WHEN DETHKLOK’S BRENDON SMALL agreed to headline this year’s WesFest by staging the first live performance of his ambitious solo album, Brendon Small’s Galaktikon [brendonsmall.com], he faced a daunting challenge.
“The thing with the Galaktikon stuff is that there are often as many as five or six distinct guitar parts on each song, and we’re not talking just parallel harmonies and octave doubles, which are often fairly intuitive to learn,” says Small. “We’re talking countermelodies and other independent parts.”
WesFest—named in honor of the late bassist Wes Wehmiller—is an annual Hollywood benefit that raises scholarship funds for Small’s alma mater, Berklee College of Music, so he definitely wanted Galaktikon to translate precisely to the concert stage.
“No one ever taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, stop overdubbing so much because you’re not going to be able to recreate all those parts live,’” he says. “I take inspiration from Queen. Their studio records were very elaborate, yet you forgave them for not having 18 guitars on stage, because they were such a solid band. But in this case, the project really required all the overdubs to be heard. So I thought, ‘You know, we can probably make it sound like the record, but only if we can assign each of these moving parts to a human being.’”
The result was an 11-piece metal orchestra fronted by five singers and four guitarists, with Small in both camps. Galaktikon’s intricate guitar arrangements were delivered by Small playing his signature Dethklok Gibsons through a Joe Satriani-edition Marshall JVM410 head with the Crunch channel run in “orange” mode; Mike Keneally running a Rivera Knucklehead Tre clean, driven by a Rivera Metal Shaman pedal; Rick Musallam rocking his trusty ’74 Marshall JMP head, enjoying extra gain courtesy of a Todd Langner- style mod and an Xotic EP Booster pedal; and yours truly captaining a Mesa Royal Atlantic head with the lead channel set to “Lo Gain.”
“Single-note lines played in harmony by three or four guitarists is one of the coolest sounds you’re going to hear in life,” says Small. “And if you’re lucky enough to be part of that onstage, the experience is all the more amazing. You have to bust your ass to make something like that happen, but, somehow, with four flat tires and your engine on fire, you manage to cross the finish line. It’s a great feeling, but it also might make you want to go home and just play Albert King songs afterwards. Or maybe Richie Havens had it right—just go out with an acoustic guitar in open-G, and bang away on it until you break all the strings.”