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|Origin||Knoxville, Tennessee, United States|
|Genres||Alternative rock, folk rock|
|Years active||1987–1995 , 2000 , 2016|
|Associated acts||Doubters Club|
|Past members||Jeff Heiskell|
The Judybats (sometimes stylized as merely Judybats or JudyBats) were an American alternative rock band from Knoxville, Tennessee, United States, active primarily in the late 1980s and early to mid 1990s.
The band was first formed in 1987, after vocalist Jeff Heiskell, who had been performing with guitarist Ed Winters in Knoxville as an acoustic duo, met bassist Tim Stutz at a local bar called Hawkeye's Corner. Stutz, guitarist Johnny Sughrue and drummer Terry Casper had known each other since high school and had been playing music together as a trio. Peggy Hambright, who was Stutz's and Sughrue’s roommate at the time, joined the band, contributing keyboards, violin and vocals. The Judybats played locally to large audiences before signing to Sire Records in 1990. The band took their name from a song written by a friend of theirs, which contained the line "punch me with a judybat," a punning allusion to Punch and Judy shows. The official form of the band's name was never entirely clear — although the band was cred as "The Judybats" on the cover of their first album, Native Son, all of their subsequent albums listed the band's name as just "Judybats," or sometimes "JudyBats," although several CD singles from the later albums retained the word "The."
The band's first major release was a cover of The 13th Floor Elevators' "She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)," which appeared on Sire's Roky Erickson tribute album, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye, in 1990. The song also appeared on the band's debut album, Native Son, released the following year, and the accompanying tour saw the band opening for the likes of R.E.M. on May 9, 1991 at the Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA.
Casper subsequently left the band and was temporarily replaced by session drummer Kevin Jarvis on their second album, Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow, in 1992. Following that album, Hambright and Stutz both left the band, and were replaced by Paul Noe on bass and David Jenkins on drums. The revised lineup released the band's most commercially successful album, Pain Makes You Beautiful, in 1993, and had successful singles on college radio and adult album alternative stations with "Being Simple," "All Day Afternoon" and "Incredible Bittersweet."
The lineup remained stable for the band's fourth album, 1994's Full-Empty. Heiskell had intended the album to be produced by Mitchell Froom and even sent him a demo tape of new songs, but was told by the Judybats' manager that attempts to reach Froom had been fruitless. Instead, the band opted to work with producer Paul Mahern, both because "he was cheap" and "was also supposed to have some kind of indie cachet at that time." While recording Full-Empty, Heiskell eventually received a phone call from Froom, who said he liked the songs and expressed interest in working with the band, only to be told they were already working with Mahern.
The band promoted the album by appearing on Late Night With Conan O'Brien on October 4, 1994, performing "Sorry Counts." In an interview with The Advocate the following month, Heiskell acknowledged that he was gay, but otherwise rarely discussed his sexuality with the press, choosing to write about it only indirectly in his songs until his solo career. Full-Empty fared poorly on the charts and the band broke up soon afterward.
In a 2008 interview with Popdose, Jeff Heiskell claimed that his dissolution of the band was attributable to several factors, with the last tour being "a nightmare of panic attacks and depression." Heiskell had been writing a screenplay about his experiences as a teenager that rendered him "an emotional wreck for nearly two years." Moreover, Heiskell alleged that band members Paul Noe and David Jenkins had attempted to convince him to break up the Judybats and form a new band with them. Heiskell explained, "By the time the tour ended I weighed 157 pounds – I’m nearly six feet tall – and could scarcely go out during the day for fear of having a bout of serious anxiety." Additionally, Warner Bros. decided to cull their roster of artists, which saw the Judybats losing their contract. "The idea of running about playing shows for schmucks in an attempt to get signed again made me break out in a sweat just thinking about it. And I was convinced that my life had become nothing more than trying to write the next college radio jingle of the week."
Heiskell, Noe and Jenkins, along with guitarist Reed Pendleton, pursued a new musical direction under the name Doubters Club, an informal reconfiguration of the Judybats. They released the album Fleur de Lisa independently in 1996, after being dropped from a development deal with Sire Records. Heiskell later claimed that, following the release of the album, "Dave and Paul moved off to Nashville, hiding from me the fact that they had started another band on the side, taking all of the equipment with them."
After the Doubters Club dissolved, Heiskell seriously considered quitting the music industry, while Pendleton encouraged Jeff to stay the course. Reed's effect-layered guitar riffs paired well with Heiskell's lyrics, and soon a series of weekend songwriting sessions led to Heiskell and Pendleton creating new songs, including "Break My Heart," "Shine," "You're Too Much," "Full Forward Angel," "Always," "Love Will Out" and "California."
Moving forward, Heiskell and Pendleton formed the band Shoho, Jeff's nickname for local "scenesters" that often attended the band's shows. The lineup consisted of Heiskell on vocals and Pendleton on guitar, joined by local bassist Rob Bell and a set of twin brothers: guitarist/fiddle player Doug Hairrell and drummer Mike Hairrell. Early band sessions were held in a remote log cabin south of Knoxville, where the new lineup developed a guitar-heavy sound with Brit-Pop influences. Upon the insistence of new manager SuperFrank, the band settled on resurrecting the name Judybats for the project. This incarnation of the band issued one album, Judybats '00, in 2000, and released a cover of Paul McCartney's "Love in Song" for the 2001 McCartney tribute album Listen to What the Man Said. "Break My Heart" was also included in Oxford American's annual Southern Music issue.
Jeff Heiskell has since released five solo albums, under the name Heiskell: Soundtrack for an Aneurism (2007), Clip-On Nose Ring (2008), Arriving (2015), Emotional Terrorism (2017) and Songs in the Key of H (2019). Emotional Terrorism was accompanied by two videos, for the songs "Still Life With Broken Heart" and "I Want More Life." Conceived by Heiskell himself, both were guided by videographer Douglas Stuart McDaniel, with intern Tyler Juárez Dippel shooting the footage for "Still Life With Broken Heart." "I did not feel comfortable carrying on the Judybats name with my being the only member", Heiskell explained in 2008. "I didn’t really feel that comfortable with it when the ’00 record was released, either. A millionaire control freak backed that project financially, so I felt that I had to follow his lead. I follow no one's lead now." In 2016, Heiskell performed several Judybats songs at Waynestock, a benefit concert for Girls Rock Camp Knoxville.
In the fall of 2015, former bassist Tim Stutz released music via Bandcamp, under the name Because of Robots (stylized as "because of robots").
A bootleg fan compilation of B-sides, rarities and live performances entitled Hold Your Horses has also been in circulation, but is not an official release by the band.