“As a creative person you need the ability to be open to the world changing around you…There’s things we did in our past that we wouldn’t do now. Culture changes. People’s perceptions change. And I’m totally fine with that.”
For someone so irreverent about almost everything, Tim Heidecker really does give a damn.
At face value, Heidecker, 47, is a man possessed with satirizing the absurdity around him. Spanning decades, he’s amassed an illustrious comedic portfolio of parody: from the cult classic, Tim and Eric, Awesome Show, Great Job!, where he and longtime collaborator Eric Wareheim mocked public access television and everything in between, to On Cinema, a skewer of the movie review industry; to stand-up comedy where he plays a Trump supporting, misogynistic and clueless comedian.
Since 2016, Heidecker, along with his friends DJ Douggpound and Vic Berger, has also hosted the weekly call-in show Office Hours Live. It’s a free flowing bonanza of political rants, sound effects and interviews with friends and fans.
Beneath the surface of the satire, however, Tim Heidecker is expressing a political worldview. His targets are often those who seek to grift against us; those he believes are leading the discourse in a dangerous direction; à la Donald Trump or anti-trans pundits and comedians. His outspoken, leftist, politics have clearly divided his fan base. But popularity be damned, he always speaks his mind.
Heidecker’s art is truly expansive and prolific. On top of the aforementioned work, he’s executive-produced huge comedy shows like Nathan For You and The Eric André Show. He’s also produced ads like the Terry Crews’ fronted Old Spice commercials. But in recent years, Heidecker has honed his artistic expression into his music.
Long before the comedy career, Heidecker was fine-tuning songwriting chops playing in local bands in his native Philadelphia. Music was always present in the comedic work — and he’s released a handful of satirical records like Urinal St. Station by his piss-obsessed band Yellow River Boys and his anti-Trump album Too Dumb For Suicide — but in 2016, Heidecker dropped his first proper solo project. The album, In Glendale, was a departure from the past and presented more serious themes and messages.
He followed up that album with 2020’s Fear of Death and last year’s High School. Both albums showcase impressive, well-crafted, songs touching on themes like mortality, lost love and nostalgia. It doesn’t hurt that Heidecker is friends, and frequently collaborates, with some of indie music’s brightest stars like Kurt Vile, Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood and Mac Demarco. The music cements Heidecker as a double threat in comedy and music; and as a true creative with never ending inspiration.
At the time of writing, Heidecker is about to take both personalities – the brash comedian and singer-songwriter – on a European tour.
Admittedly, I’m a late comer to the Tim Heidecker oeuvre. I was first introduced through his 2020 stand-up special, An Evening with Tim Heidecker. I was peripherally aware of Tim and Eric, but had never really paid close attention. The stand-up special blew me away and I embarked down the wondrous rabbit hole of jokes and jingles. Some label Heidecker’s work as cringe comedy or anti-comedy; I just think it’s funny.
There is much I WANNA KNOW from one of the most accomplished, prolific, minds in comedy. I caught up with Tim via Zoom from his studio in LA.
From his brash stand-up, to the debate around cancel culture in comedy, to transgender people, to Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, to his love of Randy Newman and Neil Young, we cover it all.
I wanted to start with something that will hopefully endear myself to you and show that I took this interview very seriously. In a recent interview you talked about your song Sirens of Titan the reference to Peter Arnett, an award-winning journalist that you grew up watching on TV. You said you were curious if he had heard the song?
I am. Yeah.
I have an update on that for you. I emailed his son Andrew and he wrote back saying: “The song was brought to Peter’s attention last summer. Peter loved it and sent the link to many of his friends. We got a big kick out of it. Excellent work. Tim is a fine comedian/musician and you can tell Tim we are big fans of his and we congratulate him on his Sirens of Titan hit.“
That’s amazing. Thank you for doing that.
My pleasure. Let’s start with comedy. I’m actually a recent fan of your work. A good friend of mine, Mike Galley, sent me your stand up special about two years ago. And from there I’ve just gone down the rabbit hole. That character that you play on stage is also called Tim Heidecker. So who is that version of Tim Heidecker? How would you describe how this guy sees the world?
I guess simply he’s my id. He’s developed and evolved over the years. It started by being in L.A. and going to friends comedy shows and seeing a lot of people that weren’t funny and were flailing up there. I grew up a huge Andy Kaufman and Albert Brooks fan. Guys that kind of took a meta approach to stand-up comedy. Steve Martin is another one. The audience has to be aware of the tropes and traditions of comedy to get it. And so I started by just going up and basically in the crudest way making fun of failing comedians. And it kind of worked. Then Trump came around. His attitude, his braggadocios swagger, willfully ignorant and proud of his ignorance, that started seeping into the character.
I used to do it as a stunt and I’d say most of the audience weren’t in on the joke. And now that I’ve been doing it enough and my audience gets it and become a character in that they pretend that this guy is great. It’s very physical. It’s very slapstick in a lot of ways with the microphone drops and there’s a lot of anger. But essentially he’s this traditional white male feeling left behind by the world. He has a lot of ancient, misguided ideas of women and other cultures and stuff. There’s a little Alan Partridge in there.
When I show that stand-up character to someone who is not familiar with you or the lineage of comedians you’re talking about, I find myself saying things like, “Remember, he’s trying not to be funny.” Is explaining your comedy a red flag? Is that annoying?
I hear you. I think I get a little frustrated because the truth is I am trying to be funny. I’m trying to be funny in a different way. There’s a term anti-comedy that gets used a lot with our work. And I understand that words are just words and we all have to use them to define certain things. But in my work with Eric [Wareheim] or with Gregg [Turkington] with On Cinema or the stand-up, we’re never trying to not make you laugh. We’re always trying to make you laugh. But you have to come with an awareness and context to the material or the kind of comedy I’m satirizing. In a vacuum, you could say this character isn’t funny, but the sum total of it is my attempt to make an audience laugh, but I can’t really worry about where they’re coming from. I just have to do my thing.
Totally. For example, at the start of your special you spend the first few minutes frantically trying to get the mic and mic stand working. When I showed a friend he was absolutely confused and thrown off. But for me, knowing that style of humor that forces the audience to sit in the awkwardness and drawn out absurdity of a situation, I got it right away and thought it was hilarious.
An analogous thing that’s very simple and basic is the Three Stooges. They are not good plumbers. You see a scene of them failing at being plumbers. We understand that that’s where the humor is because we are watching them fail. I’ve noticed recently a wave of literalism, not liberalism, but literalism in people. People expect what they’re seeing should be at face value. You kind of see this more in comments on YouTube and on social media and stuff, but people are very quick to react. Their reaction is generally taking whatever they’re being shown at face value. And that creates a perception that people don’t get it. But it’s also not for everybody. I totally accept that. And I would say that there’s a lot of comedy that you would just classify as comedy that does not make me smile and I don’t care for. What’s the difference between those two things?
There’s a bit in your special where you make fun of the opera. Your character repeatedly yells at the singers to shut up because it’s just dragging on-and-on. Your wife then starts crying. Someone clipped it up and it went viral on social media. But many people thought you were being serious and criticized you in the comments. It’s so obviously a satire. How did that make you feel?
That was incredible and interesting, but also frustrating from a bigger macro perspective. People were saying why doesn’t he just leave his wife? Or she should leave him. They were commenting on the character as a real person. It wouldn’t take them very long on Google to get a better context of who I am. It points more to sort of the reactionary, literal, “I need to get my take in front of the public as soon as possible before I understand what I’m looking at” trend that I see happening.
Is it cathartic playing that character? You can say and do whatever you want and the ruder it is the funnier it becomes.
Generally I try to be a respectful, kind, individual in society, but there is certainly a fun, playful element to it. I would do a bit sometimes where I bring someone up on stage and give them the microphone to say their name and I’d take the microphone back and say, you should brush your teeth. In my private life, I would never say that despite how bad their breath is. Not in a million years would I comment on someone’s breath to them. But yes, the character gives me this shield to be able to get away with that. If I walked into a random club and nobody knew who I was and did that I might get my head knocked off. But my audience generally is expecting me to behave poorly to people. So they’re up for it.
You have this large, very supportive fan base, but many people will always be confused and miss the irony/sarcasm of your performance. How does the mass confusion and mass support balance make you feel?
I always hold hope for it to reach as many people as possible. I think the more that it does, the easier it becomes to do things. Purely from a financial, business side. As long as you’re able to hold on to your creative integrity I say the more the merrier. I’m not trying to exclude anybody. But of course, I’m a realist and understand that it’s not going to be for everybody.
Steve Martin is a good example of somebody who, when he started and he blew up, he was just doing exactly what he wanted to do. And there was an integrity to it. And for whatever reason, it clicked with the zeitgeist. That happened to some extent with my work with Tim and Eric. That’s almost seeped into the mainstream, not to great success of the original material, but its influence is felt all over the place. And then people are quick to remind me of that when they see something. These are things I don’t have control over, so I just do what I do and see what sticks.
If you wanted to write observational humor and present tight stand up jokes, like Jerry Seinfeld, do you think you could do it? Or is that not really in your comedic wheelhouse?
I don’t know. It’s a very specific kind of sensibility that I kind of do a little bit on Office Hours, which is the podcast livestream that I do with my friends Doug and Vic. I am a little more myself and I make an attempt to be funny in a more conventional way because I’m talking about my own life and it’s not kind of steeped in a meta character. But I don’t have any desire to sort of pursue that. Therefore, I don’t work on it and aim to do that.
You’ve been playing this irreverent stand up character for years. He seems prescient to the age we’re in right now where there’s a huge debate about what comics should or shouldn’t be able to say. Some are arguing that as a result of ‘cancel culture’ and ‘wokeism’ comedians are being muzzled for speaking about controversial subjects. What do you make of the argument that comedy is threatened right now?
I don’t see any real evidence for it. All these people that are complaining or making the case for it seem to be doing quite well. I think Dave Chappelle is probably the biggest example of it. And Ricky Gervais. They’re all extremely successful and popular and clearly have the space out there to say really whatever they want. So it seems like just another fake controversy.
As a writer or as a creative person you need the ability to be open to the world changing around you and having a sensitivity to that is just important as a person. I talk about this all the time with Gregg [Turkington] and others. There’s totally things we did in our past that we probably wouldn’t do now. And part of that is because of people out there who have been activists or voices for their causes or issues. Culture changes. People’s perceptions change. And I’m totally fine with that. I don’t think it’s a problem. I get to have a little fun because I can play with satire and do things that can be considered offensive or cross the line. And I’m kind of protected, or at least I think I am, by the idea that I am commenting on that issue from the other side and because that’s just how I feel and that’s how I express that a lot of the time.
It’s just not a thing. It’s fun to write about. It’s fun to argue about on Twitter. But on the other side of that, there should be accountability and responsibility for anything you do and say. So if you are going to take a position that is controversial or offensive to a lot of people then there will be consequences. If it matters that much to you and you feel so strongly about it then understand that people are going to be upset by it and that’s been around forever.
You mentioned Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais. The one issue that really circles their comedy right now is transgender people. Both have material in their routines about it and it’s been controversial to say the least. You’ve been very vocal about transgender people and those who many see as promoting anti-trans views. You even posted a clip of Michael Knowles, a right wing pundit with The Daily Wire, and called it “Straight Nazi talk.” Why do you feel so strongly about the transgender issue? And can you expand a little bit on why you felt compelled to call it “Straight Nazi talk”?
The short answer is I have transgender friends. I have close friends who have transitioned. I have been able to experience what they go through. I have an appreciation for that process. I’ve read about it. And also just don’t care what people want to do. I got a little pushback from this because I look at it as a wedge issue from the right. That’s where they’re desperately trying to create the fear machine to do what they always do. And the left can do this, too, but it’s to make people scared and keep them on their side of the aisle. They’re running out of these wedge issues because they’ve won the abortion issue in a lot of ways. And gay marriage and gay issues have become so normalized that they sound ridiculous with that issue. And so they have this transgender stuff.
The pushback I got was because I was speaking to my audience who are on the fence or have been listening to this rhetoric and getting ginned up by it. From my perspective as a 47 year old man who’s been around a while watching this kind of stuff it feels like a cold political tactic. It’s a non-issue. And some people in the trans world said it’s not just that, people are actually being hurt by this and there are laws coming, and laws now, that are going to have real consequences. So, yes, of course, it’s not something to ignore. But I just wanted to express to anyone listening you might be getting played here for political gain by getting upset about this stuff. Because it’s a very small percentage of the population that have any inclination to go through a transition so life changing. And it’s not something that you’re probably going to have an issue with in your own life. And if you do then most likely you’re going to find that as it comes into your life, let’s say it’s a cousin or a friend at work or something, you’re going to have the experience I have which is getting to know what that personal experience is and then having empathy for it. If you’re a rational person and realize that this is just this person that has a different way of thinking and who cares.
I think the word normal gets thrown in a lot and it’s sort of like why do we care? Why are we hung up on normal and all these conventions? As a kid growing up I was interested in alternative music and alternative comedy and art. The last thing I want to care about is what’s normal. A lot of it just comes down to semantics. Of course there’s an understandable window of confusion or the feeling of I don’t get this or I don’t understand. That’s natural. But it doesn’t take long to get past that. And as long as you’re open to that, then there should be no issues at all.
I think the key word you said there was empathy. And I’m totally on board with you. Just knowing people, listening to people and having an open heart radically changed a lot of my views over my life. Sticking with Chappelle and those who make jokes about transgender people. Is there a way to joke about those who are transgender that you think could be done intelligently? Or is the atmosphere too toxic that it all just really feels like punching down?
I think anything’s open to joke about if the intention is to make you laugh. I did this dumb joke that I kind of stopped doing, but it was just because it wasn’t that funny. Even for my character it wasn’t that funny. It was like now there are all-gender bathrooms, right? You got these all gender bathrooms. Well, it’s better than restrooms. What am I going to do in there? Take a nap. That’s just a stupid play on words. It’s coming from a place of somebody angry about the all-gender bathrooms. Well, who cares about all-gender bathrooms? If that helps the line go down as you’re waiting to go to the bathroom, maybe that’s a good thing.
George Carlin had this great routine about everything is funny in the right context. You talk about rape and he said all you have to do is think about Elmer Fudd raping. And it’s funny. I agree that that image is funny. I’m on that side of it. I’m a little older and it comes down to what do you really want to do and what do you really want to get across and is it worth it? Is it funny enough that it’s going to offend people? Then you just kind of don’t worry about it and trust your instincts and trust your friends. There’s lots of things where it’s too much. But what I kind of realized is a lot of my work does delve into dark territory. There’s a lot of death and there’s a lot of pain and disappointment. Lots of these sorts of colors of uncomfortability and weird father-son relationships.
The way I think about that is these are natural, fundamental, tools that we use to play with ideas that are scary to us. We play in waters that are scary or dangerous to help us process our true, real feelings about things like death and alienation and all kinds of dark stuff in our brains. I swim in those waters often and find that it can be healthy for me and it can be healthy for the audience who might be really struggling with anxiety or fear of mortality or whatever. And we watch you guys and you joke around about it and you don’t take it too seriously. And I find that to be ultimately healthy. But understand that we’re in an age where people can be offended and people have a very big voice right now to express their offence, so take that as you will.
So you’re saying when you joke about taboo issues you’re parodying people who are making fun of issues without empathy or sensitivity. Your goal is clearly not to insult or hurt those you’re talking about. Plus, there’s so many other things to joke about than transgender people, for example?
I’m just not a fan of what I’m calling didactic truth telling comedy with quotes around truth telling, which is a very popular form of comedy right now with Chappelle and Chris Rock’s new special. This form of comedy doesn’t make me laugh. It doesn’t make me smile. It is a man on stage stomping back and forth yelling at the audience about what he believes is true. And there’s no possible way that that person can truly get down to what is true about any issue, especially when they’re also trying to entertain and make those people laugh.
I don’t want to pick on Chris Rock because I think he’s generally very funny. But I watched the special and there’s a moment where he does a joke that’s like anybody that says words don’t hurt has never been punched in the face and the crowd laughs. And it’s a hacky joke, in my opinion, and it’s not true. So what’s the point of going up there and acting like you’re a prophet and you’re getting to the root of something and it gets twisted for the sake of a joke that he thinks is going to work in that room. And then it turns into the way people think. I guess that is true that words don’t hurt. And you’re like come on, man, that’s cheap. I come at it already not liking that kind of comedy because I think there’s just way funnier things out there to me. And when they start prancing around, treating it like they’re giving a sermon about any particular issue, I get turned off by that. I just find it not a good use of my very short entertainment time I give myself.
I love this idea of parodying people who think they have a prophetic voice. And I believe there are people that have prophetic voices, but I think the people that start to believe that they’re that voice are kind of diluted.
Biggest red flag there is.
Totally. On Chappelle, outside of this recent turn and the controversy around the transgender issue, do you rate him as one of the greatest comedians of all time?
Total honesty. People can think what they want about me, but I never thought he was that funny. I just didn’t. What I did watch of The Chappelle Show, I thought, okay, I get it. It’s well crafted, but it’s just not my kind of humor. There’s nothing I could do about that. Then years went by and it became more prancing around on stage smoking the cigarette. I just want jokes. I want Steven Wright or Emo Phillips or Steve Martin or people that just are delivering ideas and jokes and character. I don’t want to be enlightened by your perspective on the world. I don’t care. George Carlin maybe is a good example of someone who did it really well, but he had jokes and he had a voice, a persona that that I liked growing up. I’d rather watch The Three Stooges. I’d rather watch an Albert Brooks movie. So it’s just personal preference.
I know you’re also not a big fan of Ricky Gervais either. But I’m really curious to know if you liked The Office?
Oh, God, yes.
It’s one of my favorite shows of all time. And I was thinking that ‘The Office’, the awkward style of humor, probably primed me to love your work.
I can recall seeing it whenever it came out, on BBC America, and not getting it. And I was a fan of the Christopher Guest movies, so I should have got it. But I didn’t know really anything about it. I just knew that it was supposed to be funny and I didn’t pick up on the rhythms of it right away. But then I did and and just was obsessed with it and was like, God, this is for me. This is my style of humor.
For me, The Office was a 10. Extras is like a nine. And then you get this drop off and drop off and drop off and you’re like, wait, was that guy really just David Brent? How much of that guy was not a character? And that’s really more closer to who he is? He’s just annoying and obnoxious to me and has sided with the dark side a little bit on certain issues, like transgender stuff. It’s very disappointing. I’m not going to not watch The Office because of who he has become, but maybe Stephen Merchant is the real genius there.
You did a wild parody of Joe Rogan last year where you produced a near 12 hour looped conversation, just spewing total nonsense with your friends. Unpack a bit your problem with podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience. Because I assume the idea of friends sitting around and shooting the shit isn’t the problem, it’s more when they veer into shady political/scientific discussions that are so influential to listeners?
The germ of it is me trying to have an open mind about that show. And occasionally I will stumble upon some interview that he does and it’s kind of interesting. But my first reaction was always, I can’t believe people are listening to this. It’s so boring. They’re not getting anywhere. They don’t really come to any kind of conclusion on anything. I’ve never gotten to the end of one of these. I just kind of drop off and fall asleep or something. So I kind of wanted to get how I think that the Joe Rogan show a lot of the time becomes Muzak or background music for people because there’s no way all these people are just sitting there listening to every word. So it becomes this double talk.
I fell asleep to it for years.
That could be part of its popularity. It’s relaxing listening to people talking. But then it gets weighted as an intellectual bastion of higher thinking. And I just don’t get it. Of course there’s lots of academics and people that go on there, but they end up talking to this grunt. There’s a certain appeal to your interviewer being kind of naive or coming from a blank slate of understanding, to be curious and to want to know more. And that’s putting him as the audience. So I get that. But then there’s also this sort of inside comedy. This culture of guys from the Comedy Store and that kind of bro hang thing that doesn’t appeal to me. But I’m a satirist and when I see something that irks me or bugs me or seems silly and it’s in the culture my instinct is to not rant about it, like I am with you, but to try and satirize it.
I’m so fascinated by this idea of grifters. I’m always assessing these public intellectuals or figures that are leading much of the discourse. How do you discern who’s a grifter and espousing view they know are bullshit vs. people you may disagree with but are advocating genuine positions? Ben Shapiro, for example, is someone I believe likely espouses genuine beliefs, but there are so many others I’m on the fence about.
I don’t know how I discern. There’s a gut instinct. My dad and I used to have a good time watching the Televangelists of the 80s. Morris Cerullo was one. And, of course, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart. That instilled a context and understanding of how obvious it can feel when you’re speaking in tongues and healing people with your hands, immediately bullshit alarms go off. Everyone’s grifting in a way. Everybody is slinging something and there’s an ulterior motive to everything. And Ben Shapiro, I agree, is probably has genuine beliefs that he is trying to persuade people into believing. But even that it’s entertainment like anything.
It is a business model to create outrage or your attempt to grab attention, to keep you there so that he can sell products. And I’m not picking on Ben Shapiro. I think everybody in all media does that to some degree. I think it’s case by case. There’s very obvious ones and then sort of nebulous ones that might believe this but they’re ginning it up for views or for their own attention.
Elon Musk is taking up so much oxygen right now, especially on Twitter.
Speaking of grifters.
I read that you actually drive a Tesla. So you’re clearly a fan of the product, but perhaps not the man?
I got a Tesla four years ago. I know he owned the company, but at the time he was not sort of the pariah he is. And the car is fucking great. It’s the cheaper one just so it doesn’t seem like I’m a Kardashian out here. It’s the base model one. And it was like, gee, I’d love to have an electric car. I’m not a car guy, but if you’ve ever been in one, it’s just a fucking blast to be in it. And it’s good I guess for the environment. I’m too lazy to trash it because of his antics and I know a company is bigger than a man. So you’ve outed me.
I have conflicting feelings about it, but whatever. I read this thing about him, it could be not true, but you look at his background and there’s so much griftty activity with the schooling he said he received versus what he actually received. He’s like Trump. There’s a self-made image of him that has caught on with people that isn’t really true, but it’s working for him. And the fanboy-ness of it is perplexing to me because he’s another guy where the core is a boring dude. He’s like a boring, bad sense of humor, reactionary, megalomaniac kind of personality, super intense narcissism involved and yet people care about what he thinks. He’s just a weird one. And most people care because they’re obsessed with money and they’re obsessed with this desire to be rich. And we put tremendous importance and value on people’s wealth. It’s sort of a by-product of society’s perspective on that.
I think you should burn the Tesla live on Office Hours.
(laughs) There you go.
Whether ‘cancel culture’ is a real thing or not we’re definitely in the accountability/MeToo era. You were a producer on Andrew Callaghan’s This Place Rules. Accusations of sexual assault came out against him and you’ve ended that professional partnership with him. He issued an apology video and stepped away to get help. I know you’ve said everything you wanted to about that specific situation. But in the wider context, what do you think is at the heart of this sexual harassment and assault again women? What is at the root of this sickness?
Again, going back to culture changes, how you see relationships change and what’s acceptable in those relationships change. And sometimes people are slow to catch up to those changes, I guess would be my only thing. I have been married for 15 years and have kids and I’m never in those positions to be navigating the new world of dating and sex. And I can only imagine that it can be confusing and mistakes can happen and misunderstandings happen and all that kind of stuff. It just seems like a confusing time. But there are people out there that should know better. It shouldn’t be hard I think generally. But I can understand being young and making mistakes. That doesn’t necessarily apply to the Andrew situation. My preference is to not have anything to do with any of it because I just live my life and do what I think is best for me. I can’t control how other people behave and I can’t be responsible for how other people behave. That’s on them.
Every time I dig into your back catalogue I realize how transformative the projects you’ve been involved with have been on me. Nathan For You is one of the greatest shows of all time. I read too that at first you didn’t get Nathan Fielder, or at least couldn’t really envision him being the lead on a show. Is that true?
He’s a very understated, kind of dry, quiet guy. And I think he was in the office doing this other show called Jon Benjamin Has a Van and he had a small part. I just met him and he seemed like a nice guy. I didn’t know he was as smart and funny as he is. I don’t think I’ve ever had the right first impression on anybody. I’ve got pretty good instincts, but I think, yeah, it’s just sort of like, oh, that guy. Okay, good luck. And then he proved himself very quickly.
Do you think Nathan For You will stand the test of time as one of those classic shows?
Let’s talk about music. I really enjoyed your latest album High School. You had a super impressive list of collaborators: Mac DeMarco, Natalie from Weyes Blood, the Lemon Twigs, Kurt Vile. How much joy do you get producing this music for people and working with your friends? It seems like you have a blast.
It’s really, really fun. It’s challenging because I’m not a novice, but I’m not a top player or anything, so I kind of rely on other more talented people to help me get the music I hear in my head out. I just did an album and we’re still working on it and mixing it and stuff. I did it with A Very Good Band who I’ve been on tour with and I’m going to the UK with. It was the first time I was able to get the same band in the same space for an extended week or so, just working on the record and not doing anything else. So that’s just so much fun. Playing with these guys is a joy. Like anything I do there’s a lot of deliberation and thought and work and fine tuning and going back and fixing to get it where at least I’m happy with it. So it’s a mix of pleasure and pain. The joy I get is in the writing and the solving the puzzle of the song. Where is this song going? What’s the message or what’s the third verse going to be? And then how does it sound? All that stuff is extremely joyful and satisfying.
Then the record is done and it’s no longer mine. It’s yours. It’s not for me to have an opinion on. I’ve had my experience with those songs and that music. But I love the process and I love working with talented, friendly, fun people. I don’t know what else I would do with my time with these people, sit and have a beer and watch sports or something? But to be able to play music together is super fun.
You struck gold with your friends and access to them. I think if I could have Natalie Mering do harmonies over any track of mine I’d be set.
I know I got so lucky.
How nervous do you get when you release new music?
I’ve gotten better at it and more used to it. By the time I’m happy enough to put something out, I feel good about it and I feel like I’m not putting out stuff that I’m embarrassed about. It’s something we put a lot of work into. So I feel like it’s good. I understand that there are people that don’t like that kind of music. That don’t want that for me. So I know that that’s going to come. But over time, in the past couple of records, High School and Fear of Death, there’s more of, oh, I actually like your music on its own. I don’t even need the context of who you are or I can separate your comedy from your music. And so that just keeps happening more and more. It’s a cool thing. I don’t know anybody else doing it that way where they can appreciate your work on a couple of different levels. It’s not cringe to listen to your music because of the fact that you’re a comedian.
Totally. Your cringe comedy definitely didn’t transfer to the music.
As someone who dabbles in songwriting myself, I think the less you overthink and try to get fancy with chords and just feel it, that’s where some of the best songs come from. I’m always shocked by the simplicity of the chord structures in some of my favorite songs. Sometimes the more limited you are and the less you overthink it and great stuff comes out.
Yeah, I agree. I have a song on this new record, I think it’s going to be the opening track, that’s one chord. It’s a D, but it’s with a capo, so it’s played in a C shape. My bass player Eliana was like, oooh, the one chord song. There’s a Beatles song with one chord, The Word. There’s a few that you can kind of strive towards and it’s short enough so it doesn’t get too boring.
I don’t get fancy with chords. And I think the most amazing thing is the just bottomless well of three chord, four chord songs, that are still out there to be written. The song Buddy on my record is just G, C, G, D7. And boy, I don’t think I’ve quite heard it done exactly like this, with this melody. Of the thousands and thousands of songs that I’ve heard, I think this one’s different enough. That’s always sort of the thing. It’s just different enough that I can get away with this.
You’re also a huge Neil Young fan and were compelled to pick up a guitar after watching him perform an unplugged version of Harvest Moon on TV. I think the best way to really get why Neil Young is a legend is to watch him perform live in his prime. Why do you think that Harvest Moon performance inspired you so much?
It was the quietness of it. He’s doing the little harmonics and in the context of SNL, which is very loud and busy and they often have big rock bands on, just to see a man in the center of the stage on a stool command the audience and create total focus on him. There’s a little bit of a lie in the song because there’s that performance which is just him. And then I think later in the week or a few weeks later, he’s on The Tonight Show and he had a small band with him and for the drums he had a guy with a broom. So I combine those two memories. In any story you’re simplifying and distilling something down for the sake of the song. Of course there were tons of things going on in my life at the time that made me want to play music. So that was just the one I kind of picked out of the memory box for the sake of the song. But yeah, it was strong enough that it stuck with me.
Randy Newman is one of your big influences. I’m one of those people who have dismissed him for so long and only really knew him as the Toy Story guy. So what am I and others missing? What makes Randy Newman great? And where should we start with his catalog?
It’s all great. If you get Sail Away and Good Old Boys, those two records are just beautiful concept records. They’re beautiful sounding. The great pop session players of the 70s are on that record. The stories are great. The songs are great. There’s a real singularity to both of those records that are very warm to me. It’s just a very intimate listening experience. I think you just kind of warm-up to his voice. He’s got a very distinctive voice and it’s not for everybody, but for me, it really struck a chord, no pun intended.
Your music video Sirens of Titan kind of looks like what artificial intelligence is creating for artists today. How do you feel about AI being used to create music videos, album covers and even songs?
I’m on the fence. I always assumed AI is already making most of the music I hear at the mall or in waiting rooms. I don’t get most pop music that I would hear in the salon. It just sounds completely manufactured by algorithms. That’s an inevitable trajectory, consumer pop music that just fills airways and public spaces. I think AI can be a great tool. From talking to some people that know more about it than me, it’s another in the same case as the transgender thing, it’s a little bit of an overblown story. It’s still many years from truly replacing a lot of the things that creative people or any people do. It still requires human input and direction in a lot of ways. I don’t feel like I’m going to be replaced by it. I think it’s going to be helpful as a tool in a lot of ways. So I’m not anti-AI I think there’s probably going to be a lot of good that comes of it and the crap that comes out that’s already crap if it’s made by AI I don’t really care one way or the other.
Are there any cryptocurrencies you want to shout out for readers to go buy?
(laughs) Yeah. Hei Points.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON TIM HEIDECKER:
1) Visit the one stop shop for all his endeavors: https://www.timheidecker.com/
Great interview, thanks man.
Great interview with a great person! Thanks for sharing.