Just over a month ago Tennessee’s Laser Flames on the Great Big News released their latest, self-titled, album and based solely from their Bandcamp page nowhere near enough of you paid attention. This is a fantastic album that doesn’t hang its hat on any one genre. Rather, it moves effortlessly between southern rock, melody driven rock, progressively driven rock and, at times, harsh metal which borders on black metal ferocity. The songs are paced perfectly, the writing is impeccable and the trade off vocals between John Judkins and Stevie Bailey keep things fresh and exciting throughout — all of which makes for an instant favorite and something that’s not easy at all to put down. Yet, you’re still not paying attention. The band features members of Rwake, Enfold Darkness, The Protomen and ex-Today Is the Day but also features a guest vocal spot from, none other than, Steve Austin. Grab you yet? Anyway, not far removed from the album’s release we got the opportunity to ask John Judkins our set of Profile questions so read on and for god’s sake listen to the embeds then go support.
How did you first get into playing music and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to achieve?
I grew up in a household with live music. My mom wrote and performed with a country music band in the late 80’s early 90’s, and they rehearsed in our basement. Also, my brother, 7 years my elder, started playing drums when I was around 11 or so. He’d always have some guitar playing buddies over at the house and they’d show me things. Once I was mildly competent, I started jamming with my brother.
Success is definitely relative and changes with age and circumstance. When I was 15, I just wanted to shred on stage and envisioned success as playing Metallica’s “To Live is to Die” at the Wacken Open Air Festival. Today, I’m just happy to have the ability to make music and hopefully have the respect of my peers.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, debased and praised? If you don’t have a story please tell us any embarrassing story.
I once had to play my set on the back dock of a venue because I wasn’t allowed to enter because of my age. I had just turned 16, and we were booked to play The Cannery Ballroom in Nashville. After soundcheck, I stepped out for a bite to eat. When I came back, the door guy wouldn’t allow me back in, even to play the show. We had to concoct a plan, where I would stand on the back dock of the venue (which butted up to a train yard) and I would use a wireless guitar unit to connect to my amp and play the show. The stage was about 30 feet away, so it was really tough for me to hear and play with the band. All I could see was my brother’s back while he was playing the drums. The worst part was that the door guy wouldn’t even let me walk through the front door to get to the back. I had to climb two separate 12 ft high chainlink fences just to get to the back of the venue. While I was playing, a few train hopping rascals were walking up to me asking for change and cigarettes. They had no idea I was playing a show at that moment!
What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?
I love what bands like Elder and Pallbearer are doing. Keeping a melody-first songwriting approach. I believe you can get by with doing just about anything musically if you keep the listener connected to a melodic line.
I’m not a big fan of absolutism in any form. This includes genres, race and sex. It’s very upsetting to me that there are folks in the metal scene that believe that a certain genre of music can only be made by white men from Norway. Metal is an ever-expanding, ever progressing medium. And there’s never a reason for exclusion, if you ask me.
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc.) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music? (This question is especially appropriate for you since your music is quite an outlet for your physical and emotional pains).
The current state of our political system and it’s abuse of the lower class, minorities, women and LGBTQ community is something that we as a band discuss. We haven’t written any protest songs, by any means, but our awareness is there and it is strong. Stevie writes most of the personal stuff, lyrically. She has a daughter with autism and has encountered extreme difficulties getting her accepted into schools, to healthcare professionals and overcoming many other barriers that most people never think about. The struggle of dealing with the mysteries of autism are very powerful, and sometimes those struggles present themselves in song form.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?
My older brother was the culprit. I vividly remember coming home from school and him having Ride the Lightning on the stereo. “Ride the Lightning” the song blew my mind! My family is all fine with it. As long as I didn’t cause my mom too much trouble, I could do about whatever I liked.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
Have a basic respect for the difficulties that artists have while writing, recording and touring with their music. If an artist puts out something that you don’t like, still try to see some common ground or uniqueness in it.
What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.
No goals beyond releasing our music and putting something positive into a world.
As for hobbies/jobs/work, Stevie just graduated from Art School. Brian (Myers, bass) is an amazing comic book artist and has been working on a personal project for a while. James (Turk, drums) is the guitar player for tech/death/transcendental death metal band Enfold Darkness. I own/operate a vinyl & video game store in Murfreesboro. Media Rerun. I also tour sparingly with Scott Kelly (Neurosis,) Rwake, and most recently The Protomen. We definitely all have our hands full when we’re not in the room together.
When you’re not obsessing over your own material, what are some of your favorite albums to listen to currently? (Feel free to include non-metal)
On the heavy side, the newest records from Pallbearer, Norska, Bolzer, Elder, Loss. Anything William Tyler or Joseph Allred. D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah.” Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Jason Isbell and some of the other outlaws of Nashville are always getting my attention. Charles Bradley has my ear forever.
Summarize your band in exactly one word. (Disclosure: If you include additional words, we will select our favorite for the final publication.)
Many thanks to John for his time!