Broke-Ass Band Interview: Judgement Day
You’ve probably never seen anything like Judgement Day before, they’re on some other shit. They play “String Metal” a term they made up but which fits their sound perfectly. They’re basically an instrumental Heavy Metal band where the only instruments are violin, cello and drums. And I’ve got a long history with these fuckers. Freshman year at UC Santa Cruz, Anton Patzner (violin) lived two doors down from me in the dorms. Then off campus I lived with Jon Bush (drums) for a number of years. I met Anton’s brother, Lewis (cello) some time in the years since then.
So yeah, while I might be a bit biased about how bad ass Judgement Day is, I’m not the only one who thinks so. In September they were on the cover of The Chronicle’s Date Book section, and they just got off their first European tour opening for Dredg. Not bad for some guys I used to party with in college. If you like what you read and listen to below, you should be sure to check out their homecoming performance at Annie’s Social Club tomorrow night (11/19). It’s also the 5th anniversary of their first album Dark Opus. Just thinking about that makes me feel old.
Broke-Ass Stuart: You’re celebrating the 5th Anniversary of Dark Opus. I actually remember being at the old Balazo Gallery when it was at 24th and Mission and seeing you guys play for the first time. Was that the first Judgement Day show? And if so, does that mean I’m your number one fan?
Anton: It wasn’t our first show but I think it WAS our first show in San Francisco, so I guess that makes you our number one fan in San Francisco. Good job!
BAS: How did the band come together? I mean, I know that Anton and Lewis are brothers, and that Anton and Jon went to UCSC together, but what made you guys be like, 'œHey, let’s start a string metal band'?
Anton: I used to play on the street a bunch by myself and the band pretty much started when my mom said 'œAnton, you should take your brother with you!' We went down to Fourth Street in Berkeley and since we didn’t have any songs we just improvised and played really fast and loud. Whatever it was that we were doing, people seemed to like it, so we kept going out. Pretty soon we started getting band guys coming up to us and asking if we wanted to open for them. Before we knew it we were playing shows and looking for a drummer. Jon was the hardest-hitting drummer I had ever seen in Santa Cruz, so of course that was the guy we had to have.
Lewis: Jon booked a show at Front St. in Santa Cruz for us and his other band Tom’s Farmacy before he played with us. It was a good situation because he was into what we were doing and was a badass drummer.
BAS: Anton – The first time I saw you play was in Porter Quad on a random night and you were totally improvising on your violin. I’d never seen that shit before. Why do you think so many classically trained musicians are afraid to improvise?
Anton: Improvisation just isn’t taught in classical music. I think the main reason is that it takes so much time to learn all of the crazy concertos and sonatas that there just isn’t any time left to learn how to improvise. It’s almost like you have a choice: learn how to shred crazy classical stuff or learn how to jam. Personally, I was never the best classical student because all I ever wanted to do was make stuff up.
There’s also such a pressure to be perfect in classical music that musicians are almost afraid to make a mistake. You are definitely going to make mistakes if you improvise. You have to be open to that or you’re not going to be able to do it.
There are a few violinists who are really great at both improvising and playing crazy classical stuff. I have no idea how they do it. They must practice 10 hours a day or something.
Lewis: Improvisation was very much a part of classical music until the 20th century. If you read contemporary accounts of Beethoven playing piano, 9 times out of 10 he was improvising. When people started making recordings the emphasis shifted to playing the music on the page perfectly. There’s a really strong foundation of classical music pedagogy that focuses on interpretation, whereas improvisation is a very personal thing that you have to discover on your own.
BAS: Anton – You’ve played with Bright Eyes, Mates of State and The Faint. That came about because you were busking or something right? What’s the story behind that?
Anton: Sometimes when Judgement Day has a big show coming up we will go play on the street outside of other shows as they get out and hand out fliers and sell cds. Well, one time we went to go play outside of a Cursive show at The Great American Music Hall and the band members actually came out to check us out! We were super stoked because we’re big fans of Cursive. We got to meet them and they gave us their contact info. When our first record Dark Opus came out, of course I sent them a copy. A few days later I got this crazy email. It went something like:
'œOur label-mates are looking for a violinist for a 10-week international tour. The shows will have between 1500 and 5000 people per night. Are you interested?'
At first I thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be my first international tour. It was Bright Eyes and The Faint touring together and I played on both sets. That tour led to more work with Bright Eyes and that led to Mates of State and so on. So I guess the moral of the story is: go play outside of all of your favorite bands shows until you get a job.
BAS: Do you guys still busk at all to make some extra dough while on the road?
Anton: Ya, especially on this last European tour. It is so expensive to make it over to Europe for a tour that we had to do some busking to sell extra cds and make some of the money back. It helped a little bit. Also, since our band couldn’t afford to give us food money, we relied on the busking tips for that as well.
BAS: Are you all making a living as musicians full time now? If so, what’s the last job you had?
Anton: I’ve been pretty lucky I guess. I’ve only had music work since I finished at UCSC. I’m definitely not rich, but I get by. When there’s no work I play on the street. Lately I’ve been playing on the street with my girlfriend a lot. That’s been pretty good. I think people like to give pretty girls money more than boys, so we do really well.
Lewis: We do a lot of recording gigs together, and sometimes we’ll be listed on the album credits as Judgement Day. The last gig I had before leaving for tour was a recording session at Tiny Telephone studios in SF for Adam Stevens (of Two Gallants).
Jon: I have a part-time job as a graphic designer/web publisher. It is very flexible and allows me to work while on tour. Perfect job for a touring musician. Also, not having to rely solely on music-related work for income allows me to enjoy playing music more (less pressure).
BAS: What’s the best money saving tip you can give for people going on tour?
Anton: Here are three:
-Travel light. I think that a big part of the reason that Judgement Day has been able to survive financially on tour is that we roll with the three of us in a mini-van. Gas is so much cheaper that way than if we had a big 15 passenger van.
-Eat the free food. If you are on tour with a bigger band you might never have to buy food. Big bands get SO MUCH food that there is no way for them to eat it all. If you don’t mind PB&J and pita and hummus every day you could eat for free the whole tour.
-Make friends with people so you can crash at their house. Hotels are a huge expense that most independent bands really can’t afford. You don’t need to get hotels though if you’re good at making friends at the show. I’ve had so many great experiences crashing at strangers’ houses. If you’re lucky they might even cook you breakfast.
(Disclaimer: I’ve also had bad experiences, like sleeping in a living room with 6 cats and a ferret)
Lewis: I’d say bring as much socks and underwear as you can. The less times you have to do laundry the better.
Jon: Echoing Anton, take advantage of all the freebies.
BAS: What’s your biggest horror story from the road?
Anton: The worst thing that ever happened to us was when our van got broken into in New York City. We couldn’t afford hotel rooms there and we played at a club with no backstage so we had to leave our backpacks in the van' Of course that is the one time our van ever got broken into.
BAS: Do you have a favorite city to play in?
Anton: San Francisco!
Jon: Santa Cruz or San Diego (for the shows and the hangin out)
BAS: What the biggest audience you’ve played for as Judgement Day and where was it?
Anton: We just played to about 1500 people opening for Dredg in Munich, Germany. It was amazing. I want more!
Jon: We’ve played sold out shows at The Catalyst and The Fillmore which were very memorable.
BAS: Favorite dive bar in SF and favorite one you’ve found on the road?
Anton: Is Amber a dive bar? That’s pretty much the spot for me and my friends in SF.
Lewis: White Trash in Berlin. They had Zombie strippers.
BAS: Favorite cheap bite in SF and favorite one you’ve found on the road?
Anton: In Sf, for me, it’s all about taquerias. My favorite is Casa Mexicana at Church and Market. Less than 3 dollars for a bomb-ass tofu taco. In Europe it’s all about Doner/Falafel stands.
Jon: In SF, one of the cheap sushi boat spots in the Richmond. On the road, NY slice of pizza.
Lewis: Broccoli at home, broccoli on the road. It’s super cheap and super healthy.
BAS: What’s bands are you listening to on the tour bus right now?
Anton: Blonde Redhead, Radiohead, Monsters of Folk, Michael Jackson, Ashkon
Lewis: On bus we do a lot of on-the-go playlist sessions on Jon’s ipod. One person picks a song for the playlist and passes it to the next person. Very fun.
Jon: it’s interesting to see what songs are picked on my ipod. Mark and Drew from Dredg pick a lot of 90’s rock like Primus, Far and Helmet. Gavin can’t stop playing Hot Tubbin’. Dino’s only pick I heard was Bob Marley (Natty Dread, when he was wasted). Lewis and I go straight for The Advantage.
BAS: Anything else you’d like the broke-asses of the world to know?
Anton: Our show on Nov. 19th at Annie’s Social Club is a 5th Anniversary party for our first record. We’re putting the whole record up for free on Youtube after that, so all of you broke-asses can listen to our music for free.
Lewis: New album next year.
Jon: My financial advice: stay out of debt, and don’t waste money on cigarrettes and hard drugs.