Q&A with Brendon Small, Co-Creator of Metalocalypse and "Guitarist" for Dethklok, Playing Sunday at Pompano Beach Amphitheater
William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Nathan Explosion, Pickles, and Toki Wartooth
Late Generation X'ers and Gen Y blasted the notion that cartoons are only for kids. Maybe we didn't want to grow up, or maybe we just didn't want to trade creativity and imagination for the drudgery of every-day adulthood. Either way mature themes have been mainstream on animated series since MTV's Liquid Television or The Simpsons. Adult Swim, seemingly run by a bunch of stoner geniuses, has since picked up the torch for the late-night set, and its series Metalocalypse is quite possibly the most violent (translate awesome) show on television.
If you haven't seen it, Metalocalypse follows the misadventures of Dethklok, a melodic-death-metal fivesome who are as much genre cliches as they are hilarious. The show subtly injects (if you can call mass slaughter subtle) social commentary about society's obsession with celebrity. But at its gory core, it's mostly just epic and fun.
Yet the music is no joke. Show co-creator Brendon Small is a Berklee College of Music grad, writes all the music, and plays all the punishing riffs as the lead guitarist. He's also the gut behind lead singer Nathan Explosion's growl. to his credit, Dethklok's first album debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 and, because it was a limited release, will run you at least $500 if you can find it. The band's latest, Dethalbum II, debuted at 15, making it the highest charting death-metal record ever. The band is currently on tour with Converge and Grammy-nominated heavy-metal group Mastodon. The tour will stop by Pompano Beach Amphitheatre Sunday. Brendon Small recently spoke with New Times about scoring drum-god Gene Hoglan, the lack of females in metal subculture, why This is Spinal Tap rules, and why Metalocalypse had to distance itself from the glorious film.
See interview after the jump:
New Times: How did you hook up with Gene Hoglan?
Brendon Small: [Century Media Records said] "Well actually he's on hiatus for Strapping Young Lad and his band is in this different place and sorting stuff out, so why don't you try [calling him]." I gave him a call and he was familiar enough with the show. We talked on the phone for a while. And luckily, we got along really well.
NT: What does metal touch on, and why is it so funny?
BS: Well here's the logic for me. What is death metal? Death metal is about the idea that you're going to die. Dying is brutal, metal is brutal. But there is a lot of other shit that's brutal that you experience every day of your life, that isn't death, but it makes your life brutal and horrible and fucked up. Things like humidity, going to the dentist, hangovers...that's why people relate to the brutality of metal is because their lives are filled with a whole bunch of torturous torments. So that was the universality of brutality that is somewhat mundane and boring, but those mundane and boring things can be tortuous things as well. That's my comic angle on it, at least. I don't think that that's actually true.
NT: Why are there so few females on the show?
BS: People ask us why there are no main characters that are girls. And I kind of disagree I think some of our main characters are girls. I think Toki Wartooth is a woman. I think he is the sister. I think Pickles is very maternal.
NT: So you're busting gender constructs as opposed to incorporating females?
BS: Come to one of our shows, and look at the ratio of girls to guys. It is an extension of the world. The world is a sausage fest. That's what metal is. This tour is like Sausage Fest 2009. You can spot a few girls here, but you definitely see a bunch of dudes, like, chanting along with the lyrics. And their numbers are outweighing the girls and it's kind of always been that way as far as fanship. The fans, the tour bus, it's a sausage fest. It is. The show is a sausage fest. And it's an unfortunate reflection of the world of metal.
NT: How did the original incarnation of the tour go? I heard there were problems.
BS: The first thing was a college tour. My problem with it was that it wasn't played at venues with metal bands. It was kind of with indie-rock bands and it was somebody, somewhere packaging a really ridiculous package that I was very unhappy about it, because I thought they missed the mark about who the audience was. That was it. Playing-wise I had the same amazing, outstanding players including Gene Hoglan, [Bryan Beller], and Mike Keneally... You are playing at commencement halls in a college, and that's just not a cool metal venue. There's a big difference between a club atmosphere and a cafeteria.
NT: When you conceptualized the show, did you always want to do a tour?
BS: It was all very thought-out, and it was logical thinking. Let's put out a record, there should be some way to be able to do it. How do I do that? Well, there's an anime show. You have a gigantic screen, you play the picture. Basically that was the idea. I wanted to do all that stuff, and I wanted the show to be able to live outside of its TV. I wanted it to be a big, fun, stupid ride. Seriously, I've been to a lot of shows and even bands that I love, when they're four songs in, I'm like, they're playing, that's really cool. But there's real opportunity to do something exciting and new.
NT: You attended Berklee [College of Music]. Why did you go into TV as opposed to pursuing music?
BS: I was not really happy about what was going on with music. There was cool stuff, but nothing was really exciting me. There's also this thing that happens when you go to music school when you go through this musical identity crisis.
I came to music school ultimately a rock guitar player. I like power chords, I like fast licks, and I like aggression in music, and I like melodic music. I like David Bowie, and I like [Electric Light Orchestra], I like Cannibal Corpse, and all that stuff. I like a whole bunch of different things, but I just didn't hear anybody really playing their guitars. And I graduated and was drawn to comedy. I was like, I need to start trying to do this. I need to put my guitar away and figure out what I'll do with my guitar later because one day I'll do something fun with it. I'd rather do something cool or in my own stupid terms grandiose.
So I did comedy, and I got very lucky, very young. I was 24 when I co-created Home Movies. I just got really lucky, right place right time. I saw, when you're a musician, and just a guitarist -- not a guitarist with a band or anything I was just a guitarist -- but it's easier to showcase your personality as like a person on stage with a sense of humor than it is to showcase your guitar abilities.
It's very difficult, I think, to have a personality behind a guitar, but it's very easy just to be yourself. And I think network execs and all the people that have money that let you be creative fortunately see that sometimes. It was an easier road, and I'm much happier to have done the things the way I did than to have become a musician first. Because I got to be the show creator, I got to be the writer, the actor, and then I got to hire myself as the musician. In order for me to have the ultimate job, I'm going to have to create it myself and hire myself to do all the parts that I think are fun to do.
NT: Metalocalypse is in some ways the opposite of Spinal Tap. How did Spinal Tap serve as inspiration?
BS: The thing is that Spinal Tap is the ultimate music comedy project. It's the best version of music and comedy and authenticity wrapped up in one... This show will never be anything as good as that and unfortunately Spinal Tap nailed it so early that we had to do things to not be like Spinal Tap. It's a band going on its way out, and we went the other way and made it the best entertainment act on earth, to make it less Spinal Tap-esque.
NT: If you had a band, would it sound like Dethklok?
I think guitar-wise, I'd probably write very similar stuff, I don't know if I'd always tune as low, but I'd probably put a little more melody in the vocals. There's a little bit of singing here and there, like in "Hatredcopter" off the first record, where there's actually notes being sung by me and it's kind of aggressive still. But I would probably shoot for something a little more along those lines, but I like to write stuff that isn't as heavy also. But it's still guitar-driven stuff. I'm a fan of the guitar, so it'd be guitar-driven music.
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