The Man Behind "Metalocalypse" - Words with Brendon Small

He is the creator of beloved, fan-favorite shows like “Home Movies” and “Metalocalypse.” He is the man behind the phenomenon that is Dethklok, whom legions of fans dutifully keep up with and flock to their shows. He is the man in charge of the upcoming album “Galaktikon,” and probably has his hands full with six or seven others things, too. Mere mortals call him Brendon Small, and he and I had to chance to sit down and talk about a number of subjects, including music, career paths, television shows and trends, Iron Maiden and of course, horror.
M. Drew: First and foremost, you are a busy man this month. You’ve got “Galaktikon” coming out right around the corner, and season four of “Metalocalypse” all in one month. Do you think you’re ready to handle those two things at the same time?
Brendon Small: I guess I’ve done all the work for both of them. I’m still finishing season four, but Galaktikon is all but finished. There’s a couple little things, just organizational things with the website and getting to put the merch out, all that stuff. Making sure the CD looks nice, the vinyl looks nice, you know. At this point with “Metalocalypse” too, I’ve done all the writing, still have some music to write, but the majority of the season is finished. I’m kind of just…I’m moving on to what the next part of “Metalocalypse” is and other projects and all that stuff now. I’m two projects ahead of what I’m putting out now.
M.D: Now, when you say “what the next part is,” what do you mean?
B.S: As much as I can discuss, is just trying to get the next part of the music up and running. That’s all I can really say. Beyond that, there’s a lot of contractual stuff and legal stuff, and nothing is in any place to be announced just yet.
M.D: Some of the details are shrouded in mystery. Tell me a little bit about “Galaktikon.” I know you’ve described it as this otherworldly, high stakes, rock and roll metal album, what’s it gonna be and what’s it gonna sound like?
B.S: We debuted a streaming track on, and that’s a pretty good indication of what the sound is. What it is basically, the way that I’ve been explaining this whole project is, I didn’t set out to make a solo record or anything like that. What happened was, when I was about to go into the studio for the second “Dethalbum,” I made sure that I had Gene Hoglan attached, I had to make sure I had Ulrich Wild who’s the co-producer and engineer, make sure I had the studio where I was gonna record everything. And then Monday came around, I was supposed to have all the money and everything, but the contract didn’t go through. So, I thought “okay, well we can’t really in good faith just start recording without any of this stuff because the guys won’t get paid, and I don’t want them to do that.” But, I feel terrible because I told all these guys to stop what they’re doing because we’re making a Dethklok record, and they all got excited. So, I’m going to put them to work on something. I had the weekend to scramble together a group of songs that I thought was…some of them complete, some half completed, but I figured I’d work them out in the studio and make sense of these things and try to make a different project. Because “Metalocalypse” and Dethklok are something that I’m partnered with a network and Time Warner and all these gigantic, huge entities, and it’s really difficult to get everything aligned and moving forward, but if I can do something on my own dime, I can do whatever I want with it. Very quickly and easily. What happened was, I recorded all the stuff with Gene, I got all the drums done and then luckily, the “Dethalbum II” contract came through, and we were all set and we went straight, full-force into that. After I finished “Dethalbum II,” I started season three, and then I toured with season three and “Dethalbum II” and finally I finished that last year. And I thought, you know what, I’ve got a couple months, I’m gonna finish this thing, because I spent all this money on it anyway, why not finish it? Once I started recording guitars, once I started putting in keyboards and vocals, it started defining itself as something quite different than Dethklok. My whole idea was, I didn’t want to do a Dethklok record, because that’s what Dethklok’s for. If I were to do a heavy album, it’s gonna sound like Dethklok, that’s what I sound like when I do heavy stuff. So I thought, I want to throw some melody in, I want these songs to take little twists and turns and each be little odysseys, but still almost poppy. Which I think Dethklok is at times. I think it’s melodic and it’s extra memorable and [reflects] stuff I’ve been listening to, like Queen, David Bowie, ELO…those are my influences. And then heavy stuff, like Cannibal Corpse or Amon Amarth or things like that. I’m not interested in limiting myself, I think no influence is unwelcome.
M.D: Do you expect “Galaktikon” to be a one-off project, then?
B.S: I…don’t know. Here’s where I’m coming from with this whole thing. I finished it, and that’s all I know. Depending on if it takes off and people enjoy it, people buy it and sales will tell me everything. If this product moves, then it’ll tell me “yeah, do more with that.” I mean, I had fun doing it, I enjoyed doing something different than Dethklok, I think it’s really important to not do the same thing constantly. My whole career is built on doing something different from the last thing. I did “Home Movies” which has nothing to do with “Metalocalypse,” they’re completely different things. That’s what I wanted to do with this, but you can tell that there’s still Brian May influence. There are double kicks, there are sweep arpeggios, there’s a lot of harmonized guitars and there’s the vocal which you may recognize as me singing in a grittier rock voice than you may have heard in a couple of songs in the show, but you can recognize that part of my voice.

M.D: When you mentioned Queen and ELO and Cannibal Corpse and bands like that, is that who inspired the creation of Dethklok? Are there specific musicians or people that the members of Dethklok are supposed to be?
B.S: Let me tell you, I get that question all the time, and not really. Well, there’s one where it’s kinds of George Corpsegrinder. We thought he’s such a great presence from Cannibal Corpse, that would be the one. Our lead guy’s basically George Corpsegrinder meets Conan the Barbarian. That’s who he looks like at least. Emotionally, he’s different…I mean, I don’t claim to know how George feels with things or anything, I just know he’s a cool guy and he makes great music. Everything else is us being creative. My idea was, I didn’t know who the band was, I didn’t know what the singer was going to look like or sound like, the first thing I wanted was to spend two months just recording music and figure out who this band was. I knew I liked harmonized guitars, so there had to be two guitar players at least. There had to be a drummer, because there’s a drummer. There had to be a bass player and a singer. [For the drummer,] I was thinking Roger Taylor from Queen, he’s a songwriter drummer, I think those are cool, even Phil Collins from the old Genesis days. I like a songwriting drummer, so that’s where Pickles came from. He started developing, I just started improvising his voice. Murderface I knew was going to be the most fun character, because the bass player in metal, you just never hear the bass. Even in rock, you almost never hear the bass. Especially earlier metal like Metallica’s “…And Justice for All,” you know don’t know if there’s bass on that album.
M.D: As it was, Burton and Newsted right in a row, they buried them both in the mix, you can’t hear either one of them.
B.S: You can hear Cliff Burton at least on “Master of Puppets,” he has a couple of moments where he really punches through. But Jason Newsted, you couldn’t hear anything. It’s almost like middle management, this guy’s gotta be a person who has to prove that he has some worth in this band by shooting his mouth off constantly. Says “fuck it” in how he looks and…has all this self-hatred. Thinks he’s so full of hate and thinks he’s a nihilist, but he just cares too goddamn much. All of that stuff started defining itself from this song, which ended up being the theme song, and a couple of others too that I was messing around with, like “Awakened.” That was in the early days. I think a couple of those other songs that were like “oh, these are too melodic” and almost like Foo-Fighters-y with double kicks and stuff, and those are the songs that I put on my solo record. Like, the first song is one of the first songs that I developed as a potential Dethklok song, but I quickly thought “this is more of a rock song,” that’s got double kicks and cool, acrobatic guitar moments and really awesome drum fills and fun little moments with vocoders and stuff like that. You’ll hear it, it’s a ridiculous little thing.
M.D: For season four of “Metalocalypse,” you went back to eleven minute episodes. What was that?
B.S: I had something this season that I’ve never had, which was time to write the whole season, write out the arc, spend more time in the writer’s room and hire a bunch more people who worked with me on the overall story. The network was really generous; they said whatever you want to do, half-hours, quarter-hours. I looked at this thing, I looked at what I had in front of me, and I said “I think the best way to tell this story is quarter hours.” In fact, I was going to make the last episode a half hour, but you know what, I think it works better as two quarter-hours. That was the feeling I got and I still feel that way. I think it was really good and I think these things move at a good speed, and I think it’s gonna be fun to watch them from week to week, but I think once we’re finished with the DVD, it’ll be really fun to watch it in one sitting, and watch the whole story track.
M.D: Do you consider, or did you ever consider at the time, you came up with this idea for Dethklok and you wanted a live band that was represented by characters on TV. Did you ever feel like you were making, if you don’t mind my saying so, “The Monkees” for the new millennium?
B.S: Oh, absolutely! I watched all that stuff. It’s so funny, because the Archies was a comic book, but the guy who wrote the music and produced the Monkees realized that the Monkees were getting out of control, and that’s when they said “you know what, we can’t control these guys anymore.” And then they said, we’ve got this great song, the Monkees won’t sing it, so they created the Archies to do “Sugar, sugar.” But yeah, definitely. It’s a band that doesn’t exist. Even when we’re on the road. It’s fun to be kind of anonymous and play to pictures, and we’re supposed to be a pit band, pretty much. We’re playing all the parts that you hear on the record and all that shit, but it doesn’t really exist at all. Which is a fun conundrum.
M.D: Did you ever conceive at the start of this project that there would be the demand for touring, albums to be released and tickets sold? Did you ever think you’d have your own designed guitar?
B.S: I’ve fulfilled every fifteen year old dream that I had. I had hoped to. When I pitched the show, I thought “I can do music. I know I can write music, I’m no slouch on guitar, I know my way around a neck. If I do this right, I’ll be able to put out a TV show.” The TV show would almost be an infomercial for the records. My only goal was to actually physically make a record with an album cover and be able to hold it in my hand and say “okay, I did that. That’s cool.” The fact that it sold and then the touring and all that stuff happened was all cool and fun. You know, I get bored easily. That’s why I like to do all these different things. I like to write, I like to act, I like to do music. It’s fun to really switch gears constantly. And it’s also a job, too. It actually is work to do all this stuff. But that was part of the plan, the fact that it happened was dumb luck, I guess.
M.D: Speaking of acrobatic guitars and melodic guitars and tandem players, I know not that long ago, you opened directly for Iron Maiden. What was that like?
B.S: That was pretty cool. It’s pretty crazy because you do these one-off festival shows, and all this stuff is pretty new to me,. We didn’t know if our picture was going to work, we play to picture and all this kind of stuff. My whole concentration was, are they going to announce us and no sound is going to come out? So I was worried about that all stuff, but we played and it was good and it was fun, and what a cool thing to be able to say you did.
M.D: We just recently finished a tribute to the 30th anniversary of “The Number of the Beast.” I have to ask you, where were you the first time you heard it, and what was its impact on you?
B.S: I think I was probably around fourteen years old, and I have an older sister, but she was never into cool music. She was into Madonna and pop and all that stuff. Luckily, when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old, I made a friend who was the guy who would teach me…I’m still good friends with him, he was a guy who showed me how to play “Iron Man” on guitar, he showed me who Led Zeppelin was, he showed me who King Diamond was, and he also showed me Iron Maiden. I think what we started doing was, whenever it was one of our birthdays, we’d buy each other live versions of Iron Maiden on VHS tapes. It must have been that Christmas when I was fourteen years old or fifteen when I first saw “The Number of the Beast,” it was live. I think they played it as an encore and Eddie came out and all that stuff.
M.D: So between musician, comedian, TV show creator, if you were writing your resume, what’s the first line on it?
B.S: I would say, ‘Brendon Small; guy that gets bored easily.’ [laughs.] As with all projects, I’m ready to start doing other cool stuff that I haven’t done. That’ll be the next chapter, I think.

M.D: The two shows are and were so different between “Home Movies” and “Metalocalypse.” You say you get bored easily, you want to do different projects, but “Home Movies” was a much more passive show, whereas “Metalocalypse” has this much more in-your-face, aggressive affect, was one in reaction to the other? Did you consciously decide to make a ‘loud’ show because of the one you had just done?
B.S: Well, this is something, I think so many people have so many different parts of their personalities. People aren’t just loud or quiet, they’re both. People aren’t just angry or in a goofy mood, you know? I don’t like the idea of just committing to a mood, like, oh, he’s a comedian, so he must like to laugh. I like weird, fucked up dark movies. I like people that can ride the line between drama and comedy and all that shit, and have action and adventure and all that shit, because I don’t think anybody’s just one thing. But, “Home Movies,” I really enjoyed making the show and when I finished it I thought, there, I did that, I don’t need to repeat myself. Why would I do the same thing, hire all the same group…I mean, I would hire all those people to work with again, but I would want the tone just to feel like a different thing. Now it’s kind of a calling card for people to have a show that looks like their last show, especially in animation. When I did “Home Movies,” I was in that world. Think about like Serpico, [laughs] he had to infiltrate, he really had to become that. It’s been non-stop metal for the last seven years for me with “Metalocalypse,” it’s deep cover; you gotta go in deep. Otherwise, the show’s gonna be half-hearted, you’re not gonna give a shit about it. But, I don’t see why a person would feel the need to repeat themselves unless they’re having some kind of a financial crisis. I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to have aligned with Adult Swim, who has been amazing at trusting me with projects. We both want the same thing, we want the show to be good, funny and hopefully memorable and all that kind of stuff. If we can do that and get along and not bother each other, and agree, it’s a pretty amazing thing. It doesn’t happen that often.
M.D: Speaking of Adult Swim, when “Home Movies” debuted, you were still in your twenties, you were extraordinarily young. To what do you credit your early success?
B.S: I remembering being a musician and thinking, there are so many good guitarists, I know how to play, but so does that guy and so does that guy. It’s so hard to have a personality on the instrument. I noticed when I started watching standup before I went on stage and started doing it, that no one’s really competing with you if you’re you. No one’s got your entire story. So when you go out and do standup and you do characters or sketches, there’s no one else but you. There are different types, but if you really become a creative person, no one’s gonna be you when you’re truest self. I realized that and that made sense. Plus, you know there’s scouts and all that stuff in music and A&R people, but in comedy it was funny [author’s note: no pun intended] because everyone’s always looking for kind of a new kind of person to make them laugh. So when Zach Galifianakis broke, everyone’s like “holy shit, who’s this guy? I like him.” The whole world welcomed him very quickly because he’s hilarious and he’s new. People like that. I worked hard, to apply the discipline of guitar to comedy. And then I met up with the people who did “Dr. Katz,” and I thought, this is my opportunity I’m gonna run with it, because I want to co-create the show, I don’t want it to be just music, I want it to be acting and I want to be easy to work with and also have passion for this whole thing.
M.D: You directed Soundgarden’s “Black Rain” video. How did you get hooked up with them, and what was it like to work with them?
B.S: That’s all because Kim Thayill is a big “Metalocalypse” fan, and said “why don’t we get the guy from “Metalocalypse” to do the video?” It was amazing because Soundgarden is easily one of my favorite bands, ever. I can’t wait for their new album.
M.D: Me, either.
B.S: They were incredibly easy to work with, they were really cool and it was a really cool opportunity to direct and try to make something that looks better than the show. And, to actually pioneer a couple of cool things that we could bring into the next season. I think when you see season four, it just looks better than our other seasons, because we got together, me and our art director Antonio Canobbio and compositors, just started saying, how can we integrate foreground and background, what can we do to make this show just look better? How do we make this feel more over the top and bigger, more epic? It was really cool, I’m really happy with the way it turned out…that song is just fucking cool, too. That I got to have any input with that band was just so cool.
M.D: Do you enjoy horror films? What are your favorites? Have you, or would you ever, take inspiration from a horror film?
B.S: Oh, fuck yeah! I grew up on horror. I just pitched a really cool project that I think you guys would be really excited about. I can’t really talk about it yet, but I hope to get it all moving forward very soon…but that’s all I can say. I wish I could say more. But, my brother works in makeup effects, he works with Gabe Bartalos, who did all the “Basket Case” movies and “Frankenhooker” and, oh, the “Cremaster” cycle and all that stuff. That’s what I thought I wanted to do also was makeup, but all that stuff I grew up on, I grew up on horror movies by Tobe Hooper and the funnier stuff like “Re-animator.” Or, just crazy, fucking ghost stories or shit like that. Like, “Poltergeist” is one of the best movies ever made. I’m a big fan. I’m a really big fan. I think, as you see in this season, I think the whole idea of, we got to up our kills, we have to be a little more creative, a little more satisfying with them on the show. So, we just challenged each other, and I think you see in a few of these episodes that the kills are pretty fuckin’ cool.

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