For a moment, I forget about the green sweaters, pink polo shirts and bushy mustaches, and it’s like I’m walking down the street with any old five-piece metal band. The band’s members are talking about what they have planned for tonight’s show while trying to look as angry as possible for my cameraman, who’s snapping photos and mumbling directions. A man and woman, holding hands, walk by, unable to hide their shocked expressions. Cars slow down. Across the street someone point at us. And I remember—Oh yeah. I’m walking around with five Ned Flanders clones.
Okilly Dokilly, the Phoenix-based “nedal” band whose look and lyrics are inspired by The Simpsons’ legendary milquetoast neighborino, have been an internet sensation almost two years, but tonight’s show in Sacramento is part of their first headlining tour, which spans 39 dates. (Their last show? Springfield, of course.) This type of spontaneous fan interaction is still new to them. They’re having the time of their lives basking in it.
The group seem both excited and a bit nervous about taking on a headlining tour. A few months earlier they toured with Metalachi (mariachi covers of classic metal songs) and Mac Sabbath (McDonald’s themed Black Sabbath). They did well, but on this tour they get to see if people care enough to actively seek them out. The group knew that people liked to discuss them online, but were there fans actually devoted enough to support the band in person?
It turns out that, yes, Okilly Dokilly has real fans. The group writes original metal songs, using mostly direct quotes from Ned Flanders. On stage, they wear matching sweaters and sport actual mustaches (no fakeys). In the crowd, tattooed, long-haired metalheads rub elbows with nervous nerds. Others come dressed up in Simpsons costumes. At the show the night before, in San Francisco, someone came dressed as Sideshow Bob. Often, there’s a handful of people dressed as Flanders—or “Bonus Flanders,” as the band refer to them as.
“We thought we’d have to find this very specific group of people who were both fans of fun cartoons and also death metal with screaming and crazy noises. I thought that was two separate realms of people,” says the lead singer Head Ned, still trying to wrap his head around the group’s popularity. “But there are a lot more Simpsons fans and also metal fans at the same time than I ever thought.“
The band has a lot to prove on this tour. Months earlier they quit their day jobs. The tour is seven weeks long, and when they’re done they hope they can keep this going indefinitely. Head Ned quit a job as an accountant to pursue Okilly Dokilly, no small decision. He’s played music for years before this band started but has never been at a place where quitting his day job was even an option. It’s a dream come true, in a way he never imagined.
When news of the band started spreading in August of 2015, the group had never played a show. The only things that existed of them were some hilarious press photos and rough demo recordings. Wacky-themed bands have grown steadily more popular in the past decade, borne along on currents of internet fervor, but unlike bands like Mac Sabbath, Metalachi or the Pizza Underground, Okilly Dokilly writes entirely original music. And unlike some of these other bands, who seem to put a lot of time and effort into creating elaborate backstories and theatrical productions, Okilly Dokilly has always been haphazard, stumbling along into success with the wide-eyed innocence of a basement punk band, which gives it a certain charm. It feels like your buddy’s dumb band idea that you can’t help but root for.
There are a lot more Simpsons fans and also metal fans at the same time than I ever thought.”
The band started with a premise and a lot of laughing. Anyone that’s ever been in a band knows that these types ongoing conversation between rehearsals are never-ending: “We should start a band called [insert ridiculous name] that [insert ridiculous premise].” For Okilly Dokilly, the premise was: “Start a brutal, serious metal band that has the silliest name possible.” A million names came up, but when someone suggested Ned Flanders’ catchphrase “okily dokily,” that took the idea into a totally new direction. It was solidified when it dawned on them that they could respell it so the word “kill” appeared in the name twice. How metal is that?
The group created a Facebook page and uploaded its demos to Bandcamp. They had zero expectations, other than to make a handful of their friends laugh hysterically. A now defunct Australian music blog called Rip It Up discovered Okilly Dokilly and ran a piece on them. Immediately, several other music and pop culture sites ran posts on this new “Ned Flanders metal band.”
“I’m at work, and my phone’s just going crazy,” Head Ned says. “Likes are going up on Facebook. I’m getting email requests. People are trying to book us. We didn’t know how to play the songs yet. Whoops.”
The demos weren’t exactly what Head Ned wanted thousands of people to hear as their first impression of Okilly Dokilly. The only reason he put them online was to show friends and book some local shows.
“We didn’t put our best foot forward. We put a smelly sock out there,” Head Ned says, laughing. “What was amazing was that a whole bunch of people were into it.”
Since the group accidentally took the internet by storm, they were never able to pull off one specific thing they always joked about: Booking themselves on a bill, and then watching the audience gawk in disbelief as they attempted to process why exactly there were five Ned Flanders shredding on stage. The band booked their first show as unknowns, but it was scheduled for a month after they went viral. They were scheduled to play a Phoenix DIY space called Trunk Space, which holds 75 people max. Over 1,000 people RSVP’d to the show on its Facebook event page. Hundreds actually showed. The group, sensing they had a crisis on its hands, worked with a local Simpsons fan group so there’d be themed games outside to entertain anyone unable to get inside.
One thing that’s been overlooked by most publications covering Okilly Dokilly is simply how good they are. The musicianship is tight, and their approach to metal is unique. As a Ned Flanders themed metal band, they could have just as easily played a bunch of Metallica rip-off riffs and people would have still dug the concept.
The group spent quite a while writing and recording their debut album, Howdilly Doodilly, which was released last October, over a year after they’d gone viral. The album, a video, and now a tour, kicked off interest in the group again. This time not just based off the premise.
“I’m surprised that it’s still going. I thought the attention span on the internet was much shorter than we’re getting,” says keyboardist Red Ned, whose measured sentences and gentle timber is almost Flanders-esque. “When this started I thought, ‘Oh cool, this will be three months of fun. Then the internet will go on to caring about something else.’ It’s been two years now. It’s surprising in a really good way.”
I’m outside with everyone in the band besides Head Ned—it’s his shift to work the merch booth. We just finished the photo shoot and I wanted to get everyone else’s take on the band, but I’m interrupted by one of the club’s bouncers, a fan apparently. He seems to care less about the group’s Simpsons gimmick than the music. He’s taken with the complex arrangements and the group’s natural ability to work in dynamics that rise and fall in volume and intensity.
“It’s not overdone. It’s not redundant,” he says. “It’s like, as soon as you want some more, it’s like, no, I’m going to give you some of this, and you leave them this much to be desired.”
Bled Ned explains to him that they aren’t even huge metal fans. He and Head Ned are probably the biggest in the group. And none of them have played in a metal band prior to Okilly Dokilly. The bouncer is surprised. “That shit is on point,” he says.
When the group started, everyone had their “main bands” going on. This was intended to be the fun side project. As everyone devoted time to Okilly Dokilly, they’ve benefited from its silly nature. Red Ned tells me they are all a bunch of dorks in real life, meaning they kind of relate to Flanders on a personal level. Rather than fake it, pretending to be a bunch of tough metal maniacs, which would make no sense, they can lose their shit on stage while accessing their inner Flanders, which feels right.
When they do go on stage, each member seems to interpret “angry” Flanders in their own way. Bled Ned sits behind the kit with a pissed-off mug while banging on his drums with the flippant precision of Keith Moon. Red Ned, when he’s not pounding on his keyboard, he stomps all over the stage like a petulant child. Head Ned introduces almost every song with a Church Lady-esque “Hello Neighborinos.” He maintains the expression of a disapproving parent who’s politely scolding his normally well-behaved children. Except when he’s screaming. Then it’s all hell breaking loose: the side of dad you hope to never set off.
Bassist Cred Ned, who speaks very little during the interview, tells me at one point that pretending to be Flanders has been liberating for him.
“When you go up there, you can be your character of Ned. It allows you to do whatever you feel. You don’t have to be who you are every day. I like that freedom to go crazy—how I feel Ned would act,” he says. For him that means jumping up and down and waving his bass around like a lo-fi Jimi Hendrix.
The idea seems contradictive, yet somehow makes perfect sense. Red Ned jumps in and explains it more coherently, telling me about an episode of the Simpsons called “Hurricane Neddy.” In the episode, the Flanders family make every necessary preparation for an impending hurricane, while the Simpsons do nothing. The hurricane ends up demolishing the Flanders house and not the Simpsons’. The townfolk attempt to rebuild their house, but do a horrible job. The normally even-tempered Flanders loses his cool and screams insults at everyone in sight. This is the Ned Flanders Okilly Dokilly channels when they hop on stage.
“You can only be that nice for so long. Everyone’s got to crack sometime,” Red Ned says. “When we’re up there raging out, we put ourselves in that ‘last straw’ Ned.”
The episode provides some interesting Flanders backstory. It’s revealed that he was an extremely angry kid. His beatnik parents send him to a weird therapy program that involves eight months of continuous spanking, rendering him unable to express negative feelings. Flanders, it turns out, is always bubbling just under the surface with seething rage.
The band may have not intended to insert any serious commentary into Okilly Dokilly, but the backstory brings a whole new element to the project. Even the nicest, most morally upright among us are potential psychopaths if we don’t deal with our emotions properly. No one, no matter how “Christian” they seem, is above their primal humanity.
Like Flanders, even in their most intense, the project remains oddly family friendly, a result of the band’s lyrics being taken directly from Flanders’ lips. It’s the kind of band that can be enjoyed—cathartically—by anyone.
“The only thing that’s offensive is that we pull it out of context.” Bled Ned says. “That’s the beautiful dichotomy behind Ned Flanders playing heavy metal.”