In a recent interview, voice actor John DiMaggio quipped that actors secretly wanted to be rock stars…and rock stars secretly want to be actors. Brendon Small certainly appreciates it. He’s both.
“The way I heard it was all comics want to be musicians and all musicians want to be comics,” he said after a soundcheck in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “It’s similar. In my personal thing, in the world of comedy I may not be the funniest guy, but I’m the funniest guy who can really play a guitar. In the musician’s world, I’m easily the best guitarist who can do comedy. I can trick people by hanging out with the wrong people. As long as I’m not in the field I’m supposed to be in, I’m OK.”
Actually, OK is Small being exceedingly modest. This graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music is the co-creator (along with Tommy Blacha) of Adult Swim’s hit series “Metalocalypse.”
As fans of the show certainly know, the show tells the tale of the death metal band Dethklok. Small not only is the voices of the band’s singer, Nathan “Tonto” Explosion, lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf and Pickles The Drummer; but also plays all the guitars for their songs, including the bass. The show just started its third season last Sunday.
Fans of the show know one other thing, Dethklok is a real band. Small leads a four-piece that includes former Frank Zappa protégé Mike Keneally, drumming legend Gene Hoglan and tireless bass player Bryan Beller. The band is on a seven week tour with Mastodon, Converge and High On Fire. Coincidentally, this is Dethklok’s third national tour.
It’s also Small’s first band, ever.
“It kind of is,” he admits, almost sheepishly, and then comes back with. “What I did was, which was something I always did since I was a kid, was form projects for myself that didn’t really fit into particular things. I never got into a band, but since I was eight years old and making home movies with friends. I liked being in collaborative situations. That did mean I worked with some bands in high school, but I never went out and played in dives, bars or other such creative things.
“Other great musicians that came from there were John Maher--think about that for a while--and Quincy Jones. Between me, Maher and Quincy Jones, I think the school knows what it’s doing. I’m kidding of course. I spent four years there.”
Small does know what he’s doing, too, particularly when it comes to Dethklok/Metalocalypse.
“I do have an ending for the show,” he admits. “It’s a matter of time for when I’ll get there. It will be whether I lose interest in the show. Then I’ll end it. That’s basically it. I know what the ending is; it’s just how long it will take for me to do it. The way I’m feel right now is I can go on forever, just so long as I don’t bore people to death. I’m not sick of it yet, I just needed a break. I have to keep myself excited.”
What does surprise him, pleasantly, is the success of both the band and the show.
“You know what? This live band is an amazing group of musicians. I’m there just to screw them up and that’s fun,” he laughs. “As for Metalocalypse being a success? Yes, I am surprised. I never expected this to be more than a fun little passion project. I didn’t know if it would catch on because working on TV is like a big fat temp job. Any day can be your last, so you don’t get too comfortable. From a business point of view, the fact that the show has caught on is good. I can keep my job for the time being. So I’m happy about that.”
One thing Small will admit to fans is he has plans for several seasons to come. When one gets to the highlights of this season though, he gets intentionally vague.
“With the first episode we picked up where the last one left off,” he admitted. “There are lots of directions I would like to take the characters into. With this season, we end up exploring the characters a lot further, getting more into their back stories and what they can do. We want to see how much fun we can get out of them. Yes, the season will ultimately end on a dramatic note, but with the second episode you will know for sure this is a comedy.”
One character we should expect a bit more about is Dethklok’s super manager/lawyer, Charles Foster Ofdensen.
“Yeah,” agrees Small. “Where was he during the time he was dead? Those kinds of questions are going to come up, but we’ll get there when we want to. The thing is you don’t want to have things going because if you make them all culminate too early, you don’t have a show. When we are ready to reveal things, we will. From this point on, it’s going to be just enjoy the show. It was all plotted that way, and I’m glad we were able to do it all. The big ending planned, but it will go well beyond this season.”
As for the touring experience, the late sage Zappa would be the first to say touring could drive you crazy. Small will only admit he’s having a crazy good time.
“It’s pretty amazing. I’ve concocted this absurd situation where I get to hang out with my heroes!” he exclaims. “I’ve made real good friends with Mastodon and I like their music a lot. I’m happy to be in their company. They are blowing up and I’m glad that they are.
“It is an exhausting show to do, this year in particular. I mean doing switching over to half-hour shows and recording along side of it and doing a seven week tour, planning out the record and TV premieres that was well…”
Then Small gives out a sound that’s both a laugh and a sigh.
As for more rock stars on the cartoon, Small got some amazing friends there too. The season debut included axe legends Steve Vai and Joe Satriani for starters.
“We got Ace Frehley, Scott Ian, and the guys from Mastodon and Enslaved,” Small adds. “I’m sure I’m forgetting some people, but there’s more to come.”
Small feels the same way about Metal.
“I think people would be amazed to know how many kids are listening to metal,” he quips. “They are excited to be listening to it instead of all that music school bull. At the same time, the musicians are really playing their instruments, being virtuosic and making music that will last. It’s what got me to pick up my guitar again.”
That should be music to any fan’s ears.