There’s a lot of baggage when you talk to someone like Tim Heidecker. Someone who recently, famously out-wackied Conan O’Brien on his own show. That man wrote for The Simpsons! That man presided over the birth of The Masturbating Bear! And Tim Heidecker made him look like a fool. Worse: like a square.
I was recently nervously waiting for Heidecker’s call (“he likes to call interviewers,” his publicist told me, which is publicist code for “he doesn’t like weirdos to have his phone number.” Given his audience, I think we can agree that is a wise precaution) not to discuss his television shows for Cartoon Network, Tom Goes to the Mayor and Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job (referred to by fans by the appropriately unwieldy acronym TAEASGJ), but about his new project, Heidecker and Wood, a soft rock band in the ‘70s mold about to release their first album, Starting From Nowhere.
Recorded by Heidecker and another member of the TAEASGJ team, Davin Wood, it would sound totally at home on any Kiss FM or Smooth Oldies Lunch around the country. It’s got the smooth sound, vague poeticizing of casual sex, and lazy bombast of the period down pat.
But is it a joke? Heidecker said that while there’s a certain ridiculousness inherent in the music, and while the lyrics are satire of the period, both he and Wood took the task of creating an authentic soft rock experience deadly seriously.
Why? Not only do they actually like this kind of music (and anyone who’s ever teared up hearing James Taylor or mildly rocked out to a Steely Dan song does, too), but it’s necessary to get it right. Songs like “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “Hey Nineteen,” and “It Might Be You,” songs that have gone down in history as totally ridiculous and cheesy are actually really, really hard to play. Hard to sing! Hard to even fake.
As it happens, my brother is something of a soft-rock obsessive who’s been in a few soft-rock inspired bands. I asked him to help me put together a few questions for Tim to really test his soft rock knowledge. Let’s see if this guy’s for real.
I read that you recorded the first Heidecker & Wood song for a TAEASGJ sketch that ended up not happening. Can you tell me about that sketch?
We were writing a sketch for Carol and Mr. Henderson, which is a bit we do. And it was a song that was gonna be sung by Aimee Mann, and we started on something, and we didn’t like the direction it was going, so we kind of scrapped it and started over. But that song kind of inspired us to work on other songs together.
Did you approach ‘70s soft rock the same way your show approaches television, with a mixture of reverence and an acknowledgement of the insanity of it?
Definitely. Davin and I are both fans of that music, but at the same time, we both recognize that sometimes it’s ridiculous, sometimes it’s really funny to us. We, and Davin in particular, who’s super talented and able to recreate a lot of those sounds, we felt the way this would work the best would be to get as close to those sounds as possible. To make it really feel like you’re in the middle of one those records. And it would only become sort of humorous when you pay a little closer attention to lyrics and listen to everything in relation to everything else.
Can you tell me a little about the Wood from Heidecker and Wood? He works on the show with you?
Davin’s been with us since the beginning, since our first cartoon, Tom Goes to the Mayor. He does a lot of the music for the show, the scoring and arranging, and some of the songwriting. A lot of his voice is on the show, like if you hear a song and you don’t see who’s singing it, a lot of times it’s him. He’s behind the scenes, but he adds a lot of humor, a lot of what makes the show the show.
Is this something that’s going to be turning up on your other tours, your live comedy tours?
No, no. We’re keeping them separate. Separate project from Tim & Eric.
People remember hip stuff from the 70s, like punk or stoner rock, but what got the most airplay was soft rock. And it wasn’t even called “soft rock”; it was just music. Was that your experience growing up? Just sitting around the swimming pool and hearing these songs?
My parents definitely had some of this music, maybe closer to folk rock, not so much the soft rock, stuff like James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stephens – album rock, singer-songwriter stuff. And listening to classic rock growing up, a lot of the stuff crossed over.
But I didn’t really grow up with it. It’s not the music of my generation.
Because you’re not quite old enough – you’re 34?
I just turned 35. Davin’s a little older; he’s 40. His encyclopedic knowledge base is a little more thorough than mine. I sort of came at it by writing fairly simple songs that had sort of a root in that music, and Davin would be able to arrange it that way that really sounded authentic.
Soft rock has a lot of craftsmanship: really complicated playing, really complex harmonies. Was that intimidating?
As a singer, it was really hard, because we’d write pretty complicated vocal parts. I’m a pretty good singer, but I’m not technically great. So, it would take a lot of takes. Going back to the authenticity, we wanted it sound right on the money, so it would take just take after take after take of just trying to nail it.
Davin would do the same thing when playing the instruments, just really hone in and get it right on the money.
It’s hard to call it soft rock without an electric piano. Why no electric piano?
There’s tons of electric piano.
The two songs on the internet, there’s no electric piano.
Well, there’s Fender Rhodes all over the record.
Okay. I also hear a lot of England Dan and John Ford Coley. Are you a big fan of England Dan and John Ford Coley? Who made more of a contribution: England Dan or John Ford Coley?
England Dan. I love the solo stuff. I think the collaboration dragged them both down.
It’s important to know that England Dan’s full name is Dan Seals, and that he’s the brother of Jim Seals from Seals & Croft. That’s not a question, but my brother wanted me to bring it up.
I notice you chose to use canned drums and horns. Were you thinking of Steely Dan’s Goucho, (the one with “Hey 19” and “Time Out of Mind” and “Babylon Sisters”). Was that in your mind?
Well, Steely Dan in general was an influence on a few songs. I think every song has its father and mother, reference-wise: Steely Dan, Chicago, Seals & Croft. Steely Dan for sure, there are certain sounds: the light, the jazzy. . . the shit rock.
The guitar solo in “Wedding Song” is a little like Skunk Baxter. He played on some good Steely Dan tracks, and the Doobie Brothers. My brother said you’d like to hear that. Do you like to hear that?
That’s a great thing to say.
Based on the few tracks we heard, he said there’s no major and minor 7th. Soft rock is all about major and minor 7ths. Why did you stay away from that?
He does not know what he’s hearing. It’s all major 7ths. In fact, we’re getting ready to play live, and I’m playing rhythm guitar, and I was stunned when I was going over the parts, just stunned how many major 7th parts there are. “Wedding Song” is all major 7ths. Your brother needs to go back to music school.
One last thing: Is it funny?
It’s funny to me.