STUDIO DIARY: Judgement Day

by | Sep 28, 2011 | Interviews and Features, Music Production


How to Record a Metal Album with no Guitars

Band Name: Judgement Day

Album name: As of yet “untitled”

Recording Studio: The Barn at Sea Ranch, CA. Gear from Nu-Tone Studios

Record Label: Self-released

Expected Release Date: Spring 2012

Produced by: Judgement Day

Engineered by: Riki Feldmann

LISTEN NOW to the band’s previous album “Peacocks/Pink Monsters” below.


Judgement Day will probably always be somewhat of a musical experiment. The question remains: Is it possible to create enjoyable rock music with only violin, cello and drums? Our previous effort was Peacocks/Pink Monsters, a two-years-in-the-making prog-rock epic packed full of weird violin tones, odd meter changes and trippy noise jams. It’s fun, but I can only listen to a few songs before I start to feel overloaded and exhausted. For our third album, we wanted to do something much simpler and more raw. We came up with a bold plan: instead of spending endless months overdubbing and perfecting, we would go to “The Barn” at Sea Ranch for a week and make an acoustic album with live takes.

Sea Ranch is an awesome stretch of land on the coast of California, three hours north of San Francisco. The landscape is a collage of forests on the hillside and tall grass approaching the bluffs. The coastline is a broad pattern of jagged cliffs and sandy beaches. The Barn itself is a cabin owned by my brother Lewis [Patzner] and my extended family. We have been visiting it and using it for projects since we were kids. In middle school, we made army movies there. It’s split into two buildings: the main house with bedrooms, kitchen and dining room and The Annex, with a large upstairs room boasting a carpeted floor and high, vaulted wooden ceilings. It was here, during an unusually warm month of February, where we would build our studio and make our record.


Our plan was to rehearse for the majority of the week and then track completely live, in the one room, acoustically. Obviously this posed some very difficult logistical challenges, the first of which was figuring out how to get the drums quiet enough to match the strings. Jon [Bush, drummer] insisted on using his 24″ inch kick drum and other real drums, so the game became finding ways to mute him enough to minimize bleed into the string mics. We surrounded him with mattresses and put cloth over his individual drums. Then we threw the violin and cello as far away from him as possible and miced them as close as we could.

We were lucky to have Riki Feldmann onboard as engineer. He brought up recording gear from Nu-Tone Studios in Pittsburg, CA and also a bunch of nice camera equipment and lights. I’m really excited about all of the video that he got of during the live takes (much of which can be seen at He comes from a background of still photography and has a creepy, edgy feel for lighting and composition. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some sweet music videos for this album.

Rehearsals were interspersed with hikes along the coast and healthy, home-cooked dinners, but we had quite a bit of work to do to get the songs up to par for live tracking. Almost all of the material we were working on was brand-new, so we spent the first few days just figuring out our parts. By mid-week we started to feel some pressure. We tracked a run-through of all the songs and it came out very rough. We knew our parts now but had a ways to go before we could actually play them musically. We took a break from group rehearsals to work individually. Individual practice is important for string players to figure out bowing, fingering and intonation. A half-day of that made a huge difference in our performances.


When we got home and looked at everything, we realized that we had some issues. Some of the louder songs had problems with drum and cymbal bleed in the string mics, and a couple of other songs just weren’t working at all. It was clear that we didn’t have enough material for a full album, but at this point we had tours booked through May, so the project would have to wait.  The songs evolved as we played them on the road. Some changed tempo, some became electric, some were totally rewritten. We booked Sea Ranch again for eight days in July to re-record some songs as well as record some new ones.

This time we would do things much more by-the-book, tracking each of the instruments individually in order to get satisfying tones. The acoustics of the room had exciting possibilities and we wanted to do our best to take advantage of them. Instead of muting a makeshift drum-set in the corner, we built a full kit in the center of the floor and experimented with the placement of mattresses along the walls to deaden it for a nice feel on each song. The wooden walls gave everything a great, dead reverb. On the strings, we experimented with room mics, dynamic close mics and mid-side technique.  For the songs that had become electric, we always used one mic, one DI tone through pedals and one clean DI tone (no pedals) for the possibility of future re-amping. On the cello, the addition of the acoustic mic tone to the distorted electric tone gave the perfect extra low-end to make up for the fact that we don’t have a bassist.

Philosophies during tracking were much less strict this time. We didn’t try to get everything in live takes. Punch-ins, edits and doubles were allowed, but capturing good energy was still more important than trying to achieve perfection. When a run-through take sounded mostly great, we would keep as much of it as possible. We tried to have a little fun, too. On “The Redneck Rumble,” we overdubbed a percussion jam with Lewis on tambourine, me on washboard and Jon on a paint bucket, all playing live together. That was a good way of adding energy.


Once again, our album has dragged out into a nearly year-long process. Of the six songs that we rerecorded, three came out totally different and better. The other three, which hadn’t changed much on tour, came out about the same or maybe worse. I don’t know. The longer an album takes to finish, the harder it is to judge. The final step is getting everything mixed, and for that we’re just going to have someone else do it without giving him much input. A fresh perspective on a mix can give a record a whole new life, which is totally what happened with Flex’s mixes on Peacocks/Pink Monsters. We won’t know exactly what we’ve got until the mixes are done. The total number of songs that we’ve recorded is 18, including interludes. Some of them are metal, some are rock, some are ambient, and some sound classical. With all of these possibilities we should have no problem making another interesting record. But will it be enjoyable? I’m probably the last person in the world who could answer that right now.

photos by Riki Feldmann