The Metalocalypse is Now

Posted September 29, 2009 in
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During the daytime the Cartoon Network plays host to, well, cartoons and other television shows that suit younger audiences, but once the late night hits, Cartoon Network transforms into Adult Swim. The late night block has become infamous for popular shows such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies and Robot Chicken as well as playing host to plenty of traditional anime. Three years ago Adult Swim brought Metalocalypse to its audience and the success of the show has been snowballing ever since. Fans that aren’t even into metal enjoy the story, characters and fun animation, while the show also plays to the delights of metalheads that can enjoy the inside jokes, parodies and satire. The outlandish show and the larger-than-life Dethklok are quickly becoming household names and easily extending itself into the mainstream rather than just being a niche show.

While the band may be fictional, the music is very real. Co-creator Brendon Small writes the music for the show and is the creative force behind The Dethalbum and The Dethalbum II, which was released on September 29. Not only can you rock out to the Dethklok tunes from the show on CD, but now you can see a live Dethklok show featuring Brendon Small, Gene Hoglan, Mike Kneally, and Bryan Beller. It was a great treat to talk to Small about the music of Dethklok, Metalocalypse itself and what the touring version of Dethklok is all about, which will be making an appearance at Saltair on October 9th with openers Converge, High on Fire and co-headliners Mastodon. 

SLUG: Where did the idea for Metalocalypse and Dethklok come from?
Brendon Small: I wanted to do a show that was music driven and all I had been doing was going out and seeing metal shows at the time. I was kind of slowly falling back in love with my guitar. I’ve been playing guitar for a really long time. I went to music school and all that, and when I was in music school I was kind of away from rock and metal I was more studying the academics of music. The stuff I really cared about was loud and distorted guitars—that’s why I’m here today. I was just so excited to see people really playing their guitars again, and that’s what got me into Dethklok

SLUG: When you started did you think you’d actually be out on the road touring as a band?
Brendon: That was part of the idea. Myself and Tommy Blacha, who co-created the show (Metalocalypse), we thought okay, this (Dethklok) is a band. I’ll write all of the music and hopefully, if this all goes well, I’ll put a CD out after each season and if I put out a CD, there must be a way to do a tour, so how do I do that? Well the Gorillaz did it, so how can I do it and make that work for us? That was the whole idea. Luckily everything kind of fueled itself so we could get to this point.

SLUG: I have to ask, since I’m wearing my Strapping Young Lad shirt as we speak, how did you come to hook up with “Big Gene” (Gene Hoglan)?
Brendon: I program all the drums on the show, basically because I don’t have the budget to hire a drummer and we don’t have the time, I have to do the music very quickly so I wouldn’t even be able to get a drummer and get him up to speed because I’m creating everything on the spot. I figured when creating The Dethalbum I wanted real drums on the record and I wanted it to be produced by a real producer—I just wanted it to sound good. So I talked to Century Media Records who are the ones that put out the Strapping Young Lad stuff and I asked them if they knew any drummers that would be good for doing this project, everyone said in unison Gene Hoglan, and I said yeah right, well he wouldn’t do it would he? Well I talked to him and he was vaguely familiar with the show at that time, but I said I want to do this project, I want it to be fun and low key and it’s just going to be you and me doing everything pretty much so what do you think, and he said sure. I’m really happy it was Gene Hoglan because first of all he’s a legendary drummer, and then secondly he’s an amazing drummer and thirdly and most importantly he’s a really cool guy. That’s the most important thing about being creative is being reasonable and having a sense of humor and that’s what Gene’s got.

SLUG: Yeah, and he has a history obviously with Zimmer’s Hole adding comedy to metal..
Brendon: Yeah, he’s a big comedy fan. He’s a funny guy and he sure can play those drums.

SLUG: So I have no idea, what Dethklok looks live looks like live. How would you describe the band’s live show?
Brendon: Basically it’s very simple. The whole show we’re playing to pictures we have a movie theater sized screen behind us and we’re not supposed to look like Dethklok—we’re supposed to sound like Dethklok. We’re basically the pit band playing to the images and video. Gene’s got a click track running to his headset and we’re matching every downbeat so it’s all integrated to have this synergy between band and imagery it’s very satisfying to watch. The reason we’re in front of the screen is because when I saw the Gorillaz stuff I felt like there was a disconnect between the audience and performer. I think ultimately if you go to a live show you want to see the guys fingers move on the guitar or see the drummer and what he’s doing, otherwise you could just play the CD and I could sleep the whole time. Which actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea—I like sleeping. But that’s pretty much what the Dethklok live thing is, It’s like a big multi-media kind of like Universal Studios or Disney type theme ride, that’s the way I want it to feel I think it does feel that way, we’re telling a story through this video. Ultimately it’s fun and people go crazy. There are mosh pits and everyone’s got a big dumb smile on their face.

SLUG: For the Metalocalypse fans is there any new animation that’s part of the live show that hasn’t been in any of the actual episodes?
Brendon: Basically all the animation for the live show is pretty much new. Some of it is derived from pieces of animation from Metalocalypse, but there is a lot of new comedy and new sketches, some of which will be available on the bonus DVD that comes with the deluxe version of the The Dethalbum II. There is a lot of new stuff that hasn’t been seen at all. There’s not a dull moment in the whole thing and it goes by really quickly for an hour.

SLUG: There is kind of a love/hate relationship with Dethklok and Metalopalypse, especially amongst metalheads, there are either people that that absolutely love the show or think it’s an absolute atrocity to metal. Is there a specific point to the show? I mean, is it a satire or just for entertainment?
Brendon: Some people get the show and get the joke and then there’s some people that don’t get the joke. I have no sympathy for them—I just think they must be dumb if they don’t understand what the joke is and I don’t feel like explaining it. If they get the joke and hate the show anyway, I have a lot more respect for them, which I can ingest. If you don’t understand shit then you must be fucking stupid. But if you do understand shit and you hate it then I applaud that. It’s fine have an opinion about shit, I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind ultimately the reason that the show exists is a very very selfish reason. I like to play guitar and it’s my excuse to do so and I like to be creative and it’s my excuse to do so. Everyone else can make up their minds I don’t give a fuck. As long as I like it that’s the only thing that matters if the audience digs it then that’s all gravy.

SLUG: Dethklok has their own distinct sound—it’s instantly recognizable, with it’s guitar tones and definitely with your vocals. Was that an intentional thing or is that just how it played out in your head?
Brendon: That’s how it played out in my head. When I started doing Dethklok stuff I thought of basically ripping off a lot of Brian May style harmonies, like the Queen kind of stuff similar to the Flash Gordon style, and that’s definitely in a lot of the stuff. As far as guitar tones and all the other elements, I’ve been playing guitar for a pretty long time but I’m still learning about tones. We switched over to Marshall amps for the new record but ultimately when you start playing guitar you’re going to sound like how you play no matter what tone you’re using. Again the music is for me to enjoy, and if anybody else digs it that’s all really fantastic but I have to like it first. I wanted to put in chord changes and arrangements that I don’t hear in metal but I’d like to hear in metal but nobody is doing. It’s just one guy sitting in a room trying to please himself—it’s pretty boring when you think about it.

SLUG: Going back to your past, you’ve said you’ve been playing guitar for a while. Before you started getting into the animation world did you try to do the band thing?
Brendon: I would always put project bands together or one-off type things I never had a full band. I think it was like a control freak thing I’ve got going on where I like to just be in charge of projects where I like to generate all the material. When I was in music school at Berkley College of Music, I’d do instrumental type things kind of like Yngwie/Satriani style stuff then I got into blues for a long time. In high school I put project bands together too, but I didn’t really have a band with a name and share the creative process though I’d love to do that one day I think that sounds like a blast.

SLUG: Between doing Metalocaplypse and touring do you have any time to actually breathe and do stuff that you like to do?
Brendon: No, but fortunately I like doing what I do and being creative. I really like the guitar, I actually can’t believe how much I still like the guitar that’s the thing that I’m baffled by that I’m still in love with this instrument that’s given me so much fucking heartache over the years. I love the way guitars look, the way they sound and the way feel in my hands, I’m just blown away that somehow I tricked the system and created a job where I get to do this for a living.

SLUG: It would be hard not to say one wouldn’t be envious, to one, have a TV show and then get be go out and be a rock star as well.
Brendon: I think the only reason the TV show exists is because there is a possibility I get to play guitar. The benefits are sometimes greater on the music side then from the TV side creatively and just financially.

SLUG: On the subject of Metalocalypse, I want to address the rumor mill that the show’s length is going to be increasing for Season 3.
Brendon: Yeah, we’re going to have ten episodes at a half hour length for season 3. I’m happy with the way the episodes are turning out. The first episode of the season is kind of a bigger epic episode we have a lot of stuff to address based off of where we left the show off last season. Then from that point on we’re just balls out comedy. I think the show has evolved to a very cool solid place that lives and breathes comfortably in the half hour world, it’s been a butt-load of work getting there but it’s worth it.

SLUG: If I recall that was where some of the complaints in reviews and things about the last season of Metalocalypse was people were saying the episodes were over when all the shit was getting good.
Brendon: We definitely have been teasing our audience for 40 episodes straight, that’s the nature of that time slot. Ultimately what I want to do is tell a very big story over a lot of episodes and sometimes I get little opportunities to do that but mostly it’s a collaboration between me and the network and the network just wants comedy and I like doing these comic book style things and I like comedy a lot so we just meet somewhere in the middle. Fortunately now we have a longer playground to do this.

SLUG: With all the computer type CG animation stuff going on right now, it just feels like actual 2D animation is becoming a lost art form, do you feel a sense of responsibility to keep that going especially since your on the Cartoon Network, well the Adult Swim portion, and the fact that they’ve actually started putting reality shows on the air?
Brendon: I get what they’re doing with the daytime stuff (the reality shows), but it’s funny in this whole CGI world, Disney is putting out a fully animated 2D movie when they closed down their whole 2D department, I was kind of blown away when I heard about that. I like old Disney movies, I love traditional animation more than anything. We use paper in our office, but most of stuff is done through the computer, it’s Flash animation and then within that we have very talented animators that can move a character and make it not look like a paper doll. Animation costs a lot money, we’re in a weird place where it’s easier to do shit cheaper than to fight the good fight to get some good bad ass traditional animation done. Ultimately you can have the best animation in the world or the shittiest animation in the world as long as your characters are cool and your story makes sense that’s what people are going to remember.