AN INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN POSEHN AND SCOTT IAN
BY JAMESON KETCHUM
Featured Photo by Tami Morrissey
“New music sucks, new music sucks, new music sucks.” That refrain cries out from every corner of Posehn’s new album, Grandpa Metal. The genius behind Grandpa Metal is comedian Brian Posehn, who’s enlisted the help of his famous and super talented friends to round out the best comedy/metal record of all time. Scott Ian, Corey Taylor, Joe Trohman and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, need we go on? Jill Janiszewski from Huntress, Chuck Billy from Testament, and still we haven’t covered everybody who contributed to this hilarious and heartwarming piece of metal history. We gathered the figureheads of this triumph, Brian Posehn himself and Anthrax’s Scott Ian to discuss just what makes Grandpa Metal so darn special. Hint: it may be Ian’s love for Lady Gaga.
Grandpa Metal is just so much fun.
Fun is what I’m looking for. For me, it was just all these goofy ideas all on one record. I wanted it to be fun for metal fans, but fun for people who aren’t familiar with every genre of metal. What I really wanted to do for metal fans was write a record with a bunch of different types of funny songs on it. I hope I delivered that. It took me forever, but it was a lot of fun making.
Why the long gap between albums? I have to imagine it’s something that’s been stirring for a while.
The biggest reason is because Scott Ian and myself were really busy. We made this deal with Megaforce almost six years ago now, and we’d been calling it The Chinese Democracy of comedy metal records. It’s not like songs weren’t perfect and I was being Axl about them. It was just a long process. We were almost done about a year ago and realized we only had eight tracks at that point, and I wanted to fill out the record, so I wrote the last two songs with Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy—he’s one of my closest friends and just a funny guy. He helped me get it done in time. My producer Jay Ruston kept checking in on me, saying, “Hey man, we should look at this at some point.”
“THEY’RE GOOFY AND HAVE FUNNY LINES, BUT THEY’RE WRITTEN BY A GUY WHO WRITES ANTHRAX SONGS”
What will catch people by surprise is that yes, the songs are hilarious, but they’re also great metal songs.
The songs that I’d done before with Scott, “More Metal Than You” and “Metal by Numbers,” I always felt good about them because they’re goofy and have funny lines, but they’re written by a guy who writes Anthrax songs (laughs). The songs are gonna deliver, the songs are gonna be structured and sound like legit metal songs plus all these guests that are playing on it. I’ve always said it’s really up to me to fuck this record up. The writing is there, so it’s all on me to deliver punch lines and funny performances.
Do you remember when and where you first heard metal as a kid? What do you think drew you to it?
For me, it was a bunch of bands that weren’t metal that got me into metal. I started off with Kiss, but I guess the first legit metal band I got crazy into was Iron Maiden around 1980 or 1981. It was similar to Kiss where it also delivered this visual thing with masks. I was still such a comic book nerd that it helped, having anything that goes along with this music that I hadn’t heard anything like before. They were the big ones and after that a melee of other bands.
There are a lot of theatrics in, as you said, nerd culture that could easily lend itself to the theatrics in metal.
Yeah, 40 years later I’m still a Maiden fan. That’s a big part of it. They’re a band that delivers on a lot of levels. As a nerd I loved that they read, too. They would write songs about books that they read. Other bands like Rush and Anthrax do that. Those are three of my all-time favorite bands that draw from different places for lyrics.
Do you think it’s just that new metal bands suck, or have we also softened or changed what the word metal means?
I think there is still good new metal. There’s not a ton on my playlist that’s new. I don’t think metal was ruined like Scott does. The lyric came from a real place. I think the last new band he liked was probably The Refused. When did they come out? 25 years ago? That was the last time Scott Ian was excited about new music (laughs). I’m trying to think of what I dig lately. Power Trip I really like. Havok I dig as far as newer bands. Red Fang isn’t new, but I love that kind of stuff. Some of the bands I made fun of with “Metal by Numbers” that have been around for 20 years are legit now. I wasn’t making fun of Unearth, but it’s funny because Unearth, who would be considered metalcore, now has roots. If you stick around long enough everything becomes old.
Yeah, I’ve been going to a lot of 20 year anniversary shows.
It’s crazy. I was just hanging out with Unearth and Darkest Hour. It’s the same thing. Darkest Hour is doing a 20th anniversary, and I’m like, “You guys are kids, what are you doing?”
“I DON’T THINK GRANDPA METAL MAKES FUN OF METAL AT ALL, BUT IT’S POKING FUN OF DIFFERENT THINGS IN THE GENRE.”
Does metal take itself too seriously?
Metal fans maybe do. I was guilty of that as a kid. I don’t think Grandpa Metal makes fun of metal at all, but it’s poking fun of different things in the genre. When I was younger, if you wanted to legitimately be metal you couldn’t make fun of heavy metal. I hated Spinal Tap as a teenager because I didn’t realize those guys were fans. I was thinking wait a minute, these guys are making fun of The Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden—there were all these references in there and I was pissed about it. I thought, “Who are these assholes?” (laughs) Now I have way more of a sense of humor about the music I listen to, but as a kid I had zero. That said, part of the inspiration comes from bands that did have a sense of humor, like S.O.D. and Scatterbrain, because they did write funny lyrics and make fun of themselves and things within the genre.
Did you see the film Lords of Chaos?
I did. I read the book. I didn’t think the movie would be funny. It was amazing, and how taking such a bleak theme that they actually found humor in it. It had such great performances all the way around. I wish more people would have seen it and not just metal fans. That’s the thing, I feel like maybe it was hindered by its subject matter. People maybe said, “I don’t want to watch that. I don’t like that kind of music,” where it was just a really well made movie.
“EVERY SONG WOULD BE BETTER IF IT WAS METAL. IF YOU DO A METAL VERSION OF ANY SONG, IT’S AN IMPROVEMENT.”
The “Take on Me” cover is great. What made you choose that song?
I feel like every song would be better if it was metal. If you do a metal version of any song, it’s an improvement. It’s such a song, that it’s engrained in everybody. If you’re my age, you’ve heard it your whole life. It just felt like it would be fun to do it with the people I did it with. Like if I could get Chuck Billy and Zetro from Exodus to sing this along with me, this will be amazing. To get those two and Jill from Huntress…every guest part on this record is just me reaching out to people I’ve known for years and asking if they’ll do this silly thing. Of all of them, that song is the one where I didn’t really have to convince people, but Chuck was like, “Really?” He asked me how I wanted him to sing it. I said, “Do Chuck Billy.” I had a picture in my head, and he did exactly what I said. Same with Zetro, I said, “Just be you. The song is already goofy, but you committing to it and going full metal with it is going to be fucking awesome.” And I was right.
I couldn’t believe how much “What Does the Fox Say” lent itself to being a metal song.
That was the other one! We recorded it a while ago. Corey Taylor was another guy who’s known for his sense of humor. I think he got it right away, like, “Don’t go in making fun of the song, but go in committing fully to it.” That’s what makes it great. He’s singing his ass off on it like he wrote it like it’s a Slipknot song. It’s perfect.
I can’t believe Weird Al didn’t sign off on letting you parody “Gump.”
We never even wrote it (laughs). It was just a basic idea. I love calling him Weird. I called Weird (laughs), and he was so cool about it. He said he’d do anything. I told him I didn’t want him to sing on anything, we were just going to do a sketch where I call you and you turn me down. I sent it to him, he laughed, and we recorded it.
As big as Weird Al is, I still feel like he’s underappreciated.
He is. I have a lot of comedy friends who aren’t Weird Al fans and I don’t understand that. For me, he’s so much a part of what I do. He is so smart. The originals that he wrote, the lyrics are really smart and funny. He gets respect, as much as someone who does song parodies, but he’s so much more than that.
Oh yeah, it’s gotta be a huge challenge to not only parody a song but make it funny.
Yeah, and to nail it the way he does, he has such an ear for it. Also, he’s not dirty. I tend to write jokes with curse words and I go blue, but I love that he’s made a career of being pretty clean.
Were there any guests you weren’t able to get for Grandpa Metal?
There was somebody in Metallica who couldn’t (laughs), but just because of schedules. John 5 was busy. I wanted to get some of the opposite of testosterone on the record for the guitar playing, so I asked Nita Strauss to do a solo, but she was crazy busy and couldn’t get to it. Other than that, everyone said yes.
“LET’S DO WHAT MÖTLEY CRÜE, AEROSMITH, AND KISS HAVE DONE AND TALK ABOUT OUR DONG, BUT LET’S GO EVEN DUMBER. IT’S SO DUMB.”
You mentioned working with Joe Trohman. I love that you also rip on Fall Out Boy on the record. What was it like working with Joe?
That was Patrick Stump who made that joke. It wasn’t written. They threw themselves under the bus. They’re so funny that they totally get it. I asked Joe if Patrick would make fun of them and he said, “Absolutely,” and he went even further by throwing in that reference. Joe and I have been friends for about 12 years, and they had done The Dammed Things with the guys from Every Time I Die. Scott brought him to a dinner once that I wasn’t even at. My wife was like, “Oh, you’re in Fall Out Boy? My husband is really going to make fun of you.” Then I met him and I didn’t, and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s such a nice guy. We have a ton in common. I don’t know a bunch of their music, but the music he listens to we have in common. When I was getting close to wrapping up the album I knew I needed help on the lyrics for “Grandpa Metal” and I was a few songs short. I didn’t have writer’s block, but I couldn’t figure out how to crack the song and find the funniest version. He and I sat down and decided just to make fun of Scott full bore—the rest of the lyrics came together. I told him I was two songs short, so he wrote the music for “Monster Mosh” and “Big Fat ROCK?” and that was just us saying, “Let’s write a Rob Zombie type horror song, and let’s write something too dumb for Steel Panther.” (laughs) The idea was let’s write the dumbest song about a guy’s wiener that’s not even innuendo. The idea was like let’s do what Mötley Crüe, Aerosmith, and Kiss have done and talk about our dong, but let’s go even dumber. It’s so dumb. I feel like if anyone ever tells me that the song is dumb I’ll say, “Yeah, no shit. That’s what we were going for.” (laughs)
And it’s so catchy.
You’re writing a song with the guitar player from Fall Out Boy. He knows catchy, he can’t help it. He writes catchy shit.
You recently appeared in the first episode of The Mandalorian. You’re a huge Star Wars fan, so how incredible was that honor?
Oh man, I’m still giddy about that. To be part of the Star Wars universe and a good representation of Star Wars…I’m in a Marvel movie, but I’m in a shitty one. I’m in The Silver Surfer, so I can’t really brag about that, but to be a part of Star Wars and a part of something I really like and that my son really likes has been extra cool. He went to school the week it came out and he’s 10, every other boy in his class had already seen it and loved it. It’s the first time I’m his hero where I’ve done something where he’s like, “All my friends love this too and that’s my dad!”
What was Brian’s pitch to you, asking you to play on something like this?
It was never even a case of that. I feel like we’ve just always been doing stuff together, one way or another since “Metal by Numbers.” I don’t even remember when that came out, or even “Ass Kicking Fat Kid,” my wife just reminded me. Brian and I have been friends since 2000, something like that. It wasn’t even an approach. It was like, “What do you think about doing more songs?” And I said, “Anytime.” It turned into a whole record this time.
Do you feel like there’s a natural kinship between comedians and musicians?
Honestly, I’ve never given it a moment’s thought. I have no idea. I can only equate it to myself and some of the comedians I know. I don’t know that we have similar lifestyles, but we have similar likes and dislikes. Look at Brian and I. We nerd out over all the same stuff, music, horror, comic books, etc. Other comedians and writers I know, we all sort of gravitate toward all the same types of things. That may just go for anything in my life. I’m friends with lots of nerds because I am one.
You guys have known each other a while, but what surprised you about making a record with Brian?
He just got it in his head one day that he could be the singer of a band. He was gonna do his comedy, but instead of talking at people, he’d yell at people over really loud guitar and drums. I love the fact that he loves metal so much that he’s just like, “I want to do this, too,” and he did it. Most people would think, “Oh, I can’t do that.” I don’t know a lot of comedians or people in general walking around thinking they can be the singer of a metal band. Brian was just like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this,” and he took the bull by the horns.
“THE LAST THING WE WOULD WANT TO DO WOULD BE TO HAVE SOME STUPID NOVELTY SONGS WITH SHITTY RIFFS WITH BRIAN SINGING OVER IT.”
The record is really funny and the songs are amazing. Brian said he didn’t want the music to be goofy.
We kind of have a track record. Some of the stuff we did in the past showed that these aren’t novelty records. We’re not writing “The Streak,” that shows my age right there. We take it seriously, from every angle. I obviously take the music really seriously, and being such a comedy fan and someone who thinks they’re very funny, I take the comedy seriously. Brian takes it all seriously also. The last thing we would want to do would be to have some stupid novelty songs with shitty riffs with Brian singing over it. I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to listen to that.
Is there a difference in the approach to something like this as opposed to an Anthrax record?
No, zero. I think all lyrics are funny. Writing lyrics, to me, is inherently such a ridiculous thing to do. As the lyric writer for Anthrax, I’m taking all these thoughts and feelings and ideas and emotions, then I’m putting them to music and I fucking hate musicals. I love writing lyrics at the same time. I’m not a comedy writer, so I may try and write things with a joke in a lyric, but I’m by no means a comedy writer. All lyrics to me, in a way, are ridiculous. The whole process is ridiculous, but at the same time, the end product is something great. You got a song and people want to sing along and they take them to heart. Maybe they learn something from it or maybe they laugh at it, maybe they never even pay attention. To answer your question, there is no different approach at all.
I’ve never heard that take on lyrics.
I don’t rhyme when I speak. I’m not the fucking Demon from DC Comics, you know what I mean? You’re putting stuff into a lyric, into a song format and arrangement, and sometimes it’s really deep or dark or violent feelings.
Brian joked that you truly haven’t liked a new band since The Refused.
They were late 90s, right? I may have liked something since then (laughs). Around that same time I got into System of a Down. I’m probably not thinking of something. The fact that I can’t think of anyone kind of shows you were I’m at.
Have we softened or changed what the word metal means?
No. I just don’t know anything. I’m not out there going to shows or listening to new music every week or month. I wouldn’t say that at all. I just don’t know.
Do you think metal or metal fans take themselves too seriously?
Again, hard question to answer. I don’t know people. If I knew everyone in the crowd at a Behemoth show, I could answer that. They may all be super funny or self-depreciating. I think there was a period of time when yes, that was the case maybe. Certainly in the 90s certain offshoots of rock and metal took themselves too seriously. I’m saying this without knowing the people back then. I didn’t know everyone in a band, but it certainly seemed to me, as an outsider, whether it was grunge or even moving into what was considered nu metal in the late 90s and early 2000s. I was a fan of what they called grunge bands. The nu metal bands is a scene where I don’t know what that means. If you define it as bands that were doing rap crossed over with metal, I don’t know if that’s the definition of that scene. I found that that scene took itself too seriously maybe in the early days. That was just from an outsider looking in, I didn’t know anyone personally.
“I DISCOVERED KISS, AND THAT WAS ONLY FOR ME. MY PARENTS DIDN’T WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT”
I’ve read that Kiss was your first introduction to metal music.
Yeah, they were definitely my gateway drug. They were the first band that I really loved on my own outside of what my parents were listening to. They had pretty good music in their house. As a kid they took me to see Elton John and Paul Simon. I remember the Woodstock album being on in the house a lot—The Band, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, etc. Then I discovered Kiss, and that was only for me. My parents didn’t want anything to do with that (laughs). That certainly opened the door to everything that came after—hard rock, punk, and metal.
Brian found a comparison between nerd culture and metal. Did it come out of nowhere or was there a connection?
It came out of nowhere. I had heard “Rock and Roll All Night” on the radio before I even knew what they looked like. I didn’t even know who did it because the DJ never announced it, so I was stuck having this song in my head trying to remember it because I loved it so much. A couple weeks later I saw them on television, and it was like “That’s what they look like!?” It was like Marvel Comics come to life. It just hit me over the head.
You also play in The Dammed Things with Joe Trohman. Were you surprised that the dude from Fall Out Boy had such an affinity for metal music?
No, that’s why when you ask questions about people taking themselves too seriously or things getting softer, I can’t really answer unless I know someone personally. Never judge a book by its cover. When I first met Joe around ought seven or eight—I met Joe through a mutual friend—we were both playing Washburn guitars at the time and a mutual friend at Washburn told me we needed to hang out because we liked all the same shit. We finally ended up hooking up and hanging out, and it was true, we liked all the same shit. I never pre-judged him because he was in Fall Out Boy. I had heard of Fall Out Boy, but had never even heard a song by them. I learned to stop pre-judging stuff by maybe my 30s. If you would have asked me this stuff in the 80s, I would have told you that everyone sucked and everyone’s a poser, but I grew up at some point and I learned to never judge a book by it’s cover. It’s not like I went out and bought a bunch of Fall Out Boy records, but my wife and I had a child, and at some point he got into Fall Out Boy in a big way. I realized that these guys write amazing pop songs, and I became a huge fan of the band all these years later. I should have been originally listening to them when they were putting these records out. I’m a huge pop fan and I consider myself a pop snob because I only like good pop music. I wasn’t surprised because one of the first times we hung out we started talking about bands and everything, from Thin Lizzy to Kiss, and I was like, “Yeah, we have a lot to talk about.” We were into the same movies and books, etc.
“LADY GAGA IS AMAZING. I THINK SHE’S PROBABLY THE BEST POP SONGWRITER OF THE LAST 10 YEARS AT LEAST.”
Who are you loving in pop that may surprise us?
I think Lady Gaga is amazing. I think she’s probably the best pop songwriter of the last 10 years at least. In my opinion, I think she’s written the best pop songs, and then it’s a pretty steep drop off for me. Sia writes good songs, too. From a band perspective, Fall Out Boy writes great pop songs. I’m into their old stuff where it was more pop punk, but I love the later stuff, too, that’s become much more produced and electronic sounding. I just think they write great hooks, and Patrick has an amazing voice. Bruno Mars—great pop songs. I like Twenty One Pilots, the record with the song from the shitty DC movie.
“Heathens” from Suicide Squad?
There’s a whole bunch of other songs, too, from that time.
You really can’t define Twenty One Pilots.
I remember seeing the movie and thinking, “What did I just hear?” I didn’t even know what I was listening to, in a good way.
Did you see A Star is Born?
My wife saw it, and I trust her opinion and I have high regard for her opinion. Her exact words were, “I want to watch you watch the first 10 minutes of this movie.” She’s rolling her eyes right now (laughs). The music is amazing and that’s the review.
“AS A KID WHO GREW UP ON 70S HARD ROCK AND PUNK THEN 80S METAL, THERE WILL NEVER BE A TIME AS GOOD AS THAT AGAIN.”
Do you think much about the future of metal?
On the day I get elected mayor of heavy metal, I’ll be able to answer that question because then it’d be my job to think about the future. I’m half kidding because I really don’t think about the future of heavy metal other than when some friends will get into a nerd discussion about, “What’s gonna happen when there’s no more Iron Maiden?” Invariably someone will ask, “Well, who’s gonna replace Iron Maiden?” And it takes all my will power to not punch that person. No one will ever replace Iron Maiden, it doesn’t work that way. No one replaced The Beatles. That’s not how it works. There will be new bands and you can choose to like them or not like them. I will say in a very snotty, shitty, stuck up way, the era I grew up in, as a kid who grew up on 70s hard rock and punk then 80s metal, there will never be a time as good as that again. It will never be that again. There will never be a time where there’s a Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Mötorhead existing at the same time, or Metallica or Slayer or Exodus, my list will go on forever. That will never happen again, but thankfully everyone has that music to listen to for all eternity. The future of heavy metal? I really don’t know. I think of it in the context of my own band. With a record coming out in 2021 then a tour cycle after that and probably another record after that at some point, we got at least 10 years I would think if everyone stays healthy. I would say the same for other bands of my time. All the bands we love are 10 years older than us, and they’re still going. To give you a quick succinct answer, I think the future of heavy metal is really healthy. If you really want a sound bite, I’ll say, “Posehn is the future of heavy metal! Comedy and metal together is the future! The metal fans have been screaming and clamoring for this album Grandpa Metal for years, and we are here to satisfy their cravings!”