Vol. 2, Issue #19 October 12th - October 25th, 2007

The Brendon Small Interview
By: Nathan Winfrey

The wildly popular show “Metalocalypse” on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim chronicles the adventures of fictional death metal band Dethklok. The band might be fake, but there are voices behind the characters and musicians behind the music.

First making a name for himself with the cult animated hit “Home Movies,” “Metalocalypse” co-creator Brendon Small had a golden ticket from Cartoon Network to make pretty much any kind of show he wanted. With his musical background and death metal leanings, it soon became obvious which show Brendon was born to make.

Now that Dethklok have released their Dethalbum, which debuted last month at #21 on the Billboard Top 200 with an incredible fan and critical reaction, and a national tour slated to begin Oct. 28, the man behind the music, who’s also the voice behind most of the main characters, took time out of a busy day of interviews and a Hot Topic record-signing to chat with me on the phone.

NW: How did the idea for Dethklok come about and who were your biggest influences when creating the show, as a musician?

Brendon: Me and by buddy Tommy Blacha—he’s a comedy writer. He’s written on Conan O’Brien and a whole bunch of other stuff, and he would be the only person who would talk about metal with me, and he was the only one who would go to, like, Cannibal Corpse shows and Nile shows and Yngwie Malmsteen shows and Arch Enemy, and just all kinds of shit that was just really cool, guitar-driven stuff.

All we found ourselves talking about was metal, and at some point we were like, “This is so ridiculous, why isn’t this a show? This kind of world is the only thing we care about right now. So I called the head of the network and I said, “I think I have an idea: it’s going to be about a metal band and it’s an extreme metal band and we’ll have like thrash or black metal elements or different kinds of grandiose and kind of epic elements of music and there’s going to be a lot of murder. There’s going to be tons of murder and I’m pretty sure we’re not going to understand anything that anyone says, and that’s the show.”

NW: What was their first reaction to it, when you presented the theme song and the first actual episode? Were they all in for it or were they kind of hesitant?

Brendon: No, actually, to their credit again, they just got it. They’re not all metal heads, so they would default to us because we were into that stuff, so they just let us do it. We had our characters, we had the look and we had the sound of the show and they already trusted me from the other show, so they were very cool about everything. And also, I mean, you talk about murder, violence and male-oriented stuff—that’s their demographic. They’re not conservative at Adult Swim. They like doing weird, absurd stuff, so it kind of fit into their style of things.

NW: So, when you were coming up with the characters, were there any specific figures in the real world of metal who you said, “We need this guy to be represented on the show?”

Brendon: We’ve said the front guy is kind of like a Conan the Barbarian kind of look, and we modeled his movements very much after George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher from Cannibal Corpse, who kind of looks like Nathan Explosion. We had these ideas and we sat with Jon Schnepp, who designed the characters and directs a lot of the episodes for the show, and were like, “Hey, this is the kind of look. We’re looking at something close to like an old-school Filmation…like these old animated movies and TV shows and he got the vibe.

Pickles, the drummer, went through a lot of different looks. He was like way too handsome at one point. He was kind of a leather-clad old school rocker and it just didn’t make sense after awhile. We just kept on switching the people around and we were like, “The guy from Sweden is blond, because there’s a lot of blond people in Sweden. And the other guy, well, that guy’s blond so this guy’s gonna have brown hair, and then Murderface was just like Jon Schnepp’s own creation. He was just this weird-looking guy. I’m not sure where he came from. To me, he looks like he could have been in Blue Oyster Cult or something.

NW: Yeah, what’s the deal with Murderface’s hair, man?

Brendon: Basically, the direction that we gave is that this is a guy who’s been trying to grow out his hair for a long time and this is as far as it gets.

NW: What do you think of all the kids on YouTube who are playing your songs? Have you seen that?

Brendon: Um, yeah, I have seen a lot of that. This whole show is an excuse for me to play guitar. I think about myself when I first started playing guitar and how important it was to lean how to play other stuff and to get better. I’m not that surprised that guitarists kind of like clued into it, just because, I mean, we’re the only show that has accurate animated guitar playing on it, where I sit with the animators and show them how to play each song.

NW: Are there any plans to feature those kids in anything? Like bring them on tour, put them in a commercial on Adult Swim or something like that?

Brendon: Yeah, when we do the Make A Wish Foundation thing, we’re going to put them all on a hot air balloon and give them all a million dollars…No, no, there’s no plan to do anything like that. I mean, isn’t YouTube enough? I mean, you’re getting people to watch you? How much more pretend famous do you need to get than YouTube?

NW: I’ve heard that the Dethalbum special edition is going for like 300 bucks on Amazon right now. Did you have any idea that it would get that big?

Brendon: No, but I think…they didn’t make enough, and hopefully they’re fixing that right now. But, it got really good numbers the first week and we have an unfair advantage that a lot of real bands don’t have, and it’s that we have a TV show that’s been around for a year before our first record came out, so, it all kind of filters into the same place.

NW: So what about the Dethklok tour for the new album? Are you guys gonna do kind of what the Gorillaz did at the 2006 Grammys, by projecting 3D animation of the characters onto a screen while you and the band hide behind it and play the real music?

Brendon: Yeah, it’s very much modeled after the Gorillaz. We’ve been working the last couple months, making the actual live animation. I’m sure it will be kind of a technical nightmare, you know, we’ll be playing to a click track and lining up the picture, and I’ve got some really great musicians that are joining me up on stage that I’m really excited about.

NW: Do you guys work together when you create the songs or are they just helping out for the tour?

Brendon: I write all the music by myself. Gene [Hoglan] plays drums on the record, but Brian [Beller, bass] and Mike [Keneally, guitar] are joining me specifically for the live thing. So, the truth is that not all of us will have played together before in the same room until we rehearse right before the show…These guys are monster players. They dwarf me, musically, in a lot of amazing ways, which I’ve very happy about. It gives me something to aspire to.

NW: I heard you went to the Berklee College of Music. That’s not exactly shabby, man.

Brendon: It’s a good school and stuff, but it doesn’t mean that I’m good. I can go and sit in a class at Harvard and still be stupid. They do teach a lot of great stuff and I find myself using little nuggets of information from what I learned there in composition and arrangement and stuff like that, so it’s good. I’m glad I went, now that I have a musical show.

NW: I’m sure they had no way of knowing their musical tutelage would one day lead to a heavy metal cartoon and all this greatness.

Brendon: Yeah, when I was at Berklee, you learn so much stuff at such a quick rate, but applying what you’ve learned, I mean, I understand how to conjugate verbs in French, but it doesn’t mean I can speak fluent French. I’d have to go away for about six years and learn how to do it.

My last year of music school, I kind of said, “You know what? I really feel that it’s time for me to start messing around with comedy and start doing stand-up and stuff, so I started taking writing for TV classes and sketch writing classes at Emerson college in Boston, along with my music classes at Berkley, and I started getting into stand-up and kind of put music away for awhile. I started doing stand-up and in my first year of kind of messing around and having pretty crappy nights and then okay nights, I got lucky one night when I met the producers of “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” and then ended up creating a show with Loren Bouchard, which was “Home Movies” for TV.

NW: Is there ever going to be a Season 5 of “Home Movies?”

Brendon: I’d be very surprised. Everyone’s got other stuff going on…It would take a lot for me to get back to the show, because I really like where we left it and I was really happy with the whole situation.

NW: Well, what’s up with “Barbarian Chronicles?” Wasn’t that supposed to be on Sci-Fi in 2005?

Brendon: Sci-Fi bought a script and I really liked that show and they kind of did nothing with it and it just kind of went away, and I’m going to try to see if I can get that back and pitch it to someone else, because I really like that show a lot.

NW: Dethklok have had a couple fictional CD releases on the show that didn’t actually come out in real life. Is the release of the Dethalbum going to cross over into the story of the TV show?

Brendon: No, because I think, on the TV show, they’ve had plenty of different records and, in my mind, the Dethalbum is a compilation of all the work they’ve done up until this point…In my mind, there were different kind of stages of music that were kind of all compiled and produced similarly for one record, so it’s almost a “best-of,” at this point.

NW: How did “Thunderhorse” make it into “Guitar Hero II?” Did the Harmonix guys contact you?

Brendon: I guy named Chris Larkin contacted me. He read a blog about me preparing for a new show and I had an mp3 up of the original theme song, and he listened to that and he said, “Hey, we’re doing this new game, it’s called ‘Guitar Hero.’ Can I send you one? You want to check it out? If you like it, do you want to maybe submit a song for the second version if the first one goes well?”

I think I gave him like three or four songs from the show and they picked “Thunderhorse.” They said it was the most fun to play. It was cool, but I’m terrible at the game.

NW: So you’ve actually tried playing the song on there?

Brendon: Yeah, but I’m awful. I actually played the song; I recorded it, and I couldn’t hardly do it.

NW: How did you make the transition from “Home Movies” to “Metalocalypse.” I mean, we’ve already talked about how they’re basically polar opposite shows. Is there a different feeling behind it or is it all still kind of come from the same place?

Brendon: There’s a lot of different stuff that drives the shows to make it different. I wanted to not repeat “Home Movies.” This is just a completely different scenario. It can’t be cute, it can’t be claustrophobic or anything. It’s epic and it’s grandiose. It has to be in big scale, that’s why it’s in wide screen, so we can show things and pull back as far as we can and show a little tiny guy next to a gigantic mountain and show how much space there is in this world.

No one here’s becoming a millionaire on this show. These are passion projects. You know, you do them because you really want to do them. I want to appeal to what I want to do during the time I’m doing it, because that’s the only way you’re going to get a really cool thing that makes sense to you.

NW: How does the future look for “Metalocalypse?” Are you guys going to be around for a few more seasons? How are things looking over there at Adult Swim?

Brendon: It’s like #2 ratings-wise, next to “Robot Chicken,” so they’re really happy with the ratings. It’s got a really big following. The record sales have been really good; the DVD sales have been really good. The only thing that will, I think, stop this show from continuing is the fact that it’s exhausting me to death.

We’re knee-deep in season two, still. We have a lot of work to do. I’m really happy with how it’s turning out, but it’s, you know…sometimes, it’s a little on the grueling side, but that’s show biz. I’ll have time in the future to do other stuff, but right now, actually, I’m really happy that I got an opportunity to put out a record completely by myself and got to get the show to where it is right now and find an audience and all that’s stuff. It’s fun.

An audio version of this interview can be heard on Oct. 12th broadcast of NONcast Radio on TOGiNET.com.

Also check out the Dethklok interview by Nathan Winfrey, audio version on Oct. 19th broadcast of NONcast Radio on TOGiNET.com, a few clips offered below.

And finally, don't miss the Dethalbum review by Clark Deal!

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