Give Me Comedy and Give Me Death Metal
Dethklok Comes to Austin
By Sean Claes
Dethklok is a five-piece band. A singer from Florida, a guitarist from Sweden, another from Norway, a drummer from Wisconsin, and a bassist of unknown origins. They are the greatest death metal band in the world. Their fans number in the millions. That's the script anyways. You see, Dethklok is the cartoon band that's the focus of the Adult Swim comedy Metalocalypse.
The reality is Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha created Dethklok in 2006 when they realized they should form a show around their passion-metal music. Since then, some amazing things have happened. The show became a hit. There have been two albums of Dethklok's signature melodic death metal sound. The first one 2007's The Dethalbum became the highest charting death metal album of all time. That is, until last month, when they released The Dethalbum II and it debuted on the billboard charts at number 15 after selling 45,000 copies its first week out.
Brendon Small assembled a phenomenal group of musicians and hit the road to bring the music of Dethklok to the live stage. On November 13 that stage will be the Austin Music Hall. They're co-headlining the tour with Mastodon.
Small had a few minutes to talk with INsite's Managing Editor Sean Claes about the show, the album and the tour.
Sean Claes: How'd you arrive at the name Metalocalypse?
Brendon Small: I wanted to call it Dethklok. There was some stupid legal bologna going on about it and they didn't want us to call it that for some reason. I decided to call it some name that was so dumb and unpronounceable that people would call it Dethklok anyway. That's seriously what I was thinking. And I don't really like the name Metalocalypse anyhow. But people have learned how to say it and spell it.
Claes: So it wasn't a nod to Metallica?
Small: Well, there was a little bit of that, but Metallica is much cooler than Metalocalypse.
Claes: How did you and Tommy Blacha hook up to create the series?
Small: I met Tommy at a show. He was there seeing some punk band. I wasn't there to see the band; I was just along for the ride. But we just started talking about metal, the music we wished we were listening to instead of this punk band that was on stage.
But...I think I was having drinks with the dude from The Venture Bros. and he was almost trying to get me to shut up about metal. He said, "Why aren't you doing a show about this? You could do all the music yourself." I looked at him and said, "I can't believe you had to tell me to do that."
Claes: Did you base the members on other bands or members of bands?
Small: There's only one person who was based on the look of a person. Nobody else was because the artist who drew them originally didn't know who anybody was. So, the one guy we based off a real person is Nathan Explosion. His stage mannerisms and shape was based off of Corpse Grinder from Cannibal Corpse. A combination of him and Conan the Barbarian.
Skwisgaar Skwigelf, the Swedish guitarist, is kind of an Yngwie Malmsteen character even though it doesn't look like him.
Then we were picking around the globe. A Scandinavian influence, some Florida death metal influence, someone from the Midwest. We've never told anyone where William Murderface is from, but he's definitely an American rocker.
We picked and chose what the band was going to be and named them in an afternoon.
Claes: Metalocalypse is kind of like the metal version of The Simpson's for guest voices. Any favorites?
Small: One of the more interesting ones that came pretty early was King Diamond. He's one of the reasons I got into metal. I was 14 when Them came out. It was a big record for me. I always thought when we were putting the show together that the ultimate voice over coup would be King Diamond because he can do so many different voices. And he did and he was really good. He understood the scripts and he knew what to do. I kind of directed him from LA and he lives in Dallas.
Claes: You're stared your third season. How many shows are you doing?
Small: We're doing ten for this season, but they are half hours. Last season we did 20-quarter hours. So we're doing ten now and we're still writing the last couple ones. We've got 30 minutes. We can still make it fast paced and funny, and of this world but epic when it needs to be and absurdly stupid when it needs to be.
Claes: Do you have some new celebrity voices coming up for Season 3?
Small: I got a lot of my guitar heroes to be on the show. So, there's Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Slash, Ace Frehley. Then bands like Enslaved and Mastodon did some voices. Mastodon's comedy chops are some of the best I've ever seen in the metal world. That's what makes them fun to tour with as well.
Claes: Speaking of the tour...did you ever think Dethklok would be a touring band?
Small: It's one of those things. The show idea came quickly and it all came within the same frame of time...which was pretty much an afternoon's worth of thought. If I'm going to do the music and the music is going to be a big part of it, I'd like to put out a CD of the music. I can do that, there's got to be a way to tour.
Well...Gorillaz did it. We can do it like that, but what if we're in front of the screen so the audience can see us. There's a little more audience interaction that way. If we're behind the screen, we may as well play a CD and tell them to watch a movie.
Claes: It's pretty cool that you are in front of the screen and people can see that there's actual players playing the music live.
Small: Basically, the show is for me when I was a 14 or 15-year-old guitar nerd. I think if you want to see fast guitar playing you can see that if you want to. But the show isn't about us as players. We're supposed to sound like Dethklok; we're not supposed to be Dethklok.
Claes: Are you recognized out there in the crowd or can you slip by unnoticed?
Small: If you're a big nerd for the show you know who I am, but for the most part no. I have to say I really like walking past an entire line of people who are there to see my project and I can just hold my head down and go get a coffee or something.
It's advantageous. It's like once when I was going to see a concert with Brian Posehn. Every 2-3 steps someone stops him and says, "Is it you? I know your face because you're a TV guy." He likes it, but at the same time, he turns to me and says, "Just be happy you're in cartoons."
Claes: Who's in the live band?
Small: It's the same group of people I've been with since the very beginning. Gene Hoglan-who's been with me since the very beginning since before there was a live tour. Then we've got Mike Keneally who's played with Steve Vai and Frank Zappa. Then Bryan Beller who plays with Keneally and has also played with Steve Vai. He can do just about anything on a bass.
Claes: When Dethalbum II came out last month it debuted at 15 on the charts selling 45,000 copies. That's pretty amazing for a death metal album.
Small: Ultimately, to get that high with double kicks and death metal vocals is pretty crazy. Its nuts and it makes no sense. What does make sense is that it benefited from the show pushing it. That was the idea. The TV show kind of served as an infomercial for the record.
Claes: How'd you make the decision as to what songs go on the album?
Small: It's all time and budget. If I could put more songs on the album I would. These were the first ones I got to. I had ten songs, then I looked at those songs and it was kind of like making spaghetti..."What do I need...more basil more oregano" and I wrote two new songs that completed the record in my mind. We had plenty of fast stuff and I wanted a few songs that were more of a medium tempo. I wrote one, which is a sequel, called "Mermaider II". Then I wrote one called "The Cyborg Slayers." That one is about killing cyborgs. I haven't heard enough metal about cyborg slaying.
Claes: Do you see Dethklok outliving the Metalocalypse series?
Small: Well, that was always in the plan. This was all in relation to Home Movies failing. How do I keep this show alive? How can I get it to be something beyond the show and how can I get people to invest in it to where they won't let it fail. It's kind of a philosophy on how to keep the network interested in the show they spend so much fucking money on they need to see a return somewhere. Different ways of thinking.
Claes: Ever have anything pop up from Home Movies that you left undone?
Small: We kind of closed the door on it. I learned a lot of stuff. That show was much easier to do and much more fun to do than Dethklok. Even though it's a passion project there's a lot more detail going into it than Home Movies had. Just to get the world up and running it's a much bigger world than the small friendly world of Home Movies. I miss that kind of aspect to it...just how easy it was.
Claes: Tell me about how you came up with Dr. Rockzo the Rock and Roll Clown.
Small: The third episode of the series, we were putting storyboards up on the wall and looking how everyone was going to look. I suggested there should be some sort of birthday clown for William Murderface's birthday.
Then we thought let's do something even more humiliating and have it as a rock and roll clown...the wrong genre. Like somebody got it wrong and hired the wrong fucking clown. And that was it. We started laughing and I said, "Yeah, his name will be Dr. Rockzo, the Rock and Roll Clown and his catch phrase will be 'I Do Cocaine.'" That happened in one sentence.
Then I drew him up on the board, a combination of Paul Stanley with the plunging shirt where you can kind of see his pubes... and Axl Rose. He talks in stage banter. They took that picture and he ended up looking more like David Lee Roth than we anticipated. And that was it. Of course now when people know the show they know Dr. Rockzo. Which is really funny because he was such an afterthought.
Claes: Is there anything that Dethklok won't touch.
Small: We'll try stuff. It's kind of up to the network. They've pulled some of our ideas. We get pretty violent. The network will call us up and say "You know we're not really cool with that stuff all the time." So we say OK. But, we'll push it as far as we can. If there's any lightening of the violence it isn't because of us.
Claes: So the live show has some of the clips the network nixed?
Small: We'll do the "Thunderhorse" thing live and you'll see Skwisgaar doing a girl doggie style. It's pretty awesome. There's nothing cooler than cartoon sex. WE know that. We understand our audience.
Claes: Any thoughts on Austin?
Small: I love Austin. I'd love to spend a week there. There are a lot of creative people. It's great. I've been there a couple of times for SXSW. We actually played there in the early days as what was to become Dethklok. It was me playing guitars to a click track. It was pretty stupid. We didn't know if the show was going to last a week or not. But I love BBQ, and the layout of the city.
This article was published in the November 2009 issue of INsite Magazine