Dethklok's Brendon Small predicts future of Metalocalypse
It's hard to believe that it's already been six years since the institution of rock was turned on its face, the fame of the Beatles reduced to mere peanuts in the presence of something so much more important and the inhabitants of the planet rendered lemmings to the Doomsday ticking of Dethklok. Ok so maybe this is only a complete reality in the world of the Adult Swim TV series Metalocalypse but creator/musician Brendon Small's cult creation continues to thrive in both the music and animation realms.
After being forced to reschedule the beginning of their tour for the just-released Dethalbum III due to a schedule that -- eerily relevant to their fable -- matched the exact trajectory of Hurricane Sandy, the virtual band is back at it, hitting Myth nightclub in St. Paul tonight. Prefacing this inevitably cataclysmic performance, Gimme Noise was able to check in with the man behind the macabre: famed creator of Home Movies and Metalocalypse, Brendon Small.
Gimme Noise: The latest [and bloodiest] season of Metalocalypse aired this summer, Dethklok's third studio album has recently dropped and you're already back on the road for another high-production tour. What's the disposition this time around?
Brendon Small: I'm basically a part-time musician. Most of what I do is television but I have been playing guitar for a really long time so it's especially fun for me to play guitar live. It's a challenge. There is a lot of tricky stuff you have to negotiate between the vocals and the guitars, but it's something I like to work at. We have a really amazing crew so it's pretty incredible doing the shows. They're really, really fun and we keep adding little bells and whistles to it as we keep going. It keeps us excited and moving forward. It's just a great production. We've got some really creative people so I'm very lucky.
GN: What are some spoilers you can divulge about this cycle of the live show?
BS: Well, in the most basic sense Dethklok operates like how any band would tour, you know? You fold out the old songs and you exchange them for some other ones. But this wave has audience participation more so than any previous show; it's more directly built around being there in that moment. So far the audiences have been participating amazingly. It's weird to see because you build the show in this tiny little room and then you watch it unfold.
GN:I know in the past you've continued to write Metalocalypse as you toured...
BS: I made sure that didn't happen this time because it was just way too much stuff. My job here is to be the band's leader and to be the executive producer of this live show and the guy who promotes it and stuff. That's my main job. I'm not doing more than one thing. It was a nightmare. It was not fun. I want to actually enjoy performing. That's why I got into this whole, absurd, stupid business: because I really like telling jokes and playing guitar -- that's the highlight of my day you know, and I want to have it be just that.
GN: Since Dethklok is a virtual band what your audiences are really identifying with are characters. Yet you're still a band and you've experienced development as a band. Will you talk about the dynamic of the growth within something that's only kind of real?
BS: It's a tricky thing because we aren't a normal band. I mean I do work with the same people all of the time but Dethklok is about me going in a room and writing music and then showing it to people and teaching them how to play it. It's not like Led Zeppelin where they all come into a room and bring in a piece of music and collaborate. I'd love to have that band at some point but this is the way that Dethklok works, the way the TV show works. It just doesn't happen that way.
But the music has changed over the years. The third album is ultimately making it more personable, exciting and more real. Now, as far as working with these guys, there's a really comfortable shorthand. For the most part, the great thing about playing in this band is that you get to spend the whole show kind of just being a source of music.The larger thing that's gonna always win it out is this big, gigantic animated feature showing behind us. At some point we say "hey, it's us" and, you know, say hello. It's a really satisfying thing just to be able to concentrate on your parts and then have sex with the audience when it's possible.
GN: So would you say you approach Dethklok in a more technical way?
BS: Not necessarily. My only rule for any music I write is that I have to enjoy it; I have to experience some amount of pleasure from it. Whether it's the most melodic thing or if its heavy and ugly and I have to expand it: It has to function on its own logic to carry me through the entire song. If it doesn't do that then it needs to be sent back or thrown away or something. But its actually got to function like the song would in the world. But there are still things where we collaborate. Gene Hoglan is an amazing technician in the studio and helps me plot it all out and collaborates on all of that stuff. So it's not so ascetic or one-minded.
GN: I guess I was trying to move towards talking about your new outside musical project, Galaktikon. What kind of different function does that serve for you musically?
BS: Spending money was the motivation. Finishing a project was the motivation. Beyond that I didn't know what it was going to be other than a place for me to experiment with having music and melody, which, Dethklok doesn't have in the vocals. So, so the fun would be to experiment as a vocalist, which I've never really been, and try to make sense of all of that and try to make the songs sound reasonable, hopefully.I guess ultimately i still ended up telling an elaborate story with characters too.
GN:I'm amused by the genre you've coined.
BS: Haha. Yes it is high-stakes intergalactic extreme rock.That's the story part.
GN: You encounter a lot of bands getting frustrated with micro-labels like that but you've created it. You see the humor
BS: Ah that's funny. Well yeah, I know that. I think that with Dethklok, it is very melodic deathmetal because the subject matter is, well, death. It's definitely its own genre though,thats why people call it melodic death metal. But within every record there's still influence that's like Slayer or black metal or old Metallica or whatever. I just thought it'd be fun to have a project where I could have, like, Weezer influences and then have double-kicks and some Soundgarden style stuff and then have the rock that I like: Smashing Pumpkins, stuff from the '90s.
GN: It's interesting to see the Brendon Small outside of strictly death metal.
BS: Yeah. Once in a while I'll do a clinic where I'll talk to musicians. I like to remind them that it's okay to enjoy ELO and David Bowie AND Cannibal Corpse or other stuff. If you just listened to death metal all day I think you'll quickly find that you need a palate of not just one thing. It's nice to have diversity. When I go jogging and listen to music I put my iPod on shuffle and you'll hear Mastodon but then there's Michael Jackson and Hall & Oates and there's tons of what many people would consider "guilty pleasure" music. But I don't think you should have to feel guilty. I think the reason I'm drawn to that stuff is because songwriting wins all of the time, it's the best song and the best melody that's the best thing to listen to.
GN: Now, as far as Metalocalypse goes, you've acknowledged that you ultimately have a story that you want to tell, one that has a lifespan. How much longer do you foresee the story that you're telling to be able to carry on?
BS:That's a good question because I think, something's happened in Hollywood in the last decade. They keep making, like, three movies to tell a story that they probably could have told in one movie or a half of a movie. Umm, so what I'm doing is I have a certain amount of story that I want to tell to conclude this bigger story, and I mean, maybe there will be a spinoff show afterwards or maybe I'll hand it off to somebody else but my relationship with this show will probably, or the amount of stuff I do on the show -- which is the music and storytelling and directing and blah blah blah -- will be reduced.
The amount of story I'm going to tell, I'm going to find out very soon because I'm mapping it all out and I need to find out exactly how long its going to take to do the thing I want to do. It could be something close to a feature length or less, maybe a feature and then a season finale. I'm not sure just yet. But I've got something else that I'm working on right now that I don't want to talk too much about for Adult Swim.
GN: I like your attitude towards whiny Metalocalypse fans.
BS: [laughs] Ah. It was really funny I just watched this Steve Martin DVD that just came out from the Shout Factory. I love Steve Martin and I'd never seen some of his stuff from TV and at some point there was this guy at a table who was doing some really stupid stuff and he just goes "Well, YOU go try and be funny!" And it wasn't that funny but at the end he kind of acknowledged the fact like "hey, fuck you! At least I'm doing something." What I would say to people is that yeah, I think that we're a pretty tricky place for people who think they can vote the ending to a show. I realize that they want to know what the ending is. But I don't think it really works, you know, as a reason. Some people are telling a story and some people aren't. Some people are the storytellers and some people are the story listeners. And they may not agree with me but there is a story that I'm telling.
GN: They'll probably tune in regardless.
BS: Well yeah. Luckily they have been and as the show grows as more of an episodic thing. That's what it's gonna be. I think that with music writing or any kind of art: it's not a democracy. If Van Gogh came out and started a painting and people were like: "ehhh I don't know... move the flowers over there" it wouldn't be his thought or composition. It would be a group of people just randomly throwing ideas or something. That's what the Internet is: an imaginary reservoir of complainers.
GN: Comment sections kind of baffle me sometimes.
BS: Yeah, totally. But I also understand it. I remember the first time I went into a chat room. A friend of mine with, like, dial-up internet connected and I was like "what is that?" and he's like "people talking to each other about a movie or something." So I said: "let me go in there" and he's like: "okay" and so I go in and type "Hey fuck you! Who wants to fight me?" That was the first instinct I had. Everyone's got that annoying, anonymous disrupter inside of them. I mean watch CNN right now. Watch Fox News right now. Watch a bunch of powerless people try to make sense of something that they have no control over and nothing to do with.
GN: No Kidding.
BS: You know? I mean it's just part of the human condition. And I get it; I just don't have to acknowledge it if I don't want to. And there will be times where I will respond but you know what? I'm not gonna go online and complain about it. Though as a creative person I can hopefully learn a lesson from it.
GN: What's the most exciting thing that will happen for you in the next year, assuming that we make it past December 21. Can you give any more cryptic clues to your next project?
BS: That's right I know. It's coming.
GN: Dethklok's magnum opus should probably be an Armageddon show.
BS: I know. That would be... so... CATASTROPHIC! I'm only interested in the stuff I haven't done, not the stuff I have already done. I do have my eye on this new project that I'm excited about... and all I will say is that it has nothing to do with animation. It doesn't have too much to do with music either. I've gotten to play around in the world of music and that's been really satisfying and fun for me. I 'm not gonna stop doing that but I just think my next project has to be a live action one. The reason I got into this whole business was because I like playing, I like being onstage, I like engaging. So you know what? That's what I'm gonna do.
Dethklok plays Myth nightclub tonight with Black Dahlia Murder at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32. It is an all ages event.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.