Two years after releasing their yacht rock-parodying debut album, Heidecker & Wood—the duo of comedian Tim Heidecker and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! composer Davin Wood—are back with a new record, Some Things Never Stay the Same. But unlike their first album, this one is a curveball for longtime fans of Heidecker's comedy.
While soft-rock parodies fit nicely within the Tim & Eric universe, this record packs a genuine shock for fans because—believe it or not—it's not a joke. Well, at least not entirely. Heidecker & Wood have traded the lameness of yacht rock for the biting edge of '70 singer-songwriters like Warren Zevon, Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen. And while some of the lyrics certainly are funny, others evoke real, smirk-free emotions. Or do they?
To figure out how much of this album is meant in earnest, how much is homage and how much is pure mockery, we spoke with Heidecker at length about Some Things Never Stay the Same, an album he tells us is intentionally crafted to help "confuse the lines” between comedy and rock for listeners.
How did this album come together? Do you and Davin Wood work together or separately?
On our first record, most of the songs were co-written and made together in real time. On this one, I had songs that were more fully formed and I would send them to Davin and he would sophisticate them up. He would figure out ways to make them more complex. And he brought his own songs too: The songs that he sings on the record are his.
Songwriting can be a pretty solitary thing to do, but I got a little better at making the songs my own. With the home recording technology, a song sometimes starts off as a project of, "How do I make something sound like a Bruce Springsteen song?" So it starts there and if a hook comes in or a line comes along that's interesting, you see it through. There's a big folder on my computer that has 50, 60 songs in various stages of completion. Some of these might have been around in some form at the time of the first record, but there was good period of time between them where these songs collected. Then we just picked 10 and got to work.
So the thought, "Let's do a Bruce song" or "Let's do Randy Newman" predates the actual composition?
Yeah, if it's something I’ve been listening to on heavy rotation, I'll be listening closely to see where the details are that make it what it is. Sometimes it's unconscious, just sitting at the piano and putting words together, finding little melodies.
You end "Getaway Man" by shouting out, "I'm headin' on to the safe house," and there's a big choir at the end of "Salvation Street." Are those funnier musical details premeditated?
Some of it is pretty unconscious or subliminal, getting into the spirit of that kind of music and letting it go. But I try to make sure every song has an angle to it that's a little off or a little funny, though maybe not for everybody. And sometimes that doesn't come until later. You have the song and think, "Well, what's funny about this?" And then you find little things that add a twist.
Do you ever do the opposite and realize you need to tone it down?
No, we always just nail it. [Laughs] Well, at the end of "Salvation Street," we had these backup gospel singers and we had them go kinda crazy. Some of that is still there, but there's an early mix where they were scatting on top of each other and it was mayhem. It was funny and you would laugh, because it was ridiculous, but then it stopped sounding real.
What do you think of your music when you listen back to it? Would you ever put it on while cleaning your house? Assuming you clean your own house.
Sometimes I do! It's weird to listen to your own stuff, especially when you’re singing. I'm hyper-critical of my voice. And I've listened to this record a thousand times in terms of approving stuff like mixes, but I'm generally proud of the way it sounds and the playing on it. And in terms of the song structure, all that stuff is very close to the music I’d be normally listening to. People get a little confused like, "Are you making fun of this stuff?" And ultimately, not really. We might be making fun of some of the sentiments and ideas in these kinds of songs, but musically, we try to make it as good as possible.
This record strongly recalls the '70s. Is that mostly the decade you listen to?
I probably have a little more fondness for the '60s with the Beatles and Kinks, because I'm a big, big fan of the Kinks. But the first record was a little more of a joke on the soft-rock sound. I'm not really a fan of soft-rock. There are cool things about it, but I wouldn't sit down and listen to a Seals and Croft record or that kind of thing. The songwriter guys—the '70s corduroy jacket guys like Randy Newman, Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne—I really do like that kind of music and listen to it a lot. And maybe it speaks to me as a little bit of an older guy now, as it's a little more sophisticated lyrically. So I've been listening to that music a lot more in the last few years and that influences my songwriting.
Do you ever listen to comedy rock?
I don't listen to a lot of comedy rock. I love Tenacious D and I love Spinal Tap and I love Weird Al. When that stuff comes on, it's fun, but it doesn't need to be so separated. Randy Newman and Warren Zevon both have a lot of humor in their music, but it's dark and closer to something like Kurt Vonnegut. It's biting and funny. That's why I'm trying to bridge the gap a little bit. The characters in my songs are mostly idiots, morons… and that's fun to inhabit that character. And I do that in my comedy as well.
You have Aimee Mann duetting with you on the new album. Is that imposing to work with a "serious" musician?
It's pretty comfortable.
We're very good friends and she lives not too far away so it was just a matter
of, "Hey, are you around this afternoon? Can you come by?" And she just sat in
my garage, the two of us, and nailed it. She was hearing the song ["Next Ten Years"] for
the first time, so we gave her a bunch of takes and the [recording] was not
very dramatic. But I'm so pleased with it—it's so cool she's on there. I want
to find more ways to blur the lines and confuse things and make it challenging
for somebody like you or a reviewer to be like, "Well, this is supposed to be
funny, but why isn't it funny here?" So the more I create those confusing
moments, the closer it is to something I want to do. To make it sweet and
dramatic and lovely-sounding is kind of funny to me. And I didn't realize the
joke until Aimee brought it up. She was like, "The song is really funny because
it's this couple and they have all these problems, but the more they drink as
the night goes on, the better things seem to get." And it's a funny idea:
They’re just getting drunk and thinking, "Eh, it's gonna be alright." But they
don't see that, they’re just good-humored people.
On "Cocaine" you sing, "Cocaine keeps me awake / All through the night, all through the day." Have you ever done cocaine solely for the purpose of staying awake?
This is God's honest truth now, I'm not gonna bullsh-t you: I've never done it. There. I'm already kind of a hyper, anxiety-prone type, so I always felt it would be a bad move. The propaganda from childhood worked on me. I didn't want to try it once and die of a heart attack.
That's surprising. I thought anyone who's been through Philly was forced to do it at some point.
Yeah, I probably wasn't cool enough for a while to be in that scene. We were too busy watching The Simpsons and eating pizza and drinking 40s. But I'm certainly aware of it, so that's where the song comes.
Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats is on your album. Is he another friend like Aimee Mann?
I’ve known Eric for a while. Back when he was with the Shins they came into our studio and did a cover of "Wipe My Butt." We stayed in touch and I love the Fruit Bats. I sent him a few songs and said, "Can you sing on these? Can you do something to them?" And it was fun to collaborate that way, where it was no collaboration. He has a studio of his own, so he imports the tracks, diddles around and sends me his project back. It's an easy way to work for me.
You've been making music in some form for years—did you ever consider it a serious career option as opposed to comedy?
Well, I think Eric would probably agree with this, as we both grew up playing in bands in high school and it was our first love. Growing up, it's probably the thing that seemed the most likely as you saw so many other people do it. You write songs, you put out a demo, you start going on tour and you make an album. It was very simple to see how you could possibly achieve that from watching bands that you liked playing your high school.
I got a little sidetracked with school and career, but ever since high school I’ve always had something going on musically, whether it was a band or just playing solo. I'm always going to do it. This latest incarnation with Davin has just been the best way for me to focus that into something that makes results. I mean, we have an album.
You have a lot of things going: TV shows, the On Cinema podcast, plus the music. Is music more relaxing or enjoyable to you?
I would say the writing
is pretty relaxing and satisfying, and that it's less stressful than the TV
stuff and the other big productions we do. But seeing it through can be
stressful, time-consuming and frustrating. On this record we brought in a lot
of outside musicians—which we wanted to do—but then it's a production, because
you're bringing in people, scheduling them and paying them. And then going all
the way to this point, where you have to defend it and talk about it. This is a
very nice conversation, for sure, but sometimes you talk to people and you're
like, "I don't know what to say about this because I don't know myself. I
don't put that much thought into it, it's not that intellectual of a process."
But I know this is what you gotta do. It's all good.