off – what is the most recent thing you are working on in your shop?

I have been restoring some wardrobes, fixing and painting!

How much time do you usually spend in there on a normal day?

My studio and workshop are in the same building, so I go back and forth, Normal days around 6-8 hours, and a few hours in the evenings strictly on music, as time allows!

Does that work bring you peace? Taking off time to concentrate on that piece right in front of you?

Yes, for sure, now that I have my workshop at home, the process of listening while working, while the upload bar is slowly climbing on a video render, you can do some sanding, while the glue is drying, you can do an overdub, it is quite cool the dust is a problem, so I have a wall separating the 2 sections.

What is the daily life of David Judson Clemmons nowadays?

Well, I have a big family so lots of kid work, I like an early but slow start, good coffee and music to start off right. I work from lists a lot, to keep my head free. I don’t like to have hectic feelings, chaos, I have learned from the Germans…ha, sauber arbeiten, schnellichkeit kommt von allein [“work cleanly, quickly comes on its own accord for our English readers”]… a great saying, and so true.

Can/could you make a living from it? From music?

Well, now it looks to be better than the last years, definitely improving. I was out of the KSK for awhile, I am considering to go back in now as it looks like the income is fitting again. If I was alone, no problem. But with a big family, need some safety nets…

Oftentimes, when seeing stuff you post online of the things you been working on, it strikes me how colorful they are – as if you also get bored by the regular brown and beige. But then again it seems as if you “just” give each piece what it needs, right?

I had a store for 12 years, and there you need to keep the stuff flowing out of the door, so I tend to adjust to what is working, but yes I do love color, contrast with wood, there is a lot of furniture from the 30s, that looks great with some color. One day some poor soul will be sanding my paint back off again to find that […] dark Berliner finish… but for now it looks better in blue.

David and his shop

Do you see parallels between that craft and the craftsmanship of a musician? Absolutely, art is art and you have something, and you need to transform it, trying to make it more, of what it already is. Songwriting is “channeling” I have always felt that the songs are there, you need to give a spark to start it, then you must listen, and let the spark find its own way; like with building furniture or repairing things, you want to find the way that works, best with the piece you have, return always to its original state, how I think, keep things solid and honest

How do you go about writing your songs nowadays? Do you really schedule time for it or does it come rather spontaneously?

That never works, writing is a force that has to be respected, if that spark is there, stop what you are doing and capture it, refining it, recorded it perfect, etc, can be done later, but be sure you have the original fire of the idea; captured properly, recorded is great, I video my hands, so I don’t forget the finger positions.

When I listen to some of your stuff from the last 30 years, I am really overwhelmed by a few things. First of all, the openness of the arrangement and the sound – your stuff is always really well-produced, but never seems to be born from a certain time. Is that something that you intended – being “timeless” with all its negative implications (appealing less to the masses and thus not gaining larger audiences)?

I had some chances here and there to go more towards commercial success, with a few songs on a few albums, I think I am actually afraid of big success, on one hand I always hope for more audience, but I curse myself by doing things sometimes strangely, on certain albums I listen and remember, oh wow that was crazy to put that on an album then, but now it seems like it was all on purpose, and has made a very solid foundation for myself. Somehow keeping this fingerprint always on my songs, it was kind of without thinking about it… and really worked to make me, famous but not famous…ha I can be really pushy, when it comes to where a song is going, I am really flexible in general, but when it comes to the songs, I really do care a lot, and have kind of a brick wall of creativity that if it doesn’t fit then I would rather throw it out then put it on a record

When I listen to your records from the 90s and early 2000s I always envision a dream line-up of The God-Machine, the Gun Club, JUD, Mother Tongue and (don’t know why but) Neurosis. Would you agree to such a line-up?

I loved the Sophia albums, Mother Tongue also is a very cool band, but hard to say, I am sure that would be awesome, however I really like, the 90s European concerts, where the main band, could really play for two or three hours, until everyone was hypnotized into a trance. With these big show lineups that doesn’t really happen, but yeah that would be a hell of a show anyway!!

What would be your dream line-up and why?

Since I like different music, and can listen to Skynrd, Sabbath, Floyd, Tori Amos, Allison Krauss, Townes van Zandt, in any order, I like shows, that show that kind of diversity too, I would love play with my band, Townes van Zandt and old Pink Floyd, and each band plays some songs alone, then all together, then a 15 minute jam!

What was your favorite tour event?

Easy, we had a little crash going to Schmalkalden (in the east of Germany) in the ice, on the mountain-kind of hill, going up up up, we slipped into the ditch while driving, couldn’t stop it from happening, lucky it was not worse…. and we tried to push it out, but could not, and then our driver Ralf Rexin, took a walk down the road, to get help, and we wondered what would happen, it was cooooold outside and we wanted to get to the gig, none of us got hurt luckily…And after some time, we heard a motor, and a huge John Deere farm tractor was coming down the road, and Ralf was in the little cabin with the Farmer, smiling, they hooked up a cable and pulled our van out of the ditch like a toy car, And we could just keep going… that was cool

You have been in several bands with lots of other musicians or people who later went on to become famous – you must have connections to loads of people – why is most of your stuff nowadays a solo-project with your name on it and not a band in its own right?

To respect the bands I decided to drop the names, as I really love the band JUD with Hoss and Steve, and also with James and Jan, The Fullbliss is also very important, and needs to have these people to carry the name, Janice, Joey in Los Angeles, also Anne de Wolff, I just decided if I was doing most of the writing and it was going all different directions, it was better to keep the name solid. Now after Corona, gave me time to think, I can see how each project has special things, and should be kept pure, I am working now on raising the presence of these bands, with the musicians involved. I think there is a nice future, for all of the bands, it is very important for me, that each band is represented as a completely different thing.

When reforming JUD for Sufferboy – how hard was it to reform a group that had not been active for years? Had you guys kept in contact or was it all loose ends being knit together again?

We originally named the band Sufferboy, then the label liked it so much as a JUD album we decided “ok”… but actually that was kind of a slip-up

What can you tell us about the Sufferboy-phase, which to me is a classic of anything Alternative, which was later on released on Nois-O-Lution? What was the major motive behind the record?

Yes, it was quite a cool album, definitely has its own life. It could have been 2 albums! I love it. It shows a time in Berlin, energetic raw, some prog, some punk, some alternative, mix but with a good vibe

Did you know that you had something very special on your hands when you were done with it?

Sure, it was already cool as demos, maybe we release those one day. I really love ”Unless”, and ”Universal” and ”Accelerate”, great songs, ”The Maggots”, very DTM-ish

Something that stands out on Sufferboy and many of your other records – you never seem to shy away from different sounds, be it a rather poppy background or some really chunky, heavy riffs, bordering on punk and metal. Who came up with those parts?

Well I am the writer, I mean this is what I am doing and the JUD aspect of the pop moments, with heavy moments, has been part of the JUD sound since the first album in 1996, I think it fits and happens automatically now

How open is your own musical taste?

I think I’m pretty open, however I hate copy bands, I mean if I hear a band and it sounds like another, or retro shit, trying to sound like 70s on purpose, that is not for me. I like when something has a fingerprint, I love Bjork, big time; she is insane, also Tori Amos, I love Chris Poland, his guitar work wow… old Sabbath, old Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd, of course, I am a southerner, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Sigor Ros, I listen to some old folk, John Hartford, Prog-Rock only some, Opeth, I listen to cheeseball stuff, Sarah McLaughlin, it helps me, I listen to the same album over and over. The new Springsteen, I read that people that have this disorder, of needing to know what is coming…ha, maybe that is me, as one of the treatments is listening to the same music over and over, and I can really listen for weeks, over and over, the one album, I mean on repeat, never get tired of it. Swell Season, the soundtrack for Once, I can listen to that, man, it is so great.

The man on stage

Many people speak in the highest praise about your vocals – what were your major influences back then and now?

Back then, everyone said I should just play guitar! But I kept going. In Damn The Machine I could come up with cool stuff, lyrics, but live was hard, as I was no singer really then, but in JUD, months on tour, singing always when sick, tired, drunk, over and over and over, I developed a bullet proof live technique, and this has really helped me overcome the trouble of long tours, endurance etc., again I love Bjork as a vocalist, the new Opeth albums inspired me just recently. But really, I hold on my old stuff: the feeling of Pink Floyd, I know I push into more Stoner Rock stuff, but really, I like the more singing direction. You can hear I listened to cheesy music when growing up, Journey. I listened to a lot of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole, Billy Holiday, etc. and of course Freddie Mercury.

Before JUD you were a part of Damn the Machine a short-lived but also popular band at the time – what happens when see all those comments on YouTube under DTM – videos claiming how influential the band was?

That is a hot subject now, as I decided to release the demos, from 1991 on my own label, and revisit all of this greatness from back then. I am in touch with the band of course, me and Chris have a strong connection, me and Mark even stronger I would say.We chat almost everyday via email, and me and Chris at least once a week. They gave me full blessing to do what I wanted to with everything, and they hope we can work on something together again, new music. There is a plan in progress but is going well, and fast now. I am so happy we touched so many fans. I have orders now for so many different countries for the CD and LP, this could turn into my new job!

What do you think forms the appeal of DTM? The progressive-ness without being prog nerds trying to aim for the impossible drum beat or the jazziest/proggiest lick? The political aspect of going against “the machine”?

This was an incredible combination, of Chris’ and my style, totally different but harmonic. Mark and Dave, were the perfect rhythm section, that could quickly bring their part to life, of what came from me and Chris.

Is it possible that we will see a new DTM record sometime? Another JUD reunion?

I hope for both, I am working on this. DTM will have this album Day One and at least one more from the old sessions, and then…hopefully something new. JUD, yes, I promised myself, that this will see another album, and this one, number 7, will be something special, but true to the history of JUD.

You often directly or indirectly talk about politics on your records – how political of a person are you? Do you still follow the development in the USA closely?

Well I am no pro, I run on gut instinct, and normally can smell a lie very quickly. I saw then, the insanity behind the gulf war justifications, un-fucking believable what humans can do. Really, you need honest people in charge, but not naive people, you need people in charge that you can trust when no one is watching, and that you can also trust to act quickly when shit gets nasty, with a strong hand. The problem I see is, people are too focused on certain things, whereas in politics, the secret to doing it right, is being able to look at everything all at the same time. And know that nothing will be perfect, things need to be efficient and always with a safety net, too many things are pushed to their limits, to save money etc, and then it rains and nothing works, bad planning….dumb people… but not really political as I see lots of propaganda and I need to stay neutral with friends and family…. the US…argh, this is tough. My mom and sister, we can really agree on things…. but some others…not.

It’s known that you chose Germany as a new home several years ago – can you tell our readers a little bit about how that came along? What kept you here?

I needed a break from LA, met a woman and came over, it was no big plan, it turned out to be a great move for me, but I think I got lucky. hat relationship did not last, and luckily I found my soulmate soon thereafter, this is going strong after 14 years. I love how things work, in general in Germany. After living in the USA so many years, things are so unclear, I love how things really work, if you write a letter someone reads and responds, it may not be what you want to hear, but you get a real response. I have also found out that I can work and make music here, for some reason it is working and fitting with my style, I am in a good place here, won’t leave I guess.

As you have been living in Europe for a very long time now – what is the perspective of the ex-pat David on the USA now?

I miss it, but won’t go back for living. I have some native American in me, and German as well, I feel quite solid here. The USA is a great place, was a great place, it has definitely turned strange, too big to manage, not sure, it seems like there are so many problems, I don’t know how they will come forward but they are trying.

Do you think the new administration will be able to turn the country around for the better? Or is the divide too big?

It does seem that the people are quite stubborn, and don’t want to help the suffering, now with vax, anti vax propaganda, man this is making it worse…but they are trying.. still.

You yourself come from a rather divided state, Virginia, do you see that state as more divided now than when you lived there?

Yes, and I hope it does not go red… but it may. I love it, so lovely, the nature, my friends, we had such a great childhood. Not thinking of politics…

What is your opinion on that Monument Alley-discussion? Keep it as a reminder of what should never happen or tear them down in order to stop hurting people with them being there?

Oh that is a hot potato! Well, it could really be, that we are going too far with the cleaning of the past. I understand it, but the people that built that country wanted those statues. The people that are living on the backs, on the work of the ones that suffered to build that country, want to make it better but have a naive perspective. I think it could have stayed, but as gender free toys are coming, the statues will probably also be going…. I am not saying it is bad, but it may not help in the long run.

Now to your more recent material – is it correct that you have been working with Thomas Götz (of Beatsteaks-fame) on the last record?

Thomas played some shows with me, and recorded drums on Tribe & Throne. He also played drums on my new album Lights For The Living which is almost finished. He is a great power, song arranger and player, very intense and able to put dynamics in songs that really really push them to the next level.

Tribe And Throne - are you like the paternal figure resting on the throne as the head of the family/the tribe?

Ha!!! I think of it more as the tribe who are the 99% struggling ones, and throne is the 1% rich!

When listening to it – there is still that slightly fuzzed up sound but it’s at the same time a lot slower – is this your form of doom? Hmm slower than… Sufferboy?

Well I wrote a lot of songs, we recorded eight, I liked these six the best and they fit together well. It was a special time, first time I recorded vocals myself, this was fun…doing that again on the new one! I was really going for a harmonic progressive sound, that carried a feeling, and gave the listener some serious goose bumps!

How long has that record been in the making?

Tribe & Throne was about six months writing, recording, mixing.

Would you be offended if I said that it sometimes sounds as if the record has been written to show your vocal abilities? I have seldom heard you so confident even though you never were exactly a shy person behind the mic.

Well that may be because of me doing the vocals myself, that I had more time, and finally could really concentrate on them, instead of feeling rushed and under pressure in a studio.

Could we say the music is created by the tribe and your voice is sitting on the throne?

If you want… but I guess I don’t hear it that way as the music is so cool, recorded as a trio live in our jam room, so my ears go to the music, too.

How difficult must it be for a person like you who went on tour so often, so much and so long to be forced to stay home during a lockdown like the ones we had in 2020 and 2021?

Trying to make the best of it, finding old projects to get too, never had enough time for so many things. But I imagine it would be nice to tour again, seems like a dream now though…

How did you use that time?

Setting up my workshop at home, survival mode, to be sure I could earn money, keep going, I love it now. I hardly ever go down the hill… only for supplies and guitar strings once a month…ha

Now the obvious question, as you are a seemingly restless person, what will be next? Which incarnation of DJC will we see next?

Well DTM is alive, but just releasing the old demos now, this could turn out to be a bigger thing, checking that now. David Judson Clemmons Lights for the Living is almost done, it should be out by Christmas. Looking forward. But I may then revolve, back on a JUD album, Fullbliss album, it can really be fun to have these different rooms to go into.

Quickfire questions, please decide for one alternative and maybe shortly explain your choice:

Brandenburg’s wilderness or Virginia’s – which is more inspiring? I love it here in Brandenburg

Hickory or oak? Oak

Wood – unfinished or painted? Painted

Beer or wine? Wine

Summer evenings on the porch or winter nights at the stove? Winter nights at the stove

Vegan/vegetarian or mixed diet? Mixed.

The God Machine or Scumbucket? Can’t say. I know Sophia, I would choose Sophia

Village Slut or Village People? Ha! I am married happily, so no more Village Sluts for me! So it is YMCA time

Michael Myers or Freddy Kruger? Freddy

Touring Europe or the US? Europe

Final question: We like to keep a “chain” in this series and therefore our last question is always the same: Which musician or person in the music business should we interview next because, in your opinion, that person has a lot of interesting things to say?

I would say, Roy Z, he is a great guitarist, played with Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson, I think he would do an interview!

David, thank you so much for taking your time to answer out questions.

Thanks, it was fun!