On Friday, May 20, comedian and musician Tim Heidecker of Tim & Eric releases what he claims is his first straightforward, "earnest" album, In Glendale. While still funny, the Los Angeles–centric concept album does capture quite a few elements of the City of Angels in a way that hasn't been heard on record before, especially not from the man behind such other musical projects as Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain, a Herman Cain tribute album, and The Yellow River Boys' Urinal St. Station, an entire album of songs about drinking piss.
We spoke to Heidecker, who also plays Sunday, May 22, at the Teragram Ballroom with a 10-piece band, about what makes this new album different and how his earnestness is being received.
The press release for In Glendale refers to it as “the first earnest collection of songwriting” under your own name. What separated your approach to this release compared to your other ones?
Well, I had been writing the songs on my own and I didn’t feel the need or desire to make it a collaboration with anybody in particular. I felt they were pretty straightforward. They really weren’t coming from a character or bigger concept that I would have with other projects. It just felt like a different way of working that was interesting to me. There wasn’t a parody I was going for or a satire of something. It wasn’t coming from a phony point of view. It was just me and I felt that was just how it should be released.
You mention on the opening track that you’ve been in Los Angeles for over 10 years. What first brought you out to L.A.?
My partner Eric [Wareheim] and I were on the East Coast. I was living in New York and he was in Philadelphia, we were making short videos together, sort of aimlessly, without any idea where to take it. We started making more and more of them and eventually got the attention of Adult Swim. They gave us the chance to make a pilot, and we were working with Bob Odenkirk at the time, and that was all the push we needed to come out here and set up shop. It seemed a natural place to make TV.
When you first moved out, was that to Glendale?
No, I was in Silver Lake, and then I kept moving east, to Atwater, [then] to Glendale.
Do you feel moving to Los Angeles affected your songwriting, or any of your writing?
I think, not necessarily the location, but my maturity of living life a little more and having more life experience gave me more to write about. When you’re 20 years old, your life experiences are pretty narrow and you don’t really legitimately have that much to say. For years I’ve avoided writing earnest songs because I didn’t feel I had very much to contribute lyrically. It felt easier to mask it in humor. Although the new record does have a lot of humor in it, it’s more connected to real life experience.
There are shades of Los Angeles in all the songs, because it’s where I’ve been living. I’m sure if I’d moved to Chicago, I’d write songs about living in Chicago.
When you started writing these songs, did you have the idea to make it a Los Angeles–themed record, or did it being a reflection of L.A. happen organically?
I think the first song and “Cleaning Up the Dog Shit,” those two, as I was writing them, [I] realized this could provide some focus and direction to give the record a reason to exist and write a few more songs in that mindset.
“Cleaning Up the Dog Shit” and “Ghost in My Bed” seem to be the two ends of the record's spectrum of styles. When you were coming up with the concepts of the record, whether the everyday of “Cleaning up the dog shit/Cleaning up the baby shit” or murdering someone and burying their head beneath the Hollywood Sign, do they emerge from the same place for you?
I think different songs come from different ways. For example, “Ghost in My Bed” comes from reading an article about finding a skull in Griffith Park near the Hollywood Sign. Sometimes songs start that way when you get the first line: “I put your head in a plastic bag and I buried it under the Hollywood Sign.” I was just strumming away and, “Oh cool, that’s a great line to start a song.” That one’s a bit silly and not autobiographical in any way, just meant to be light and dark at the same time. “Cleaning Up the Dog Shit” is based more on what was going on for me that weekend.
Have you found there’s been any misconceptions about your new music?
Well, I put out the single for this record ["In Glendale"] and there’s already a debate on the message boards about, “Is it a joke? Is it serious? Why is it serious?” People are always confused, but there’s a fair amount of people who get that I am into different things. But I am known for kind of fucking with people on a number of levels, [so] some people are trying to find clues to see if I’m creating something that’s so subtle and so meta and weird that they’re like, “Look at this one shot! He would never do that in a real song!” They’re trying to uncover the mystery of it. To me, what’s different is that it is not that. It is something genuine, but it doesn’t mean I’m not gonna keep doing the spoofs and the goofs. It’s a little bit of an experiment to see what the tolerance level is for my fans.
Given how prolific your music has become, do you work on projects concurrently or one at a time?
This record’s been my focus for the past couple years. I’m continually doing TV projects and comedy stuff, and that takes up most of my time. I haven’t been doing much other music besides this. I’m writing new songs for a new record right now; I think it will be sort of a sequel to this record in the same style. Different subject matter, but not hiding under the mask of a character.
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Is it going to be city-focused as well?
It’s kind of relationship-focused. I’m in a very happy place with my wife and everything, but I’ve been writing all these breakup songs because they’re fun to write. Listening to Adele’s record, I like records that have a theme and there’s a reason they’re an album and not just a bunch of songs glomped together. “I’ve got three or four of these really emotional, sad break-up songs. Can I write another five of them? Can they be different enough?” That’s kind of what I’m into right now, not what anybody wants to hear from me.
Tim Heidecker's In Glendale is out May 20 on Rado Records.