Singer-Songwriter Tim Heidecker (You Heard Right) Messes With David Crosby

Tim Heidecker discusses writing about his life, the joys of Randy Newman, and his unexpected feud with Diplo.

Cara Robbins

It’s now been well over a decade since Tim Heidecker first appeared in the middle of the night on Cartoon Network, painting gruesome images of rancid small-town sauce buffets and soon after, cable-access-marketed devices to help you poop standing up, with his college friend and committed partner-in-crime, Eric Wareheim.

Music was always a touchstone of the duo’s comedy, from Jefferton’s Bassfest and the seductive saxman of Tom Goes to the Mayor, to the Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!’s “Jazz Sessions,”, Zwei Dunkel Jungen, Pusswhip Banggang and so much more. Heidecker often co-composed the bits with friend and multi-instrumentalist Davin Wood, with whom he released two slightly farcical, retro-minded rock albums in 2011 or 2013 as Heidecker and Wood.

Much has been made of the newfound “serious”-ness of the now-40-year-old Heidecker’s new full-length solo jaunt on Foxygen member Jonathan Rado’s record label, In Glendale. There’s still plenty of humor and tongue-in-cheek references on the album, but most fans are used to the comedian posting compilations of Herman Cain campaign songs or drinking urine; scroll a few entries back on his Soundcloud, you’ll find a “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”-like dirge mourning the fact that Wild Hogs never got a sequel.

On In Glendale, on the other hand, Heidecker details the subtler idiosyncrasies of human relationships (“Good Looking Babies”) and lying around the house (“Work from Home”), while interspersing some some pangs of existential dread (“I Saw Nicolas Cage”) and murder (“Ghost in my Bed”).

But Heidecker’s contemplative, 1970s-indebted folk-pop project is just another experiment among so many in his prolific career — he’s now five major TV shows, countless more films, web series and one-off video/music projects in — not the hairpin turn it might appear to be at first listen. Inverse met with Heidecker during a recent trip to New York City to talk about how the album fits into his trajectory, and why he’s been comfortable Rango’ing the world a little less lately.

Tim Heidecker

Cara Robbins

I watched your new episode of “What’s in My Bag?” for Amoeba Records, after spending some time with the album, and it seems we share a favorite Randy Newman record [1974’s Good Old Boys] and song [“A Wedding in Cherokee County”]. What speaks to you about that music?

For a long time, I just knew The Natural soundtrack, “I Love L.A.,” “Short People,” that stuff. I always felt bad that I hadnt dug deep enough. I was reading this memoir that E from the Eels wrote — great fucking book — and he talks about listening to Good Old Boys every day. When a guy that you respect drops something like that you’re like, “Alright, I’m going in.”

That takes you down the rabbit hole. I think [Harry Nilsson’s Newman cover album] Nilsson Sings Newman gets you in too; that’s a little more ear-friendly at first. But Good Old Boys is the perfect blend. The playing is so choice, some songs are funny, the concept is perfect. It’s hard to put into words.

On In Glendale — or your song from the perspective of Trump’s private pilot — there are some Newman-esque narrators: unreliable, with an ambiguous backstory. The album seems to be a give and take between that and things in your real life.

Putting those kind of contrasts in there was important to me. But I dont think too hard about it. I heard Rivers Cuomo in an interview the other day — and I thought he took it a little too far — saying that doesn’t know what his songs are about, and the journey of learning what they are about later on. That’s kind of a cop-out for some of his later works. But my stuff can really be stream-of-consciousness, and then you jigger it a little bit to the place where you’re happy with. Just having fun with language and misdirection — that can all happen in songs, just like it does in comedy.

I just realized, like [on the title track], “The air in the mountains of Colorado is fine.” I definitely didn’t think of it, but that’s clever, because its like thin air; it’s “fine.” It’s just luck, but I’ll take it.

You’ve described the album as dealing with “the less talked-about parts of life.” How is that different than what you’ve done before musically, or in comedy, and why does it speak to you right now? Why is that new?

Eric and I would both probably say this for a long time, we made a very clear decision to not really talk about our personal lives and be kind of in character in the way we present ourselves. Over the past few years, that’s been chipping away naturally, because maybe it’s not as amusing to us anymore, or we’re just doing press for things where it’s not relevant. When I was promoting [Rich Alverson’s Heidecker-starring black-comedic drama] The Comedy, it was like, I’m just going to be straightforward here. I’m not going to put one over on you.

I also felt for years like I didn’t really have anything that I wanted to say that was connected to my personal life. But with my baby, and getting a little older and more reflective, there were ideas that felt valuable, worthwhile to share.

I got these three tweets from this guy who was like “My wife just had a baby, and I went home, and In Glendale was waiting for me in my email. And I went to the backyard to clean up the dog shit, literally, and that song comes on [“Cleaning Up the Dog Shit”], and I was like “Fuck!” So maybe my audience to some degree is getting a little older, and going through the same kinds of things.

So how did you get from working on demos with Jonathan Rado, to assembling that big [10-piece] band?

The Heidecker and Wood records were all overdubs, just two guys, Davin playing mostly everything… I was like “I don’t want to do that again. I don’t want to be hunched over somebody’s shoulder at a laptop for months.

I was listening to this box set of Van Morrisons Moondance, which was a record that was very meaningful for me as a kid, but it gets like… you’ve played it too many times. It’s hard to hear it with fresh ears, but I could with the different takes and different versions. It blew me away that that was five guys in a room, playing the same instruments the whole time — a little horn section, a couple backing singers. It sounds like one band — same players, same instincts. That’s what I wanted to do.

Were there particular touchstones for the production — that big, strummy ‘70s Los Angeles sound?

Warren Zevon’s first couple records — even more so his first record — are just beautiful. Fleetwood Mac, probably — the way those records sound, you don’t get better than that. We probably listened to Randy, Nilsson. Double-track the acoustic guitars, always.

Speaking of L.A. musicians, can you explain your relationship with David Crosby?

I love Crosby, Stills and Nash. I love Déjà Vu; I think those are great records. But Crosby’s songs were never my favorites, out of those. I really like Stephen Stills; Graham Nash’s songs are classic. But like, “Guinevere?” Skip. “Wooden Ships? Skip. “Almost Cut my Hair”? Skip.

I think he’s obviously a big old dick. I think he’s always been a big old dick, from what I understand. But then on Twitter, he’s hilarious, because he’s bashing stuff we always hated. He’s like, “The Doors always sucked.” I was like, thats pretty neat to hear. “Mike Love is the worst guy Ive ever met,” you know.

Vic Berger and I started hassling him, and then once somebody starts to react to that, you’re like, “Oh well, now this is going to be my new favorite pastime.” It’s all in good fun, but I enjoy sending him inane, stupid questions. He gets so pissed. It’s become this weird relationship. We tried to get him on Decker, but he was unavailable.

It’s funny that Crosby and Gene Simmons have started inhabiting this kind of a similar corner, going on record bashing Kanye and hip-hop and stuff.

You can just picture him up in his mansion or wherever it is — probably Santa Barbara. He’s got probably a glass of wine and a joint, and he’s on his laptop, and his wife’s gone to bed, and it’s like, “This is what David Crosby’s up to now.”

Seems like he just doesn’t like modern music.

I mean, I can relate to that. I don’t like much modern music.

Are there any artists who inspire you, or is it all just not for you?

I’m mostly not into it. I don’t like electronic music. I really figured out it just makes me feel bad, or it’s annoying. I like the organic sounds of real instruments, and I’ve come to accept that. I’ve tried to embrace certain things. I like the Talking Heads, and they certainly went into that dance music area. But for the most part, just that aggressive drum and bass… there’s never a place in my life where I am looking for that, you know?

I guess some of it’s in fun…good for dancing, and doing drugs, you know. Can’t get into hip-hop, can’t get into… dream-pop [laughs].

Speaking of pop music, what was the joke you Tweeted that started a feud with Diplo?

“The Three Stooges.”

It started because of that New York Times interview video with Bieber, Skrillex, and him, right?

I opened up Twitter [and saw the video] and was like, “Oh, look, it’s the Three Stooges.” It was very pretentious, as maybe they didn’t intend. But [Diplo] is a little bitch; he got so uptight about it. Weirdly I was sitting with Eric, who knows him, and Eric was getting texts from him, like, “What’s with Tim? Why is he being a dick about this?” And Eric’s like, “Dude, of course he’s going to make fun of you. Who do you think he is? If you’re gonna be that guy, you gotta know thats coming.”

And he’s like tweeting pictures of himself in a stadium at me, like “Look at me, bitch!” I don’t get it, but who am I to say what’s good?

Some of those responses were like real life Jim and Derrick stuff.

Hopefully some of my general audience is going to feel empowered by that exchange. Somebody might be watching and being like, “Is this what’s cool now? Is this okay?” If I chime in and say, “This is lame,” maybe this makes [them] feel less alone or something.

You’ve mentioned that you’re working on an album of breakup songs.

I’ll play you a couple of these. Here are the titles [reads off of a playlist on his phone] I Don’t Think About You Much Anymore,” “I’m Not Good Enough,” Insomnia,” “Life’s Too Long,” “Sometimes It Happens This Way,” “What the Broken-Hearted Do,” “When I Get Up, All I Want to Do is Go to Bed Again,” “When the Angels Come For Me.”

[Heidecker plays a piano-and-vocal demo: Burt Bacharach-y, with a lot of high, soulful vocal flourishes. “I’ll drink whatever you’re drinking/I’ll do whatever you’re thinking,” he wails on the chorus. “I think I could fall in love with someone like you.”]

Jonathan and I were thinking, let’s literally get [‘70s-famous L.A. studio musicians], like, Jim Keltner and Leland Sklar, and make it a really minimal piano, drum, bass, a little guitar. Intimate.

Leland Sklar, recently

I put a little work into the production on this one, kinda like the way it sounds.

[“When I Get Up, All I Want to Do is Go to Bed Again” is folk-rock driven by a deft falsetto and Heidecker’s own simple, lo-fi drum part.]

[as the song ends] Fade out, of course.

A great device not in use enough anymore.

If you listen to Pet Sounds, almost every song on that record fades out.

Is your wife like, “Why are you writing all these breakup songs?”

I took a week and was like, “I’m just going to tell her about this now,” and was like, “Look, I’m writing all these songs. It’s not about us.” She said, “I get it, it’s cool.”

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.