Interview: Dethklok Mainman Brendon Small Discusses ‘Dethalbum III’ and Upcoming Tour
By Andrew Bansal
Dethklok — who are widely popular in animated form on the Adult Swim TV series Metalocalypse, as well as in the flesh — released their third studio album, Dethalbum III, October 16 via Williams Street Records.
The band will support the album, which shows off a more dynamic musical palette than their previous releases, with a U.S. tour that kicks off October 24 and runs through December 8. Support bands will include Machine Head, All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder.
I recently caught up with Dethklok creator and mainman Brendon Small to discuss the new release, the recording lineup, touring and a lot more. Visit metalocalypse.tv for more about the new album.
REVOLVER: I can’t help but consider Dethalbum III your best release so far. Would you say more work went into it?
Thank you for saying that, but I don’t know what the difference is. I’m too close to all these things, so I can’t tell. I think I get more bored with music the more I keep doing it, so I just try to make it a bit more exciting to myself, and it’s a really strange process. I’d start writing a song, like, three years ago and then finish it three years afterwards, so I kind of get a lot of time to evaluate some of these bits and pieces of songs from the TV shows. This is the fastest record I wrote and recorded, compared to the other ones, and maybe that has something to do with it.
There’s something more melodic, particularly in terms of the guitar parts. Did you approach the guitar differently for this album?
Oh, yeah. I’ve just been working on some different stuff on guitar, a few different kinds of techniques. I was more into legato stuff over the past couple of years, so I just kept challenging myself to do some stuff that was outside of what’s comfortable. Plus I think at some point you just run out of licks, so you have to create melodies, and hopefully that makes it more exciting to listen to in either the rhythm guitar parts or the lead guitar parts, or just an overlay somewhere in the song.
But yeah, my natural tendencies are to write more melodic stuff than death metal, in general. In between the last Dethklok record and this one, I put out a solo record that was a lot more melodic than any of the Dethklok stuff that not everybody knows about. So that was just me experimenting with melody and probably still making it as metal as I possibly could. That’s the Galaktikon record.
With Dethklok, there’s so much importance placed on the visual aspect. Do you find it hard to focus on the music part of it, or are you used to it by now?
I think I’m pretty used to it. The writing-music part of it is always the fun break I get from making the show. Running the show, writing it and day-to-day production can be pretty tiresome, and it just takes tons and tons of hours. You just have to sit and wait for people to finish work, and wait for people to finish animating, and then you’re constantly on top of every single project.
So any time I get to go and do something I can just finish by myself, it’s a really exciting part of being creative, where I can just go away and come back with songs. From the songs on the show to the score and all that, I walk away from those parts feeling the most satisfied because I just go into a little room and come back with finished stuff.
Do you think people still view the Dethalbums as soundtracks rather than standalone albums? Maybe that takes the heat off you, to some extent.
That’s kind of true! It does take the heat off of you, because people are aware of these fragments of your songs that exist. The way I look at it is, the TV show is kind of like doing demos for a record. Some of them will make the final cut, some of them won’t. But I don’t know how people perceive it. I think that’s the only answer, I don’t really know how people really take this stuff. When we do the TV show, we try to write jokes and make it funny, but we try to take every art aspect as seriously as possible. And when we make a record, we take every line of the lyric and every note of the music as seriously as possible, and try to make it sound as good as a band would want it to sound. And we take it really seriously, so people don’t know whether we’re kidding or not [laughs].
The album does sound a bit more serious, even though it still has the humor aspect.
Maybe it does, but I think that more about the second record than this one. On this one, I was like, “OK, I don’t have any time, let’s just do this quickly. Go!” For the second one, I was trying to make it darker than the first one, and I think I was more conscious of that. For this one I was conscious of nothing. I just wanted to make sure the whole thing functioned as an album, the order of the songs and all that stuff made sense on their own logic, and if you took them away from the TV show, it would hopefully be something worth a listen, even if you didn’t know that the cartoon existed. And that’s always the goal.
On the albums, and also in your live shows, you’ve always had Gene Hoglan as your drummer. It’s unbelievable you’ve had him for so long, because he’s involved in an endless number of bands. Did you consider that before he joined you?
I didn’t, because I didn’t know if I was going to make one album, four albums or 20 albums. All I knew was I got this great guy in the studio with me right now, and I’m just going to take advantage of it. Luckily, we get along really well, we work together really well, and he collaborates in the arrangements all the time. He’s one of the best drummers alive, especially in this style of music, but even outside of this style because he can do anything.
So I got lucky with that, but it was really tricky to take the band out for tours. I wanted to make sure I’m playing with the same guys each time because I really like them a lot, personally, and I also think they are some of the best living musicians. Between Gene Hoglan, Mike Keneally and Bryan Beller, they are powerhouses. They made me a better musician just by hanging out with me.
What’s the deal with the clean version of the new album?
They made a clean version? I didn’t even know that. Maybe the label thinks they’d sell more records that way. I think some of the times when you say “fuck” loud enough, it really is part of the song [laughs], and it makes the song so much angrier. I would leave them in, but I don’t know why it’s edited out. None of this stuff is going to get on mainstream radio anyway, so why would you do that? Who knows? I don’t know.
There’s also going to be a deluxe CD+DVD package. The DVD features a film about the making of the album, which is something new for fans.
Yeah! It’s got a “making of,” which we’ve never done before. We’re kind of letting everybody in on the process, and I think you’ll get a sense of what it’s like for three guys in a very small room trying to make sense of the music. You’ll get to see what the other guys add to the project, and how boring we actually are [laughs]. We certainly are not a cartoon death metal band. We’re people trying to take this job seriously enough to a degree of, “Hey, let’s not make any stupid mistakes, and let’s get the best recording in the amount of time given to us.”
But for some of my own recording, I didn’t let anybody in and see what I do once we finish the songs, which is just very personal and I didn’t want any cameras in here for that. Like doing the lead guitar stuff and the vocals. I just do that by myself and don’t let anybody see that, because it’s very sporadic the way I work. I don’t like people watching me [laughs]. But yeah, I think you’ll get a good sense of what goes into our process of making Dethklok songs.
As you said, this is the first time you’re giving people an insight into the real band, not just the cartoon band.
Yeah! And I’ve been very careful to not show anything about the real band or even the making of the show or anything like that, because I’d rather have people wonder about that than let them see it. But in this case, we’ve done three records so we may as well show you. But still, I keep the process of the TV show pretty guarded. But on this DVD you’ll see a little bit of that too, actually, because when we were making animations for the new tour, which is coming soon, we were making the record at the exact same time, so you can get a sense of how much shit I had to go through each day, leaving the recording to go work on animatics for videos, taking meetings and all that crazy boring shit.
In terms of the animation, is it new on every tour, even if you play the same songs again?
Well, we’ve got four new songs from the record and a bunch of the new sketches. All the comedy is new. Since we’re folding in new stuff with old stuff, we have to play some of the bigger songs, or the “hits” Dethklok has done. But you’re going to see some of the old favorite songs with new animation and new comedy. There’s a bit with Dr. Rockzo that’s really fucking funny and stupid [laughs], so we had to bring that into the live show in some way.
You originally were supposed to tour with Lamb of God and Gojira in the summer, but Randy Blythe of Lamb of God got arrested the in Czech Republic. How did you react when you found out?
When you see the documentary on the DVD, you’ll see how much work I was doing up until that day we were supposed to go out on tour. There was a part of me that was really ready for a vacation. So that part of me was very satisfied, but the part of me that was worried about the people employed for this tour was very distraught. I was not happy to see that people lost their jobs because of that thing. There were a bunch of guitar techs, and all the people that go into making our show, and they all lost their jobs. But luckily, we put together a new tour, and that’s going to happen soon. So I’m happy for that, and I’m happy we got the same crew. We are very lucky with these guys, because these are some of the best people in live music working together and it’s hard to get them all at the same time. So, fortunately we got them.
That tour was going to be a co-headliner with Lamb of God; this one is your own headline tour with support from Machine Head, All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder. Does that mean you’re playing a longer set?
Not necessarily! We may add a song or two that we hadn’t planned on, but I’ll tell you, I don’t think quality is in length, but quality is in what you do in any given time. Plus, as an audience member, I’ve gone to so many shows and I’ve seen so many bands wear out their welcome on stage. My main goal from a performer to a comedian to a live musician is to give a good amount of show to the audience, and I don’t think that means more. I think when people go out on stage and play for more then three hours, the audience wants to fucking go home, but they want to miss anything either! So I’ve seen people do two-and-a-half-hour shows, and I think you’re punishing the audience at some point during that show.
What I think the best show is, give them just enough, and then stop, and leave them wanting more. That’s always the best thing you can do in show business. Leave them wanting more, make them wish you had played one more song, and don’t wear out your welcome because if you play one song too many, you’d feel like you lost them. You’d be like, “They’re tired. They’ve got to go to work tomorrow. These guys have jobs.”
That’s my own personal philosophy, and I think metal has done a good job at not overstaying the welcome. If you’re going to do festival tours, most of them play the perfect amount. Even Megadeth, when they are playing Rust In Peace, that’s a 45-minute record, and then a couple of encores. So that’s the perfect length of a show.
Because that tour was supposed to take place in the summer, I guess you’ve already rehearsed and don’t have to stress out about the upcoming tour. You must be relaxed right now!
Well, yeah! We actually did a lot of rehearsal for that tour. We did a one-off show at Comic Con for Adult Swim where we got to try out the new show and the new songs. We did tons of rehearsing, so we got everything up on a seat. But we’re going to have some rehearsals beforehand for the rescheduled tour, of course, just to make sure we got everything completely in place. The gap did give me a great opportunity to break in a new pedal board, try out some different amps live and all of that stuff. So it’s been great to experiment with that, but yeah, it’s a more relaxing place.
I’m not going crazy working on the whole live tour and the record at the same time, so that’s really nice. Plus, I think it’s better to tour with the record out than do it before, because if you have super-fans in the audience, your merch is just going to be the two records. This is going to be more exciting for people who haven’t bought the record yet or are about to buy it. They can may be meet us backstage and find something that has more value.
Andrew Bansal is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. Besides being hugely passionate about heavy metal, he is an avid follower of jazz music and recently started a blog called Jazz Explorer to pursue that interest.