In early 2014, Cary Judd began work on his final album--hat's what he thought, anyway. After four solo releases on the China Mountain Records label--Perfect Uncertain (2003), Looking Back from Space (2006), Goodnight Human (2009) and the EP Trillions (2010)--and one with the short-lived hard rock project The Blaqks, songwriting felt stale.
"I looked at my first album that I released in 2003 and what I was working on now, and it almost didn't relate," Judd said. "I just kind of wanted to tie a ribbon on it."
Judd raised more than $8,000 through Kickstarter and retreated to The Wormhole, his Boise recording and production studio. After three months, he'd only finished a couple of tracks, so he reached out to sound engineer and fellow Wormhole producer Conor Souhrada, and Kaleb Aaron from local pop-rock group Waking Jordan, who sat in on drums.
"At that point, we thought, 'Yeah, we could probably do a show this way,'" Judd said. "And then one day, I was like, 'This is a band.'"
What Judd thought was an end became the beginning of The Vacationist, now comprised of Judd, Aaron, local artist Sunnie Lynne on vocals and keyboard, Sam Carrier from A Sea of Glass on guitar and Scot Alexander from Santa Barbara, Calif.-based rock group Dishwalla on bass (Souhrada still helps out with production). In Oct. 2014, the group released its self-titled debut on Bandcamp and on Jan. 1 of this year, on iTunes and Spotify. The Vacationist was named one of the Houston Chronicle's Top 10 Albums of 2014, and made ReverbNation's front page twice.
The band plays its official debut show at The Bouquet on Friday, Feb. 13, with local openers Matt Coate and indie-rock groups A Sea of Glass and Tundra Brother.
Featuring tight production, radio-ready pop tunes and upbeat dance grooves, The Vacationist tells the story of a group of people who flee a dying Earth via spaceship, looking for a new planet to call home. It reflects Judd's longstanding interest in science fiction, which he considers a prophetic genre. He cited a piece of equipment in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game as an example.
"In that book, they call them 'desks,' but what they describe is exactly what an iPad is now," Judd said. "I have this idea that science fiction becomes science fact. It's just a matter of getting there."
This idea ties in with the album's theme of discovery, a subject Judd holds dear.
"I love solving a puzzle. If you're not building a larger worldview—personally, I feel stagnant and depressed," he said. "If I'm not putting a new piece in the puzzle—it's a puzzle I'll never complete, obviously—but just seeing a little bit more of the picture, for whatever reason, makes me really excited."
Judd has been putting the puzzle together for a while now. Born and raised in Thousand Oaks, Calif., he started playing in bands as a teenager in the 1990s. He began touring as a solo act in 2003, playing more than 100 shows each year. Judd spent the next few years based near Jackson Hole, Wyo., before heading to Boise, where his parents now lived.
"At the time I moved here, I was actually homeless," he said. "I was doing my solo thing and getting in front of a lot of labels, and I just didn't have a place to live—I was couch-surfing, camping. My parents are LDS and decided they were going to go on a mission to Africa. They were like, 'Hey, come up to Boise. Take care of the house and you can live there.'"
While still performing as a solo artist, Judd played bass with local rock group Fires In France from 2011 to 2013. He also performed as Danny Blaqk with The Blaqks—the group only lasted for about a year, but it caught the attention of Paste Magazine in its article "10 Idaho Bands You Should Listen to Right Now." Paste praised the group, calling it "catchy-as-all-get-out." (Other groups mentioned in the article include Hillfolk Noir, Edmond Dantes and The Dirty Moogs).
Judd enjoyed his time with The Blaqks, but was ready to move on.
"[The Blaqks] was just catharsis bordering on being funny," he said. "With The Vacationist, though, I feel like it's more a demonstration of what I want and what I want to be."
Judd said he is especially grateful for his Vacationist bandmates' contributions, which include an elaborate light-and-projection show.
"I can't pass this off as a solo album," Judd said. "It's way bigger than me now."
The Vacationist has plans to tour soon and may release a second album in the summer. Wherever The Vacationist goes, Judd looks forward to making new discoveries.
"The minute I walk through the door [of the Wormhole], I'm like, 'I might make something cool today," he said. "And who knows what it'll be?'"