Episode 20 Transcript: Tim Heidecker
Tim Heidecker & Danny Carissimi From The Sugar High Podcast
Danny: Do you consider yourself a good guitar player?
Tim: No. I can like, Neil Young solo.
Danny: But that’s kind of the best. Have you ever seen the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster?
Tim: I just re-watched it about two days ago.
Danny: It’s so good, isn’t it?
Tim: Not kidding.
Danny: One of my favorite parts is when Kirk Hammitt, when they’re trying to get him to not solo, and they’re like, “It’s dated.” And he was like, “No, we time it to this era.” And it’s funny because when that movie came out, you were thinking, “Yeah,” but now, I actually agree with Kirk.
Tim: Right! I love that movie. I’m not a big Metallica fan; I never was a big heavy metal fan or anything. One of the amazing things about that movie, to me, is them working on songs -- I don’t know how they tell the difference. It’s like, how do you know when one thing’s working and another thing isn’t? And I don’t judge it, necessarily, I just don’t understand the difference between one Metallica song and another. But, I mean, I guess you could say that about a Bob Dylan song, or Randy Newman; but there is like, a sound that they make that is fairly consistent -- not to say repetitious.
Danny: My first concert was actually a Metallica concert, and it was in Dallas, and I think I was 8. And a dude poured a beer on my head and I started crying.
Tim: Whoa, yeah. That’s gonna leave an impression.
Danny: Yeah, I know. And everything that I’ve read, and what it seems to be the vibe that I’m getting right now, is that you really wanted to write something more sincere and serious, and there’s obviously a lot of jokes sprinkled through there. Was that intentional, to let people know that it’s still you, or is that just how you write, and it’s sort of uncontrollable?
Tim: I think it’s a little uncontrollable. I had written -- I had moved to this house that we’re in, and I have a piano in my living room, and was writing; what I normally do is sit at the piano and write little songs. And the first song on the record first started coming to me literally because Bruce Dern was on Bill Maher, and he was talking about the movie Nebraska, and he was talking about how some people think of it as a flyover state. And I sat down, and was singing those lines. And then I started singing about, writing a song about states, I’m writing a song about the country. And then it got to, well, I’m living in Glendale; and I looked around, and I realized I could talk about myself a little bit. And up until that point, I really didn’t find that there was anything that interesting about my own life that I wanted to talk about. So that when I was making stuff with Devin, or other music, it wasn’t -- I felt like an idiot talking about other things. But now I had a baby, and I had a wife, and I had a house, and I’m a little bit older, and I’ve had real, adult experiences. And those subjects were interesting for me to talk about. So a few of those songs came up, and then I could see it as a project.
Danny: Do you want people to be confused as to whether you’re being sincere in a song or not? For example, this morning, I was listening to a song -- I forget the name, but it may be the one where you’re talking about running out of money --
Tim: “When The Cash Runs Out,” yeah.
Danny: “When The Cash Runs Out.” That could be a pretty sincere song.
Danny: But when I was listening to it, I was like, “Is it a joke? Is it not?” Is that the reaction you want me to have?
Tim: The reaction, I guess, is like um, what Randy Newman calls -- well, I don’t know if he said it, but it’s said about him -- is the “unreliable narrator.” So you don’t really know. There’s sentiment in there, and there’s truth in there. There’s a character in there, in the way that he expresses how -- you know, you come at it from an angle. So, is there a real fear in my heart and my soul that I don’t know where the fuck this is going? [...] You know, I’m in a very unstable, volatile business, and it’s a recurring theme throughout. You see it all the time, whether it’s MC Hammer, or whoever; you get famous, you get success, and you blow it. And so there was a feeling there, how that’s a really feeling, and then there’s the joke version, or the character version, which is being a dick about it.
Danny: Right. But when you’re these songs, are you envisioning a character, or is it an exaggerated persona?
Tim: It’s always an exaggerated version of myself, yeah. Less exaggerated on this record, but, you know, there’s lyrics in there that are meant to be funny, but at the same time there’s truth in it, too. I don’t remember all the lyrics, but I’d have to sell these guitars you see in front of me. But the way it curses, and the way it uses “get a fucking job,” it’s meant to be demeaning to the audience, in a funny way, hopefully. Like, “this guy’s complaining about this, and he’s making fun of me.” Because I know the audience listening to this might be bartender; and I used to be a bartender, you know?
Danny: You seem to be very interested in, or I would say almost obsessed in all of your writing, with mediocrity or the mundane. You know, whether it’s the public access T.V. stuff, or Steve Brule, or in my opinion, this sort of character that you’ve created in this – you know, because sometimes he’s like, calling in sick to work, and I’m wondering, why is that such a limitless creative well for you?
Tim: I don’t know about mundane; I look at it as sort of failure. I have analyzed it, I have looked at some of my work, and there’s just themes of failure, and failure as comedy. And that just, to me, just goes back to classic comedy. That goes back to the guy slipping on the banana peel, the guy falling down the steps; a loser, a schmuck, an idiot. You know, there’s grades of that, different values of that. I don’t know if that applies to so much of the record, but one song where it really does is “The Ocean’s Too Cold.” One of the themes on the record was Los Angeles, which plays throughout the whole thing. And this idea of, young actress out here, and her dad coming out to visit her, and realizing like, this isn’t going to work out for her.
Danny: Is that something that like, a fear you have for your own kid?
Tim: It could be, yeah. It probably is something that I think about. But, I see it in real-time, too, you know? I see it with friends; and it’s also a growing up thing. A lot of us grow up, and we see someone trying to do something creatively, and you see them not ever really clicking in, you know? And that’s super interesting and sad and worth talking about. I think, you know, it’s funny, I was listening to an interview with a guy I used to work with a lot, Jonathan Krisel, who created and directs Baskets with Zach Galifinakis. And he brought up this same point of, what about these people who have these visions of grandeur, and end up failing? What is that life like? So, yeah, I guess that stuff interests me, it becomes subject matter for me. Sometimes it comes out as comedy, or sometimes it comes out as something a little more dark.
Danny: Was that always something you were interested in, or did the interest increase when you moved to L.A.?
Tim: It definitely increased here, because the stakes are higher here.
Danny: And it’s so palpable here; I kind of feel like, you can feel it here, and it’s like a weird energy.
Tim: Oh, yes. I remember from years and years ago not wanting to come here until I was invited in some way. I didn’t want to come out here and struggle and go to auditions and that kind of stuff. And we were, in the sense that we got this tiny development deal with adult swim. It felt like just a scary, terrible place to be; just to be one out of millions.
Danny: When you listen to the record, there is a lot in there; I mean, there’s like, horn sections.
Tim: Well, one horn section, not horn sections.
Danny: Yeah, right, there’s multiple horn sections that you travel with and have in the studio. Um, but a lot went into it, and it clearly took a lot of time. How do you structure your time creatively? Because you’ve got, obviously, things that you’re more well known for, and things that are probably more financially beneficial to you. So, is it hard for you to go, “I want to make a record,” and not only make a record, but also a record that’s like, a pretty elaborate production.
Tim: So, that’s a great question. I had this band, called the Yellow River Boys, that did this record for me. It’s a conceptual record, where it’s a band that’s obsessed with drinking piss. It was sort of like a Lynyrd Skynyrd type band. So I found this band in the valley called City City, who were big Tim & Eric fans, and they had made this album, this medley. And I had met them, I ran into them somewhere, and they introduced themselves, and I said, “You guys are really good. I have an idea—if I send you these demos, just me on the guitar, would you just make the backing?” And they just delivered beyond belief. It sounds fantastic, and I just came in and sang on it. So when it came time to do this record, I said, “Let’s do kind of the same thing; not exactly the same thing, but, here are the demos. Learn the songs, we’ll rehearse a couple times, and then we’ll go in and we’ll have a studio for a week.” And I really said, let’s just do it Monday to Friday, and we’ll make the record in a week. And that’s what we did.
Danny: I think sometimes, when actors or writers try and make a transition to a band, it’s horrible. You’ve got Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band, Russell Crowe’s dad-blues band; it’s terrible. Do you think that being a comedian shields you a bit when you try and transition?
Tim: No, you know, I get laughed at; I get made fun of; people don’t go to the shows. They don’t care to the degree that they care about the other things that I do.
Danny: Does that annoy you?
Tim: No, I mean I get that my 22 year old fans are not big Warren Zevon fans. I’m not incredulous about that, you know what I mean? I get that it’s a niche thing, and it’s kind of a lame thing. Like, it’s kind of not sophisticated, but I like—I have such a crush on simple songs, on simple, pretty melodies. And I like making that stuff; and all that stuff is in the Tim & Eric world, too. “I Like Crackers as Snacks,” all the K.C. & His Brothers songs—they’re silly, but they’re all nursery-rhyme style music; very simple singalong, campfire music.
Danny: Your ambitions were a bit equal, growing up, in terms of music and comedy. Was one more important to you than the other, when you were a teenager?
Tim: Music was more important. Comedy, film, acting—I would say acting was also something that I really wanted to do; something in entertainment. Those things seemed really far out of reach, but you could always have a band. We always had a band; I had a variety of bands. I was talking about this the other day: bands were easy to put together. You needed a Gorilla amp and a $90 guitar, and somebody who had a drum set. Drummers were always the hardest to find, but I had a band that was just me and two guitar players. So, you know, again, the music always had—there was always humor in the music. There were always silly songs, they never got too serious, lyrically.
Danny: So you never envisioned yourself eventually becoming a serious songwriter; you knew it would always involve jokes.
Tim: Yeah, there was a lot of jokes in the songs too, mostly. There was a period in high school, where, you know, you can’t blame me for writing terrible poetry about girls and about who I am, like, you know, crap. I have those demos, but they’ll never be heard.
Danny: They’re locked up. So, when you were in college, did you stop playing music?
Tim: For a little bit, yeah. When we were in college, we did this project called The Tim Heidecker Masterpiece.
Danny: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about this, because you did this in New York as well, right?
Tim: Yeah, I did. I started The Tim Heidecker Masterpiece with Eric and this guy John Ziemba, and it was this—it was us getting drunk and playing bad rock. It was sort of this like, John Fogarty leather jacket crap; like, this fringe suede vest that I had. We wrote songs about Vietnam, and then we wrote this sort of rock opera called The Theatre of Magic which was sort of about like, wizards and dragons.
Danny: Would you actually go out and perform this?
Tim: Yeah, yeah. Well in Philly, with Eric, we’d do these house shows, because Eric was in these hardcore bands, emo bands. And I wasn’t really into that, but we’d do these kind of “rent parties,” where we’d do these super stupid theatrical, drunk—like, we rented this like, dragon costume that Eric would wear as a drummer, and I came out with a wizard’s hat on, and we just got drunk and weird with this smoke machine; we played to like, 80 people in some living room. But somehow, it turned into something that we took more seriously when I moved to New York, and a couple other guys got in the band. And we used to play at this place called Arlene’s Grocery in the Lower East Side, and we put on these like, full-on rock opera shows.
Danny: To what degree? Like, how many people would be involved in the rock opera?
Tim: Oh, maybe about six people or something. It’d be the band, me, the drummer, the bass player, my cousin, and another guy would sort of come and sing and play parts. I mean, it got to a point where we were building sets, and we created a backdrop, and it was just at this little rock club. It was weird that we did it; we would do it like, once a month. We did one called “Pearly Harbor,” which was about Pearl Harbor, and uh, it was like, fun, and it had a little audience. It was very silly, but it kind of plateaued.
Danny: Was that something you envisioned getting bigger, or something giving you an avenue to do more, or did you always know it was going to be your skit stuff with Eric?
Tim: No, the skit stuff I did with Eric didn’t really exist at that point. It had been something that we did in college, and then we kind of didn’t consider it a career or anything. But I think, The Tim Heidecker Masterpiece stuff in New York, there was a moment of momentum there, where we felt like, “this is something.” We’re going to do CMJ; we’ve got an audience; it’s fun, it’s different. And then I remember seeing Tenacious D, and thinking, this is a little bit like that, and this might not be as good.
Danny: It also seems like a lot of work.
Tim: It’s a lot of work. It was getting a lot of people to do a lot of work, which is always hard to do when they’re not the center of attention. They’re not “Tim Heidecker.” It’s amazing that anyone did anything for me. I was like, 24, and people were like, building sets and doing all this work. But we were having fun doing it. We actually made a record, and we put it out ourselves.
Danny: Yeah, I saw the video where you’re kind of dancing in the grass. It’s super funny.
Tim: Yeah, it was fun. It was funny, and it was more just like, kind of the music I liked, but kind of just a sillier, a more exaggerated version of it.
Danny: So you would just, you would go to work at your normal job, and then at night you would try to make a rock opera.
Tim: Pretty much, yeah. This guy James Botha, we did a lot of music together, he would make all this backing track stuff; this kind of orchestral, musical theatre-style music. Then we’d play to those songs, but then we’d have the rock songs. So, yeah, there was a lot of time spent putting those shows together.
Danny: I read, or heard, in the Marc Maron interview, when you were saying that there was a moment when you were at your office job, and you were like “Maybe this is it.” Was that a legitimate concern of yours?
Tim: That’s hard for me to really answer that, you know, it’s hard to know what I was really thinking. But there was definitely moments of like, “I’ve got to figure something else out, because I’m sitting in this Midtown office, just not doing anything.” You know, not moving forward. “I don’t want to be here.” And sometimes it’s very hard to focus your work, and it takes a lot of energy to focus your work in one direction. And the two directions that I put a lot of my work into were that band, and the thing I was doing with Eric. And I had put both of things out into the world, just trying my best. And the stuff with Eric was the stuff that kind of took the edge, and perked people up more. So you pay attention to that, of course, and put more energy into that, you know?
Danny: At what age did you feel confident in your artistic career?
Tim: No that doesn’t—I mean, I don’t know if I ever feel—there’s moments, there’s pockets where you feel on solid ground, but I don’t know. I don’t ever—I always feel very not there yet, which is stupid because I’ve been doing it for over ten years.
Danny: Yeah. Like, now, you have the ability to make a record, and kind of fill a lot of the dreams and ideas you had when you were younger. Do you think that if you had kept working a normal job, but you know, made stuff on the side, that you would be an unhappy person?
Tim: Probably. I mean, I am already an unhappy person. Who’s a happy person? I mean, I’m constantly negotiating with myself about what level of success I should be at. What I want to do; what I haven’t done yet. You know, there’s no satisfaction in the work. There’s joy in a lot of the work; there’s joy in making the work, but there’s never a feeling of “Ahhh, I’ve done it! I’ve finally cracked it!”
Danny: “I’m on top!”
Tim: “Well, I’ve put out In Glendale. People hated it; people loved it; I don’t know. Did I like it? Do I like it? Do I ever want to listen to it again? I think it’s good, some of those songs are good. Why isn’t it more popular?” So, I mean, that goes for everything. On Cinema, which is one of my favorite things that I ever do, I think it’s hilarious: “Why isn’t everyone loving this? Why isn’t this the most popular thing?” And that’s honest, you know, that’s just—that’s not, I think, I’m sure people like Judd Apatow feel that way about the things he does.
Danny: “I wish I made four hundred million dollars on this movie.”
Danny: Do you have plans to write another record, in the fashion of In Glendale?
Tim: Yes, and the songs are mostly all written. And they’re all breakup songs; they’re all depressing and sad.
Danny: But aren’t you happily married? How are you writing a breakup album?
Tim: No, I don’t—well, I think that’s a fun genre to play with a little bit. It’s a kind of song, a sad song. There was some stuff in my life where—I’m happily married, yes—but not just in my marriage, in life, there’s loss and change and stuff. And I translate that into more simple-to-understand kind of dynamics.
Danny: So this will be more serious than In Glendale?
Tim: Yeah, I guess. I mean, it’s not as—the songs are not as autobiographical, maybe. You know, this is a song maybe that could’ve been written by a country singer, or something.
Danny: Do you have a favorite breakup song, or breakup album?
Tim: Hmm. Well, Blood on the Tracks, of course. Blood on the Tracks is what I think about a lot.
Danny: Beck’s See Change is it for me.
Tim: Is that a breakup record?
Danny: Oh, dude, it is THE breakup record?
Tim: In his life, autobiographically? I thought he was like, married for a long time.
Danny: No. Well, I think he has been, but I think that record was written after his longtime girlfriend—he found out she had been cheating with a friend of his or something like that. So he went off his rocker and went and wrote this record, and yeah, it’s very intense. But it’s a beautiful record. But, will you tour again musically?
Tim: I would love to. I did a tour on the west coast with my ten-piece band.
Danny: Sounds cheap!
Tim: It was not a money maker. And when you really look at it, and you talk to, you know, when I—not that my wife cares about this at all—but when I go, “So, I’m going to go away for two weeks, and I’m not going to come home with any money,” it’s kind of like, “Well what are you doing then?” I can’t go to like, a rock club, and expect 200 people to show up, and then get in a van with ten other people. I can’t do it; I wish I could.
Danny: Hey man, I made the same decision at some point. One of the bands I toured with, we were on a bus, and they were like, “We going to go on a tour in a van,” and I was like, “I’m 30, man. I don’t want to be in a van.”
Tim: Yeah, all that stuff is great, and it’s fun, but I can also go out there with a guitar, and do those same songs, and people would come to that show too.
Danny: You’d also make money off of that.
Tim: I’d make a lot of money!
Danny: You wouldn’t have to pay for a ten-piece band.
Tim: Yeah, and you know, I could sit there and talk, and, you know, it’s—there’s two different kinds of shows, but one’s a little more practical.
Danny: I saw you at—what was the comedy festival that Patton Oswalt came back at?
Tim: Festival Supreme.
Danny: I just want to say, that was, and it’s not even a question, but that was really funny.
Tim: Oh, thanks!
Danny: Yeah. My girlfriend wasn’t that familiar with your work, and you came out and you played this like, neo-con character, and she was just like, wait a minute, what?
Tim: But did she laugh eventually?
Danny: She did laugh, she did laugh.
Tim: Okay, because I’ve done that, character in all kinds of scenarios, and I’ve done it for a little while. Generally I do it for people that are coming to see me, and it’s a fun time. It’s fun. But I’ve done it for like, you know, I’ve opened for Amy Mann in San Francisco with that character, and it’s horrible. I’ve done it before, and it was horrible. People are not on board. They don’t […] want to do the work, and I don’t expect them to. It’s not fun for anybody. It’s too smart, or it’s not too smart, or whatever. It’s too something that is not a fun thing for just a person that wants to come out and see Amy Mann, you know what I mean? But, to do that show, there was a shit load of people there. For them all to laugh, was kind of neat. It was like, they were on my side from the top, so I didn’t have to like, fight for it. I could just do that stupid shit, and they were like, on board.
Danny: You’re not really a standup; I mean, you’ve done it, you’ve performed live a lot, but do you—I feel like standups, they develop an incredibly thick skin from years of dealing with it, but because you haven’t, do you have moments where you’re like, like at the Amy Mann show, where you really start to kind of sweat?
Tim: I have a sensitivity to not want to—I just want to relieve the audience of the pain they’re feeling, as soon as possible.