BRENDON SMALL Talks DETHKLOK's Ongoing Relevance To Metalheads: 'It Speaks To An Audience That Isn't Spoken To'

September 20, 2023

By David E. Gehlke

After several years of dormancy, the fictional metal band DETHKLOK has returned with a new album, "Dethalbum IV" and an animated movie, "Metalocalypse: Army Of The Doomstar". It was hard fought since the Adult Swim television network abruptly pulled the plug on the "Dethklok: Metalocalypse" television show in 2015, despite its rabid following amongst the metal crowd, many of whom came to appreciate the show's regular easter eggs and voice appearances from the likes of King Diamond, METALLICA's Kirk Hammett and CANNIBAL CORPSE's George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. Indeed, "Dethklok: Metalocalypse" may be the only quasi-mainstream show to be truly catered to a metal audience, which can explain its enduring popularity and the steady drumbeat of requests for its revival.

Series co-creator and architect Brendon Small has proven himself to be an unabashed, genuine metalhead, not to mention a stellar guitar player and composer. (He graduated from Berklee College Of Music in 1997.) DETHKLOK is one of the rare passion projects that has exceeded expectations, something Small keeps front and center now that the project has been re-booted and is hitting the road alongside BABYMETAL. But when BLABBERMOUTH.NET caught up with Small, the actor's and writer's strike stopping all work in Hollywood seemed like the logical place to start.

Blabbermouth: What's your take on the current writer's and actor's strike in Hollywood?

Brendon: "I'll say this: I agree with the writers and the Guild. I agree with the actors. Do you know what this time feels like to me? This is like when Napster started 20, 25 years ago and there was file-sharing. Everyone was like, 'What happened?' except for Lars [Ulrich, METALLICA]. It reminds me of, 'Oh man. I wish musicians could have gotten together and moved the needle the way actors and writers are.' Everything could go away. Corporations aren't known to be sensitive to all these things. They have to be told to negotiate. That's what Napster and Spotify could have been. Music would stop being promotional. People had to leave the business years ago and get different jobs. Everything stopped, including the monetization of music. The same thing is happening right now. The streaming world is different from the legacy TV world where I started. I started on network TV on UPN with 'Home Movies', my first show. You'd get your Nielsen ratings and see whether you had a job next week. You were in constant danger of losing everything. That's par for the course, but at least it was fair. You know where you stood. They weren't hiding anything from you. You'd see your ratings and go, 'I think we're in trouble.' [Laughs] Technology is changing and everything has to acclimate. This is a crazy time for all these mergers to be happening. The monopolization and going back to legacy TV, and I've been saying this, I was lucky to be part of a network, Adult Swim, where somebody wanted to build something new rather than trying to make content, but that word didn't exist. There was creativity and a little bit of danger and 'fuck you' and lunacy and absurdity to it. This is a different time now. I think it's strange. I don't know what the buyers want at these networks. I ask, 'What is your network's ideology?' They shrug and say they'll do anything."

Blabbermouth: You bring up a great point about Lars. It's easy to remember him in front of Congress with the stacks of paper going, "Here are the people who have illegally downloaded METALLICA's music." And it turns out he was right all along.

Brendon: "He was correct. I'm sure he wouldn't go to Congress and name names if he had a time machine. He would probably say there's a better way to do it since it was terrifying to those people. When I grew up, you'd tape people's tapes because you couldn't afford something. But when I did have money, I remember saving money, making up a plan, going to a record store with perfect change, adding in the tax and pledging my allegiance to GUNS N' ROSES."

Blabbermouth: Do you make any money from releasing DETHKLOK music?

Brendon: "I don't know what will happen with this record because the world has changed a great deal. DETHKLOK has performed well [sales-wise]. We'll see. I don't know what to expect for this one. I really don't know. When I put these records out or my own records [in GALATIKON], often, I'm like, 'I'm going to spend money. Will I make it back? I'm not sure.' But I think it's worth throwing something out in the ocean occasionally and seeing if anyone eats it. I don't know what that's going to be. DETHKLOK, the albums did well and for reasons that are not compared to bands out there because there is a TV show and that's part of the whole thing. That was always the idea — to have this tandem music project and TV show that exists alongside and separately from one another."

Blabbermouth: You're doing the press rounds now with the new movie and album. Is it just nice to be doing this again, especially after the network put the show on ice?

Brendon: "There is a warm reaction and it's really nice. I don't expect anything. I'm always terrified. Getting into this project is always a terror. I think about me when I'm a kid. How do I please this jerk holding his arms, frowning and giving everything a thumbs-down? That voice of dissent. I'm always thinking about that person who is a tough customer and I'm a tough customer. I'm not easy on myself. I think there are a lot of people like me out there. But I also think it speaks to an audience that doesn't get spoken to. That's what the pitch was. I grew up looking at TV, going, 'Wouldn't it be cool if there were guitars and heavy metal?' I remember going out of my mind in high school after seeing 'The Ben Stiller Show'. There was a cool guitar in the theme song. I later learned that it was Dweezil Zappa. I thought that was pretty cool. There was an Eddie Van Halen reference in another show and I was like, 'Whoa!' I was thinking about that. I remember seeing 'Get A Life' on TV. It was so weird and I loved it. Same with Garry Shandling. These pockets of absurdity are so thoughtful and odd. Those are the kinds of things I'd take a bullet for. So, how can I appease the worst audience, which is me? Me being a curmudgeon and a jerk. That's the hurdle I have to jump over. If I'm doing it right, I'm in a place of terror and worry. That's what the show is. On the other side, I'm thinking, 'Oh no. I'm about to prepare this meal for everybody. I hope they don't spit it out.' I also have to say that there's a really good reason I'm preparing it this way and that was the landing of the first episode. No matter what, this was going to be what it was. The record was going to be what it was, no matter what. At some point, I can't put a saddle on it and write it somewhere else. It needs to go where it needs to go."

Blabbermouth: You've helped legitimize it with the easter eggs for metal fans. That's helped your cause with the show.

Brendon: "That was strategy on my part. I thought, 'We're going to get flak and rightly so.' Like, 'Are you fucking with my shit?' I think that's how I thought the audience would react. I'm doing it because I love it. I really love it. I can prove it by all the time spent behind the guitar learning. But who cares about that stuff? Let's put in some cool references that only certain people would get. It may fall on deaf ears for other people, but if you see a little thing in the background, in the marquee, on a menu, or we name a driving school after GOJIRA, we do all that stuff. That was all strategized. Let's do something that's a joke, just like I wanted a joke when I was a kid. Hopefully, that will lend to the goodwill of the audience."

Blabbermouth: Gene Hoglan [DARK ANGEL, DEATH, TESTAMENT] has been your drummer for a while. Can you share how your relationship with him has evolved over the years?

Brendon: "It's been consistently great, but keeps getting a little bit better. We get to know each other more. We're not always in each other's fields. Over the past couple of years, since 2019, when we got the call to do one show, I felt that if we landed it the right way, it would open the door for the movie. I'll sit and talk with Gene. He's so smart. He's grounded. We've all grown up a little bit over the years, and he's always been a cool guy, but I think he's even cooler now. Working with him — and this is how I work with everyone, from writing a script to working on music to talking to animators — I have some ideas. It's my job to start the conversation and bring an idea to the table — whether that's arriving with full demos and programmed parts for drummers. I'm not a drummer, but I understand what rhythms must be accentuated. He sometimes said, 'I'll need to hold the sticks between my knuckles to do it.' [Laughs] I'll say, 'Can you try?' And he usually does. I'll say, 'Here's a section. I think it's cool, but if you can beat it with something more clever or creative, let's hear it.' We'll audition ideas. We'll stroke our chins, deliberate and have little talks. We'll talk about it, whether good or bad, or we'll flip a coin.

"Gene's always up for the challenge and he takes it really seriously. He's such a musical person. We line up on so many strange places that aren't heavy metal. I remember one time Gene and I found ourselves both single and on the road. We found ourselves at a strip club sitting there. It was awful. It's not something I normally do or Gene. There's somebody on the stage and we were talking about the musical 'Wicked'. We were like, 'What a show!' He's like, 'It's a good show.' He goes, 'How about those sets!' We both said, 'How about one song, one major melody just to have to hum in my head.' We both love Andrew Lloyd Webber and 'Jesus Christ Superstar', which is prog and metal. My family was playing that stuff forever and Billy Joel. They had LED ZEPPELIN, QUEEN with 'A Night At The Opera'. They had this theatrical music around, which makes sense. But that night with Gene, there's some poor stripper onstage trying to get our attention and we're talking about how they don't make musicals like they used to. [Laughs]"

Blabbermouth: You have the tour coming up. You can't discuss a tour without discussing costs. What's your approach? Are you scaling anything back to save money?

Brendon: "We're slightly optimistic, but I'm never optimistic about anything. I talked to other people in some form of what I do, but like directing a movie, going on tour is a state of subtle panic. It's more expensive than previous times. Plus, I'm in charge of this tour, whereas other tours I wasn't. There was more money in TV. There was more of an advertising budget that could balance it out. There isn't this time. We'll see how it works. The response has been pretty good, sales-wise. We're like, 'Okay, we'll see what happens.' If it holds up, it will be a business model. It's an entrepreneurial endeavor I didn't imagine taking on, but here we are."

Blabbermouth: What's next for you and DETHKLOK?

Brendon: "This is a crazy project. This is the lucky cross-section between art and commerce. Somehow, I've gotten money from a place that let me do this creative thing. They've been creatively hands-off. They said for me to go and do it. The responsibility is all on me. There's no one interfering or telling me what to do. I'm the last word on this thing. That's a great place to be. But I'm not sure what's next. This tour or movie will either make a splash, go unnoticed, or be panned. It's for the audience to deal with at this point. I've made up my mind about this project. The fans wanted this movie, which is why I did it. I felt a very big, strong pull to complete the project and to do something. Somebody told me when I was in school building birdhouses. He said, 'Be careful. This is a serious thing you're doing.' He said, 'If you're going to put bird food out for birds, they will rely on that for food. If you stop feeding them, they're going to get angry. Then they're going to die. Then you'll put food out later on and have a bunch of dead birds.' I always think about that metaphor with DETHKLOK. That's what all art is. Nobody asked us to do it. We chose to do it. And if it connects, we're fortunate."

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