Q&A: Dethklok’s Brendon Small Talks New Metalocalypse Movie, Touring, And Future Plans

Sep 27, 2023 at 10:58 am
Dethklok performs at Louder Than Life on Sept. 23, 2023.
Dethklok performs at Louder Than Life on Sept. 23, 2023. Photo by Nathan Zucker

Brendon Small is a man of many talents: writer, director, producer, musician, actor, and stand-up comedian, but he’s best known for co-creating the animated series “Metalocalypse,” a dark comedy that ran on Adult Swim from 2006-2013. Revolving around the fictitious death metal band Dethklok, “Metalocalypse" simultaneously celebrated and parodied the heavy metal subculture. After the show’s rise in popularity, Small assembled Dethklok as an actual live band to play the music featured on the show, with Small himself handling vocals and guitar. Yet despite high ratings, Adult Swim canceled Metalocalypse" in 2013, leaving Dethklok mostly silent for the past decade. However, late August 2023 saw a new full-length animated movie and soundtrack, "Metalocalypse: Army of the Doomstar"; a new full-length album, Dethalbum IV; and a tour that brought the band to Louisville for a set at 2023’s Louder Than Life, which is where LEO was able to catch up with Small for a quick interview.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

LEO: How did “Metalocalpse: Army of the Doomstar” come about?

Brendon Small: We got a call in 2019 to perform as the band [Dethklok] at one of the Adult Swim festivals in Los Angeles, so I put the band back together. And I got the feeling that if we really delivered the goods, there'd be some kind of an offer in the future to do a [“Metalocalypse”] movie, and that's exactly what happened. 

Right after that, the pandemic happened. I was in production on the movie, starting to write the record and the score and all this stuff at the same time, and then there I am, in the pandemic, directing the movie in my pajamas! [laughs] You know, playing guitar, screen sharing with all the artists, getting everything ready. And that's been going on for about two and a half years. We just put out the movie about a month ago, right before we started the tour. So I was a writer, then a director, then a producer, and now I'm back to being a musician again.

So Adult Swim came back to you about doing the movie?

Yes, and I'll tell you why: the fanbase is still strong, and we're seeing that in the numbers from our shows. So this is like a weed that you yank out of your garden; you're yanking them out, but they keep growing back. And that's what the show is — it hasn't been tended to, it just lives online on the websites, and right now on HBO Max. And people will say, ‘Okay, what is going on? This show is getting numbers, what is this? There's a fan base, why?’ It’s because we've never been spoken to as a heavy metal community. This is a comedy that’s genre-based and has gotten a lot of kids into heavy metal, and it means a lot to them for that reason. 

I have to say, “Metalocalpse: Army of the Doomstar” seems to have a lot more heart than the show. 

That's how it had to be. I needed to land this in the way that I originally wanted [the series] to land. That's why it's really important for me to come back and do that because without it, [the characters are] just a bunch of dipshit, stupid, selfish assholes. Without completing the arc, it's nothing. I know there's a lot of fun along the way, but I wanted to manipulate some emotions there.

How's the tour [with co-headliners Babymetal] going so far?

It's going really well. I think morale is high because we haven't been out in a long time, so that generates a little bit more interest. So we’re getting really packed crowds, mostly sold-out shows at pretty big venues, 2,000-7,000-seat places. And pairing us with Babymetal, I think it strategically makes a great deal of sense in so many different ways. The cool thing is our audience likes them, and their audience likes us.

Did I read somewhere that you were financing this tour?

Yeah. Someone's got to take on the risk, so I guess I'm an entrepreneur now. I really didn't know what I was getting myself into, but only in this case did it really make sense to take on that risk. And like I said, we’re very lucky to know that people have been coming to these shows, hanging out, having a great time, and leaving with a big smile on their face.

Are you going to try to keep Dethklok going after this tour?

I'll tell you, we're getting offers. People are seeing the numbers, and they're like, ‘Okay, can we bring you overseas? Can we do this? Can we do that?’ And we’re taking it as seriously as we should be taking it. We're now businesspeople trying to find a way to make this crazy world of music work, which is now valueless because they just give it away for free on Spotify. So it's strange because I'm out there and I've got a traveling merch booth, and that's what I'm trying to do — sell t-shirts. It's all you can do until, I don’t know, maybe all the musicians get together and do what the Writers Guild [of America] and the SAG-AFTRA are doing and take the power back in some way. So I am 100% on board with what they are doing with that and it makes a lot of sense, and I hope there's some movement and change that happens

The writers’ and actors’ strike, is that affecting you at all?

I have projects that are on hold. I'm always working on something, [but] you never hear about them because I just keep my trap shut about all that stuff. But I do have projects that are quietly on hold. I love music, but I really love movies, and I want to direct more live action stuff. I really like genre-based stuff, and I have projects that I really want to get into and off the ground. But I will always be doing something in the animated world because I've gotten good at it over the years.

Has there been any talk about bringing “Metalocalypse” back? 

Well, this movie was me putting a period to the end of the sentence. I was ending one story in particular, which is the story that started out from the very first episode, and that's where “Army of the Doomstar” is ending. Can these characters do something beyond this? I think it's possible. But in order to make a movie, you need money. Who's gonna pay for it? And if there's more music, I have to fold in a live component to that. And who pays for the animation? Am I gonna take a loan from a label that I have to reimburse them for? Is this all recoupable stuff? Is it better for me to go out and take a bank loan and do this stuff? So those are all questions that I ask. Can I make it work for me? I guess I'll see at the very end of this whole thing.