Interview with Brendon Small (Metalocalypse, Dethklok, and Galaktikon
March 22, 2012, 10:22am
Interview with Brendon Small
By Rafi Shlosman
Once upon a time I was told that there is no humor in metal and that listening to the music won’t get you far in life. I guess that is an easy revelation to the guy who skips along in a super market seeing pictures of metal bands doing their best to be the creature under the bed, or at least the pissed off guy you just cut off on the highway. Well obviously those who made this “clinical” assumption has not met Brendon Small. Comedian, guitarist, co-founder of a little show known as Metalocalypse and the band Dethklok to which the story revolves around; it would appear Brendon crushed the metal stereotypes in one fail swoop. His show/band has forever altered metal entertainment as we know it. Oh and psssst… he’s pretty fucking funny.
I caught up with Brendon as he is preparing to launch Season 4 of Metalocalypse, start work on the 3rd Dethklok album, and releasing his new side project Galaktikon. So to those that never bought into the stereotypes this interview is for you, as for the rest, maybe it will help open you to a side of metal fans you never thought was possible. Either way, without further delay, I introduce you to Brendon Small:
Rafi: I had read on Wikipedia, which is such a great source of information… (Both of us laughing).
Brendon Small: Well they have some truthful information.
Rafi: I agree. What I had read was that you picked up the guitar out of boredom, since you moved around a lot as a kid, is that true?
BS: Not really. I did move around a lot as a kid, which is why I work in comedy right now. Usually the case with some of the people who dare to have a sense of humor, some dark thing happened to them. My serenity seemed to have ended when I moved from a very nice place to live, to a shitty central coast city. But as far as guitar and why I picked it up, I was a suburban kid it was almost like my destiny.
There was a kid who lived in my neighborhood who in one day taught me everything I needed to know. He sat me down with a guitar and told me “this is a power chord; this is Led Zeppelin, King Diamond, and Metallica”. He introduced me to classic rock, Jethro Tull, Blue Oyster Cult.
Rafi: I have to admit King Diamond was introduced to me in similar circumstances; it was the album ‘Abigail’. I thought at some point the devil was in my room, did it freak you out like that?
BS: (laughing) For me it was the album ‘Them’. This kid would explain the story to me as I read the lyrics. I never had such a great and creepy feeling. All the dramatic music and crazy voices that he used, plus a really creative horror story; in my opinion it should be made into a movie.
Rafi: This all lead you to go study at Berklee College of Music, which has housed artists such as John Petrucci (Dream Theater)?
BS: Some pretty diverse artists have come from there John Scofield (Jazz guitarist) and John Mayer (guitarist/songwriter).
Rafi: Funny you would mention John Mayer.
BS: John Mayer is actually a really good guitar player.
Rafi: I have heard him play some blues material that I was surprised he could play so well.
BS: He absolutely is a talented player, and he really cares for his art. I will admit his music isn’t my cup of tea, but I can’t help but respect his talent.
Rafi: You have managed to create a band out of Metalocalypse, Dethklok, making it come alive in ways others never thought of. Do you have similar plans with the new solo project, Galaktikon?
BS: Kind of, I had some time on my hands before making the second Dethklok album with contracts getting screwy. I already had everyone together Gene Hoglan (Dethklok Drummer, Strapping Young Lad, Testament), Bryan Beller (Dethklok, Steve Vai), and Ulrich Wild (Dethklok engineer and mixer). Studio was ready to go, contracts didn’t going through, money was not being released, and we even feared the second album would not happen. I decided I had to do something. I pulled my own money just so we could record something in this down time. I told everyone to give me a day or so to get some material together. I got some material that I started to develop for Dethklok but turned out to be too melodic, but that I really liked. Gene and I recorded the drum sessions and I put them on my hard drive. No sooner did I do that, the contract for the second Dethklok album went through.
After I finished the second album and the third season of Metalocalypse, I finally sat down and decided I wanted to do something with all this material. I had paid for it, so I definitely didn’t want it going to waste. (Both of us laughing) As I sat down and started working on the music I had no idea what direction I wanted to take with it, everything was so over the top. I started thinking that I wanted to write a story that will go along with it. I mean I am not going to write about my feelings; that’s just stupid. (Both of us laughing) So yeah, I wanted to make it into a concept album, which takes me back to King Diamond. All of his music had this unique way of blending into each other perfectly to tell the story. That’s how I felt this was going. I always loved when anyone from Andrew Lloyd Webber to The Who would be able to tell a story using music. I developed some characters for the story, but decided first I was going to release the album and see what people’s reaction would be. I can honestly do anything with it: graphic novel, movie, anything. But first things first: see how the music does.
Rafi: I can imagine that this is in a way liberating as it is your project versus having projects as big as Dethklok and Metalocalypse where you have to be mindful of networks wants and the fans expectations.
BS: I have to admit I am spoiled rotten. Working with everyone that I do over at Adult Swim has been a really amazing, creative, artistic, and free minded environment. They have been behind everything I have done since day one. Now fan expectations- that is a whole different ball of wax. I don’t think the relationship is a democracy. The creator has to make what he wants. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that is the best way to achieve truthful art.
Rafi: You did a couple dates with Mayhem Festival, how was the experience? Are there plans to do it again?
BS: It was a lot of fun, but I will admit my time is best served, for everyone, being the guy who writes TV shows. It was nice to have a day off, so that’s what we did, we were filling in for Megadeth. The next day we did a secret show with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
The Mayhem show went really well. It was in San Bernardino, which was a very hot and dusty place, but it was a real blast to put together a show like that in such a small amount of time.
Rafi: It’s unique to see a person who used to suffer from bad stage fright go and play a show in front of such a large audience.
BS: It is difficult getting to a point where you can play very technical guitar parts in front of an audience. In Berklee I would have these quarterly reviews I would have to do in front of a group of judges. They would give you a classical piece or some Jazz Chord solo, and I would eat shit every time. I would eat shit so bad that people in the room would have to avert their eyes because they were so embarrassed for me. (Both of us laughing) They must have thought “wow does this kid have Parkinson’s because he is barely touching the guitar.”
When someone gets stage fright it’s just their mind getting the best of them. There is a way to get around it, by learning to focus your mind elsewhere. That is one of the main reasons I got into standup comedy. I wanted to put myself in a position where I had to confront the audience in one way or another. It was a process to learn what the audience wanted. They are not expecting you to be perfect. But they sure didn’t pay their damn babysitter money to go out for a night and watch a guy eat shit on stage. They want you to good and to cheer for you. (Both of us laughing)
The cool thing is when you really give a shit about something there is always a sense of nervousness that comes with it. There will be some bumps in the road, but as long as you keep plowing through, everything will be ok. Hell half the people probably won’t notice. (Laughing) I still do stand up and I have to say no matter if I am playing a show in front of 13,000 people or a comedy club for 50 it’s a blast to have that feeling of power and control.
Rafi: A few comics have told me that even though the spectators come out to laugh at the jokes, the comedians are really coming from a point of: this is how crazy their lives really are.
BS: It comes with its exaggerations (both of us laugh). When I do mine, I do come from a place of truth, but certainly add a little embellishment to it. However I just like being stupid too. (Both of us laughing) It’s just one of those childish things you have to laugh about.
Rafi: It was great to see you work with 3 Inches of Blood and Cannibal Corpse. I noticed you are actually a big fan of the bands. How was it to work with them?
BS: I have always been a big Cannibal Corpse fan. I think their music is great and their musicianship is outstanding. I love their lyrics! It’s like listening to a little slasher film. I mean they sing about some pretty horrible shit (both of us laughing), then you meet them and they are such nice guys. Alex Webster is such a sweetheart and yet he writes about some fucked up things. (Both of us laughing)
Rafi: That’s a good point so many would probably picture them as a band of David Berkowitz’s and Richard Ramirez. They turn out to be great people.
BS: I think it fits in with people’s fascination with the topic. I am not saying people applaud the behavior, but more of a need to understand where it comes from. I just read a comic book about Jeffrey Dahmer. It was insane, absurd, and morbidly creepy.
Rafi: Was he a super hero of some sort, like “Super Cannibal”?
BS: (laughing) No it was really a strange biography from the point of view of a friend that went to high school with him. It was based on a guy that actually did go to high school with him and noticed that this is one insane fucker (both of us laughing) there is something really wrong with him. I don’t think people will ever get over the interest in what can make a person fucking flip.
Rafi: So back to the new band, Galaktikon, what are the plans for the release and after?
BS: I’ll be releasing it on my website Brendon Small dot com on April 29th for people to purchase if they are interested. There will also be t-shirts and other goodies. Now I’ll be doing this in between the production for Metalocalypse and new Dethklok, so it’s still a very new side project. After a bit I will take a look at how much of a following it gets, if people like it that is great, if not that is informative as well. (Both of us laughing)
Rafi: Now the release being on April 29th that is also the kick off for the next season of Metalocalypse. Is there anything you can share with us about things to expect with the new season?
BS: This season I had more time to prepare. With all the preproduction I got, I think people will notice the story going somewhere it has never gone before. I think that every TV show has to end at some point and this one is definitely heading toward that place of a big finish.
Rafi: Well, I can hear some hearts breaking after they read that.
BS: I think it is a very important part to it, it’s like the Harry Potter series, at some point you have to fucking end it. (Both of us laughing) I mean what are you going to do, keep watching Harry Potter? Who cares about that?
Every great story has to have an ending. TV is such a strange thing. You have to honor your projects to a degree, and there is other shows where they are such a big cash cow that they just can’t take off the air. I am looking forward to doing different projects after Metalocalypse. Metalocalypse is so different from anything I did before it and I am sure the next project will probably be nothing like projects before it. I do think though that if I get to end Metalocalypse the way I want to, it will be really satisfying and cool. You never know, there may be spin offs from it, while the Dethklok albums can continue on forever. In my opinion you just don’t have a story unless you have an ending, otherwise it just keeps going till people don’t give a shit.
Rafi: Years ago I would have never guessed shows like Metalocalypse, Sons of Anarchy, and Breaking Bad would ever get aired on television. How do you feel about pushing that boundary?
BS: That is a good question; I think cable had a lot to do with that. FX really started pushing the envelope with things that you could or could not do on TV quite a bit ago. When they put out The Shield it was such a fucked up show, and really got them thinking about what the audience wants to see. AMC started putting together some amazing shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. The cinematography was so well done that you can’t help but think “wow this is some of the best TV I have ever watched.” I just started watching Game of Thrones a week ago, I can’t believe how fucking good that show is! I am not done with it yet, but it is so well done. When you add up that show with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and others you start to realize you may be seeing the golden years of TV storytelling. You just never saw such great programming before, I feel very lucky to be working in it right now.
Rafi: When all is said and done how do you want people to look back at your work and remember you?
BS: Wow I never honestly thought about it that way. Here is my relationship with art; it is a very selfish process. I was really happy to start Dethklok and have it revolve around this show about metal. Metal is such a big part of how I developed my personality. It’s amazing to bring together all the things I love whether it be guitar, metal, or comedy; it has elements of all of it. I try to make peace with the art I create and always look forward. So if I am not remembered it is ok, I have made peace with that (both of us laughing). Again art is a very selfish thing where you are always trying to prove something to yourself.
While I love 'Metalocalypse', in a way, I'm glad it will come to an end. I'd hate for a show that great to take 'The Simpsons' route and just go on and on and on past its prime. I fully believe that 'Metalocalypse' will end on a massive high note and it will be face-meltingly badass.
...and your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell.