Four years ago, flush from the success of his show Metalocalypse: Dethklok and its accompanying albums, show creator Brendon Small released Brendon Small’s Galaktikon, a concept album (or “comic book album,” as he called it) that allowed him to showcase the more melodic aspects of his music. The album’s release coincided with the fourth season of Metalocalpyse on Adult Swim, which turned out to be the last season aired on the network. Last week, Small announced that Galaktikon II was being worked on, so we reached out to him to discuss the new album, the effectiveness of the “Metalocalypse Now” campaign, and the increasingly bleak future of Metalocalypse.
The first Galaktikon record came about when you booked time and were waiting to hear what was going on with the second Dethklok record. Did Galaktikon II come about in a similar way?
This is dissimilar in that I think I’m basically all but finished making Dethklok records, only because the network has been less than easygoing about lending out the name.
So how long have you been working on this second record?
I started writing songs over the last couple years. I got wiped out after doing the Doomstar thing, but I was ready to finish the series. Here’s the trajectory of everything that’s happened: The network was kind of dangling this final thing after Doomstar in front of me and then they said they didn’t want to do any more episodes. I asked why not and they said it was for financial reasons. Then the whole Metalocalypse Now fan campaign started and they got in touch with me and said “hey what can we do to save this show?” They were saying that they didn’t have enough money, but I thought if we caused enough noise, some financial backers would show up. They actually did, and some people that were willing to offer just shy of two million dollars stepped forward and said “we would love to finance the show and do this final mini-series,” and the network said “no, we don’t want to do anymore Metalocalypse at all,” and that was the end of it.
How long of a process was that?
The “Metalocalypse Now” campaign was one month, this past October. And they got a huge petition with just shy of 100,000 signatures, basically saying that they would go anywhere the show wound up, so any of these streaming Video On Demand companies that wanted to step up and try to acquire the license for Metalocalypse. It turns out Adult Swim doesn’t want anyone to have Metalocalypse, not even themselves. They just want old re-runs. They paid for it, so they can take their ball and go home with it, and that’s how show business works, for better or for worse. They said just a flat out no, and they get to do that. And if I had paid for the series, then I would get to make the decisions, but I didn’t pay for it.
When you sell a TV show to a network that’s the deal that you make, it may seem like a deal with the devil, but for me I would do it the same way every time because that means that I got to make this show, I got to turn a bunch of people on to heavy metal, I got to make people laugh, and I got to make a whole bunch of music, whereas before, I was only making music for myself in my little room where I play guitar for myself. I got to put a whole audience together and make characters and comedy and a long story that people were interested in, and without Adult Swim giving me the money up front, it wouldn’t have happened. So even if this ending doesn’t seem so great, the whole story is a good one, it’s a positive story. After a break up, both parties like to exclaim about how nobody ever loved each other in the first place, but the truth is, this is a really good love story between me and Adult Swim. there’s nothing wrong with that, at some point a TV show has got to end, and I was ready for the show to end no matter what, but i wanted to tag on this little final ending story.
Sure. So will people ever get to hear the ending to the story?
You will. I just can’t tell you how.
So let’s talk about Galaktikon II. It is similar to the first one?
Galaktikon II is coming out of the same place Galaktikon came out of. When the first one came out, I didn’t know if I was able to make Dethalbum II. I know that I won’t be able to make any more Dethklok records in my current situation with Adult Swim, and that’s okay. I would rather spend my time making music that the same audience will like, but under my own brand, and build it out. The big difference between Galaktikon I and Galaktikon II is that it’s a different story, and if I keep making Galaktikon records it will be like Tales From the Crypt Presents, a different story each week. This is like a story involving something that’s happening in outer space. This first one was a really crazy divorce story, this one is really different and I don’t want to tell you anything right now, but it’s a whole story, and it’s got a different feel and it’s a little bit darker too. Right now, I haven’t gotten to the vocals, but the demos that I’ve tracked are a little bit more brutal than the first album. So you may hear more of a brutal vocal but still there will be a lot of exceptions and you know, things you might expect from a Galaktikon I. Gene Hoglan is coming in, Bryan Beller will be on it, I’m making it this Summer, and I don’t have a release date just yet, but I hope to be done with the recording in the next few months.
Was the first album a conscious effort to separate yourself from Dethklok?
It wasn’t to separate myself from Dethklok because I like making Dethklok, but Galaktikon was a reaction to Dethklok in that I didn’t get to be melodic with Dethklok. Basically I had Nathan Explosion doing all the vocals and I didn’t really have a melodic singer, I’d throw in Pickles the drummer’s voice, which was my excuse to have melody happen in the vocal, so Galaktikon was me going, “I want to put melody in the vocals on this whole thing.” I took things that could be Dethklok songs, and may be a little more melodic and not use the exact same chord structures that I associate with Dethklok. With Galaktikon I can stretch out just a little bit and do some things that are a little bit more exploratory in chords, an sometimes more major key things. Some of my favorite metal songs are in major key. Like “Run to the Hills,” Iron Maiden is all major key, and I didn’t really get to explore that in Dethklok, which that’s why Galaktikon existed, so I could just try something slightly different.
With there not being a forthcoming Dethklok record, is that why the new Galaktikon is a little bit heavier?
I guess you could say that, but I just wanted to hear some heavy stuff, I thought the story serviced a heavy sound, and it’s that simple. In my mind, I was thinking ‘okay in this one song these events need to happen, what does that sound like to me?’ And I would write something that sounds a little bit heavier, so expect this to sound a little heavier than the first one here and there, but it’s also going to be melodic, it’s going to be more brutal from the vocals. I mean you guys can draw your own conclusions. I’m not sure exactly why I do everything – I just stand back and look at it and go ‘Oh this kind of makes sense in whatever I think the style of this record is.’
You mentioned that you might want to do some multimedia stuff with the last record but that didn’t quite happen, do you envision that happening on this one?
Yeah I’m in early stages talking about that. It costs a lot of money and if I can find that money, then without a doubt I’d love to. I mean what I’ve learned from live Dethklok shows is that you can be entertaining in a different way than a regular metal show. Let’s say Amon Amarth is a regular metal show, they are totally 100% entertaining, they are great to watch on stage, their music is outstanding, there’s smoke and lights and cool backgrounds, and I just wanted to do a different version of that, and that’s where the animation came in. Having a whole story or sketches or all kinds of fun little things. A metal audience – and nobody outside of the metal world knows this – but a metal audience is simply just having fun, they may have a scary face on, but inside of their hearts they’re just having the most fun of their lives. Its really true. Everyone’s throwing up horns and making scowl-y faces but their hearts are so happy in that moment.
And you’re gonna probably be releasing this yourself like you did the first one?
Not necessarily. Here’s how I do things – if I wanna do something really badly, I say screw it and use my own money, and an example of that would be the first Galaktikon and The Doomstar Requiem, because the network had just closed the doors to their label. I don’t know what the current status is, but they haven’t updated their Twitter in like four years or so. So they weren’t interested in putting out the The Doomstar Requiem. I said ‘you know what, I don’t know how many times I’m gonna get to do a rock opera, and use a fifty piece orchestra, but I’m gonna do this because you only live once and I think this is a really cool project.’ So I put it out myself, and I licensed the name and Metalocalypse and I put it on my own label. I’m really glad I did, because people discovered it and they discovered a completely different side of the Dethklok and Metalocalypse landscape which is this absurd musical. So I learned that I can do this stuff myself, but I don’t want to be a label really. I just want the music to get out there. So I’m talking to different labels about partnering in marketing and distribution, and I’m gonna make the record and make it sound how I want it to sound and talk to labels and see who wants to partner with me.
Did you learn anything from releasing the Galaktikon & Doomstar Requiem records yourself?
Yeah I mean what I knew was that Dethklok has really big releases, with really big distributors. I figured if they want this stuff, they could come and ask for it, but I would rather just set up a little home shop. First of all, you can buy all the music on iTunes or Amazon, which is how I basically buy all my music. I just put it on my phone, unless I’m buying nerdy vinyl stuff. The one thing I’m interested in is just getting awareness of it out there, that if people like the music I’ve written and they don’t know Galaktikon, that’s the hurdle I have to jump. But the thing I learned is that people will find it. They may not find it on a gigantic scale, because people know the show, they don’t necessarily know me. We’ve sold so many of the Dethalbum I and II, and even III, but I don’t know that they know that a guy made that, I think they think a cartoon made it.
Definitely some of them.
Some of them really do! This band Dethklok is really good, this Nathan Explosion guy can really write songs!
I’m gonna bounce back a little bit on Adult Swim and them ultimately saying no to the whole project, what was the time difference between them initially being interested, following the campaign and them saying no?
It’s a bit schizophrenic, because before, they were not necessarily saying the show was cancelled, they were like “okay we’ll do this final thing,” and I went ‘Okay I’m ready,’ and they went “well not now” and I was like ‘Am I going to do sit around and wait for you to change your mind?’ At some point, they were trying to get it financed by thetruth.com which is an anti-smoking campaign, which I was fine with, but it turns out there wasn’t enough money there. Not too long after, they were like “we don’t want to do anything now,” they just changed their mind completely. I’m gonna let the goofballs online figure this one out, it’s not for me to figure out. I’ve got other things my mind is on at this moment. When people say “hey that’s showbiz,” they mean this is a weird dark conundrum that no one understands, and that’s what happens constantly. But that’s where I’ve made my profession, and you kind of understand that you put on your hazmat suit and you go in anyway and say ‘yeah this is my job.’ And the benefits are really cool and I get to be creative for a living, I take it all in the same place, I can’t complain.
Were you surprised by the outpouring of support the campaign got?
I was. I thought it was really cool to see all those bands come forward and pledge support for Dethklok and Metalocalypse. Then the fans themselves, just to see all the people who are really excited who had been following the story and wanted to see it finish. That was all great, but like I said, a network can say that it’s not a democracy. They don’t need to be swayed by popular opinion or being in good graces with fans. In a political campaign, this would make a lot more sense, but this is show business. It doesn’t need to make sense for it to work or not work. Everyone that spent time supporting and signing the thing and going on to Adult Swim and complaining, you did actually do something. You got people with lots of money to open up their purses and offer to pay for the show. The network just said “no, we don’t want to.” The way we structured it was that the network would have made money off this, it’s very rare that they make money and make a show at the same time, they would’ve just gotten a license fee and they wouldn’t have even had to air it if they didn’t want to, they could have just let it exist somewhere else. But again, the conundrum that is show business, why they did or didn’t do it isn’t for me to answer. But to be optimistic about this, all the fans who supported this, you did do something, it’s just you can’t change a guy at a network’s mind at the end of the day. That’s the end of the story.
What did you think of that campaign where they wanted people to fax in to save the show?
Oh that? I actually talked to Adult Swim and said ‘what are you doing this for? You already said no to me, I know you’re not going to make this show, and now you’re just antagonizing all these fans.’ Metalocalypse fans who are Adult Swim fans were clogging up Adult Swim’s social media, and they were basically saying “get off my lawn.” First of all, I don’t think Adult Swim wants to come across as the “get off my lawn” network. Secondly, all they did was pour gasoline on the fire and that week and the week after, it made so many people believe that Metalocalypse was coming back, when it was just a dormant, smoldering dead fire. Meanwhile, Entertainment Weekly is trying to get me on the phone about a statement on Metalocalypse coming back, and I didn’t even take the call because I was like “let Adult Swim deal with this, this is such a confusing way to deal with this problem, let it die or something.”
They never actually acknowledged publicly what the whole campaign was about?
No, it was a smug, condescending “fuck you” to the Metalocalypse fans, which again, are die hard Adult Swim fans. But they’re telling them all to go fuck themselves. I want to say one other thing about Adult Swim, because they’re doing a lot of confusing things to the Metalocalypse audience, and I don’t think they mean to. I stand back and look and think what they want to do is try to build out new TV shows to make people forget about Dethklok. If you’re running a network, you want to have new things that people are excited about, not old things that they’ve made a decision to just discontinue for whatever reason. So that makes them really annoyed, when you’re not acknowledging their new shows at all and you don’t care as much as you do for the old one. It happens to them constantly, I think they get that with the anime stuff, other shows that have been cancelled.
But on this show, there’s something that happens on Metalocalypse that’s different than a lot of other shows. After the credits roll you keep thinking about this show. You think about the music, you think about the jokes and the mood and the setting and the fact that there’s a story that continues beyond the episode. We made a show that people think about after it’s over. And Adult Swim just wants you to think about the new shows, and I get both parts, and I had a really really good run with them and a great time working with them, and I don’t want to start a war with Adult Swim or anything. What I would say to them if I could is that you don’t need to go out of of your way to piss off the fans because they love your network. My whole time with Adult Swim, I couldn’t have asked for a better run. I got to do whatever I wanted the way I wanted to. I didn’t get to wrap up the season the way I wanted to, but so many people don’t even get a TV show. And this is going to stick around for a while in peoples’ heads.