Brendon Small: 'I Can't Believe How Much I Still Like Guitar'

Brendon Small of Dethklok recently talked with Ultimate-Guitar and provided more insight into the making of the most brutal album imaginable.

Brendon Small: 'I Can't Believe How Much I Still Like Guitar'
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When Brendon Small penned the first episodes of Adult Swim's Metalocalypse, he was quickly realizing that his other great passion the guitar was becoming just as essential as the punch lines he delivered on the animated cult hit. In a sense, he had truly come full circle. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in 1997, Small opted for a comedian's life by honing his stand-up act and eventually creating the animated series Home Movies. It wasn't until he conceived the dark, bloody, and extremely humorous world of the fictional band Dethklok that he was able to once again truly find a suitable outlet for his music. With three seasons of Metalocalypse under his belt, Small has found himself occupied with activities that have deemed him a rock star in his own right. The sophomore Dethklok record titled Dethalbum II (released back in September of 2009) reached #15 on the Billboard charts while gaining a dedicated fan base. Small further proved that had surpassed mere novelty status by landing an opening slot for Iron Maiden, touring alongside Mastodon, and publishing a tablature series dedicated to the music of Dethklok. When the musician/writer/comedian recently talked with Ultimate-Guitar, he provided more insight into the making of the most brutal album imaginable. UG: This year you stopped by the Alfred Publishing booth at the NAMM Show. Did you have anything new to introduce at the convention? Brendon Small: Yeah. I was talking about the new Dethalbum II tab book that just came out. It was fun. They are super-nice people over there. I did a signing for a bunch of people that are fans. We exchanged information, and it was great. I love NAMM. I should go on Thursday, though, because I'm a guitar geek. I go there because I have to promote stuff and everything and say hi to all of the sponsors, but all I want to do is check out new gear. On a Saturday, that's the worst day to do it.

"I've gotten to the point with guitar playing that I've gotten a lot of cool gear."

Did you get an opportunity to check out the newest gear at any point? Thank God for YouTube because I got to check out all of the low-watt amps and things like that. I've gotten to the point with guitar playing that I've gotten a lot of cool gear. If something doesn't sound good, then that's my own fault because I wasn't playing something right. I have good amps and I have good guitars. I get really good sounds that I'm really happy with now. So when I go to NAMM I'm like, Okay, what don't I have? Well, I don't have a speaker endorsement deal, so let's go talk to the Celestion guys. And I have Celestion in my amps right now! How many speakers do I need? There are boutique pedals and cool, weird things like that. For those who want to recreate the sounds on Dethalbum II, can you give us an idea of what you used? And did they change at all from what you utilized on the first album? They did totally change. I did a lot direct playing on the first record. Believe it or not, Joe Satriani gave me some really good advice. Let me back up, though. For the rhythm guitars I used Marshall JCMs. I put a Tube Screamer in front of it to smooth out the sound. I wanted that warmth there that I don't always hear in metal. So the rhythm guitars were all Marshall JCMs in the medium gain stage. There were no pedals involved. It was from the 30-watt Celestion and a Marshall cabinet. It was very simple and like store-bought stuff. Ultimately, I just had to play it right. For the lead guitars, the interesting and different thing that I did this time was Joe Satriani gave me his old Palmer cabinet simulator. He gave me his saturated distortion pedal by Vox, and he helped me set it up. I used like a 50-watt amp at the time. I had a Mesa Boogie Express 5:50. I used that for the leads and got a better-rounded, creamier kind of sound with some harmonic elements that you sometimes don't get from direct lining. So I was really happy with that. It was like a 50-watt straight into the board, and that was it. As far as rhythm guitars, I played my Explorers and my EMGs the 81 and 85X series, which are not as compressed. Then I have the heaviest strings I can find like .013-.056, sometimes .060 on the low E. Most of the leads are done with my Les Paul Goldtop '57 reissue. I was just using stock pickups. That's why I like the X series from EMG, too. It has a little more headroom and it's not as compressed. Especially with lead stuff, I really like to hear a guitar come through. You hear the string and don't hear the compressed magnets as much. So I like to use stock Gibson stuff, which are great pickups. It's that simple. I messed around with different picks while I was playing and little stupid, dumb things that actually do kind of change your playing a little bit. I switched up to the Dunlop Ultex picks, which have a really great attack. There were no real effects. All the effects were kind of done through Pro Tools. If we put in a delay or anything, it would be in Pro Tools. It would be like a spot punch-in or something. Live is a different story, but in the studio that's what I did. Do you have a heavy hand in the production side of the recording process? Absolutely. I record the drums, the rhythm guitars, and the basses in the studio that we paid for. Then I take the whole sessions home or file takes, and then I overdub for two month or a month-and-a-half because I'm also writing a TV show at the same time. I can't pay an engineer to hang out whenever I have time, so I have to do it all myself. I've been learning everything the hard way. When I finish all that stuff the guitar, the vocals, and the keyboard overdubs I head back to Ulrich Wild, who is the co-producer and the engineer. He does all the mixing, and then I'll just check in with him to see how he's doing. It's always interesting to hear his takes on the song. Sometimes I'll get really nervous on some of the raw versions, where the guitars are really, really loud and there are no effects. Then I'll hear his takes, and everything starts to fit together. I like his EQ curve of this record in particular. At what point will you actually write the songs to correspond with the story? Are you able to compose while creating the episode itself? I'll have a sequence in mind for an episode, where the band will play and we'll tell the story while the band is playing. It's the last thing I do. Usually what I'll do is take an old song from the first Dethalbum and then put it in there. I'll figure out if it's fast or slow. Then I'll pretty much record a sloppy guitar to a click track. Whatever happens in that amount of time ends up being the song. So I don't second-guess. I just try to write a riff. Usually I'll write a song if I've got an idea of what's supposed to happen. For example, I have an episode that I'm working on right now where there's a big chase sequence in the sky. I know that it's got to be a fast tempo kind of thing. That tells me everything I need to know at least what the mood of the song is going to be. I just write towards that. Even if it's sloppy, I can change things around. But the general feel, I just go for.

"I did a lot direct playing on the first record."

I read that you often have to pare down six-part harmonies into two-part harmonies for the tab books. It's actually very simple when I break it down. If you look at a chord and a triad has three notes, you go an octave higher. When I was listening to old Queen records and stuff like that, I figured out that's what Brian May was doing. You can get this thick, huge sound that is kind of impossible to play live. What we do with the live parts, between me and Mike Keneally, we'll try to find a way to make two guitars sound like six or seven or eight. With the bass player, we can turn that into a rhythm guitarist, too. So he might takes over what the rhythm guitar is playing while me and Mike bump into these double stops or he'll put a harmonizer on one of his things. It's just a different ball of wax that is pretty fun and pretty fat-sounding. Do you keep the characters Toki Wartooth and Skwisgaar Skwigelf in mind when writing the different parts? It doesn't happen often. Ultimately what I like to think about is, What's the coolest thing I can do here in this song? What is the coolest melody or guitar part I can think of in the amount of time I have right now? There were a couple of times where I would go, Okay, Toki once he nails it in the studio, he's a pretty good guitarist he gets nervous live. So if I would record a live album of Dethklok, I would definitely have Toki's parts either overplayed or underplayed. I think there are those kinds of metal players who pretty much stay in the Pentatonic box. Then there are some people who go out and play in different modes with harmonic minors. Skwisgaar is probably a little more scale-based than Toki. I don't want Toki to be a bad guitar player because that limits my options of what I can do on the record. There are subtle things. I don't think it's all the time, but every once in awhile it pops up. You've posted instructional videos where the animated character Skwisgaar is actually giving accurate guitar lessons. At this point, would you be ready to create an instructional DVD series yourself? I would be interested in doing that. I think it would be fun. I'm a fan of instructional videos. I think technique-wise and all that stuff, I learned it from watching Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, and Marty Friedman. Any guitarist that has ever put out an instructional video, I would save up my money and bought it. These guys are monster players. Sometimes you've got to sit down and really break stuff down to learn how to play it. The only thing I dread is that I would have to play really well! I can play guitar fairly well, but it's like the movie Memento. There's this thing on my lap what's it doing here? If I go shooting my mouth off about it, I've learned that I end up having to do it somewhere down the line. So I shouldn't shoot my mouth off that much. I have a lot of work to do. I've got to finish this season and take a vacation before committing to any other projects. One of the big things I want to talk about is Guitar Hero 5. It's out now on PS3, Xbox 360, and the Wii systems. I have to say that when we started out the show, I got a call from one of the developers at the time. He was a fan of my previous show Home Movies, and he had read a blog that I was going to do this metal show. The show hadn't even aired at the time, and he wanted to know if I wanted to put some music in from the show. I said sure and picked this song called Thunderhorse. It's really funny how many fans we got to check out Metalocalypse because of Guitar Hero II. Now I have kids that come to the show, and Thunderhorse is one of the most popular songs that we do. When we play it in the set, the kids know it and are playing air guitar to it. They heard it on Guitar Hero. There are some guitarists out there who still claim that Guitar Hero is for the people who aren't able to play an actual guitar. Have you always embraced the concept behind the game? In being a guitarist and going through the dark days of guitar when no one was playing their guitar or doing solos. That was a pretty crappy time, but it had to happen. People had to stop playing guitar so that it could come back again. I think it's exciting that 11-year-olds know what Smoke On The Water is and can sing the Ritchie Blackmore solo. They just know it. It's also turning people onto cool music. It used to be that you could only learn about cool music if you had an older sibling who had a Led Zeppelin record at some point. I didn't have an older sibling that had cool music. My sister liked Madonna and a-ha. But I had a friend down the street that turned me onto all the cool stuff. That's what this thing is kind of doing. It's being that friend down the street that's showing you cool music. If any of these music snobs think that they didn't grab a tennis racket and pretend to play guitar for years before they even grabbed real guitars, then I think they are lying and they're stupid. And I will fight them! I've said this before, but I can't believe how much I still like guitar. It's really strange to me. I like sitting there with a guitar on my lap. When I wake up in the morning, I like to actually be able to see a guitar somewhere. I don't get it. I don't understand why I like this so much. My best and most enjoyable times over the last five years of being in a creative environment have been those times when I can just sit there and play guitar by myself. I'll just listen to it. I like the sound it makes. Guitar is cool. If you don't think the guitar is cool, then you're stupid. And I will fight you!

"Usually I'll write a song if I've got an idea of what's supposed to happen."

You've made a huge turning point in that you're now passed the point of merely being the creator of a hit animated series. Musically, Dethklok earned the 2nd place spot on the Spin Readers' Poll for Best Metal Band (beat out only by Metallica) and you toured with Mastodon. Are you content with how your life is going? I'm clearly a frustrated guitarist. I studied guitar and ended up going into comedy. I love comedy, too. I love storytelling. Because I can do music, it makes me a better writer and storyteller in some ways. I talk to my other friends who are writers for a living. I can subtract words and use music and it's more interesting. It sticks with you longer. In TV, you realize that you can lose your job and that can be taken away from you if the ratings drop in a heartbeat. TV is a tough job. There is no job security. If the ratings go, you're gone. When I think about how I can top this job, I can't think of how I could. I've gotten to do everything. I got to tour with Mastodon. I got to open up for Iron Maiden. I got to put out a tab book. I have an endorsement deal with Gibson guitars. This is insane! I guess I plotted this whole thing out when I was 15-years-old and somehow I stuck to it. I got to make friends with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I'm going to recommend movies to my guitar heroes! It's all very ridiculous. It is the ultimate job. Interview by Amy Kelly Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2010

73 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    daniel c b
    deggs37 wrote: If you don't like Brendon Small, I will fight you!
    EXACTTLY what i was going to say. I'll fight you for that!
    malfeitor665
    ah...he lost me within the first few episodes of season 2...and dethalbum was just terrible...ok gene hoagland on drums...awesome...but he took his mock death vocals that he uses on the show and made them worse for the album versions... He cares more about the money than the metal... I can still listen to some of the songs, but I wouldn't ever go see the live show...
    ihavenoname93
    j_link13 wrote: Pagan_Poetry wrote: j_link13 wrote: i think the show is absolutely amazing but i dont understand the obsession with the actual band There are people that like the show but not the band, some that like the band and not the show, and those that like both. I personally prefer the band to the show. As great as the show is, I think as a band they are actually really good. But that's me. See i can understand liking the show cuz its funny but i cant even imagine going out and buying an album from a cartoon death metal band with songs about random brootal things like murmaid murder...do people listen to it for comedic vaule or because they think its actually badass??
    not everybody buys their music purely for lyrical content you know. especially guitarists. it has comedic value, but personally i just love the guitarwork.
    Ali-b912
    j_link13 wrote: i know that he tours and he even toured with mastodon. im not sayin that i dont respect him. why doesnt he just front an actual death metal band then? Doesnt he do all growls and guitars? that is unless he A. doesnt like death metal at all or B. only wants to make mass amounts of moneys off a fictional band
    I think A) He's a comedian and writer, B) He loves music and playing it and C) He decided to mix the two and create the show and subsequently the band. I also think you're a dumbass.
    FearOfTheDuck
    Metalocalypse and dethklok are great! I don't like it however when my friend says he likes death metal, when the only 'death metal' band he listens to are dethklok. Poser
    Dillion_92
    deggs37 wrote: If you don't like Brendon Small, I will fight you!
    FUCKING RIGHT!!! FIGHT ANYONE WHO HATES
    jordan1991
    The tought of making a cartoon show is sweet but when u hear that his band is within the show then u thought (Does his Ideas shoot from his A$$ repeatedly because this guy is insane!!! keep it up Brendon!!
    Life Is Brutal
    j_link13 wrote: i know that he tours and he even toured with mastodon. im not sayin that i dont respect him. why doesnt he just front an actual death metal band then? Doesnt he do all growls and guitars? that is unless he A. doesnt like death metal at all or B. only wants to make mass amounts of moneys off a fictional band
    Or perhaps he figured there was no other Death Metal Comedy Animated Television show in existance, so he decided to make one. Even if he doesn't truly love Death Metal, he loves music in general. Besides, he's not bad at writing it. "Guitar is cools! If's you's dont think the guitar is cools, then youre Dildos! And I will fight you!" He should have that as a line for Skwisgaar.
    St. Necrophagist Hospital? Dimmu Burger? Carpathian Forest?
    Gorgoroth Electric Wheel Chairs? Burzum's? Those are so damn great. St. Necrophagist Hospital doesn't fit like the rest of them, in the episode where Pickles is "sick" and he thinks he's going to die, why not make up a disease name with Necrophagist in it? Just improper placement to me.
    Erik the Red
    See i can understand liking the show cuz its funny but i cant even imagine going out and buying an album from a cartoon death metal band with songs about random brootal things like murmaid murder...do people listen to it for comedic vaule or because they think its actually badass??
    Both. The songs are ridiculous,but good. It's like buying the "Strong Bad Sings" album; sure, it's dumb, but there's actually some good songs on that one(including a death metal song). But if you listen to the Dethalbums, not only are they absurdly catchy, it's actually good music. Give them a chance if you haven't yet. I never thought I'd like them, but they really grew on me.
    Sam Wotrey
    j_link13 wrote: i know that he tours and he even toured with mastodon. im not sayin that i dont respect him. why doesnt he just front an actual death metal band then? Doesnt he do all growls and guitars? that is unless he A. doesnt like death metal at all or B. only wants to make mass amounts of moneys off a fictional band
    I don't think you really read this interview. Brandon loves music, and comedy. And death metal seems to be his genre of choice. So he's not just in it for the money, he's doing what he loves.
    travislausch
    Sam Wotrey wrote: I don't think you really read this interview. Brandon loves music, and comedy. And death metal seems to be his genre of choice. So he's not just in it for the money, he's doing what he loves.
    This. And were Frank Zappa or Weird Al just in it for money just because they had a great sense of humour?
    Nwright14
    Erik the Red wrote: See i can understand liking the show cuz its funny but i cant even imagine going out and buying an album from a cartoon death metal band with songs about random brootal things like murmaid murder...do people listen to it for comedic vaule or because they think its actually badass?? Both. The songs are ridiculous,but good. It's like buying the "Strong Bad Sings" album; sure, it's dumb, but there's actually some good songs on that one(including a death metal song). But if you listen to the Dethalbums, not only are they absurdly catchy, it's actually good music. Give them a chance if you haven't yet. I never thought I'd like them, but they really grew on me.
    Lol, I thought that I was the only person to actually buy the Strong Bad Sings album. It's a pretty good comedy album and so are the Dethklok cds. Plus they're sooooo brootal.
    devilex121
    FearOfTheDuck wrote: Metalocalypse and dethklok are great! I don't like it however when my friend says he likes death metal, when the only 'death metal' band he listens to are dethklok. Poser
    lol at your friend kickass interview btw gave me a nice look on guitar hero as well
    futurama_rules
    leony03 wrote: true_bacon22 wrote: Hmm, the music is alright, but I think it's ridiculous that the music is taken seriously by the press. Its because the music is actually really good in itself. its not just tv program jingles. There actually well written-powerful metal songs and both albums are on my list of all time favourite albums
    The music just seems like too much of a joke to me... Like... I'm not trying to diss it, but it seems like Brendan was trying to make the most cliche outrageous Death Metal band with songs that relate to it, it doesn't seem like he was trying to make great music, just cliched music that fits. To me it's a joke, so I don't really understand it either.
    RocknRollRay
    the last can corpse album was good, so was the last behemoth. Dethklok is good but i wish Brendon would just ease up on the vocals, less glam more death metal.
    Ktool The Girth
    j_link13 wrote: Pagan_Poetry wrote: j_link13 wrote: i think the show is absolutely amazing but i dont understand the obsession with the actual band There are people that like the show but not the band, some that like the band and not the show, and those that like both. I personally prefer the band to the show. As great as the show is, I think as a band they are actually really good. But that's me. See i can understand liking the show cuz its funny but i cant even imagine going out and buying an album from a cartoon death metal band with songs about random brootal things like murmaid murder...do people listen to it for comedic vaule or because they think its actually badass??
    It probably has to do with the fact that dethklok albums are better written/produced/everything than 99% of "real" death metal bands.
    ClassicalDoom
    i would just like to say that not only did the music keep the same greatness in dethalbum 2, the vocals are much better. they are more then a single tone now haha
    Jazz-
    WHOOOOH DETHKLOK Best show ever, and also wicked awesome soundtrack, no let me refrase brutal soundtrack.
    AnEvilWalrus
    futurama_rules wrote: leony03 wrote: true_bacon22 wrote: Hmm, the music is alright, but I think it's ridiculous that the music is taken seriously by the press. Its because the music is actually really good in itself. its not just tv program jingles. There actually well written-powerful metal songs and both albums are on my list of all time favourite albums The music just seems like too much of a joke to me... Like... I'm not trying to diss it, but it seems like Brendan was trying to make the most cliche outrageous Death Metal band with songs that relate to it, it doesn't seem like he was trying to make great music, just cliched music that fits. To me it's a joke, so I don't really understand it either.
    I believe that's what he was trying to do with the first Dethalbum, but somewhere along the line he got more serious and actually started writing music for more then just the joke that it was the most brutal thing on earth. I always thought that the second album was less of a Metalocalypse soundtrack and more like something Dethklok would actually release, and maybe that's what he was going for, but either way, despite the comedic lyrics it's actually a really well-written and awesome stuff. Also:
    theczar wrote: The lead-in to the interview says that Brendon has 3 seasons of Metalocalypse under his belt. Really??? Where I live, Cartoon Network only showed 3 or 4 episodes. I guess that's considered a "season". Whatever..I know they are now half hour episodes but still.."Season 3" was hyped so much. What a disappointment! I'm joining the Revengencers
    Season's not finished yet. There's 5 so far, and they're postponing airing the rest of the season due to Brendon's touring.
    DeadxEndxEmpty
    futurama_rules wrote: leony03 wrote: true_bacon22 wrote: Hmm, the music is alright, but I think it's ridiculous that the music is taken seriously by the press. Its because the music is actually really good in itself. its not just tv program jingles. There actually well written-powerful metal songs and both albums are on my list of all time favourite albums The music just seems like too much of a joke to me... Like... I'm not trying to diss it, but it seems like Brendan was trying to make the most cliche outrageous Death Metal band with songs that relate to it, it doesn't seem like he was trying to make great music, just cliched music that fits. To me it's a joke, so I don't really understand it either.
    that's kind of the point to the show. any metal fan or musician, can see it's all tongue-in-cheek self-mockery. just because the genre sounds serious doesn't mean it is.
    random-emo-kill
    megaluisdeth wrote: I don't think Dethklok is a death metal band. They got too much talent for a death Metal band. I think Dethklok is just Metal.
    go buy a necrophagist or obscura album, now!!!!!
    megaluisdeth
    I don't think Dethklok is a death metal band. They got too much talent for a death Metal band. I think Dethklok is just Metal.
    F8iscruel
    Macabre_Turtle wrote: I do find this weird though. He's graduated from Berklee, and had 13 years of practice now since then, yet actually looking at Dethkloks music it doesn't seem like it came from somebody with a lot of knowledge. I mean, I really like the music, but they're not really oozing with musical genius, ya know?
    well when you think about it, you don't have to apply an overly exuberant amount of theory to make a song good, just because you know how to write and play in 11/16 do you? and the same can be said for Adam Dutkiewicz who is also a graduate of Berklee, and is the lead guitarist for Killswitch Engage, another band with very little technicality when you compare them to other bands, its one of those things where, just because you can, doesn't mean you do (in regards to the over complexity not being existent)
    Dabobble
    Metal is mostly a KISS affair. Not the band but the acronym. Mostly hard, heavy, fast and dark, most metal bands don't display a lot of theory. Some don't or won't, some can't seem to. End of the day it's all about your sound. If you get what you want without much, Keep It Simple Stupid kicks in. Back on topic tho, he's really modest.
    Erik the Red
    Nwright14 : Erik the Red wrote: See i can understand liking the show cuz its funny but i cant even imagine going out and buying an album from a cartoon death metal band with songs about random brootal things like murmaid murder...do people listen to it for comedic vaule or because they think its actually badass?? Both. The songs are ridiculous,but good. It's like buying the "Strong Bad Sings" album; sure, it's dumb, but there's actually some good songs on that one(including a death metal song). But if you listen to the Dethalbums, not only are they absurdly catchy, it's actually good music. Give them a chance if you haven't yet. I never thought I'd like them, but they really grew on me. Lol, I thought that I was the only person to actually buy the Strong Bad Sings album. It's a pretty good comedy album and so are the Dethklok cds. Plus they're sooooo brootal.
    You seriously have it? We are e-friends for life. Damn, I wish Taranchula would make an actual album. That'd be so amazing...
    RocknRollRay
    Hey Brendon, I torrent-ed BOTH your tab books you SOB. Thanks for taking our tabs you traitor. Goddamit I'm still gonna watch Metalocalypse :b
    themtalisgood
    haha i find it funny how i love the band even though its actually a show. but dam they ****n rule
    Reaper-Man
    Menza_ wrote: Guitar is cool. If you dont think the guitar is cool, then youre stupid. And I will fight you! Best quote ever!!!!!
    Top quality comment.
    MikeShawMe
    I honestly don't understand how people can watch the show and not even like metal... The funniest things in the show are the historical metal puns! St. Necrophagist Hospital? Dimmu Burger? Carpathian Forest? LOL! C'mon! What's up with these dumbasses who watch the show and not even know anything about metal. I'm sorry, but I don't see the sense in that. This is my people's show!
    sglover34479
    He seems like an awesome guy, and he's a great player. I'd totally buy a lesson DVD or something like that, and I'd love to see him showing how I could take the 7 or 8 harmonies into 2 or 3, it would help so much, figuring them out is terribly hard.
    Pagan_Poetry
    j_link13 wrote: i think the show is absolutely amazing but i dont understand the obsession with the actual band
    There are people that like the show but not the band, some that like the band and not the show, and those that like both. I personally prefer the band to the show. As great as the show is, I think as a band they are actually really good. But that's me.
    true_bacon22
    Hmm, the music is alright, but I think it's ridiculous that the music is taken seriously by the press.
    Hand Of Stone
    Can't wait for season 3 to come out on DVD so I can watch it over and over and over and over.
    j_link13
    i think the show is absolutely amazing but i dont understand the obsession with the actual band
    megaironpriest
    One of the big things I want to talk about is Guitar Hero 5. Its out now on PS3, Xbox 360, and the Wii systems.
    This seems like product placement to me, Dethklok isn't even in guitar hero 5, they were in 2.