The latest album from comedian/actor/writer Brian Posehn is Grandpa Metal. He co-wrote much of the album with Anthrax’s Scott Ian, and there are a plethora of guests including Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg, Slayer’s Gary Holt, Slipknot’s Corey Taylor, Steel Panther’s Michael Starr, Exodus’ Steve “Zetro” Souza, Testament’s Chuck Billy and Alex Skolnick, the late Jill Janus (Huntress) and more. I spoke with Posehn about the album, the overlap between metal and nerd culture, his podcast and other topics.
Chad Bowar: You and Scott Ian did most of the songwriting on the album. How did your songwriting process work?
Brian Posehn: It was pretty easy since we had done other stuff before and had so much fun, going all the way back to the Mr. Show movie Run, Ronnie Run. That was the first thing he and I wrote together and it was just he and I coming up with a concept like a Korn riff and then I’ll just write the lyrics and it’s about an ass kicking fat kid and it just kind of wrote itself. And so everything since then we write it like that where he’ll write the riffs, I’ll start working on lyrics, then we’d come together and it just fleshes itself out pretty easily.
Scott seems to be embracing the Grandpa Metal moniker.
Well that was always the thing. I had the song titles first, but we never had what the jokes were or what the lyrics were. And I looked at it a couple of ways. Originally, Grandpa Metal was like everybody my age, really. It was more a general kind of comment and it being a type of person, a crusty old dude who only listens to old stuff. And that’s also what Scott is. So then I decided on just making it about him and I called him Grandpa Metal and I call myself that. But then once we said it’s just about him, now it’s just old man jokes and the song kind of writes itself. And that one was where I brought in Joe Trohman who’s also in The Damned Things with Scott and Fall Out Boy and a bunch of other bands. He’s a really good buddy of mine and we wrote those lyrics of us slamming Scott for three and a half minutes.
At what point did the guests come in? Did you have them in mind when you were writing them or did it come afterwards when everything was already ready to go?
Both. It depends on the song. So, “1/4 Viking 3/4 Pussy” was written as an Amon Amarth type song. And then my producer was working with them and I said, see if you can get Johan to do some backing vocals on this thing. I always wanted it to sound like that, but for it to actually sound like that, I’m so stoked at the way that one worked out. With “Satan Is Kind Of A Dick,” I always wanted Gary Holt to do the solo and I always wanted him to do a Slayer type solo because he was already playing with them, so it was like, oh, that makes so much sense. But yeah, it just depends on the song on who we came up with. Some didn’t fit immediately, but then I feel like, it’s so perfect.
Did you know everybody beforehand?
Pretty much everybody on the record with one exception. I’ve met Johan, but the only ones I didn’t ask personally were Johan and Jeff Pilson from Dokken. Those are the only two I didn’t personally ask. And I’ve met Jeff at shows and introduced myself as an old Dokken nerd. Our producer Jay Ruston was again working with Jeff and just said, hey man, will you do it? We had Joey Vera on every track, but we’re doing this ’80s song. “Big Fat Rock” is such an homage to every hard rock or heavy metal band I ever liked that talked about their wieners. So to get a dude from that era to play bass on it just was perfect.
Michael Starr from Steel Panther was another guest on the album. Their style is funny lyrics, but serious music. Is that the combination you were going for?
Absolutely. Those guys are good friends of mine and yeah, they have that formula. It helps so much that the songs sound great. Having him on, having him on a cover (“The Fox, What The Fox Say”) just made sense. I can’t sing. I can do my limited thing, but that was always the idea on vocals, filling it out as much as I could and to get him and Corey Taylor on one song, works out perfectly.
Out of all the ’80s pop songs, what about A-ha’s “Take On Me” made you want to give it the metal treatment?
It’s a song that you’ve already heard, it’s such an earworm and so ingrained. I’ve always felt like it would be better if it was done metal. I feel a lot of people have covered it, but never the way I wanted it covered. And that’s really what it was. I’m not rich, but I like the Richie Rich idea of, I’m going to have a band do whatever. There’s kind of this fantasy idea, and I did it. I just called in favors, really. It’s kind of this fantasy band. Every song is me doing what I wanted to do. And the cover is just really about, I just want to hear this metal and I want to hear Bay Area dudes that I love. What would it be like if Chuck Billy and Zetro sang? I had the means to do that because they’re my friends and I was already recording this album. It’s me doing this dream version of it. I’ve played it so many times. I play it in the car and my son is probably sick of it. And the record’s not even out yet.
Is there any possibility of putting together a live band and doing a one off show or a small tour?
The idea is for Scott and I to go out and do a tour at some point. We did a version of this on the Mega Cruise, where we would both do comedy or spoken word and then come out and do a couple of songs at the end. If I ever did a full set, it would only be a one off because that’s not a dream of mine. Making this record was a dream and shooting videos and having fun and messing around with Scott on the songs is something I want to do. But beyond that, that’s really intimidating. The one time I performed with a full band, it was at a Golden Gods a couple of years ago when did “More Metal Than You.” I was shitting my pants the whole time. That was terrifying, even practicing with those guys, because I don’t do what they do and I don’t have the natural timing. I have to look at Scott on when I have to jump in and start singing. I’m not a natural at it at all. And so, the idea of doing it more than once would be terrifying. The one time will be terrifying.
As a comic, is it difficult to open for bands? It seems like that would be a tough venue to do.
I feel if I’m doing my own band it wouldn’t be, but, yes, I have done that quite a bit and I’ve done some sketchy, scary ones. I did a Slayer show. I did a show together with Mastodon. It was billed as Brian and Mastodon together. That still had people that didn’t want to hear what I had to say, even though it was advertised that you were getting both. There was a guy flipping me off the entire time. Metalheads like what they like and I get it. I’m one of them. When I did the Slayer show, I was apologizing. I was like, I wouldn’t want to hear some fat dude talk about his cat either. And that’s what I was talking about at the time. (laughs)
You have written a lot of different things from jokes to comics to a book. Is writing lyrics for a song using the same writing muscle or is it a completely different skill?
A completely different skill. I feel like my songwriting is getting better, but the first couple of songs were pretty remedial. I think I still go to some easy rhymes, but so did the Beastie Boys and I love them. I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better at it and it was really fun getting the last couple of songs on the record. Joe Trohman helped me with the last three songs, so that was a relief. It took some pressure off me and then plus writing with a guy who really knows what he’s doing.
What did you learn from your earlier albums that you were able to apply to this one?
I did two records with Relapse. And so on those two Relapse records, they both had songs. The first had “Metal By Numbers” and the Mr. Show song. The other record had the cover of “The Gambler” and then “More Metal Than You.” And really what it was is like, was well, this is what you can do. So do funny covers and write songs about metal or write songs that are going after metal cliches or metal in-jokes.
Have you noticed there’s a fair amount of overlap between nerd culture and metal culture?
Oh, for sure. I’ve been going to Comic Con a long time and there’s always metal booths and I always see dudes with long hair and patches of the bands I like cruising around the floor just with the other types of nerds.
You recently released the autobiography Forever Nerdy. Do you have any plans for a follow-up focusing on some of your TV career and other things?
I had talked to my editor about that. I hope so. I have a couple of other things planned first after the record. I’m doing some comic books and some other writing. But yeah, I would like to, I have other stories. There are more stories. The book didn’t become a bestseller (laughs), but I could probably justify doing a follow up. So that’s an idea down the road.
Is there anybody in the metal world that you have not had the chance to meet that you would like to?
(Rob) Halford and Ozzy. I met Ozzy but never sat down with him. I’ve worked with Sharon and she’s delight and I wish I could spend more time with that dude. Those are the big ones. I never met Halford. When I’ve been backstage at Priest, he’s already gone. I’ve spent time with Glen and KK. I met some of my other gods. (Ronnie James) Dio was at my house. I’ve lived this metal nerd dream and when I fill out my list, I still have a couple of guys I’d like to spend more time with.
I also wanted to ask you about your podcast Nerd Poker. It has been going on since 2012, so you were on the ground floor of podcasts.
Well, I feel like second wave. When I did mine, all my friends already had podcasts for at least a year or two already. I didn’t know what to do right away and I don’t love them. I don’t listen to them. I dabbled with them, and there’s certain topics where it’s like, oh, I could listen to that. But the idea of listening to 300 episodes of a thing is so daunting. When I’m traveling, I’m listening to old music. I still carry a second generation iPod.
So when we first started doing Nerd Poker, it was really like, what would I do? I don’t want to just interview my friends. Everybody was doing that and it just made sense to, why didn’t I just record my D and D game? And now there’s a ton of D and D podcasts. I don’t know if I was the first, but I know we were definitely in that first wave of them. Then we went away for awhile and then we came back. I hated doing it in a studio. I want to do this at home, the way you play D and D. And once I decided that I would just self produce it and not even do it through a network, I’m having a lot more fun than I did the other way.
Streaming has changed both the music and television worlds. Is the amount of comedy specials available on the various services good for comedy, or are they siphoning people away from live comedy?
I don’t think so. I haven’t noticed that as a problem. I still do good business on the road and I think it’s great for comedy that there’s so many different types of comics out there now and some of the representation of it. And I don’t mean just liberal. There’s all types of comedy out there and available and on different platforms.
(interview published February 12, 2020)