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Brendon Small Interview

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Brendon Small

Brendon Small

Updated April 24, 2012
Brendon Small is the mastermind behind the band Dethklok and the animated TV series Metalocalypse. Dethklok have released two CDs, and the band even went on the road with Mastodon for a very successful tour. As season 4 of Metalocalypse is ready to debut, Small is also debuting a new project. It's called Brendon Small's Galaktikon, which uses the same personnel as Dethklok, but has a different musical approach.

Chad Bowar: What was the inspiration to form Brendon Small's Galaktikon?
Brendon Small: This went back a while. I was about to do the second Dethklok album. I had reserved a studio and lined up Gene Hoglan and Bryan Beller and Ulrich Wild and told them I had some work for them. They were all really excited. Then the day came and the contract hadn't gone through and they hadn't released any money. I felt terrible. We couldn't do a Dethklok record. I wanted to put these guys to work doing something.

So I was going to grab a whole bunch of songs I had written outside of Dethklok and get them to record these. I was going to spend my own money to do this. I couldn't have these amazing musicians just sitting there. So we went in and recorded Gene doing the drums. We ended up doing Dethalbum II immediately thereafter. So I had this hard drive filled with drums and scratch guitars.

Once we finished the third season of Metalocalypse, I said I was going to back and finish it. I was going to try and do something I can't do in Dethklok, which is to put more melody in the vocals, more melody in the music, harmonies and all that stuff. That was the whole idea.

How would you describe the album?
I tried to coin a phrase, because I don't know what this genre is. I call it “high stakes intergalactic dream rock.” The stakes are high because it's a dramatic story I'm telling. It's ridiculous, but it takes itself very seriously. It has fast guitars and double kicks, but when you start putting melody on top of it, something very different happens. It sounds like a completely different style of music.

There are a couple moments people will say are progressive, but there are times I think it sounds like Weezer. There are Soundgarden moments, times when I'm inspired by Smashing Pumpkins. There will be a black metal guitar part, but I'm trying to sing like Elliot Smith on top of it. My rule was that no influence was unwelcome. So whatever this thing is, I tried not to preconceive it too much. It evolved as it happened, which is kind of what I do with Dethklok music. But I have parameters there where I can't put melody in the vocals.

Is it easier for you to do melodic vocals or death growls?
I like singing, I enjoy it, but it's way easier not to have to hit pitch. It's like rapping when you do death growls or screaming stuff. You're not hitting a pitch, you're almost whispering. There are some songs where I'll use that approach and have that growly sound, but punch notes through a tightened throat. It hurts, but you can get a pretty cool sound happening. There are some songs I do that, and other songs where I used a very clean vocal.

Do you have plans for a visual component with the Galaktikon album?
I have a story, I have cool artwork, and that part is done. I'm going to put it out and see what the audience thinks. If people end up gravitating towards it, I'll probably do some cool stuff with it. This project is not supposed to exist in place of Dethklok. It's a side project, and definitely an experiment. I'm going to let the audience tell me what's up with this. I'm not toying with it unless people want me to. I have this whole other life in TV, and right now I'm putting out a record and a new season of Metalocalypse is under production. I have to go to work every day and run this whole thing.

Season 4 of Metalocalypse starts soon. You went back to the 15 minute format after expanding it to 30 minutes last season. How come you changed back?
There are two good reasons. One of them was that the third season, along with the Dethklok tour with Mastodon, was the most work I've ever done. It was an exhausting year. Half hours are much more work. I really like them and their format personally, but doing it with our very small skeleton crew was really difficult. And while I was on the road, I was in production as well. It was too much. But we had an incredibly successful tour and an incredibly successful second record. For this season we had the option to do half hour or quarter hour episodes, and I chose quarters. I thought it was the best way to tell the story, and it is less work.

Who are some of the guest voices for this season?
What I really enjoy doing is taking people from the music world, and also from the comedy world. I straddle the line between a guy who does music and who performs standup comedy. So we got people from 3 Inches Of Blood, Cannibal Corpse, Soundgarden, Dweezil Zappa. Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top was amazing. I'm a guitar nerd, so it was a fun experience. We have the documentarian Werner Herzog, who I'm a huge fan of. Turns out Jon Hamm from Mad Men is a big fan of the show, and I begged him to do voices.

How does the writing process for the show work? Do you map out the whole season first, or just go episode by episode?
This season I want to have a smoother, better organized show. We're always scrambling. We ask a lot of ourselves, and we don't have that many people. What I wanted to do was get a team of writers, get everybody in one room, and explain to them from where the last episode ended in season three to what the end of the whole thing is.

So I told them the story, and explained the part of the story I want to tell. So we got a chalkboard and mapped out what had to happen between the first episode and the last episode in order for us to get to the next part. It was a two month process in the writers room, but it really paid off this season. As you watch these episodes, you'll realize there's a story being told, a character arc that's happening, and things are going to get a bit darker.

When you finish a season, are you burned out and want to quit, or is that spark always there for more?
You get burned out, but keep going. It's like working out. Very few shows want to end, but I think a show needs to have an ending. This one definitely does, and I want to move to it in the proper way that honors the show. It definitely makes you want to do other kinds of projects. The show I did before Metalocalypse was so different. It was a family kind of show about dialogue and comedy. Metalocalypse was the polar opposite of that, and the next thing I do will be the polar opposite of Metalocalypse, too.

Are fans pretty vocal giving you feedback about the show?
I feel firmly that it's not a democracy. I have a story in mind, and I'm following that story. I'm not going to switch it because somebody wishes it was different. That's the first step in pandering, and then you're not creative, you're dead in the water and have jumped the shark. What I recommend to those people, seriously, is to start writing a TV show. If you have a creative bug in you and are trying to back seat drive a show, start writing something. You may find you are a creative person and want to run your own show at some point, but you're not running this one. (laughs)

There was a concern from the network in season 3 about the amount of violence on the show. So we cleaned it up a little bit, and the fans reacted pretty strongly to that. We internally reacted to that as well, and you'll see some pretty gruesome moments in season 4.

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