Metalocalypse Now (Bonus)

Metalocalypse co-creator Brendon Small creates all of the music of the fictional band Dethklok in his home studio.
Publish date:

This online bonus material supplements the cover story "Metalocalypse Now" in the February 2008 issue of EM.

What's the inspiration for the show?
This whole show is an excuse for me to play metal on guitar, which is what I've wanted to do since I was 15. I learned to play guitar by playing Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer, and all that stuff. Then I went to music school and kind of lost that part of me, so it was fun to find it again through this show. We just found a cool concept, comedically, to work in all the musical elements.

I spent about three months trying to figure out what the band was going to sound like. I was listening to a lot of death metal, black metal, European stuff—just checking out different things. And then going back to the old stuff I listened to as a kid. I just kept tuning lower and making the music heavier.

My initial instincts were to find melody, and to have melody be in the voice. But there isn't melody in a lot of death metal and black metal. It's all about chord movement and harmony. But there's no melody in the vocals, which is funny: you negate the idea of melody, so it's got to be about rhythm. The chord progressions will stay the same and be variations on themes, but it's about how you're attacking those chords. I kept on making it less melodic and taking away instruments, and making it scarier and heavier. So I have tons of tracks of me playing stuff that's way to catchy.

How did you guys come up with Murderface's voice?
That lateral lisp? Originally, Tommy had a very different voice for him. But we kept thinking it's got to sound like a combination of Nick Nolte and Captain Caveman. So one day Tommy stuffed paper towels in his mouth, like he was supposed to be eating. And he kept talking through those wet paper towels rolled up into his cheeks. I thought that was the voice right there, and Tommy agreed.

We were in the middle of doing our second episode, and we made Tommy go back and rerecord all of the character's dialog. And then he figured out how to do it without the paper towels. It got repulsive after awhile. [Laughs.]

These are all characters that were designed by Jon Schnepp who directs the show, and our art director Antonio Canobbio; They designed the world, and Schnepp designed the characters. He came up with the Murderface look. I think the original direction was to make Murderface look like a dude that, as long as he tries to grow his hair out, he can't get it past that weird pyramid, triangle shape. And he has a moustache. For me, he's straight out of Blue Oyster Cult.

My favorite character is Dr. Rockso, the Rock-and-Roll Clown. Who does that voice?
I do all the singing for Dr. Rockso, and Tommy does the speaking voice. We discovered him when we had to put a character together: a party clown. "But we should make this an embarrassing party clown, just wrong. It's not metal—It's rock-and-roll." It's just embarrassing and humiliating for Dethklok to have to sit through. His catch phrase is "I do cocaine." We figured it out in, like, one second. He has that plunging area in the back of his suit, his butt crack is hanging out, and his balls are apparent.

The animators made him look more like David Lee Roth. He was supposed to be an amalgam of every kind of front man from the hard-rock era, from Paul Stanley to Axel Rose, Steven Tyler, and all that stuff. He comes back in season two, and we get to meet his previous band.

What's behind the underscoring for the show?
I developed a sound and instrumentation for the score that I can go to so that I can write stuff pretty quickly. Most of the show I keep in one key, and everything ends up blending together like one whole song. I tune my guitar down to low C to get the super-heavy sound, which makes it easy for me, as a horrible piano player, to keep it all on the white keys.

For me, music is at its best when it tells a story. The coolest use of scoring is when it can tell a really good story, move you comedywise, or make you scared—from the Who's Tommy, to King Diamond's concept albums, to Andrew Lloyd Weber's Jesus Christ Superstar. It allows you to work with character subtext and bring out stuff that you normally don't see in a story.