Tim Heidecker by Gary Canino

Tim Heidecker discusses his second soft-rock album with Heidecker and Wood, his online beefs, and blurring the lines between his various public personae.

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Tim Heidecker and Davin Wood. Photo by Nick Weidner.

“Will someone say something that is funny or interesting?”

An exasperated Tim Heidecker, in a rare stand-up comedy performance last week, was climbing through rows of seats at the front of Bowery Ballroom, begging the audience for a bone. Part of the appeal of Heidecker is his myriad of characters, whether he’s playing a pathetic film critic in the online series On Cinema, a pathetic television cooking host, or in this case, a pathetic stand-up comedian, who’s homage to bad standup falls somewhere between Andrew Dice Clay, Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton, and Tim Allen. Last week, his set revolved around catchphrases like “Gravy Baby!”, the differences between people who choose Pepsi and those who like Coke, and riffing on audience member’s names. (“Rich? Well, you gotta be ‘rich’ to live in New York City these days!”)

Heidecker & Wood features Tim—and frequent collaborator Davin Wood—playing a character once again, this time a ’70s singer-songwriter. This might be the reason that the project is so incredibly misunderstood. Heidecker & Wood has confounded critics and fans of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job alike, and though their music is a homage to soft-rock FM radio heyday of the ’70s, the project is not a parody at all, but rather a songwriting project, a fact that has proven to be very confusing to some. I spoke with Tim recently about the process of making a second album, the context of this second Heidecker and Wood release, and his various online beefs.

Gary Canino You’ve mentioned before that your first album, Starting From Nowhere, wasn’t really connected from song to song. Some Things Never Stay the Same sounds more like a thematic piece.

Tim Heidecker Oh, that’s nice to hear. I think that might have to do with the songs being written more closely together in time. I was thinking of a certain kind of sound, and we had gone into it thinking it was going to be a heavier record, and didn’t want to get labeled as a soft rock parody band again.

GC The press release name checks more singer-songwriters this time, among them Harry Nilsson. Were records like Pussy Cats or Nilsson Sings Newman an influence?

TH Yeah, those are two records I love. I love Nilsson’s entire catalogue, although it’s not the most consistent thing. Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, Richard and Linda Thompson, these are the records I was listening to when I was writing these songs, and it’s fun to take on Randy Newman or Warren Zevon’s voice, or to pretend to get in the mindset of what it’s like to write a song from that perspective. And then you try to cut away from that and try to make it not a straight parody, to somehow find your own voice in that as well.

GC I’ve been a fan of Randy Newman for a while myself. I saw him perform in Virginia a few years ago, and his on-stage persona was the real deal: bitter, self-deprecating, everything you would expect.

TH I feel the same way about him, he’s the real deal for sure. I had a big re-education of Randy Newman in the past 5 years, listening to Good Old Boys and Sail Away. When you’re younger and you listen to him, you can associate him with these corny cartoon songs, but then you listen to Good Old Boys, and that’s some pretty serious stuff, just great songs. With a song like “Getaway Man,” I’m sort of doing my Randy impression. I love the horns that he uses, the arrangements, just the way those records sound. The playing is so good. I’m not trying to do a parody of that kind of music, but it’s definitely a big influence.

GC One of my favorites on your new album is “Tell Her I Love Her.” That one reminds me of “So Far Away” by Dire Straits.

TH Oh, OK. Yeah some of that guitar work. That one Davin brought up. We demo songs separately, and that one immediately sounded like a hit. (laughter) You know, a classic radio-friendly kind of song. It was one of these songs that are just verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and it’s over, not a lot of gags or tricks, just great little pop songs.

GC Not to go on about Dire Straits, but I like how Mark Knopfler sometimes uses the Randy Newman trick—the “unreliable narrator.” Like the character who sings “Money for Nothing” can be compared to the character who sings “Short People.”

TH Yeah, Newman is all about creating characters singing the songs, and it’s important to remember that listening: it’s not necessarily the point of view of the songwriter, but the character singing it.

GC Dave Eggers once wrote that he feels music critics are near the bottom of the totem pole. Reading your twitter, you seem to agree, you really take critics to task.

TH Yeah, I have a little bit of a cranky personality online, and that’s a weird way of expressing myself. But Twitter has kind of leveled the playing field. I want to let all of them know—bloggers, reviewers, critics—that I’m watching you, and I’m gonna call you out if I feel like there’s bullshit being slung. And I’m paying attention, and it matters, and words have consequences. So much of the current pop culture I don’t connect with. I don’t get it, and I don’t think it’s any good, so when I see a website like Pitchfork, and I see the way that they view music and think about music, I don’t get it. I don’t get why they like things, and I think a lot of it is pretension, trying to be cool and trying to seem cool. I think it’s ridiculous, and when I think something is ridiculous, I make fun of it. That’s something I’ve done from the beginning, laugh at the absurdity of the world. And it’s personal! The stuff that I do is treated a certain way, and if I don’t like the way it’s being treated, I react. I probably shouldn’t, but it’s kind of fun, as long as I’m reacting in a creative way. I’m not just going to go, Fuck you. Sometimes it’s a little more nuanced.

GC Kanye West recently fought with Jimmy Kimmel on Twitter as well.

TH Kanye’s another one where I don’t get what the big deal is. It’s another one of those things where I just feel completely disconnected from the culture I’m living in. When what he’s doing is considered valuable, I just shake my head, I don’t get it.

GC You’ve always had this fixation with the crudeness of pop culture, like when you went out of your way to attend a live taping of Russell Brand’s talk show, Brand X. Have you ever gone intentionally gone to see a terrible band play? A friend of mine once traveled pretty far to watch Eagles tribute band on Long Island.

TH I think that would be uncomfortable for me—too much so. Not to change the question too much, because I can’t think of an example of me doing that, but as much as there are things I really don’t like, I do have a certain amount of sympathy for anybody who tries to make or write music. The Onion’s AV Club has this really annoying series called HateSong, where they have a comedian or musician talk about what song they hate the most. They asked me to do it, and I thought “I don’t want to focus any of my energy talking about a song that I hate.” Whoever’s song it is, if I hate it that much, I’m just not going to think about it. Whoever wrote “Who Let the Dogs Out,” they wrote a song! Shut up! Talk about something else! Who cares! I don’t know where I’m at with what’s funny about hating things anymore.

GC Then what is it about you and Russell Brand?

TH He just really bothers me. I keep seeing him pop up, and people will say “Oh, he’s not that bad because he showed up with Hugo Boss, supporting Nazis.” But if that’s just his gimmick to be outrageous, why should I ever be surprised? There’s just no danger in anything anymore, and if your gimmick is to be dangerous in your comedy, you’re just preaching to your own choir, and to me, it’s not very interesting.

GC You were pretty clear in interviews about Starting From Nowhere that you didn’t want to make any music videos. What was the concept with your video for “Getaway Man?”

TH I’m kind of ambivalent about music videos. It’s hard to conceive of them for this project because I don’t want to make parody videos either. Our “Getaway Man” video is a nice balance, though. I want people to hear the music more than anything. When I’m writing songs, I’m writing them to be listened to, not to score some kind of visual experience. I’d rather people just put on their headphones and listen to the song or the record in its totality. It’s meant to be listened to in a certain way. But I realize the business of how this thing works is that you have to give people something to look at while you’re listening, so we put something together. I like it when fans make videos. But I don’t want to spend time worried about the imagery that goes along with the music, because that’s not why I do it.

GC I really enjoyed your work in The Comedy. I imagine director Rick Alverson doing an appropriate music video for this album.

TH Yeah, Rick is a great visual artist, and has already made some great music videos. He’s a director of photography too, so he has a good eye. But I don’t want to see myself singing these songs. (laughter) I don’t really care about the visual imagery that goes along with a song. In the 1970s, a video of a song would just be the band playing in a studio, like John Lennon’s “Imagine:” pretending that they were filming when they were recording and you’re watching that. So we added another layer to it that kind of makes it fun and funny. That’s as far as I wanted to go with it.

GC Have you ever thought about scoring a film?

TH That sounds like a lot of work! Davin does that more often. I just like writing the songs. This record satisfies that part of my brain.

GC You’ve explored a lot of styles, releasing songs that reference certain eras of Bob Dylan, The Kinks, etc. Why does Heidecker and Wood mostly focus on the ’70s?

TH Well, when I’m doing those smaller projects, it’s all about conceiving the idea and trying to see the idea through and get it out of my system and into the world. Even on this record I feel like there are different styles: “Sunday Man” is very Pink Floyd-y, and on both of our albums there’s sort of a variety of genres. But I don’t want it to be so eclectic that you’re confused. You want to sit down and listen to a record and it all works together, like you said earlier, for it to have a nice thematic touch to it. I’ve got a folder of quasi-country songs I’ve been writing, maybe it would make sense to release a whole set of those.

I’ve got this record coming out with Gregg Turkington in December, under the name Yellow River Boys, that’s a completely Lynyrd Skynyrd record from beginning to end. It’s all about people who love drinking their own piss, and drinking other people’s piss, and piss clubs, and all kinds of disgusting things. So that’s in the genre of country rock. You know, I just want to have an idea and to be able to see it through, and have it be as close and as well thought out as it can possibly be, with the time and resources available.

GC I know you’re not one for corporate tie-ins, but was this new project sponsored by Pitzman Mustard?

TH (laughter) No, I think that was funny that that idea came around at the same time as my cooking show thing. I guess I had a lot of piss on my brain.

GC Did your brief goof, telling the world you were Editor-in-Chief of Rolling Stone, inform the business of this new album?

TH (laughter) No, I don’t think there’s been too much blow-back from Rolling Stone yet. I don’t know what the point of that was.

GC So no sabotage from Jann Wenner?

TH We’ll see. I don’t know if they’ll review this album, but if they do we’ll see how many stars it gets. You would think people who read Rolling Stone would love this album and would be getting behind it, but … no one cares!

GC I saw a clip of your old band playing “Bottle of Wine” recently, which seems to be in the vein of Heidecker and Wood.

TH That was a long time ago, probably around 1999 or 2000. I was living with Eric Wareheim in Philadelphia at the time. That band just started out as a joke, a party band. We played some shows, and I just kept it going with a few other guys. We made a couple of records and videos. It was like a Spinal Tap, or Tenacious D, sort of thing. We loved playing music and had nothing important to say, so we just made it fun. It’s nice now—it never made a dent when we were doing it, and it still hasn’t—but Tim and Eric fans find it, it’s very proto-Awesome Show. You know when you see people’s early work, and you say, “Yeah, it’s not all there yet?”

BOMB A lot of the Awesome Show aesthetic is very DIY, especially the earlier seasons. But Heidecker and Wood seems to be the opposite of that, the recordings are very hi-fi, and you seem to be going for the Steely Dan studio vibe.

TH Absolutely. That’s the fun part, dialing it in. On this record, we brought in musicians‐guitar players, horn players, violin players—that we knew we would get real organic performances from. It’s laborious to do everything yourself, and we’re not really good enough players to get the solos that we could get from someone like Mike Bloom. It took us two years because we really took our time to try to make it as good as possible.

BOMB Did you record any material on a four-track growing up?

TH Yeah, I have some tapes from my high school band, which I need to digitize now. I have those tapes lying around somewhere. But it’s nothing remarkable. (laughter) Probably no hidden gems out there.

BOMB Have you reached out to any of the studio guys that Steely Dan used, like Bernard Purdie or Jay Graydon? I imagine with all of the celebrities that you get on Awesome Show that you’d be able to do the same on a Heidecker and Wood album, only with musicians.

TH No, but that’s a good idea. The next album I want to make would be a concentrated period of time in a studio, with real live playing. This record was mostly overdubs, people coming in one at a time. Although reaching out to those famous guys might cost a fortune, which could be prohibitive.

BOMB You didn’t really tour the last album. Are you considering a tour this time around?

TH Maybe, we’ve done some live shows but it’s a big production. Last time we had a nine person band. We’re gonna try to do a San Francisco show in January, and see what that feels like. If the record is a big thing, and there’s some incentive to tour, we might, but we’re doing a new Tim and Eric show next year. I mean, it’s fun to play, but we’re not making these records to go on tour. We’re doing it for the songs to exist and to get it out there as a recording project.

Heidecker & Wood’s Some Things Never Stay the Same is available now from
Little Record Company .

Gary Canino is a writer living in New York City.

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