I first met Cary Judd after a show he was playing here in Idaho Falls, about 7 years ago. It’s likely he doesn’t even remember the encounter as it was very brief. I dragged some reluctant friends out that chilly evening, but we all left the venue feeling inspired and tapping our toes. Cary had such an energy about him!
Since then, we’ve become better acquainted and I’ve had a growing list of questions that I finally got to ask. Cary is often pensive and almost soft spoken, but when he starts talking music, there’s a light in his eyes that’s unmistakable. If you’ve ever caught a live show of his, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Enjoy getting to know Cary better, as I have.
When did you first start playing music?
The night I was born I came out blue. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck 7 times. I came out, they smacked me a few times and I let out a cry. Having my first near-death experience as I was being born, I’m sure the sound of my own voice sounded like music to me and my mother
Was guitar your first instrument?
Guitar was the first instrument I tinkered with. My dad had an old Harmony acoustic guitar I used to plunk around on when I was really little, but we also had a piano that I would play. It was mostly just chaos until I had a short stint of guitar lessons when I was about 13.
Do you play any other instruments?
I do, but not well. As a producer I’m required to often play bass, keys, drums, and anything else that lands in my hands. I had a short run in the community orchestra on viola when I was about 18 years old as well. To me, tone is in your ears and mind. I’ll pick up any instrument if I like the tone and just massage it till I get the notes I want. Admittedly though, I’ve never gotten along with brass or woodwind instruments; go figure.
How long have you been a full time musician?
10 or so years in one form or another. I toured doing my solo music for about 8 of those years & started The Wormhole a year and a half ago when I decided I was a little motion sick from the constant touring.
Who or what inspires you?
Frequencies. One note can trigger a whole song in a matter of minutes. Depending on my mood, when a tone strikes my ear, I can take it and instantly see a pattern that’s supposed to follow it and words to harmonize it. My own mind inspires me often; whether it’s a drifting thought that is amusing or seeing something common from a different perspective. I love making overly literal connections with words that are unrelated. It’s an associative thing, you know, like those comedians that point out something so obvious you can’t believe you never thought of it before, so you just burst out laughing. Sometimes an idea hits me when I’m alone or driving and I will laugh, audibly, pull over and write my idea down. This is usually followed with a long conversation with myself and a tirade of words appear on the page. So I guess the short answer is some sort of schizophrenia that I treat with music!
As a kid, who did you listen to/admire the most?
My older sister used to play “The Entertainer” on the piano and for some reason I was always, well, entertained by it. I thought it was amazing that notes without words painted a feeling and an experience.
Have you always wanted to be a musician?
Yes, but I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut, an olympian, a physicist, and a quarterback for the Forty Niners. Music seemed like the safest bet though.
When writing a new song, where’s your favorite place to be during the process?
Alone in my studio with my guitars and machines.
Do you prefer writing alone or with a group?
I love both. When I get an idea and have the tools to paint it out, it happens fast. I sometimes even feel guilty that I will have a fully produced song that I did alone and plop it down in front of my bandmates when they haven’t had a chance to give input.
I LOVE it though when Connor or Sunnie come to me with an idea that’s already a developed piece of music or a concept. The new EP we’re working on is opening with a song called, “The Sound.” It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve collaborated on. I don’t think I played a single instrument/note on it though. I just sat behind Conor as he was composing and frantically typed words that were a direct reaction to the music he was composing. I think he had me sing into a mic for a second, just some random oohs or aaahs which he designed into vocal synths. That’s totally his realm. When we write this way, words and melodies come out of me that otherwise would not have. Same goes for Sunnie’s ideas. Even though her focus in the band is live production, we’ll have conversations and she’ll say a word or sentence that lights off a page of words. “The Theory of Everything” was one that comes to mind. It has this ranting outro that was inspired by a conversation we had about spiritual evolution and the John Lennon song, “Imagine.”
How do you decide which songs make it onto an album?
The songs that get an obvious reaction from our close friends and colleagues when we show it to them. Sometimes I’ll demo a song and play it for a friend or one of my band mates and I can tell instantly by what they say, don’t say, or by their micro expressions if it’s causing a chemical reaction inside their brain. If I show it to someone and they say, “yeah, it’s cool”, it’s probably a dud. If they love it or hate it right off the bat, it’s worth releasing.
Do you still play your pink toy piano?
Yes. Confession though, it’s not mine, it belongs to my daughter, though it’s been on indefinite loan for about 5 years now.
The first time I saw you live, I was captivated by your energy. You stood on a table belting out a hook and stomping your foot. How do you keep the crowd so engaged?
I think as an entertainer, there will always be a part of me that wants to delight, amuse, and surprise people. I love doing something that will at first surprise them, even make them uncomfortable, but ultimately will amuse and entertain them. I like for people to walk away from seeing me play (in any of my projects) having something to talk about that popped their eyes and ears open. “That was so weird, he started singing into his guitar and it sounded like he was in a shoebox inside of a cave…” or “those guys are crazy! How’d they do that thing where they were projecting a movie on his shirt while performing…?”
I know you still perform solo shows sometimes, is it harder than performing with a band?
The hardest part about performing solo is that I’m usually underprepared. I used to do 100-200 shows a year solo & I burned out on that for a little while. When I do perform solo now, I either really prepare, or go unprepared and hope it turns out well or that it forces me to come up with something on the spot that I’ve never done. So yeah it’s harder. The hard part with a band though, and this is me sounding like a total control freak, is one of your band mates may be off that night, or there are more technical problems that can happen. As with all things, humans are the biggest variable. The upside is that I have 2, sometimes as many as 5 other people onstage, full of the potential to surprise me and provoke me to react musically. With a band you surprise each other and in turn, yourself.
How did you get connected with the members of The Vacationist?
Conor used to come into this music store where I worked for a short time (when I’d burned out on being a constant road warrior). I always liked his vibe. He’s very dry at first, but you can tell his gears are turning on multiple levels. He’s the quietest member of the band and I think it’s because he’s in constant observation of things. He was always interested in the same gear as me for production and sound design, so I started giving him my friends/family coupons in return for lessons on new gear as I got it (he’s a certified Ableton and Native Instruments instructor).
Sunnie and I were practically joined at the hip from the first time we met. A mutual friend told her, “you have to meet this guy”, so she did. She has this phrenetic attitude towards anything creative. She’s new to music, but with the ideas she started bouncing around with light and imagery, we knew she was more than just a light designer so we threw a mic in front of her and put her on stage with a piano that controls the lighting. She will get these outlandish ideas that seem crazy or out of reach. It’s as though she’s daring us to be amazing and Conor and I love a good dare.
Find more about Cary on his Artist Bio at https://tetonguitars.com/cary-judd/.
Until next time,
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