There is no middle ground when it comes to Tim & Eric, the imaginatively-named duo comprised of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Chances are you’ve come across their jarring, dark, confrontational and outwardly-weird brand of comedy – be it through five seasons of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! or their cult 2012 flick Tim & Eric’s Billion-Dollar Movie – and reacted in one of two ways. You’ve either followed the duo through every Cinco product, every bizarre show-within-a-show and every minor character (with quotes memorised from all three), or you’ve found them repulsive and inaccessible.
Although not guaranteed to generate quite such extreme responses, this mentality continues into In Glendale, the debut solo album from Heidecker after spending time in outfits such as The Yellow River Boys, Pusswhip Banggang and Heidecker & Wood. Either you’ll “get it” or you simply won’t.
First things first: It’s not a comedy album, per se. Rather, it’s a collection of catchy, sharp songs that borrow from heartland rock, storytelling folk and piano pop. There’s a couple of knowing laughs to be had, sure, but it’s about as close to Heidecker as a regular Joe as you’re likely to get. Consider In Glendale as an album made by Tim Heidecker while he’s “out of character.”
Talking to Music Feeds, prophetically enough, from his home in Glendale, Heidecker talks us through his writing process, as well as his Bob Dylan obsession and what might be next for Tim & Eric.
Music Feeds: Let’s start by talking about different approaches to the same concept. Earlier in the year, both you and Jon LaJoie – artists best known for your comedic work – announced you were releasing new albums. LaJoie did a big post about it on his Facebook page and really lamented over it being not a comedy album. Your press, on the other hand, just casually mentions that the songs on In Glendale were written “in earnest.” Do you feel as though writing songs that don’t necessarily have a comedic purpose or a punchline is about on the same level as writing ones that are?
Tim Heidecker: When it comes to writing songs for Awesome Show or something like that, the songwriting is a task as form. It’s intended to complement a piece, a comedic idea. There’s a goal in mind when writing to achieve a certain sound to match a certain idea and execute a certain joke. That’s one way of doing it. The more ‘real’ songs that I write, like the songs that ended up on this record… those tend to start a little differently.
That’s me at home, sitting at the piano. That’s me walking along and humming a melody to myself. That’s me sitting in my home studio, dicking around. Up until this record, I might come up with a song and then see how I could transform it and switch it up for comedic purposes.
Sometimes, that just won’t work out; so the original song goes into a project file and will linger there for the time being. Once I had enough of these songs, I thought it would be a different experience – a challenge – to treat them as a little straightforward, and not necessarily goof them up.
MF: There are a few songs on this album that are quite detailed about the more mundane, every-day side of life; such as Cleaning Up the Dog Shit and Work from Home. In a way, it feels like a response to this idea that people get in their heads about how much fun people that work in comedy and acting are having. You might occasionally get to be really silly and get paid for it, but you’re also a family man in your 40s.
TH: [laughs] Absolutely, that’s right. It’s certainly not the most traditional way to live, and it’s definitely not boring… but there’s also aspects to my life that are very plain and very simple. I go to an office several times a week. I mow the lawn. I drop my kid off at pre-school. We even had a plumbing disaster last week! [laughs]
I live a dull life, but I also get the perks of travelling for work and getting to go on tour. Even when I’m away, though, I just see myself as a travelling salesman. Off I go to sell my wares – my comedy – from town to town. The fact of the matter is that, when I’m writing about my life, I’m writing about everything that goes with it.
For years, I never really thought that I was qualified to say much of anything in terms of writing songs. As I’m getting older and kind of growing up a bit, though, I think I’m drawn more to the less talked-about aspects of life. That’s what interests me.
MF: By means of contrast, there are also songs on this album that are an extension, in a certain manner, of the absurdism and abstract realism that have been conceptually touched upon in your work through Awesome Show and more recently through Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories – tracks such as I Saw Nicolas Cage and Good Looking Babies. They’re songs that draw you in with their stories, only to conclude on notes that aren’t quite conclusive and don’t end up the way one would expect them to. Where does that interest stem from, as a creative individual? Is that something that you’ve always been drawn to, or something that has developed in more recent years?
TH: That’s a good question. I think part of it is being a fan of storytelling, and of structure. I like finding clever and surprising ways of expressing ideas. It’s not something I intellectualise too much. Part of it is just to be interesting, and to find new ways to surprise myself and people that consume what I do.
I was playing the album to my cousin the other day, and we got to Good Looking Babies. Once she had heard the first two verses, she was saying to me, “I’m waiting for it! I don’t know what it is, but I just know that there’s a twist or there’s something coming!” When the song ended, she just sighed and held up her arms as she said to me: “Oh, great! You got me again!” [laughs] It’s just something I do, I guess.
MF: A few years ago, you were a part of a string of very specific and very detailed parodies of Bob Dylan that you released online under your own name. Was it a matter of it being the sincerest form of flattery? Are you a genuine Dylan fan? Talk us through that particular saga.
TH: Oh, boy…[laughs] Well, I am genuinely a big Bob Dylan fan. There is, however, something just so ridiculous about him to me. It’s just fascinating. I read this article that the album Dylan was about to put out at the time [Tempest] was going to feature a 15-minute song about the Titanic.
I remember thinking to myself, “I bet I can project what that is. I bet that I can predict exactly what that is going to sound like.” As great as he is, he only has so many moves. At his age, you can kind of see it coming when he’s making new material. I like the moves, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy them. Still, it just became this fun exercise – this challenge – to see how long I could extend the idea. I’m an amateur studio musician, so I’ve got all the gear and I like making things sound the way they’re supposed to sound. I just put it out there, and people thought it was funny.
I actually did a Dylan cover not too long after that, too, All the Tired Horses. There was a little flurry of Dylan activity for awhile there. I did another parody, a song called Running Out the Clock. That came from this idea that I had that made me laugh. Paul McCartney can play the Superbowl halftime show, and it makes sense. Springsteen can do it. The Who can do it. That all makes sense.
The idea of Bob Dylan playing the Superbowl, though, is one that cracks your brain open. His shows can be such a mess. I love him, but the way his live shows tend to go is that if he does play any of his “classic” songs, he’s going to do them in a completely unrecognisable way. That’s where that song sort of stemmed from, for me. It’s just another example of me wanting to see an idea through.
MF: Away from music, you’ve had a little bit of on-screen activity away from your web-series On Cinema at the Cinema and the latest season of Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories. At the start of the year, a movie you starred in called First Girl I Loved was shown at Sundance. Can you tell us a little bit about your part in the movie?
TH: Y’know, I haven’t seen it yet! Every once in awhile, someone will offer a part to me for something. If they seem like nice people, and it makes sense to do, I’ll be happy to show up. People seemed to really like it, I think. I saw that it got nominated for a few awards and there was a bit of buzz around it, which is always nice to see.
I honestly wish I could say more about it! It was a two-day shoot, and it was a drama. I love acting in dramas – you actually get to be yourself. [laughs] It’s a lot easier. You don’t have to try to make anyone laugh. I play a guidance counsellor called Mr. Q, and I just did my job. Everyone was really nice.
MF: Not much more you could ask for than that, then.
TH: I mean, I wouldn’t have minded getting paid for it, but y’know… independent films and all. [laughs]
MF: You’re currently focused on the solo thing, putting out and promoting In Glendale. You’ve still managed to keep up a good level of productivity with Eric, however. Apart from Bedtime Stories, you put out a book called Tim and Eric’s Zone Theory and did a tour together which brought you back to Australia for the first time in three years. Is there any further activity planned between the two of you at this point? Perhaps some other film or television projects for yourself?
TH: There’s a show that I’ve just finished making, which hasn’t been announced yet. I can’t talk about it, because it’s got an… an… what’s the word?
MF: An embargo?
TH: That’s what I was looking for. It’s got an embargo on it, just because it’s not out in the public domain yet. I’m in a phase of writing, pitching and developing ideas. Some of that’s with Eric, some of that’s with other people.
We’d like to do more Bedtime Stories, so we’re waiting to hear back on that. I’ve got some things in the works, but right now I’m taking some time to put this record out. I’ve got a little touring planned, too. I’m just doin’ a little living right now! [laughs]
‘In Glendale’ is out May 20, grab a pre-order here.