Dethklok may be a virtual band, but it has somehow put out the best-selling death metal record of all time. Everyone who's familiar with Dethklok knows that it's the live band cognate of the popular Adult Swim series Metalocalypse. In the show, the band is the world's seventh biggest economy. The characters are caricatures of melodic death metal musicians (think Dimmu Borgir without the make-up and even more ridiculous). The series was in part the brainchild of Brendon Small, who was responsible for the cult animated series Home Movies, and with Metalocalypse, he combined his irreverent and sometimes wicked sense of humor with his affection for metal in its most cartoonish and ridiculous glory.
See also: - The ten best concerts of the week: Nov. 19-23 - Tonight: Dethklok at the Fillmore Auditorium, 10/20/12 - Review: Dethklok at the Fillmore, 10/10/09 - Q&A with Metalocalypse and Dethklok Creator Brendon Small (2008)
We recently spoke with Small about working with Gene Hoglan, how he came to work with Mark Brooks of the Warlock Pinchers on the show, the ideas behind Murderface and Dr. Rockso, as well as the benefits of his Berklee education on his career so far.
Westword: Was "The Thor von Clemson Advanced Fast-Hand Finger Wizard Master Class" video a kind of precursor to Metalocalypse?
Brendon Small: You know what, that was an experiment for me. There were two things I was trying to do. I had a weird facial prosthetic that I wanted to use in a video. My brother works in make-up effects, so I wanted him to make me a facial prosthetic to make me look a little bit different. And I just wanted to learn how to do green screen stuff and be able to key out all of that stuff. I had just gotten Final Cut Pro, so I wanted to use all that stuff. At that time I hadn't seen any hyper nerdy, guitar instructional video parodies. So I thought, "Why not do that?" I learned very quickly it's really, really stupid, and I had fun doing it.
Was that based on any particular instructional video you had seen?
Not really. But I watched a lot of them growing up. I had the Paul Gilbert one. I had all of them. I had the Michael Angelo [Batio] one. I had the Yngwie [Malmsteen] one. I had the Marty Friedman. I had tons of them. I had the Reb Beach instructional video at one point. It's hardcore Winger-style, fretboard tapping antics. Eric Johnson was another one. I have his last record, and I like it a lot. His guitar playing is amazing on it. It's not metal, but he's still playing the shit out of his guitar.
Gene Hoglan plays in the live band and presumably on the albums. How did he become involved in the band, and what is it like playing with a drummer of his caliber?
What had happened is that I was hoping that if the show took off that I'd be able to make a record. And since I programmed all the drums in the first season, I thought, "Well, I would rather have an actual record with real drums and a real drummer." So I asked around. I asked his former label Century Media who they knew was available to play drums that can really just go crazy on double kicks. They all said in unison, "Gene Hoglan." I was like, "Well, you don't think he would do this, do you?" They said they would ask him, and they would put me in touch with him.
He was vaguely familiar with the show. And from the first day in the studio, we kind of hit it off. He's just an amazing drummer that can do anything. And he's easy to collaborate with, and he's an easy guy to travel with. What you want to do as a guitar player is play with the most amazing drummer in the world. If you're a really good guitar player with a mediocre drummer, it's not going to be great. If you're like a shitty guitar player with a great drummer, you're going to be really good. On tour, he pushes me to be a better musician. But that's the same with the other guys I play with. They're all amazing, monster musicians.
The video for "I Ejaculate Fire" is one of the funniest videos ever made, metal or otherwise. It's about as ridiculous as it gets. What inspired that?
It's very stupid and literal. The video was Egyptian, because we use the Phrygian mode throughout the song, so it's kind of Egyptian sounding. I think maybe in the episode it originally appeared in, before the recorded version happened, we were in a pyramid, so I wrote something in the Phrygian mode. The guy who directed it, Mark Brooks, said, "What if guy has fire coming out of his cock?" I said, "Well, that would be really stupid. You should do it." There's a Cannibal Corpse song called "I Cum Blood," and that's kind of where the idea came from. It's pretty great that they can get away with shit like that and have it be taken dead seriously.
Mark Brooks? The guy who did Lil' Pimp, and he's from Denver?
Yeah, he's a Denver guy. He's super cool. He's been a part of the show since the very early days.
How did you meet him?
It's kind of funny. I was going to Aspen to do a little presentation on Metalocalypse, a metal education kind of thing, basically. I needed to edit this first episode. It was kind of a train wreck with too many cuts and crazy shit. But I needed to get the first song and the tone of the show up and running, so they said, "Here's this guy, Mark Brooks. He'll work with you."
So I had this song, and I wanted to put this storyboard together because I was going to play live guitar to the story board. It was a train wreck until Mark got there. He's really quick with Final Cut, and we just sat down together and calling stuff out, and all of a sudden, the first episode started taking shape. Essentially, he was part of the show from the earliest stages. Those final edits ended up being a big part of what the show ended up becoming.
Dethalbum III recently became the best-selling death metal album of all time. What do you think about that?
I think I'm very lucky. I'm a lucky guy who has a TV show that can actually help sell his record. I think it boils down to that. It's really nice to see that people actually bought stuff in an age when they don't necessarily have to. I think it's really cool that the fans did that. I like the way the record turned out. I think it's cool. When I put something together I want to make sure it's worthy of being purchased by somebody. Something I hope you'll leave in your CD player for a while.
In putting together Metalocalypse, and more specifically Dethklok, were there specific musical archetypes that you drew on as inspiration for each character?
[There is] only one specific archetype, and that was Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse. Just his stage behavior is really cool and very specific, and you can see that in Nathan Explosion -- the way that he stands, the way he windmills his hair is very George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher. But we didn't know who George was as a person, so the personality was just an invented one.
Murderface came from the idea that in the late '80s, early '90s, bass wasn't a frequency you heard on a metal record, no matter how fucking hard they were playing -- it just doesn't show up. So we thought that that was indicative of his personality a lot. You know, the guy that can't be heard, so in life he must overcompensate in every single way possible and have something to prove.
Like middle management -- [he] doesn't really have a job but has to kind of prove that he's there all the time. He just drives people insane and is consistently annoying, and he's an asshole. And for those reasons, he's the most fun to write. Anyone that lies to themselves on a regular basis is fun to write for.
Is Dr. Rockso based on anyone in particular?
He's based on every frontman that existed from the '70s to now. But mostly the '70s guys. There's a little bit of Paul Stanley, there's a little bit of David Lee Roth, there's a little bit of Steven Tyler -- like guys from a time when frontmen were fucking selling the tickets. Those guys were really working hard and amazing performers.
But the whole reason that came together is that we had a clown in an episode, like a birthday clown in a Murderface episode. I saw the clown and said, "Oh, he's dressed up like a regular clown." It's supposed to be kind of humiliating, and we thought, "What if we took that clown and made him the wrong genre of metal."
Then he was just there just chewing up the fucking scenery and just won't go away. Then the joke was on us that that character ended up being the breakout character of the show, and we can't stand him. We come close to killing him every episode, but he keeps on living somehow.
You went to Berklee. Do you feel that that helped in any way with the music that you do now, or do you feel like you've dispensed with that in some way?
No, I think it comes into play often. With a lot of music on the show, it's not even the band music, it's a lot of score stuff. There's a lot of tricks that I learned in Berklee. I was a composition and performance major, so I had to get in front of people and play. But most important was chord knowledge and understanding chord progression and understanding what my favorite music sounded like and why it sounded that way and analyzing it. All of that shit really comes into play when you're backed into a corner and have a deadline.
Whether or not you realize it, you develop a bag of tricks. So if you have to write a song in five minutes, you have to go, "I know how this works. I can go there and there, and now, I need to get into another key somehow." So it totally helps with that. Something about that school makes you want to learn your chops. It's all up to you, if you want to be a professional guitar player or not. You just have to put the hours in.
Obviously you've done a lot of soundtrack work that has nothing to do with being a metal musician at all. So that discipline probably came in handy there too?
Absolutely. And it's just fun too. You understand very quickly that whatever the genre of music is, you can adapt to it very quickly. You just have to understand what the components are. If I'm forced to at gunpoint to write a song indicative of a certain style, like reggae, I feel confident that I could do it.
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