At the Crossroads of Metal Music and Comedy
At the improbable intersection of metal music, animated TV, and stand-up comedy, the story of guitarist, composer, actor, and producer Brendon Small ’97 stands apart. Metal fans worldwide know him as the creative mastermind behind the smash-hit animated TV show Metalocalypse and the metal bands Dethklok and Galaktikon.
Small’s unique journey began in the laid-back northern California town of Salinas, where he remembers spending long hours practicing guitar and re-watching VHS copies of his favorite comedies. “I had no choice but to start getting serious about music and comedy,” he says. Small became an avid reader of Guitar Player magazine and after realizing that his guitar heroes, Steve Vai ’79 and John Scofield ’73, had both attended Berklee, his college choice became clear.
When he was 17 years old, he attended Berklee’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program and he fell in love with Boston. “It was the first time I met like-minded folks who lived, breathed, and slept music,” he recalls. “I knew then that if I could just get out of Salinas and get to Boston, my creative life would truly start.”
At Berklee as a full-time student, Small took guitar classes with professors Jon Finn and Tomo Fujita. But he had to face his fear of playing in front of people. Stage fright was a long-term challenge that Small eventually conquered though stand-up comedy.
During the summer before his final year at Berklee, Small was interning in New York and often visited a friend who was interning on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. His desire to create comedy took hold and he decided to pursue comedy writing. During his final year, Small took advantage of Berklee’s sister-school relationship with Emerson College and took comedy and script-writing classes there. His teacher, Mike Bent, helped him get on stage at the Comedy Studio in Harvard Square. Soon Small was making regular appearances at the club.
After graduating from Berklee, some local TV producers in Boston saw him perform and offered him the opportunity to co-create his own show, Home Movies, an animated sitcom that aired from 1999 to 2004. Although he also provided the show’s music, he rapidly became better known as a comedian.
Toward the end of the show’s run, Small began to turn back to the guitar. “I was so excited to hear what people were doing in metal,” he says. “They were actually playing their instruments incredibly well! I now had the comedy chops and could write, thanks to Home Movies, so the music and comedy just blended naturally. Somehow I became a musician again.”
This led to the creation of Metalocalypse, an adult animated television series, which premiered on August 6, 2006, and concluded on October 27, 2013, on Adult Swim. The storyline centers on the larger-than-life death-metal band Dethklok, with Small supplying the voice for many of the characters and creating the music. “The cool thing about Metalocalypse and Dethklok,” Small says, “is that we got to turn kids onto metal and guitars and help grow a new crop of listeners and players.”
Small’s reputation as a guitar player led to a deal with Gibson guitars to create his own signature model: Brendon Small Snow Falcon Flying V guitar (visit www.gibson.com).
Brendon Small’s Galaktikon is his latest project. Released in 2012, the first Galaktikon recording was a “high-stakes, intergalactic, extreme- rock album” that featured former Dethklok collaborators drummer Gene Hoglan (Testament, Death, Dark Angel) and bassist extraordinaire Bryan Beller ’92 (the Aristocrats, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai).
The album Galaktikon II: Become the Storm, released in 2017, continues the original space-age storyline in another heavy metal opus. Underscoring the unique blend of Small’s talents, the record release party for the new album was held at the legendary Hollywood Improv comedy club (visit www.galaktikon.com).
Speaking of Small, Bryan Beller says, “He’s super-talented in so many ways, and I’m glad to be one small part of his creative universe.”