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Brendon Small: The Man Behind Metalocalypse

In regards to the bass on the new record, I think it has a lot more power and sits in the mix a lot clearer. For the bass tracks I used a Fender Jazz Deluxe 5-string bass loaded with active pickups. It just really gives a natural, well-rounded sound so it’s hard to beat that guitar for what I’m doing. For an amp, I use this little Eden Electronics WTX-260 head straight into the board with that. On top of the natural Eden sound, I throw a SansAmp Bass Driver so I have plenty of tones to work with there.

Are there any cool or unusual surprises for the next season with guest artists or vocalists?

Well, we recorded Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Slash as a guest voices on the new season. And Joe said he wanted to give me something to try out for the new season/record and who I am to stop Joe Satriani from sending me gear [laughs]?! So what he sent me was his old Palmer Speaker Simulator. I really never knew what it was all about and he told me the reason he uses it was because it you just get a little bit more richness of the guitar and harmonic overtones to come through.

Also, he sent me his Vox Satchurator distortion pedal, which I’ve totally fallen in love with. But the thing about it is, once I got everything set up and running, he told me to give him a call. So here I am, sitting on the floor of my home studio messing around with stuff while Joe Satriani is giving me direct, real-time tech support to make everything sound better [laughs].

I caught myself a few times just thinking, “this is crazy because Joe Satriani is literally walking me through my signal chain and giving me advice to achieve a tone that I still wanted, but he cut some much trial-and-error-time out of it.” Ultimately, for me and many home-recording guitarists, the main struggle is recording with a tone you want, but at a volume that doesn’t piss of your neighbors [laughs].

What about some other effects you fooled around with?

For the new record I also used the new Eventide Pitch Factor that you can hear in a couple spots. I also love using that Dunlop Dimebag wah wah because it has those adjustable parameters and you can dial in a bunch of different settings. A recent pedal I’ve been jamming with is a Steve Vai Ibanez Jemini Twin Distortion pedal.

However, after talking with Joe about his setup, I’m getting more sold on just using something like he does—a good, clean amp with a distortion pedal in front. I’ve been playing for over 20 years, and in the last five years of doing Dethklok and touring when I would just plug into an amp and use its distortion, I wasn’t getting a good tone at all. I’ve learned that all you really need is a solid working guitar, a Fender or Marshall amp, a cool pedal and you’re pretty much there. There’s no real secret or special sauce.

On the previous tour you guys played in front of a screen that was showing the animated Dethklok playing in sync with the live band, what can fans expect on the upcoming tour?

The show presentation will be similar, but we’ll be working in some of the songs from the new album so I have people feverishly animating right now. The idea of the last tour worked really well and we just think its a different thing for fans and it’s a lot of fun to watch. You can find a good metal show nearly any day of the week, but you won’t see too many animated metal shows [laughs]. It’s like that saying, “if it ain’t [sic] broke don’t fix it.”

Who is rounding out your live/touring band for Dethklok?

It’s the same guys I used before. I have Mike Keneally on guitars and I’ve known about him since I was 17 years old. He played with Frank Zappa and then he toured with Steve Vai playing the keyboard parts and harmonizing the guitars with Steve. He’s a monster musician. He’ll play keyboard with his right hand and fret the guitar with his left hand at the same time and he doesn’t see the impossibility of it.

Bryan Beller is a bassist that graduated from the Berklee College of Music right when I got there. I saw him play with the Zappa brothers and with Mike quite a bit. He’s just a guy that likes metal and all kinds of music so it’s an ideal fit. He’s actually featured on Vai’s new DVD Where the Wild Things Are.

And of course, my long-time drummer/collaborator Gene Hoglan who has played with bands like Testament, Strapping Young Lad and Fear Factory.

Will your live rig reflect your studio setup or will you pare things down?

Before touring I always considered myself an “indoor guitarist”—a guy that just records and practices a lot but doesn’t really gig. I had a lot to learn about live and stage gear and I’m finally realizing less is more for touring. I’d love to be in a situation where I didn’t have to hit a booster pedal for solos. I just have too much going on between singing and playing guitar to be tap dancing on stage. The nights where I hit everything correctly and my playing is good I say it was a “Skwisgaar Skwigelf night” [Dethklok’s lead guitarist], but if things get hairy and I’m hitting the wrong pedals or my playing was off I’ll say it was a “Toki Wartooth night” [Dethklok’s clumsy rhythm guitarist]. The big trick behind everything when performing is act like you meant to do it, even if it was obviously wrong.

Dethklok is the biggest band in the world, but is metal. How did you conceptualize the whole premise of the show?

The way I approach writing for the show is not to think of it as a show about metal, it is a show about celebrities, their personas and the fact that over the last decade there have been a slew of reality TV shows. The question that pretty much started the show is, “what if the biggest celebrities in the world were a death metal band?” At this point, it becomes about metal and the metal personas. And then I get to throw all my fun guitar tricks and stuff in there.

So the basis of the episode ideas come from celebrity-related narcissism and shit just has to be about them. Then you can reference stuff like audience members dying, weird brutality things happening at public events and other non-metal-related things. Like in the second episode where Dethklok goes over budget while recording their album and it misses the release date and they ultimately scratch the album and re-do it underwater. That’s totally Chinese Democracy and Axl Rose type stuff—13 million dollars and nine years for crap. It happens all the time with artists in all genres… well at least the over budget part, not so much the underwater recording thing. That’s definitely Dethklok.

It’s a very strange thing where they act like a family, but they’re very much not. We’ll say a funny, dysfunctional family.

For those not hip to Metalocalypse and Dethklok, it features a less than impressive and mentally unstable bass player named William Murderface. Since we’ve heard all the bass player jokes out there, is Murderface based on a specific person or notion you have regarding bassists?

[laughs] Murderface was the character that was built out of the whole notion that bass players and the bass itself is not a prominent instrument within music. Let’s just say, it is a frequency that gets lost in the mix. I love bass in metal… this is coming from a guy that tracks all the bass parts for the show and albums, so I definitely have respect for the bass but its much funnier to make fun of it. It is like a guy working at an office where people ask, “what does that guy fucking do?” And he’s the biggest asshole in the office because he doesn’t have job validation or basic social skills so he acts like the boss. That’s definitely Murderface to a T. He’s overcompensating because he feels worthless and that’s why he’s a big dick and super narcissistic.

Brendon's Gear Box
Gibson Explorer loaded with EMG X Series 81-85 pickups
Gibson Les Paul Goldtop ’57 reissue
Gibson Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker
Fender Deluxe Jazz 5-String Bass

Marshall JCM800
Marshall Mode 4
Mesa Boogie Express 5:50
Marshall Kerry King 2203KK JCM800
Line 6 Spider Valve
Bogner Alchemist
Eden Electronics WTX260
Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer
Eventide Pitch Factor
Dunlop Dimebag wah wah
Vox Satchurator Distortion
Ibanez Steve Vai Jemini Twin Distortion
SansAmp Bass Driver
We know that fans would kill for a Dr. Rockzo album. So, do you think you’ll ever do music for the other bands or characters featured on the show?

Oh man, definitely, I think about that quite a bit. It’d be something like “The Other Music of Dethklok” album or something. We’d have to include Dr. Rockzo and his band Zazz Blammymatazz, something from the Pickles’ first band, Snakes n’ Barrels, and the Amazelingtons who are the band of Dethklok’s therapist Dr. Johnathan Twinkletits. I’d imagine they’d sound like Toto [laughs].

For the guitarists out there, young and old, what is some advice you can give after playing for 20 years?

As a guitarist and fan, I’m always asking “how does that guy or this guy get that sound?” He uses a guitar and plays it well! It just comes down to a simple setup, some chops and letting your fingers do the rest. If I could grab and shake me when I was 14 years old and say “listen, get a good amp and just play.” As a kid I started with a decent Fender amp, a double-cutaway Epiphone Les Paul and a Turbo RAT distortion pedal and it was my best setup. I just kept downgrading by getting these outer space guitars, shittier amps and multi-effects processors and modeling amps that just ended up being crappy and noisy. Ultimately, keep it simple and work on your playing. The tone comes from you, not piles of gear.
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