Brendon Small Explains How He Came Up With Dethklok’s Music, Reveals a Secret Behind New Song

In the wake of the new film “Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar” and the new album “Dethklok IV,” metal musician and the creator of the “Metalocalypse” show, Brendon Small, shared some details about how he came up with music for his fictional band. While appearing on “The Metal Mixtape” podcast, Small went into more detail about coming up with these metal masterpieces that are performed by animated characters that we know as Nathan Explosion, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Toki Wartooth, Pickles, and William Murderface.

When asked how the process works for him, whether the music or the episode plot comes first, he replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“You know, it’s funny. Earlier on in the TV show, in the episodes, at first, I was trying to figure out what Dethklok was going to even sound like. What was the experiment that was going to drive me to a sound?”

Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar | Official Trailer | Warner Bros. Entertainment

“I was also saying, ‘If we can make this music cool enough to stand on its own, I think we’re gonna make this work.'”

“So I would experiment — I was naturally writing stuff with a lot of melody. So I was harmonically a little bit more melodic, and I had to kind of pull out and say, ‘no, it has to be a little bit more evil, let’s just keep on putting more evil inside this project, or a more dire intensity, and all that stuff.”

Getting more into this early process, Small added:

“So I had a group of songs, and I’d lyrically go, ‘Oh, maybe the energy of this song will work with what the topic of this episode is.’ So I had only a few, but then I ran out. And I would have to start writing songs for every single episode, and what would happen is, I would have the story first, and then I would do the music second.”

Dethklok | "Thunderhorse" | Adult Swim Festival 2022

As Brendon further explains, he often doesn’t even really know what he’s doing and the fictional band takes over. He continued:

“And often, even when I’m doing music, I don’t know what I’m doing. In fact, there’s a part of me that just kind of goes away, and I think Dethklok takes over, Nathan Explosion takes over, and Skwisgaar takes over.”

“And I’m kind of just like a jerk who’s moving faders and just getting the guitar parts. ‘No, no, no, play it faster. Do it again. Skwisgaar needs more notes in this solo. I’m sorry, this is coming from the upper management, and I work for them.'”

Metalocalypse - The Skwisgaar Skwigelf Advanced Fast Hand Finger Wizard Master Class Video

“So that’s what it feels like. And again, I never have the right idea first, unless I’m very lucky, and only when I’m lucky do I have the right idea first. But I’m always trying to sculpt out a mood, or a feeling, or something that will serve as something in either the timeline of the album, or the TV show, or the movie.”

“So I’m experimenting until I get there. Really. I mean, it’s not magic, it really isn’t. To me, it’s like pulling a lever, and you get like, ‘Oh, three cherries. I got lucky.’ Pull a lever again. ‘Lemon, I’m not lucky.’ You only hear the stuff that I, myself, and Dethklok have decided is worth taking to the finish line. And, you know, setting on fire.”

During the chat, Brendon was also asked about the song from the new album called “Deadface.” Well, the song’s name actually reveals the main theme. He said of the piece:

“Here’s an interesting thing… Those are the notes: D, E, A, D, F, A, C, E. Then it starts mutating, and changing, and interpolating, and retrograding.”

Metalocalypse: Dethklok | DEADFACE | Adult Swim

“By the way — and that’s crazy — I had that chord worked out like the D, E, A, D, F, A, C, E, and then I took one of my guitars and I just tuned it to that. And then we put a microphone on the electric guitar, my white Flying V Snow Falcon… And so I went, [sings the melody] ‘da, da, da…da, da, da, da…'”

“So I had all this open, and it’s ringing out, it’s not even an acoustic, but it sounds like one, it’s crazy. Fun little things like that. Like again, there was a moment in the movie where one of the players can’t speak, or hear, or communicate, but he can still play his guitar, and he spells an important message, which is ‘Deadface’. So that’s where that whole song came from.”

Metalocalypse: Dethklok | SOS (Lyric Video) | Adult Swim

Elsewhere in the interview, Brendon also touched upon how, although fictional, these characters that he came up with actually dictate what the music will be like. Sure, they’re all Brendon, but coming up with so many details about every single one of them, one might feel like they have taken lives of their own. As he said:

“For some reason, it’s pressure from the inception of the show that Skwisgaar has to be a really good guitar player. I mean, I’m no slouch. I can play. But I don’t know if I am as good as Skwisgaar.”

“But I have to get these things, because… What do I need, what do I want, and what does Dethklok want out of a guitar solo? How do you take the song to another level, to another kind of place?”

Skwisgaar Skwigelf - I'm No Man (Metalocalypse)

“And this is because these are some of the longer solos I have done, or Skwisgaar, I would say, has done. And the idea is, how do you make it melodic? How do you make it take some left turns? And how do you use some fast technique stuff?”

“Because I think that’s part of heavy metal too, you gotta make it work. And I make all that technique make the music stronger, hopefully.”

Photo: Bill from Jersey City (DETHKLOK – Nokia Theatre – 6.25.08 (2612709027))

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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