Metalocalypse might be the most successful show Adult Swim has ever produced, having found success that is impressive just not for the network, but for a TV show in general. The success has also bled over into record and ticket sales for Dethklok albums and shows, independent of the broadcast. Moving on from the quarter-hour format of their first two seasons, Metalocalypse premiered with full half-hour episodes for its third. This show, which brings legitimate death metal and comedy together in a unique universe where Dethklok rules all, is releasing its aforementioned third season DVD and (for the first time) Blu-Ray, today. I chatted with creator, voice, musician Brendon Small about the show…
R: Hi Brendon, congrats on the Season 3 DVD and Blu-ray. I understand the Blu-Ray thing is a first, and the show has gorgeous animation for it.
B: Yeah, that’s something we’ve pushed for awhile, and I’m glad that they did it finally.
R: So as you’re going into Season 3 having already garnered so much success, were there any new goals or plans or ambitions or whatever that you had specifically moving into season 3?
B: Well first off, the big transition you’ll notice in season 3 is that- the whole idea is to keep the show moving forward like Woody Allen’s shark relationship theory. If you don’t keep telling the story, if you don’t move forward, it’s gonna die. We have a bigger story that we’re telling within all of these smaller funny stories that we’re telling, so we’ve got a bigger overarching thing and we want to be able to address that and when we’re not doing that, I want to develop character. That’s what TV is; going back to character all the time. These quarter hours are a really fun way to explore comedy but there isn’t a lot of time to explore character so what I did was- I did half hours shows and used that time to focus on each character and tell a story about each one of them- a little bit of back story, a little bit or origin story- and that’s what we got to do, to flesh out the world a little more.
The other goal was just to simply finish it because as the show became more successful, more cool opportunities came with it; the music, I put out the second record as I started the third season and right in the middle of the third season we toured for seven weeks- a very successful tour with Mastodon, the metal band. I was in production while I was doing that, I made a lot of really strange decisions, but we got through and we’re happiest with it than any other season.
R: Well it’s great how much success Dethklok has had independent of the show, just as its own band. I think that comes from –similar to something like Shaun of the Dead– having fun in a genre, and maybe parodying it a bit, while still doing a badass job of representing the genre.
B: Well I think, like Spinal Tap is the obvious comparison and they’re the king of it, we’ll never be as good as them, but what they did, and what I think is the lesson to take from them is that you can tell there’s love for the genre. You can satirize something you love. If you make fun of something that you don’t really give a shit about, I think you can probably get a couple of good jokes out of it but I think you’ll have a product with diminishing returns. And we really do love the music and love the world. You know what else I think did it really well, was Black Dynamite. I was so impressed with that movie, because we’re doing a little bit of the same thing as they were with the Blaxploitation thing. They love it so much that they’re going to make their life about that, and that’s what we ended up doing.
R: Yeah, you have to understand something to really make those deeper and ultimately funnier jokes.
B: Absolutely and I didn’t play guitar for 20 years and learn how to do that stuff so that- there is funny stuff about that, but it wasn’t a gag or anything and we take it very seriously.
R: I’ve heard you namedrop The Sopranos before, in terms of having an overarching story that you want to tell. Do you have an ending plotted out that you could adjust the show’s approach towards, depending on the time you have? Or do you have a certain number of episodes or season you need to get through to get there?
B: Those things are, I have my own thing, but I don’t think anybody else really needs to know that, I think it’s best if I keep that to myself at this point. But I do have answers to those questions, but if I started talking I think I’d get pressure from a lot of different people that I don’t want to get pressure from.
R: Fair enough. It’s evident enough that you know where you’re going.
B: It’s the journey- I’m not going to pre-plot it out, I’m going to let the show dictate. It’s almost like anything else, when we write a script but sometimes we’ll improvise or sometimes things will occur to us as we’re doing the scene as we’er boarding it or animating it, or even during editing. There are a couple of things that could be taken in a couple different directions because things occur to us as we go, so I don’t want to be final about anything. At the end of the day, it will still be somewhat similar to what I thought and hoped it would.
R: Any idea when we might start to hear rumors about a possible date when we’ll get an idea when we’ll find out when the fourth season would happen?
B: Hahaha. Those are the things I’d love to talk about but at this time I can not.
R: Gotcha. On the music side of things, was metal the first kind of music you really loved, or was it something that grew later?
B: You know, I grew up in a household where there was Andrew Lloyd Weber and Queen and stuff like that, dramatic music. When I discovered guitar at 14, you know my buddy down the street who taught me my first chords introduced me to Black Sabbath, Metallica, King Diamond Flair, Anthrax- all these iconic metal bands. It’s so funny, the genre was really just being introduced and perfected in the mid/late 80s when I was a teenager, and it was still evolving and it had evolved to a really cool place. And you know when you first start learning to play guitar you want to listen to music where the prominent instrument is guitar, and metal is that. There was so much great stuff going on at the time. There still is now. But I don’t just love metal, I love all kind of stuff. I think it’s ridiculous to only like one kind of music, and I have tons of things I don’t even consider guilty pleasures- I love ELO, I love Olivia Newton John, Steely Dan, I like Jeff Beck, I like David Bowie. I like people who write great songs, that set out a logic and adhere to it for three to five minutes.
R: I think that’s that’s the difference between liking music, and just liking the music you like.
B: Yeah, it’s so funny because I ask these same questions. Getting into the world of metal, when I go on the road and talk to heroes of mine or have them come in and do voices, I act as the music journalist. I go and ask them all these questions- I ask them how they prepare their voice and I ask them what they listen to when they’re not listening to metal, and they all have eclectic taste, they don’t just listen to one thing. People have, everyone from Cannibal Corpse to King Diamond, they have tons of different influence because when your job is to be creative you have to pull from all kinds of things. You’re just copying what’s going on immediately.
R: When you’re writing the show, do the songs ever inspire the episode, or are they always organic results of the episode’s story?
B: I think only in the first one, because that’s the only episode we had a lot of time to really cross the T’s and dot the I’s. Most of the time we’re flying by the seat of our pants. So that coffee jingle was a plot point in the very first episode, and there was a joke, but most of the time time what happens is… I can write music really quickly, come up with the riffs and everything and make it sound like a new song, different from the last one, different tempos and whatever, but it’s so much more tricky making stories track and character track and making you give a shit about the show. That’s so much more difficult than the music for me, so the music sometimes an afterthought. It’s still very important and I have to care about the music at the same time but that’s something I can do by myself. I don’t need anybody to help me, I can just go in a room and come out with something. But I sometimes, I’ll write an episode- like there’s an episode where Toki is going to go out on a date and he has this whole fantasy of what this girl’s going to be like and I just though, “okay, there’s going to be this song, and it’s going to be in Toki’s world so it will be somewhere between electronica and ELO and maybe a little bit of The Beatles” -just where I think his mind is and I’ll write that, and I wrote like four or five different versions until I got it right, but the notion was still there and that was still the same thing- this is a fantasy, this is what happens inside of the fantasy as he imagines this woman, you know, he falls in love before he meets her or even sees what she looks like. That’s the idea, he’s naive, his naiveté is going to drive this song, and it can be bunch of different things-style or chords or melodies as long as the notion is there. I think that applies to storytelling or acting or anything else.
R: I’ve noticed the animation tends to tie in heavily with the music and is cut and animated very specifically to the melodic structure. It’s not as haphazardly drawn to the music as many shows of the same style. I assume that creates a lot of work for you guys.
B: Oh the show is so much work. Make no mistake, we are so exhausted when we finish a season. Especially this season. Now I’m taking the first break from the show I’ve taken in a long time, for like five and a half years. One thing that is important for our directors, Mark Brooks, Jon Schnepp, our editor Felipe Salazar is that they have a very very good sense of rhythm and when there is music they have to be able to find the downbeat and cut rhythm. Whenever somebody is going to do something on the show we make sure that they can tap their foot to a tempo and understand where the cuts are. And even when I’m doing other projects, directing a video or whatever, it’s all about the rhythm and that will drive the piece, it will enhance the song and they just work together. So even when we do live stuff, Dethklok Live, we’re playing to picture, and the picture is enhancing the rhythm because every single thing is cut to a beat and since we’re playing to a click track, we’re playing along with picture, so every single cut should all be integrated. It is work, but if you have a sense of rhythm it really isn’t that much. It should just come together. It’s something we do verbalize often, you know “find the down beat, cut to that, and we’ll move from there.”
R: The tours have been extremely successful, I assume you plan on doing more of those.
B: Yes. The trick is to make everything line up so they don’t step on each other, so that’s the big tricky part. When we can find the next way to do that, we’ll do it again.
R: Do you feel there will be evolutions or changes in the format, or are you super pleased with what you have now?
B: Well I mean, I always pitch things out where I see a whole stage with a Las Vegas style show with tons of props and gigantic skulls on stage vomiting blood, or hot coffee on the audience.
R: Well metal is operatic if nothing else.
B: Yeah, I’d love to see all that stuff but you’re at the mercy of your budget and our show is the most economical way of doing what we want to do and still have a fun exciting show that makes you want to come and check it out again.