Brendon Small Talks About The Latest Season Of Metalocalypse And The Future Of Dethklok
Band Photo: Dethklok (?)
Ever since Metalocalypse premiered on Adult Swim back in 2006, co-creator Brendon Small has become a notable figure in metal. Small, also known for the cult classic Home Movies cartoon, has spent much of the past few years working on the show, and finding a niche market that has embraced the kooky characters and hilarious songs. The show, based on the exploits of a fictional death metal group called Dethklok, has transcended the small screen into live touring. Metalocalypse finished up its fourth season this past summer, and Dethklok is touring throughout the U.S. until the end of 2012. I had a chance to speak to Small about the latest season of Metalocalypse, his thoughts on the future of Dethklok once Metalocalypse ends, and his passion for metal.
“Dethalbum III” came out in mid-October and the latest season of Metalocalypse ended in July. With four seasons done, is it easier or harder for you to think up of new ideas and new songs for the show?
I think it’s the same level of difficulty it always is. I don’t think it’s any different really. For the TV show, I think this past season had more ideas and more things we could do. What I started to do with the writing of the TV show was move the whole bigger story along. Once you have a bigger picture, it’s easier to throw that whole thing on a wall and look how you are going to tell that story, so you always have some place to go. I think it’s more fun and better use of the medium of TV to make it one successive story, as opposed to...we’ve always been moving the arc along, but it’s been a very slow arc. This time, I plotted what I believe to be the end of the story, and told the first part of the end of that story with this season. That was a bit more easy for all of us. As far as writing music, it’s always the same thing. You have nothing and you play around with your guitar for a while and you get something.
Since now you knew you had a story that could progress forward, did the music reflect that better than when you took your time over the past few seasons building up the story?
When the show started, I knew what the ending was, and it’s been moving towards that. I just wanted to advance it a little bit faster now. We always knew what the ending was; it wasn’t something that we happened upon. Again, what always happens with the show is that I’ll write the scripts and work with some of the other writers - particularly this past season - and I go in and do music by myself. We’ve gotten better at production, but that has nothing to do with the music side. The music side either happens on its own or it doesn’t. Usually what happens is that I go into a room, disappear, and come back with music. Extra time or no extra time, that’s how the process is.
How long do you think it will take for you to get to the intended end of the show? Do you think you could stretch it out for a few more seasons, or add some new ideas in?
Possibly, but my whole thing is that the show could live on after the story that I want to tell is over. Maybe it will, and maybe I will hand it off to someone else at some point. What I want to do with this show is coming to a final point. The way I see any kind of stuff is I don’t know exactly how much time that takes or how many seasons that takes. I know I have a certain amount of story I want to tell, and the next thing I do with the show is going to be a longer format. Wherever my story takes me to the end of that format, it will be that section. It’s funny when people plot out a three-movie arc. You may be able to tell it in one movie, and actually be able to tell it in half-an-hour. Like with “The Matrix,” I don’t think I needed the other two movies to understand what the matrix was and enjoy it. I don’t know if I needed the prequels to “Star Wars” to enjoy those. They are just extra stuff, but I don’t think it helps. It’s just going to be, ‘Do I need to put filler in?’ I don’t think so. I think I’d rather tell a more concise story, no matter what the time is.
Once you finish the story you want to tell, where do you see Dethklok the band going? Do you view Dethklok as a touring entity, even after the story that you want to tell is over?
It’s possible. I think it’s got a really cool, fun thing that it does live that a lot of other people in the genre don’t do. It’s got this really absurd, entertaining factor, where it’s comedy and music at the same time, and a big show and animated and has a production value to it. It’s really fun, but there’s a lot of other stuff I want to do with my career and comedy that has nothing to do with any of that stuff. I would like to keep it alive for as long as I see it alive and interesting and worth doing. I don’t necessarily want to keep going because I need the money or anything like that. As long as I got something to say with this project, I’ll keep saying something.
There’s a lot of other kind of genres and ways to entertain that I haven’t done that I’m more interested in. Everything that I have done up to this point, I’ve checked it off the list. With Metalocalypse, I’ve gotten to do a whole bunch of really cool stuff that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do. I got to put out signature series guitars. I got to be on the cover of Guitar Player magazine. I got to put out records and have people buy them. What else do I need to do? It’s really strange, because this thing is like a regular band. I’m a part-time musician. I take it very seriously, but I’m not like AC/DC. AC/DC goes out and makes AC/DC records and they keep on doing that. I’m part of a TV show that can get canceled or lose its following. AC/DC won’t get cancelled. They’ll be AC/DC forever. Dethklok can get canceled.
It’s interesting that you say that, as it can be argued that the lines have been blurred between Dethklok being part of a TV show and being a legitimate entity. Was that always your intention with Dethklok?
That was what I was going for. That’s what I hoped would happen. For a record, to make it more valid and make the world seem more fleshed out, I hired Gene Hoglan and Bryan Beller, and then we started sounding like a band. That’s all very cool. The reason that there was a time lag between the second and third record was that it’s a really complicated thing getting these records off the ground. Adult Swim knows its TV really well, but the music side they are still trying to figure out. Even though we have an big audience and sell hundreds of thousands of records, it’s just a really long, protracted process that’s pretty exhausting. The good news out of that is that I get creative control. The record that you hear is the record that I want to put out, and there’s no intervention between the label or anybody else creative. It’s the way I want it to sound like, and that’s the final product right there. That’s a nice luxury, where people aren’t breathing down our necks. It’s pretty much my idea to the marketplace.
I don’t know if you expected Metalocalypse to be this large. Are you concerned that when you move on to future projects, that this show will be hanging over your head and make it harder for people to take them more seriously?
No, I don’t worry about that. I don’t think I’m that associated with Metalocalypse. I don’t think people really know it’s one guy who does all the stuff. I think they think it kind of happens. I think hardcore fans knows there’s a guy that writes and plays the music, but most people don’t really know that I’m the guy that does it. I could easily drift into another project or idea. Plus, what I’ve done before Metalocalypse is so different from this; it’s the polar opposite, stylistically. I get bored easily, and I like lots of different things. I like art films; I like horror films; I like live-action comedy. I like tons and tons of different shit, and I’d like to take a crack at things I’m interested in. I don’t think that’s ever going to be a problem. If some people think because I did a death metal cartoon that’s all I can do, they can look at other stuff I’ve done.
Is there anything in particular that you want to be defined as right now?
The thing I think I bring to a project is that I’m really interested in story and in character, and I’m interested in making the music synch those things and paint the story. I think making Metalocalypse and taking the music seriously adds validity to this certain world. That’s all part of one thing. It’s part of my consistency on storytelling, humor and character. That’s what I do with the show. So day-to-day, sitting there looking at every single frame, I make sure that the things that need to be consistent are consistent. We’re trying to beat ourselves by making the story clearer and making the jokes funnier and make the art better every single season, and keep on trying to challenge ourselves to become better at what we think is our own craftsmanship.
Dethklok was supposed to go out on tour with Lamb of God this past summer, but the whole situation with Randy Blythe happened, so the tour was cancelled. Tell me how you were able to come back from that and get the tour with Machine Head going that's going on right now.
I think we always planned to do two different tours. A tour until the end of the summer, and then a tour around this time. That was already something that I had put time aside for that, because I knew the fall would be the second half of the tour. That was something I accounted for, but what I got out of the tour being cancelled was that I got some free time to work on other projects and do some stand-up that I haven’t done in a long time. I actually took some time off too, which is something I don’t do that often.
Do you have a tendency to overwork yourself, since you have so many other projects going on?
Yes, but I’m getting better at it (laughs).
What kind of methods do you use to avoid overworking yourself, so that it doesn’t affect other aspects of your life or other projects?
With Metalocalypse, I realized that if this show is going to make it past the first season, I’m going to have to step up to the plate and do a lot of stuff myself that I would normally use a writing partner for. I surveyed the scenario and realized that I was going to have to do a lot more than I thought I was going to do to make this thing work. The thing is, it’s a job, and you want to make sure you have a job. Your job is dependent upon how many people watch your show and how consistent the viewership is and how you get them to keep on coming back. I kept asking myself, ‘What do I do to do that?’ So I have to make sure these episodes are consistent, show up on time, if the writing isn’t there for another writer, I have to go and fix stuff, and, hopefully, the music has its own voice in the show. It’s just a lot of work, so doing all that stuff at the same time, and being the executive producer and creator, you’re pretty much solely responsible for all that stuff. It’s your name and it’s your project out there, so you got to keep it alive.
Did you feel the same way when you were working on Home Movies as well?
Home Movies was so much easier, because it was so less labor-intensive and there was such a different vibe for the show. It was sloppier around the edges, and it was a longer show, but could be improvised and loose. There were also more people involved in the day-to-day that kind of help urge it out the door faster. Our look was very simplistic; it was not labor-intensive the way the animation was. It was only in a few sequences later on down the line that we got to push it a bit.
Is there one thing about Metalocalypse that you’re most proud of?
When I look back on what drove me to make the show, I went to music school and didn’t know what I was going to do with that. I was drawn toward entertainment and stand-up comedy. So, I started taking writing seriously. I took writing classes as well, like writing for TV and sketch-comedy writing. I started getting up on stage. I was doing a lot of that because I was jaded with music school, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my guitar. I didn’t know what my relationship with my guitar was anymore.
While I was getting into the comedy world and becoming successful very young, I drifted back and thought, ‘What do I like about guitar? Why did I start playing it?’ I like heavy metal, I like rock n’ roll. That’s what I cared about, and when I was in music school, I learned everything but that pretty much. You’re studying contemporary jazz and classical music and all kinds of different techniques, but I started to fall back in love with my guitar again by reconnecting with the metal world. That’s why this show exists. It’s me and my guitar getting back together again.
Do you still have the passion for metal that you did when the show started?
Absolutely. The thing is, I love metal, and from the very beginning, I wasn’t an only metal person. I loved tons of different stuff. I like old Jeff Beck, I like Queen, The Who, David Bowie and ELO (Electric Light Orchestra), but I also like Cannibal Corpse and Meshuggah and Metallica and all that stuff. My universal playlist is on shuffle constantly. I’m not just listening to metal; I listen to everything. I love metal. I think it’s great, but again, you have to keep the balance alive. If you work at a chocolate factory, you don’t want to go home and eat chocolate all day. You want to mix it up with savory things and different things, so that you’ll appreciate the chocolate more. Full blown metal all the time, it’s really great to counteract it with something that is not that, so that you respect both genres, or whatever genre is counteracting that.
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