“TV SHOWS CAN GET CANCELED, BUT THERE’S
always music, games, and print,” says Brendon
Small, co-creator of Adult Swim’s animated Metalocalypse
series (now in its third season) and
real-life guitarist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist
for Metalocalypse’s cartoon band, Dethklok.
“I’m trying to run with it as long as I can.”
To this end, like the fictional Dethklok—a
band that generates so much revenue that it has
become one of the world’s largest economies—
Small is diversifying his interests. Not long after
logging a second term as the host of Guitar Player’s Guitar Superstar competition on September
12, 2009, Small released the second Dethklok
album, The Dethalbum II [Williams Street].
The record debuted at number 15 on the
Billboard Top 200 chart, putting it in fine
shape to match or best 2007’s The Dethalbum,
which became the biggest selling
death-metal album to date. Small also rocked
concert stages with Mastodon, bringing his
flesh-and-blood Dethklok outfit (featuring
Small, co-guitarist Mike Keneally, bassist
Bryan Bekker, and drummer Gene Hoglan)
out on tour. In addition, his Dethklok songs
have made it into various Guitar Hero versions,
and Konami released the Xbox game,
Metalocalypse: Dethgame, in July 2009.
So, in the strange fiction/non-fiction universe
that Small orbits, it’s entirely possible
for Dethklok to exist beyond Metalocalypse
and become, as with Pinocchio’s transformation
from wood to fresh, a “real boy.”
Ten years ago, when I was doing music
for my first Cartoon Network show, Home
Movies, I just used a Line 6 Pod and a free
version of Pro Tools. I was just happy to be
able to record whenever I felt like it in my
room. For the first Dethklok record, I was
still living in an apartment. I can’t believe I
recorded a death-metal album with a neighbor
directly to my left with Gene Hoglan
double-kicking everywhere on drums. I
tracked that album on a Digidesign Digi 002
system, doing all the lead and rhythm guitars,
bass, and vocals myself. Now, I have
ProTools HD, but I still used the Pod on The
Dethalbum II. The cool advance on my guitar
sound for the album, however, was also
playing real amps through a Palmer Speaker
Simulator that was given to me by Joe Satriani,
who is one of my guitar heroes.
I met Joe at Guitar Player’s Guitar Superstar
event. He’s such a methodical guy—you
can tell he used to be a guitar teacher by the
patient way he explains things. He has a lot
of advice on recording and getting good guitar
sounds. He asked me about my studio
setup, and he told me about these cool Palmer
Speaker Simulators that he used to record
loud amp sounds without having to go
through a speaker cabinet and deal with high
volume levels. The next thing I knew, he had
Fed Ex’ed them to me! He even put one of
his Vox Satchurator Distortion pedal in there.
He told me to get the stuff up and running,
get some sounds coming out, and then give
him a call. So, there I was sitting on the floor
in my new house with Joe Satriani giving me
step-by-step tech support. He really took the
time to help me, and you can hear the result
in the extra rhythm-guitar girth and creamier
lead sounds on the new album.
Basically, I write all the stuff, go into a little
hole, and when I come out I have a record.
And I do this without the use of any drugs.
Unless you count Cherry Coke Zero. This
time, I wanted the music to be faster, uglier,
and more melodic. I also felt the songs needed
to be more epic, because the new Metalocalypse
episodes are twice as long as they used
to be. But the songs are still about volcanoes
exploding and comets crashing into the earth,
and you’ll always know it’s Dethklok because
of the harmonized guitars and grumbly vocals.
I wanted the band to try to take itself more
seriously this season, but, I mean, how seriously
can Dethklok really take it? Ultimately,
I found myself going back to my main conceptual
question: How would Conan The
Barbarian write this song?
I’ve been writing so many songs and riffs
in the Dethklok vein over the years that
Dethklok wouldn’t be too far off from the
kind of band I would start in real life—except
I don’t know if I’d go with the guttural vocals.
I’d be looking for a little more melody, but
with the same double kick drums and cool
guitar stuff that a 15 year old would like. I
actually started recording my a solo record
during the sessions for The Dethalbum II.
Along with the Pod, I used Gibsons and
Marshalls pretty exclusively. The two Gibsons
I stuck with the whole time were an old
Explorer with EMG81 pickups and the heaviest
strings I could find without actually
playing on telephone lines—.013-.056—and
a stock, 1957 reissue Les Paul goldtop from
the Gibson Custom shop. I just threw on
some new strings, and tuned it down to C
standard. I also used a Gibson SG for some
harmonies. What can I say about The Marshalls?
They sound like Marshalls, and that’s
hard to beat. I used a Marshall Mode Four
and some Marshall JVM Series amps. For
effects, I used an Ibanez Tube Screamer, and
MXR’s Full Bore Metal and Carbon Copy. My
main picks were Dunlop Jazz IIIs, and I also
started using 1.14mm Dunlop Ultex Sharps.
I like them because they‘re really heavy and
dense, and the clear yellow color reminds me
of a fungal toenail.
The TV show is a long uphill battle
where 30 people are working with you, and
there are so many ways that the vision can
lose its footing and get away. There are so
many opportunities to make it suck. The
editor can miss a mark, the storyboards
can be weak, or the animation can be
wrong. After three months of manhandling
and tinkering, you beat it into some kind
of shape and get it out. My goal is to make
it not suck. The music is, by far, the most
satisfying part. I can sit down all alone with
my guitar, and have a song in two hours.
It may not be the best version, but I’ll know
what the energy is, where the changes are,
and how it feels.
Before this whole thing, I was an indoor
guitarist. I didn’t play out in public much.
Everything I’ve learned about touring has
been a trial by fire. All the basic stuff that
everyone else got the hang of years ago, I
had to learn in a matter of weeks. I’m finally
getting a better grasp of all the lighting and
switching, as well as figuring out what works
live. Now that I know so much about amps
and pedals and string gauges, I could definitely
get a job at Guitar Center.
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