Tim Heidecker is an odd duck. As part of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, he’s ascended seemingly out of nowhere into a place in comedy where only the Mr. Show cast, Monty Python and Second City have tread in the last half century. He’s paved his own road, this time from the editing bay, with observations about the ridiculousness of corporate culture and lo-production value television, making magic from the mundane. In the couple years since the last episode of Tim and Eric aired, Heidecker’s made a foray into the music world, though here he’s a bit more subdued than, say, Eric Idle. He’s made some soft rock, and some pieces mocking Herman Cain, and now, with Titanic and Other Songs, he goes after one of his biggest heroes yet, and one of mine too: Bob Dylan. I talked to Tim Heidecker on a dissonant speaker phone about making tunes, and also (but only for a brief bit) about making TV. This interview by D.M. Collins.
In addition to your show, you’ve done a lot of music. You did some Herman Cain music, you did solo records. What keeps you driven towards music?
I enjoy making music, and I have the tools to make the music, and I’m naturally kind of … you know my instinct is always going to be comedy, but as a hobby I kind of built a little home studio. The way I learn and the way I sort of enjoy using music or playing music is to sort of try to make something as good as I possibly can. And to have specific projects, really, seems to encourage the growth.
The vibe I get from this new album is that it seems abrupt. You didn’t even have a band or a recording studio at the time, correct? You just tweeted, ‘Can somebody help me out?’ and a band emerged from out of the Twittersphere?
That was the ‘All the Tired Horses’ track. I was in a hotel, and I was looking at this Bob Dylan tribute album from Amnesty Interna- tional. I’m a huge Dylan fan and I like all pe- riods of his music, including records like Self Portrait, which has always been sort of like his ‘worst album.’ I was obsessed with this one song on it called ‘All the Tired Horses,’ which is just really bizarre. He doesn’t even sing on it, and it’s like the opening track to this album. And everyone says this album is a sort of ‘fuck you’ to the record industry, and to his fans, and to sort of his persona. So I was just on my computer making this track on my laptop—this really weird track—and I kind of liked where it was going but I wasn’t at home in my studio. I literally just had the keyboard on my laptop to play with—which is frustrating. So I had this day off in Chicago, and as I recall it was freezing cold, as it always is when I’m in Chicago, so I had this day off and I felt it would be an interesting thing to try to use my social media skills to recruit. … It was like a beautiful thing be- cause these guys that I found … not only did they have a studio, but they played the kind of music that was in my head for how this should sound and they were super young and really nice and eager to do this—to help, to just make fun music. They were fans of mine, so that made it easy for them to want to do it, but for me it was a blast—to just go and take a cab and show up at this address. You know, that would have been me ten or fifteen years ago if I’d had access to Twitter or Facebook or something. If somebody that I was a fan of was looking to record, and I had the ability to do that, I would have been like, ‘Come to my house!’
Is this a skill you can apply elsewhere— like tweeting: ‘Hey, who wants to be my free accountant?’
I don’t abuse it. I feel like I could try … Occasionally I go there for tech support.
What’s the band that helped you out?
They’re called The Earth is a Man.
The project itself is guided solely by you, which seems like a change. I’ve read a lot of interviews with you, and they always seem to be with Eric in tow. But now it seems that at least in the musical arenas you’re exploring, you’re doing it without him. Are you pushing him kind of into the John Oates role?
We both have projects we do outside of our partnership. He directs a lot of music videos. I do music stuff, act in other people’s stuff. You know, we do whatever we wanna do— we don’t think too hard about it.
One interesting thing about the Tim and Eric show is how important the editing process is to the comedy. With this album, it seems a little more subdued. For example, the first track—the Dylanesque one about the Titanic—you get in seven minutes or so before you start mentioning John Cameron and venture into other more ‘comedic’ territory. Do you just naturally approach music with a different pace? Or do you ever want to cut songs up in the editing process as much as you do on TV?
I think it’s dictated by what the idea is. The reason the Titanic song is so long is because the genesis of the idea came from the news that Bob Dylan’s new album is going to be featuring a 14-minute song about the Titanic. So the idea was for me to challenge myself, to beat him to it. So the length is part of the joke, and it’s part of the idea.
Tell me about Heidecker and Wood. Once again, it’s pretty straight soft rock.
Davin [Wood] did a lot of the music on the show, and we would work on stuff together— collaborate. We were working on a couple songs that didn’t make it on to the show for whatever reason and we just started to fool around with this style of music that was really fun to make. It spiraled from there where we ended up having like fifteen songs that were in various stages of completion, and we felt like it’d be fun to put it out.
On Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, you were able to get some real soft- rock veterans to appear as themselves. I was pretty enamored of your ‘Tairy Greene Machine’ episode, in which both Richard Marx and Peter Cetera appeared to sing ‘Little Dancing Man’ songs. How did you get them, considering they were satirizing their own sound?
We have a producer around when we’re writing, and we try to get as much casting integration as possible, you know? Our producer went to them and made them the best offer that we could. They were nice guys! We want- ed Richard Marx to wear a wig because he doesn’t have that big mane of hair anymore, but he refused.
I suppose I should ask about the Tim and Eric show itself, because your fans want to know—are you guys planning on taping any more episodes? Or are you going to focus more on films and albums like this one?
Um, I’m not really sure …
No problem! We can talk more about the album: one of the most charming songs was about you and your wife—‘My Wife Is Wearing a Mask.’
That was a little cinema verite songwriting. It was just a moment captured in time around the house; very lo-fi. You can hear my dog attack my wife at the end. Everybody’s fine.
It seems very hard for music to be purely comedic. I don’t mean people haven’t been successful, but I can think of a lot of failures. You can surprise people with a punchline in a joke, but with a chorus it’s harder to do.
I like Tenacious D. They always make me laugh and their music is pretty great. Also, Weird Al—the giant who sort of started it all and was kind of a hero of mine as a kid, and who turned out to be a great guy.
Tenacious D were some of the first people to recognize the genius of Neil Hamburger. There’s that great record where he’s opening for them and goading their fans.
That’s one of my favorite comedy albums of all time. I work with [Neil] all the time. I do a podcast with his alter ego called ‘On Cinema.’ We wrote a screenplay together; we have a good friendship, a good creative relation- ship. There was a game show we shot a pilot for but it didn’t work. It was pretty funny, but it was destined to be a one-and-done kind of thing.
What bands, not necessarily comedic, would you love to share a stage with?
Definitely the Band. A dream would have been to have sat in the room with those guys while they made a record. I’m trying to emulate them somehow in my music. I like Randy Newman quite a bit—his early records. I really like the new Rufus Wainwright record.
One of the records I’m reminded of when I listen to your stuff is Ween’s 12 Golden Country Greats album, which has some comedic elements. But they’re playing it straight—it’s real country music.
Yeah, I love Ween. I grew up on them in high school and college. I’m always interested in blurring the lines of what is real and fake. It’s very interesting to me.
TIM HEIDECKER RECORD RELEASE PERFORMANCE ON SUN., SEPT. 9, AT MOUNT ANALOG, 5906 1/2 N. FIGUEROA ST., HIGHLAND PARK. 4 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. TITANIC AND OTHER SONGS OUT NOW ON ORION READ. ORIONREAD.COM.