Epiphone's Ltd. Ed. Brendon Small "Thunderhorse" Explorer Outfit is a one-of-a-kind tribute to one of the most eclectic and challenging artists working today. Do we mean Brendon Small? No! Dethklok, of course!
Small is the co-creator and comedic--and musical--imagination behind Dethklok, the virtual metal band featured in the hit animated program produced by Adult Swim, Metalocalypse. Only Epiphone could produce a guitar worthy of "the world's greatest cultural force" and in the hands of Dethklok lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf, the Ltd. Ed. Brendon Small "Thunderhorse" Explorer Outfit a serious and potentially lethal musical weapon to be reckoned with. Epiphone.com spoke with Small about the enigmatic Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Dethklok's devoted fans, and Dethklok's pre-studio rituals.
For the few who don't know your work or Skwisgaar Skwigelf, how would you describe Dethklok?
Dethklok is (in their animated world) the largest entertainment act on the planet. They just so happen to be an Extreme metal band. Oh, and they're the 7th largest economy. But ultimately they're a bunch of celebrities who don't know what day it is or how door handles work.
Tell us about designing your Epiphone Thunderhorse Explorer.
I thought to myself, "what can we do to make this guitar even more versatile?" Meaning, that I wanted to get more sound options out of the same instrument that I've fallen in love with.And to me, the answer was simple: being able to put in push pull pots so that we can split the humbuckers and get some cool single coil sounds. I find that I do so much recording and layering that I'd like to have the option to keep the same instrument in my lap and flip a few switches to bring out different frequencies for maybe a harmony line or featured guitar moment. I'd like for this guitar to be completely versatile because I don't just play metal, I love all kinds of music. I want people to feel like it's a powerful metal guitar and authentically play classic rock, blues, anything.
So is this your signature Epiphone or Skwisgaar Skwigelf's?
I guess technically it's Skwisgaar's guitar, but I make all the decisions for Skwisgaar so I think it's really mine. Sorry Skwisgaar.
Before you wrote comedy, you took guitar lessons as a teenager. Who were your inspirations?
Yes I did. I was very much (and still am) into Van Halen, Brian May, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, Yngwie, Steve Morse, Metallica and pretty much anyone who has done anything on guitar. Now I listen to Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic), Guthrie Govan (Aristrocrats, GPS), and Brett Garsed for guitar inspiration, but mostly I like bands from the 70's for musical inspiration like ELO, Queen, Joe Walsh, 10 CC, I get into the 70's guys who were influenced by the Beatles.
Did you first consider the guitar as a tool for songwriting more than performing? I've read interviews where you spoke of having stage fright as a kid.
Not really. I suffered from horrible stage fright but still wanted to perform very badly so I had to get over that and force myself onstage no matter how much it scared me. However, I found that whether or not I knew it, I was studying to become a songwriter. At Berklee College of music--even though I didn't realize it--I was picking classes that would help me learn more about harmony and arranging that I would end up using constantly as a writer.
Galaktikon as well as Dethablum III came out last year and like most artists, you were probably already thinking about 2013 by the time of their release. Does writing both music and comedy require a different mind set?
Writing comedy and music provides a great release from the other. Script writing is about getting structure together first, which is sometimes mathematical and dull, even though you're writing jokes that aren't going to play properly for a few months until the animation is complete. And still, how many times can we listen to these jokes before they stop working on us--the show makers? But when I sit with my guitar and hash out a song into Pro Tools, the energy is immediate and I'll know instantly if the song is going to work for me.
There's a long tradition of artists creating another persona not only as an outlet but also to keep their imagination fresh. How has Dethklok inspired your writing and your playing?
Writing Dethklok's music provides an interesting challenge. It's got to be heavy and grandiose and pretty much be played on the lowest string. C --in this case--as I'm tuned to C standard though sometimes I'll write in F. And it's got to have a bunch of double kicks and a fairly technical solo with a vocal that is more of a percussion instrument then a melodic one. I consider these to be a series of limitations that I find myself working within. And believe it or not, limitations are incredibly inspiring. How can I write something that rules within these limitations? I think one would find it easier writing for a character or particular style then sitting there with a guitar knowing that you can write ANYTHING in any style at any tempo in any key. One could go mad.
How do you get ready for the studio?
I try to play at least an hour of guitar a day so that my chops are in at least okay shape. But the best way to prepare is to be able to make peace with a metronome. We all tend to rush and over anticipate notes so being aware of that and practicing playing with a stupid boring click will just make you play better. Soooooo boring. I would imagine Dethklok prepares for recording by snorting margaritas.
What kind of feedback do you get from fans?
As we make the show, there are parts that's we commit to as comedy and parts we commit to even harder that aren't comedy at all, like the music. It's very seriously put together. It's about taking the comedy and the music and the world as seriously as possible. The end result is that the audience (particularly when I play live) reacts very seriously about the music and sings along and throw themselves into the mosh pits and then they laugh at all the jokes. The audience is very much in on this whole world and they act accordingly. It's almost as much fun for me to watch the audience and performing, I can't think of a band that has a better audience. They all play the part of a "Dethklok" audience, totally great!
So now that you and Dethklok have a new guitar and a new attitude for 2013, what's in store for this guitar?
I'm excited for people to get their hands on this baby and start making their own music with it. As for me, I'll be using it to do the same. I have a lot of music to write this year and this guitar is going to be wonderfully abused while I do it. I love playing live and I love doing live comedy and I love acting. What else do I need to do? As long as I can fit all those in and continue being creative then I'm a happy dude.