‘Metalocalypse’ creator Brendon Small had little idea when he chose to combine his loves of music and comedy that they would form one of the biggest underground animated sensations the world had ever seen, nor did he expect DETHKLOK to become “the world’s greatest cultural force!” Now, both Small and Dethklok stand ready to take on their biggest challenge to date — a full-on, no-holds-barred, over the top rock opera! ‘Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem: A Klok Opera’ picka up directly after the abduction of Dethklok guitarist Toki Wartooth in the season four finale. With his life in danger, his only salvation can come from the four most selfish human celebrities on Earth—his bandmates, extreme metal band Dethklok. Will they be able to get past their own egos to help someone besides themselves? Only time will tell! The animated one-hour special, ‘Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem: A Klok Opera’ airs Sunday, October 27 at Midnight (ET/PT) on Adult Swim.
The impressive original score for the special will be released as a full-length album on October 29, 2013. And this isn’t just your average metal record— this is full blown musical featuring a fifty-piece orchestra! The album features the bonus Dethklok single ‘Blazing Star’ and orchestral movements, produced by Brendon Small and Emmy winning composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica/Walking Dead). Legendary powerhouse metal drummer Gene Hoglan returns once more to join Brendon and other musicians such as bassist Bryan Beller (Dethklok, The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani) and Mike Keneally (Dethklok, Frank Zappa, Joe Satriani) for this epic undetaking. As you can imagine, being the world’s most extreme metal band can be an undertaking in it’s own right. Luckily, we have you covered! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with creator Brendon Small to discuss the history of the band, his own musical roots, the challenges of composing an animated rock opera and much more!
You are a very multi-faceted artist but music is a huge part of what you do. How did music first come into your life?
I was lucky to have parents who got me into lessons early on. That was great and there was always a piano in the house. I took lessons, starting around the time I was seven or eight years old. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it. Then I saw people playing a keyboard in some school assembly. One of the keyboardists was playing a song by Van Halen or something. That is when I realized, “Oh, you can actually play cool music!” [laughs] I think that was a big eye opener for me as an eight year old. That was probably the first thing. Then something just happened and I am not sure how it happened. I used this line on my old show, “Home Movies,” it goes “The reason I play guitar is because I was a boy from the suburbs and it was my destiny. I had no choice.” [laughs]
There are so many hardcore fans of “Metalocalypse” out there but there are also a lot of people who are just now discovering it. Going all the way back to the beginning, what sparked the idea which would lead to all of this madness?
I had gone to music school awhile back and then got into standup comedy. Through standup comedy, I started to do TV and I made my first show, “Home Movies.” That show lasted for seasons and we had a really good run. At that point, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. While I was on my comedy jag, I didn’t know what I was going to do with music anymore. I had put my guitars aside at the time. As more time passed, the more I got excited about my guitars because I was reconnecting with the world of metal. I had grown up with it and listened to it before I got confused by music school. I was really excited in the early 2000s with everything that was going on and found myself falling back in love with my guitar. I was trying to find an excuse to play it all the time. That is how this show came together. I thought “How can I make all of these things come together?” Basically, that is how “Metalocalypse” was made!
Did you have any inkling early on that “Metalocalypse” would have the impact that it has had on its fans?
You can hope that people will gravitate to your project but the main question I think you have to ask yourself as a creator is “Do I connect with this stuff?” or “What do I have to do with this stuff?” If you start liking your own stuff and taking it seriously enough to present it properly, I think people will maybe start liking it. I don’t know! Honestly, I had no idea that anyone would ever watch the show! [laughs] What I did know was that there wasn’t a show like this on TV. That is the only thing I can do as a creative person is to try to do something I don’t think someone else has done.
To what do you attribute the longevity of the project?
I think the network is really cool. We get good ratings, I guess. That gives a little leeway and they have always been up for it. The reason the team and myself keep doing it is because we continue to try and grow the show from previous seasons. We try to make each move a cooler move than the previous one and try to keep the characters and the show moving forward. That for me is why the show continues to exist — it is growing and moving forward. This next incarnation, the hour long rock opera special, is what I had hoped the show would achieve.
“Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera” is a huge milestone for you and your team. Was there anything specific you wanted to achieve with this release?
Yeah. First of all, there was “How do I make an hour long rock opera with this music only and no dialog?” That was just one of the technical things. Also, I thought “I have a story I want to tell and I want to make sure the story works first. If I have the right tone, I am going to put it to music. Not only am I going to put it to music but I am going to get a fifty piece orchestra to play with me! I am going to get a bunch of great musicians to play with me and really treat it the way it needs to be treated with the right respect so it will be the project I hope for it to be.”
How did the writing process for this outing mirror what you have done in the past or become more challenging due to the subject matter of a rock opera?
It is similar in some ways and very different in others. This is so stupid but slowly we re-figured out that if our story isn’t tracking in the outline of the whole thing, then we are screwed and have to go back and fix stuff. We had both instances where it was like “Oh, this is a solid story and it could work.” or “The story is somewhat problematic in the second act and we are probably going to have to go back and fix stuff.” I had a lot of this story in my head and brought it into the two other people I wrote with, Mark Brooks and Janine Ditullio. I pitched them the whole story and in two weeks we weeded it out in a way. I thought for each story point in this thing, there has to be a piece of music. “What piece of music will it be?” was something I was wondering about. I said “Ok, this intro reminds me of the intro of this other rock opera but hopefully we can cover our tracks!” There are moments from “Tommy,” “Evita,” Jesus Christ Superstar” or “Annie.” [laughs] This is the moment from “Annie!” People are going to know it but it was in my mind. That was the normal part, just outlining the thing. The abnormal part was picking each story point as a piece of music. It all started to make sense. The totally different part, which we had never done before, was I went away for a month and a half into my home studio and started writing music. I was going to write the entire piece of music, a gigantic demo, so we could start storyboarding. That is what I did! I gave myself a month and a half and I turned it in mid-April. I played it for everyone and gave everybody the script to read along. Everyone said “This is making sense to us.” That is very rare for us to have that feeling! [laughs] So, we just went from there. Basically, in order this whole thing to start; I had to write forty-six minutes and thirty seconds of music.
Wow! It is very interesting to hear how the process gets started. It sounds like quite an undertaking to say the very least!
Yeah. It was but you know what? It was fun! As you will see in the rock opera or hear in the soundtrack, the way this music and the whole show works is that the music has to contradict itself. When I write music on the show, the metal music is what people remember. I have one metal moment per episode, pretty much. Everything else is the most not metal thing in the world. You will hear elevator music, source music, some kind of a score or some kind of a stupid plucky song one of the characters sings, followed by really heavy stuff with double kicks, crazy guitar and all that stuff. That is kinda how this rock opera works as well. You hear heavy, light, heavy, light. Not necessarily light but a lot of other styles of music. There are a lot of contradictory styles going on but that is what propels it. If I were a whole hour of metal, I think your ears would get fatigued and you would stop paying attention. This is designed to keep you engaged and the whole thing moving forward.
You worked with composer Bear McCreary on this project. How did the collaboration come about and what did you learn from your time together?
We have been friends for a while and his work is amazing. He is a fan of the show and had said “Hey. Have you ever thought about getting an orchestra?” I said “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world to live in, where we can afford orchestras!” He was like “Well, there is a way to do it and if you ever want to know how to do it, give me a call. He talked me through a lot of the stuff and ways to go about it. At some point, I said “I think I am ready to do this. I think I am ready to get a fifty piece orchestra on this thing!” He was very helpful. He took my music and plus’d it all. He helped arrange and produce the whole orchestral part of the whole thing and added a huge amount, which is great! That is my ultimate thing with the show, “Take my idea. Please! Make it cooler!” [laughs] When I talk to the director, an editor, a compositor or an artist, I have to come to them with something. I could be a sketch of an idea, what a character look like, a description or something. My challenge to each one of these people along the way is “Beat this idea!” Bear definitely brought that to the table. You will hear it. It is really cool. There is no mistaking how cool that stuff sounds. You will hear it right when the whole thing opens!
Looking back on putting this project together, what stands out in your mind as the biggest obstacle or challenge?
The challenge of all animation is that animation does not look good until the last couple of days. You have to get a whole team up and running. Because of the nature of the show, I will do a whole season and then put out a record and tour; we won’t always get the same team of animators. We have to get these guys up and running and change them from guys who are moving characters around to guys who think like actors would. We have to make sure a mood is being conveyed and making sure they understand the script or the story. Sometimes in animation, people will just lift the shots and have to second guess or not know the story but because of the way we do the show, we are editing in one room and in the animators are in the next. That allows us to go over and talk to them to walk them through stuff. Our director, Mark Brooks, will say “Guys, it’s like this… check out this movie.” There are different times where he had to get up and dance for them because we had a musical and we had to have a dance sequence! [laughs] Not only that, we had to have a couple! We had to show them because they are guys who haven’t danced once in their life and we have to show them these ridiculous moves! That was really different! [laughs] The cool thing about doing this is that there are some things that made it easier in some ways. When you are cutting to music, all of a sudden, your story starts flowing! We have known that about “Metalocalypse” from the beginning. We start finding where all the down-beats are and start cross-cutting and using our drums as a guide, it is going to have a really fun energy to it. We still have to make sure our story is completely tracking throughout the whole thing. This is a crazy thing! The main idea for all of “Metalocalypse” is that if we turn it off and just listen to the dialog and the music, does that make sense to us? Can we follow the story? Also, if we turn off the music and look at the visual, can we follow the story? When you and the two together, you get something that is really nice!
Obviously, you have covered a lot of ground with “Metalocalypse” on many levels. If there still ground you are looking to cover or something you still are looking to accomplish, not only with the show but on a personal musical level?
I don’t know. That is a good question. I don’t know. I have gotten to fulfill so many things throughout the history of this show from meeting my personal guitar heroes to being able to build guitars with Gibson Guitars to this new special, which is one of the biggest and coolest things yet. Having an orchestra play is a huge deal; not only having them play but having them increase the drama.
Looking back on all you have been able to accomplish in your career, how do you feel you have evolved as an artist?
Good question. I think the one thing you can do as a writer is realize when something isn’t going to work in an early stage or be able to change it sooner and not become married to the idea. I think sometimes that is helpful when you say “Ok, I don’t think that is going to work.” and you are able to move on to another idea quickly. As a musician, I feel like I have the same process from when I started but I may be able to get to the conclusion sooner and I can do it quicker than I did before. I think I can just do stuff faster these days. I am a lucky guy because I get all of these outlets to be creative in a couple of different ways, as a writer, an actor doing the voices and writing the music. This project is really fun to work on because even though I really love metal and making a full metal record, it is really fun to have different styles of music come through. Every person, metal band or band in general listens to different styles of music but you don’t always get to play them. AC/DC has to play AC/DC, ya know! [laughs] They probably like different styles of music but they don’t always get to play them. In this case, I got to play a lot of different styles of music, which is really fun and ridiculous!
What are your plans as far as taking the show on the road? I imagine that will be quite an undertaking.
You have to realize, this is a small group of people who make this show, so coordinating all of this stuff is really crazy. The soundtrack is coming out and that is my main thing because I am financing all of that stuff. The record is finishing being mastered today (10/23/2013). It is going to go up for pre-order a couple days before it comes out and my website will probably reflect all of that stuff. It is all last second! We just turned in the special to the network yesterday (10/22/2013) and it airs on October 26th, but that was the plan! That is how much time we needed. That is how much time I needed to mix and master. It is a small amount of people involved but I have people involved in the touring aspects. I will have news on that soon enough! The way that I pitched this was “This is a rock opera that I would love to be able to animate, put out a record for and tour to picture.” It is definitely its own genre at this point. It is a weird, dramatic, comedy musical, rock opera thing! I don’t know who we would tour with! [laughs] How do you bookend that!
What do you feel the future holds for Dethklok?
People are asking a lot of stuff. People want to know if this is the shows end and I keep my mouth shut about that stuff because I don’t want to ruin the special. I think if you watch this special, you will know everything you need to know!
You are a guy who always has a ton of irons in the fire. What other projects are on the horizon for you?
I have a lot of stuff I am excited about doing. I am in the middle of a couple different projects right now. Nothing to announce just yet. In the meantime, my favorite thing to do is be creative in different ways. You will find me doing standup in Los Angeles. You will find me performing; I did a one act play this summer. I am just developing and working on stuff, ya know? I just want to beat the last thing I did and try to bring something unique to the table. Like I said earlier, the most exciting thing I can do for myself is put something on TV that I haven’t seen before and I think that is “Metalocalypse.” I want to do more things like that.
I know I have found your work inspiring and I am sure a lot of others do as well. What do you think is the best lesson that can be taken from your life and times?
First of all, thank you very much. That is nice to hear. I think the thing is not to wait for someone to tell you to do something, go it yourself. It is like standup and guitar. Don’t let anyone tell you that they don’t see you as a comedian or a musician or that your fingers are too fat to play fast! [laughs] Those are things I remember hearing in my life and I was like “Hey! FUCK YOU!” [laughs] I think if you want to be a comedian, an actor, a writer or an editor, start doing it today. You are going to suck but you are going to get better. It is like all artwork, you are going to suck but you are going to get better! Guitar is the perfect example, you are going to be terrible when you start out but you are going to get good if you really give a shit! Don’t wait for someone to discover you, start doing it!
Any final thoughts before I let you go today?
The thing I am trying to draw the most attention to is the soundtrack for “Metalocalypse: Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera,” which is coming out October 29th. I am really excited for people to hear it. It is such a fun, roller coaster ride on the ears! I am really excited and very happy with the way it turned out!
Thanks for letting us help spread the word, Brendon! Keep up the amazing work and we will talk soon!
Thank you, man! I really appreciate it!
‘Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem – A Klok Opera’ premieres Sunday, October 27 at Midnight (ET/PT) on Adult Swim. The original score from the special will be released as a full-length album on October 29, 2013.
For more updates on the music and show, follow Brendon Small on Twitter at @_brendonsmall.
The deluxe edition of the original score soundtrack will include and exclusive bonus “making of” featurette with Executive Producer/creator/writer/musician Brendon Small and cast/musicians, available only via www.brendonsmall.com.