Sometimes just looking at a certain comedian can make you giggle, and cult alt-comedy star Tim Heidecker is certainly one of them. Heidecker and his longtime partner in crime Eric Wareheim of Tim & Eric fame have been making audiences laugh (and sometimes cringe) with their odd, signature brand of surrealist humor on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim since their first solo show aired in 2004. Outside of their comedy series, the duo has independently been pursuing creative interests with Wareheim directing several famous music videos and Heidecker hitting the studio with his partner Devin Wood as Heidecker & Wood. Following up on the pair’s 2011 ode to soft rock Starting from Nowhere, we caught up with Heidecker to talk about balancing comedy with earnest music production and his new record Some Things Never Stay the Same, released yesterday, 12 November.
I just finished listening to the record. It sounds like a sort of who’s who of truck-stop cassette tapes, but in the best way possible.
I suppose that’s what we were going for [laughs]. We really channeled the singer songwriter guys from the ’70s: Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Richard Thompson, Jack Brown, Steely Dan, Van Morrison. That’s probably the center of the record, then it fills out with some other people. In terms of the arc; we were kind of thinking of the classical album programming but then you get to side two and it takes on this sort of Pink Floyd space rock feel.
How do you balance comedy and music?
For this record it was a little less emphasis on the humor and just trying to get the sound right. If you look at every song, there’s something funny going on. Whether it’s the idea of the song, or the arrangements, or the point of view of the character. Some of the songs are kind of stupid, like “Getaway Man.” Why would you write a song about a getaway man? Obviously the Tim & Eric stuff is over the top and ridiculous. This gives me an opportunity to do something more subtle, where maybe you have to listen a few times to see the joke.
For Some Things Never Stay the Same it was more the idea of, “Let’s make a rock record where we make the kind of music we listen to.” It’s funnier more in the way where Randy [Newman] or Warren [Zevon] might be funny—where they’re making characters in their songs that are sort of ridiculous.
There’s no song that I would say is straight on serious, not without a bit of tongue and cheek. This is supposed to be fun and a fun genre exercise. Although at the same time, a lot of the songs are written by myself, with a piano or guitar, that I want to make sound good musically—then in the lyrics, I try to make it fun on another level. For example, a song like “Coming home,” I’m not making fun of a ballad, I’m just writing a ballad. Then you’ve got a song like “Cocaine.” Every song about cocaine is always about the dark side, how it’s a bad thing. To write a song that’s purely positive, that’s where the humor comes in.
It’s clear you really love ’70s soft rock.
I don’t really call it soft rock. I don’t really like soft rock necessarily. This record is a little heavier, I think this record is way more diverse. So I think when we were putting this together, the working title was literally “Rock Record,” so it’s not the same as the first record. If you look at my career, everything I’ve done is different than the last thing. We’re not interested in repeating ourselves. That’s sort of my credo.
Does Devin [Wood] get in on your comedy bits?
We try to just get our work done. Making this record has been laborious and we both have other things going on in our life, so we have to set aside time to get stuff done. It takes a long time to get it right, and the record sounds really good for a reason—because we’ve spent a lot of time working on it and that part’s not always fun. The writing and ideas are fun, but in the studio it’s just work.
All of your work is so original and different than anything else out there. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process?
Ideas—whether it’s music or comedy—come in the same sort of way. They come ethereally to you. Whether it’s in the shower or on the toilet or in bed. The raw idea sort of comes to you. It’s hard to sit down and just start thinking. I’ll look at music and go into my office studio and just start playing and sometimes I’ll have an idea and other times it’ll just come to me. It’s really about following though with the idea. With comedy it’s gotta go through so many levels: What’s the execution? How to to enrich it and make it funny? What’s the context? Why is it important? All of those things start unravelling and giving a clearer picture of idea to actuality.
It’s the same with a song. Is this worth two weeks of getting it together? What can Devin bring? I tend to write songs in three or four chords, it’s pretty basic. Then I turn to Devin and say, “Here’s this sloppy mess, let’s jazz it up a bit.”
The only thing I keep thinking about this record is how uncool it is. I’m always pleased when people like it and get it, but it’s always funny when the tastemakers just don’t embrace it and they can’t get behind it. I guess they don’t like that kind of music. It’s funny to make something so uncool that the influencers can’t get behind it.
What’s coming up next for you?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’ve got songs piled up to my ears that are in various stages of completion. It will be going through them and getting to work on them and making them sound good. That’s kind of the way it’s always been. There’s always ideas for songs, and that’s supposed to be the hard part. When you get the verse and the chorus, you just have to get to work. Devin and I will get together, our mood will dictate the style and the song will be in that style. In other words, it’s going to be a country record [laughs].
Images courtesy of Nick Weidner