Tim Heidecker Would Like You to Take Him Seriously, Please (at Least for This Album)

We talk to the comedian about venturing into the music world, and you can stream his upcoming record 'In Glendale' a week before its release.
May 12, 2016, 2:00pm

Photo credit: Cara Robbins

Tim Heidecker is serious. The shorter half of absurdist comedy duo Tim and Eric doesn’t break into the nervous cry/singing of his Casey character from the “Uncle Muscles Hour” sketch or the sneak surprise catch phrasing of Spaghett during our recent interview. In fact, the 40-year-old Pennsylvania native was pretty low key throughout the conversation that focused on his upcoming full-length solo debut, In Glendale (which is streaming below a week ahead of its release on May 20). To clarify, this isn’t Heidecker’s first foray into the music world, but it’s definitely his first time doing it in earnest. That’s not to say records like Urinal St. Station with The Yellow River Boys or Pusswhip Banggang’s Jambalaya weren’t done from an earnestly comedic perspective, of course. It’s that In Glendale is an honest look at Tim Heidecker as Tim Heidecker.

Before fans of Heidecker’s comedy shit the bed, though, it’s important to understand that Heidecker’s real life isn’t some 180-degree turn into crysturbating singer-songwriter drivel. It’s funny as hell. The only difference is that this time the comedy doesn’t come from what looks like a midnight public television show inspired by PCP. This time the humor comes from reality. With song titles like “Good Looking Babies” and “Cleaning Up the Dog Shit,” In Glendale is almost misleading from the start as it would be perfectly reasonable for those familiar with his work to assume Heidecker is just talmbout weird/funny/gross/literal bizarre shit. The album is weird, but it’s definitively familiar, too.

Still relatively new to fatherhood, Heidecker’s domestic cautionary tales aren’t so much silly as they are painfully and hilariously relevant. What’s more is that the songs don’t just speak to parents. In Glendale is a genuine look at how seriously nonsensical life is in what’s supposedly the simple domestic life. As he discussed in our interview, Heidecker, who’s played a character capable of shooting milk from his nipple on command and a skullet-sporting perverted asshole boss, saw the role of himself as the weirdest he’s done yet.

Noisey: I feel like this record is what would happen if Ween, John Prine, and Randy Newman had a baby.
Tim Heidecker: Oh man, that’s kind of great.

Which kind of makes sense seeing that you started your career out as a musician, right?
Yeah. In high school, I had a bunch of bands, and I guess it was probably like the easiest way to be creative with other people. We were probably also making little videos and doing little sketches and stuff in the basement, but the bands were always the most simple things to put together and do. It was something I always enjoyed doing. I always loved music, film, and all that stuff sort of in their own ways. I think being a rock star and being in a band going out there making records was one of those sort of first dreams of what I wanted to do.

Have you seen those two things, comedy and music, as sort of interchangeable in a way?
Well, yeah. I feel like it’s kind of unfortunate that there’s this stigma about if a comedian makes music, or a musician tries to do something funny, or if people just stray from their lane that they’re known for, people tend to think that it’s illegitimate or not good or whatever. But I think musicians, comedians, actors, painters—a lot of us start out with a variety of interests in the creative field, and one of them sort of leaps out in front of the other, or there’s a job that becomes available that leads you in another direction, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t still have passion for those other things. Another way to think about it is that it kind of makes sense that an actor or writer is gonna be a musician, because they’re all somewhat drawing from that same pool of stuff inside you that makes you wanna go out and make stuff.

A lot of In Glendale centers on you being a dad. Has that had a pretty big impact on your writing in general and not just with this record?
I guess it influences me to some degree. I think when I was writing the songs for this record, it was really very new and fresh. It had been on my mind all throughout my wife’s pregnancy, and of course the first year was kind of when I was writing some of these songs. As much as I’ve never really brought my real life into my work, it became sort of me asking why I was doing that at this point. I just thought that if I established this rule of moving my real life out of my work for no reason, it seemed dangerous and interesting to do that, and this was a good opportunity to break that rule. You can only write so many fake, ironic songs in a certain style. [Laughs_] It gets a little old. A lot of times when I write, it’s just this stream of consciousness thing where you’re pouring out whatever ideas are on the tip of your brain, and this was what was on my brain. I think with the fatherhood thing, there’s an episode of _Bedtime Stories about Eric and I teaching John C. Reilly how to be a baby. I know there was a Check It Out episode about diapers, and it was in that first few months where that material was very fertile with the baby kind of stuff. [_Laughs_] I’m always the first to make a joke if someone asks how my baby’s doing. It’s like, “Oh, you didn’t hear? She’s terminally ill.” [_Laughs_] It’s a fun, new angle to be completely perverted and dark and confusing. But in my real life it’s a great focusing, centering, de-egoing kind of thing to have in your life, and it’s been a very positive, great thing these past few years.

Did you find differences between your method for writing the music for In Glendale as opposed to how you normally write for comedy?
I think my ideas tend to be project based, and conceptually every record or TV show or whatever it is starts with: what do I see the finished product being, or what is the vehicle by which these things can live in? For this record, once I kind of stumbled onto the idea of, “Oh, here are a few songs that are not very ironic. I like the music. I like the lyrics and that this is drawing from my real life,” then it sort of inspires me to make the rest of the record, and it gives it a theme or concept. Then I can just write towards that, and even before the record’s finished being written I can say, “I’m gonna call the record, In Glendale. It’s my first record that’s really about me and my real life,” and that gives it structure right there. I think that’s the way I work. [_Laughs_]

Was diving into that personal vulnerability something that was nervewracking?
Yeah. Not so much in the writing or the making of it—that’s usually really amongst myself, my close friends, people that know me, people that I can trust. It’s all very positive, and there’s no sort of judgment. I think the nervousness really starts now when I’m launching it and doing photos and doing interviews and putting a music video together and all this stuff. It’s like gulp. [_Laughs_] I feel embarrassed to put myself out like this. A little bit. But it’s just a new thing, and new things inspire and excite me. Obviously, I think you can see through my career a restlessness of not wanting to do something for too long. Just bail on it and move on to something else, so this is the next thing. I’m not by any means giving up comedy or stopping to do stupid rock songs or whatever. In some ways, I understand that it’ll be confusing or alienating to some fans, and that also interests me.

Of course, your first sort of venture into more serious territory was with 2012’s The Comedy.
That was actually a nice testing ground for what I’m doing now. I think that gave me some of the confidence to go and do this. I think I was expecting more of a backlash or confusion from that movie, especially considering that both Eric and I were in the movie, but I really got such great feedback from fans and people that are totally capable of separating that movie from our work. There’s a little bit of difference because Rick [Alverson], the director, had written it and not us, but it was a collaborative experience. There’s definitely gonna be, and I expect there to be a message from a group of people that’s: Stick to comedy. Stick to what you know. Then there’s gonna be a lot of people that are fans of Tim and Eric that don’t like that kind of music. [Laughs_] I understand I’m not making music that I would consider popular music. It’s not Rihanna. It’s not what would sell millions of records. Then there’s a small group of our audience that does like that kind of music, and can understand that I have a broad range of ways to express myself, and then I’m hoping that there’s just people out there in the world who really aren’t familiar with _Tim and Eric or my other work, and they like it on its own terms where there doesn’t need to be a contextualization of it, and it can exist on its own as a record of songs.

So the Rihanna In Glendale remix comes out this fall?
[_Laughs_] I would like this record to be covered by people. I’d like to hear artists take it and make it part of their repertoire. [Sounds out repertoire]

Richard D. James on Tim Heidecker.
Man. that would be awesome.

I wanted to ask you about your love/hate relationship to Nicolas Cage, Tim. Is that song pretty much a summary of the entire record?
[_Laughs_] I think the record is, to me, like an LA record. It’s about living in Los Angeles, and that’s a song that’s kind of what would very likely happen on any given day living in this town. You’re gonna be in like a weird real-life encounter with a famous person at some point, and it’s gonna totally be not the way you’d expect it to go and not necessarily exciting. It’ll probably be boring. [_Laughs_] My first experience living out here during a college internship in the 90s, I was at a Ralph’s, which is a grocery store in The Valley, and I see Bob Hope with a handler just walking down some grocery aisle at like 10:00 at night, and he looked like a ghost. I’m sure he died later that year or something, but he looked tiny and invalid. So yeah, all these heroes and icons or whatever are just these real people that if you live here and work here and go out enough, over time you just have to deal with seeing them in the real world. [_Laughs_]

Jonathan Dick is a writer who does not have Twitter. That's kinda weird, right?