When you’re Tim Heidecker, and you’re responsible for some of the strangest comedic television to ever air, releasing a sincere rock record must be an uphill battle. Who would take it seriously? Especially when your previous musical projects include an album dedicated to 2012 presidential candidate Hermann Cain and a country group who only sings about drinking urine?
Heidecker, who has been playing music longer than he’s been making funny videos, is in the thick of the fight at the moment. Rado Records has just released his solo record, In Glendale -- an album of “somewhat earnest” songs, according to his press release. There are few silly tracks on it (one is called "Cleaning up the Dog Sh*t"), but it’s mostly about his normal life in Glendale with his wife and daughter. Inspired by Ray Davies' work with the Kinks, Heidecker thought he'd create his own musical documentaries on American life.
"I generally don't have much to say about stuff in a non-comedic way, so when I do have something to say, I take advantage of it," Heidecker explains.
This Thursday, Heidecker and his 10-piece band come to the Independent in San Francisco to play tracks from his new record, along with some old favorites from his other groups (let's all hope they play the Yellow River Boys "Hot Piss." (NSFW)). Before he came town, I spoke with Heidecker over the phone about his long love affair with music and why he finally made an honest record (that still manages to be funny).
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
You grew up in Allentown, Penn. Was it a music town?
Not really. There was a club in nearby Bethlehem called Scarlet's, which was all-ages. There were two guys who ran this club who let 16-year-olds come and they didn't have alcohol or anything, but they'd let everyone dance to Nirvana or the Cure or whatever was popular. And they'd have band nights, so we'd play there.
There was actually a lot of hardcore and punk music that I was never really into, and there was some serious white power-skinhead sh*t going on there that was really dicey.
So there must've been some pretty intense situations?
Yeah. In fact my friends and I wrote a letter about the skinhead problem that -- I believe -- was published in the local newspaper that was about how upset we were about the problems they were causing at shows. So we were little Social Justice Warriors back then.
Your first band was called Time And Other Things. Was it a joke band or was it sincere?
Totally sincere. We thought we were Morrissey meets Robert Smith meets Lennon and McCartney. It wasn't emo, because that wasn't around when I was in high school, but we were very emotive, emotional teenagers. [Laughs]
Did you wear makeup when on stage?
No, nothing like that. But we wrote Doors-y kinds of songs about darkness and Pink Floyd-style "I'm losing my mind" types of songs.
Shaggy's Belt Buckle was the next band?
Yeah, Shaggy's Belt Buckle was another group made up of my good friend Phil and my cousin Joel. That was a little more of a comedy group. The songs were sillier, and we were a little influenced by Ween and Spinal Tap. Humor started percolating in the songwriting.
Was this your first comedic project?
Sure, though in terms of professional standards this was along the lines of hosting puppet shows in my basement -- it wasn't more advanced than that. We were in high school so we didn't have the facilities or the outreach -- we certainly didn't have the Internet. We were just making Tascam 4-track tape demos, which I don't think I even have.
Do you remember any of the songs or their themes?
I do recall a lyric about Ed Meese. And that's about it. [Laughs]
For this solo record, what was your process like? Did you have a bigger concept in mind?
Most things I end up putting out, I try to have be a little more than a random collection of songs. There's usually an overall theme or concept behind it. So this one started when I was writing songs that were a little more informed by my real life. A few of them I had been building up on my computer, which is how I usually make rough demos of stuff. But those songs fueled the idea that I could write more in this style, where it's more about what I'm observing or experiencing. It thought it would be cool to write something that wasn't a goof or a parody of anything, just a straight reporting of things. Then I filled it out songs that were in the same vein that I had been working on.
It's an album that's sort of about me and L.A. and California. Having lived here for a while and being a fan of certain records that are indicative of a place, I thought I'd have something to say about it. Then I was encouraged by some people in the music business -- Jonathan Rado, who is in a band called Foxygen, and Chris Swanson of Jagjaguwar Records. They told me I should just put out the record under my own name and have it be somewhat straight.
Do you wish you could play music all the time?
I think the appeal of life in a touring band would fade quickly when doing 150 dates a year. There's certain economic realities to it, too: I have a ten-piece band, so if you start doing the math on how that breaks down to what everyone is making a night, it gets a little tricky after a while. And I love my full-time job probably just as much or even more so. Part of putting a record out is getting out there and making sure people hear it by playing live, but I wouldn't want to do it more than I am right now.
You usually play characters in your projects -- even on your podcast On Cinema, you use your own name but you're playing a character. Do you have a character for your live shows?
I've been playing around with the idea but I don't have it figured out yet. I hoping by doing it a few nights in a row, I will get into a groove. I feel like if you're coming to this show, you're a little more open to me being relaxed and not hiding behind a persona. There's an uncomfortability that exists at these music shows, at least for the first few minutes, because people are confused and don't know how to behave -- if they're supposed to laugh or not. But that eventually thaws out and they relax.
We just play these songs. I'm not in a costume or anything; [laughs] I'm just myself. But I'm still gonna make fun of somebody in the band and I'm going to yell at somebody in the front row for talking. If I'm losing the audience, I'll probably turn on my "entertainer skills" and make something happen out of nothing.
Tim Heidecker and His Ten Piece Band play the Independent in San Francisco on June 2 at 8pm. For tickets and more information, go to ticketfly.com.