Latest release: Peacocks/Pink Monsters (independent)
Website: www.stringsmetal.com

Judgement Day are three dudes from Oakland California who play metal on classical instruments. But this ain’t no classical combo doing metal covers – it’s all fully original stuff, self-funded and remarkably innovative. They’ve already done a string of small-run EPs and an album, and even got called up to play on Slash’s solo album. Liam Guy chats with violinist Anton Patzner about this truly unique musical entity.

When and how did Judgement Day begin, and how did the idea of forming a “string metal” band come about?
Lewis and I started out playing on street corners in Berkeley in 2002 as a way to make a few extra bucks. We didn’t realize that we were going to be a band when we first started but people kept coming up to us and asking us to play shows, so eventually we had to think of a name. We also had no idea that it would be a metal band. For the first month or so of playing on the street we would just improvised and played really loud and fast and eventually that turned into songs. We called it “metal” to scare our parents and because we couldn’t think of anything better to call it.

Judgement Day consists of yourself, your brother Lewis, and drummer Jon Bush. Was it hard finding a third member who actually “got” the idea you guys were trying to go for?
When we decided to add a drummer I knew exactly who to get. Jon Bush was the hardest-hitting drummer in Santa Cruz (where we were living at the time), so of course we had to have him. There were definitely a few kinks to work out at first. We all had to learn our roles in the band, like when to play rhythm and when to play melody; when to play lots of notes and when to leave space. It took a while to get it down right. We have been playing together for over five years now though, so we’ve learned how to fill those roles really efficiently and function as a tight three-piece band.

Yours and Lewis’ playing style in Judgement Day consists of all the normal tricks of a lead guitarist – shredding solos, harmonies, “tremolo fiddling” – even the tone of your violin sounds similar to a guitar in some parts. Had you been playing guitar prior to picking up the violin?
We both started studying strings when we were really young. Violin and cello are hard instruments, so most people who get to a professional level on them start when they are kids. We both learned guitar later on when we were teenagers. I do think that knowing how to play the guitar influences what we play on violin and cello, hopefully in an interesting way.

Did it take a lot of practice for you and Lewis to learn how to play your instruments like the guitar or was it a simple transition?
I wouldn’t say that we are trying to make our instruments sound just like guitars. We do use pedals, like distortions and delays, but we’re trying to make new sounds with those tools. It is really important to us to always be breaking new ground musically. If we wanted to be in a metal band that sounded exactly like guitars we would do that with guitars. There are a lot of things that violin and cello can do that guitar can’t, like long, bowed swells for example, so hopefully doing this music with strings makes it sound a little bit different. I think it does. That said, there are definitely some techniques that come from guitar that are very useful to us. Power chords, for example can be a great way to drive a song, especially since there are only three of us. We like to write the kind of music that we listen to, and we love rock music, so that’s where we get a lot of our influence.

Tell us about the recordings Judgement Day have released so far, and how can people get their hands on them?
So far we have put out two acoustic EPs, one 7-inch vinyl and one full length album, Dark Opus. All of the music is available at our website stringmetal.com and some of it is free in the blog section. You can also find Dark Opus on itunes. In addition to all of that, there are a ton of live videos, bootlegs and b-sides that are all free downloads on the blog.

On your Youtube videos I’ve noticed you guys play shows with only the three-piece studio line-up. Do you often find it hard to bring the “full sound” of your recordings to the live performances? Have you ever enlisted the help of backing musicians?
We do our best to make it as full as it can be with just the three of us. Most of that comes in the arrangements. There are some songs that have extra strings in the studio versions, like “Out of the Abyss”, which has a whole string orchestra on it. Obviously there is no way for us to tour with a string orchestra at this point, so the live version ends up being different. I don’t think it’s worse though. In fact, we liked the live version of that song so much that we ended up doing another recording of that version, which came out on our 7″. There was one time when we got some extra string players to join us, and that was on the Chasing the Moon video podcast. Our mum, our younger brother, and a couple of our friends all played. It was such a treat for us to have them and the video came out amazing. Chasing the Moon is the best live music performance show that I have ever seen on the web. They come out with a new episode every full moon and they are all great. Their site is chasingthemoon.pdcst.com and our episode is also featured at the top of stringmetal.com.

Now, being a “string metal” group… how have the metal audiences taken to your unique take to metal music? Also, how have the classical music fans taken to it?
Metal audiences so far have been really into us. I think that a lot of those fans are actually very excited to see metal that is a little bit different. We do get some heckling sometimes, just at first when we walk on stage with our instruments – “go back to the symphony” and stuff like that – but we always end up winning them over in the end. I don’t know what the classical community thinks. There’s a part of me that kind of hopes that they are offended or scared. Realistically though, the really snobby classical people probably just haven’t even heard of us. I know that there are some classical people who like us, specifically other string players, because they come up and talk to us. It is rewarding to meet other string players who appreciate what we are doing.

You guys featured on Slash’s album… how did Slash approach you to be on his album?
It was actually Slash’s producer Eric Valentine who brought us onto that project. We didn’t even know it was going to be for Slash until we got there. I still can’t believe that we got to do that. What an honour! I wrote a good blog article about that whole experience which you can read at stringmetal.com.

Tell us about your live shows – what kinds of shows do Judgement Day get to perform? Do you also get to play many shows alongside other metal groups?
We’ve been lucky enough so far to tour with a number of really great, really different bands, from indie bands like Mates of State to heavier bands like Dredg and Torche. Since we are instrumental we can fit with just about anyone. We would love to play with more metal bands, not only because those kinds of fans respond well to us, but also because we like to see those kinds of shows ourselves.

You guys are currently working on a second album, correct?
It’s actually done already. We’re just finishing up the artwork right now and we will be releasing it in the US early next year. I’m really proud of it. It’s been fiveyears since our last full-length album came out and we’ve all gotten so much better since then. I think we finally really figured out how to make this whole thing work and make it interesting. There’s a lot more diversity on this record than on our older stuff. It has some of the most metal songs we’ve ever done but it also has some songs that are not metal at all. We used a lot more effects pedals this time out, so there are some sounds on there that are just totally crazy. One of the biggest improvements is in the drums. We recorded them in a big warehouse, and they just sound huge. Jon has gotten way better in the last five years. He has been working hard on playing with the double kick pedal and he plays some pretty nuts stuff with it on this record. The whole thing was mixed in Iceland by an amazing producer named Flex, so it has a touch of that dark Scandanavian metal flavor. I’m very excited to put the it out and see what people think of it. I don’t know when it will be coming out in Australia because we don’t have a label there yet. Hopefully we’ll find someone soon to help us put it out there.

When you guys release this new album, what other things do you have planned for Judgement Day?
We have a couple of music videos in the works. They will be coming out in the next few months and they should be pretty cool. I don’t want to give too much away about those- they are kind of supposed to be a surprise. Other than that, we’re pretty much just trying to tour as much as we can for the next year. We’ll see what happens after that. We would love to keep doing Judgement Day forever and make it into our full-time jobs. Hopefully the new record will take us to that level.

What are you hoping to achieve with Judgement Day in the future?
One thing that we would love to do is play festivals. I have played at festivals in the US and Europe with Bright Eyes and Mate of State, so I have seen they are like and I think that Judgement Day could do really in that setting. Another thing that I would like to get more into is writing music for movies. Our music is very dramatic and I think it would work great in action or sci-fi movies. I have always been a big fan of film scores like Star Wars and Batman, and I have done some scoring on my own, but I would love to get Judgement Day more involved with that. That’s about it.

Anything else?
Thanks for getting in touch with us! I have never been to Australia but I really would love to visit. Hopefully we will make it down there soon for a tour.