Comedian, musician, writer, director, producer, actor? Tim Heidecker’s multifaceted career is a bit of a chicken or egg proposition, with even the 37-year-old Allentown native himself struggling to come up with a succinct description of what it is that he does. Though his creative output might defy easy categorization, it would be no exaggeration to deem Heidecker one of the hardest working men in show business.
In addition to a plum role on the final season of HBO’s Eastbound & Down, playing Kenny Powers’ powerless “friend” and neighbor Gene, Heidecker and his longtime creative partner Eric Wareheim (a.k.a. Tim and Eric) just got the go-ahead for their third Adult Swim series, Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories, and have just begun production on a third season of Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule.
On Tuesday, Heidecker and his longtime musical collaborator Davin Wood will release Some Things Never Stay the Same, a follow-up to their 2011 debut album under the moniker Heidecker & Wood, which pays tribute to the golden age of ’70s songwriters like Warren Zevon, Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson.
On the eve of Heidecker & Wood’s sophomore release, Paste chatted up the former about his musical beginnings, the joy of being Kenny Powers’ punching bag, and making music for urine lovers.
Paste: Considering the many titles you juggle as an artist, it’s almost difficult to know where to begin when speaking with you. You’re a writer, director, producer, actor and musician. How do you most easily define what you do?
Tim Heidecker: Oh, that’s always been a problem. I try to avoid talking about it at all. You just sound like an asshole when you start saying any of those words. I think I’m a writer and a producer and an actor and then a director. But it probably starts with being a writer.
Paste: In terms of the comedy, music, writing and acting, which came first for you?
Heidecker: I think music, only because I was in a band in high school and thought of myself as a musician. And acting and making stuff, that all sort of came out of it, but I think the earliest thing that interested me was music.
Paste: So much of your work—both in your comedy and music—is based on longtime collaborations. For you, what’s the key to forging a lasting creative partnership?
Heidecker: Liking the person [laughs]. I think it’s got to be organic. It’s got to be natural and not some sort of strategic plan to find a partner. My relationship with Davin grew from when he had submitted some songs to Eric and I based on some little things that we had done on our website. The quality of his work was very impressive, so we started working with him and having him make music for the show. We became very comfortable working together and had a shorthand language when it came to music, which is really important—to be able to understand where someone is coming from. And enjoying spending time with the person, because you’re going to spend a lot of time with the person.
Paste: What are the best and worst parts of always having a second voice or opinion in what you’re trying to create?
Heidecker: The best part is sharing the burden of the work and having it being enriched by their ideas. The worst part is not really that bad, but it’s convincing someone of your idea or living with a compromise that wasn’t the way you saw something originally. But that’s always for the best. I don’t think there’s a real downside.
Paste: People often make a specific distinction between comedy and drama when, really, the two are directly intertwined. And your work is a prime example of that. What role does discomfort play for you in the comedic process?
Heidecker: I guess it’s something that we just naturally find funny and find it interesting to create uncomfortable situations. Awkwardness is funny… It’s engaging and encourages the audience to become a little more participatory in the viewing and to get a little more emotionally involved.
Paste: If you had the choice of getting a laugh or a cringe out of a viewer or audience member, which would you prefer?
Heidecker: I’d prefer the cringe first and the laugh to follow. [No one] should not take any of this stuff too seriously. If we have kids in cages or other upsetting, weird stuff, it’s all make believe.
Paste: So let’s talk about your new album, Some Things Never Stay The Same, a bit. When did you begin working on it and what was the production process like?
Heidecker: We’ve been working on it for about two years now. After we had made the first record we took some time off from working on music and were working on other stuff. And in this business there are periods of downtime when you’re waiting for contracts to get signed for TV stuff or whatever. So whenever I have downtime, I try to stay productive and busy. I got into my little garage studio and play around and we just started amassing songs over time. And by the time we decided we wanted to put another record out, we put the songs we liked most together and went to a real studio and recorded the songs with a drummer and a band.
Not to get too technical and laborious—we take that back to my garage and then sort of work from those drum tracks and rebuild the songs, really dialing it in and bringing in other instruments and bringing in other players and just sort of building and building. Then we take it back to that studio and have it professionally mixed. It’s a weird workaround that’s really all about avoiding spending thousands and thousands of dollars in a studio when 90 percent of that work can be done in my garage The whole thing is really like making a TV show or anything else. You’re trying to make the whole package work together, make it sound great, make the sequence work, figure out what the cover art’s going to be and all that stuff. Especially when you’re not doing it full time and doing it independently, it’s a long, kind of annoying process.
Paste: I actually refuse to believe that you ever have any downtime.
Heidecker: Yeah. The downtime gets sucked up into uptime.
Paste: What was your vision for the album? Clearly it’s inspired by 1970s rock. But in what ways does it build on your debut album, Starting from Nowhere?
Heidecker: I think our goal for this record was, first, to distance ourselves from the soft rock parody of the first record and make it a little heavier. [And] not worry so much about whether it’s funny or not. I think naturally some stuff is going to be funny and some stuff’s not. And just bringing in other musicians and making it more of a band and less two guys in a room was one of our goals.
Paste: In what ways is your approach to creating music similar to your creative process with comedy or creating television?
Heidecker: Whether it’s a song or a joke or an idea, it all comes from a mysterious place. It comes from when you’re not really thinking too hard—you’re taking a shower or falling asleep or just waking up. And then just to take that idea and try to realize as best as you possibly can and not talk yourself out of it. Just make that thing happen.
Paste: The career you’ve created for yourself is truly a really unique and multifaceted one. Who are the artists who’ve inspired you?
Heidecker: Bob Dylan, Albert Brooks, Kurt Vonnegut. I think Bob Dylan because I love his music, but also because he was pretty fearless in terms of destroying his own persona and not worrying about what people thought and being ready to risk the security and safety of his sound at a period where he could have just made a couple more records in the same style. That’s inspiring to me.
Paste: I really can’t end this conversation without asking you about Eastbound & Down. How did you get involved with the show?
Heidecker: I am blessed. That’s all I can say. I know Danny and Jody and I know that they’re fans of ours. And Eastbound & Down is one of our favorite shows; I think it’s one of the greatest comedies of all time, honestly.
Paste: And this is really the best season so far, which is saying a lot because it’s been brilliant from beginning to end.
Heidecker: I think so, too. As an actor, the best thing you can ever have happen is to have someone just offer you a part and not have to go in and audition, because that’s the worst—going in and reading these lines and feeling like a boob to a casting director. So they were just like, “Can you do this?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And the great thing about their world is that we shoot the show in North Carolina on the beach; everyone stays in this hotel on the beach, and it’s really like a family. It’s a bit like our show in that everyone has been working together for a long time, so it’s a perfect mix of “We’re here to do this stuff but we’re not going to be crazy about it. We’re going to have fun.” So it’s like this crazy weird summer vacation where you’re going to work a couple days a week and act like a tool. As an actor, my job in this show is really just to be like: “Come on, Kenny. Come on!”
Paste: Your job is really just to get the shit beaten out of you by Kenny Powers on a regular basis.
Heidecker: You just have to take the abuse. The hardest part is to not just instinctually be like, “Fuck you, I’m gone. Get the fuck out of my life.” Because that’s what would happen in reality. But it was great. Those guys are just a blast and super fun. I can’t believe I get to be on this show. It’s like Space Camp or something.
Paste: You’re getting ready to launch a third series for Adult Swim, Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories.
Heidecker: Adult Swim is the best. They have this unbelievable trust in our ideas and the show is really just an extension of everything that we’ve done, which is really just: give us a quarter-hour to tell a little story. Whatever that story’s going to be, we will figure out when we get into the writing. But it’s going to be a sort of Twilight Zone mix of crazy, weird, dark but also funny stories. And each week will be a different story. But if you’re familiar with our work, it will just be more of our stuff—more characters and more craziness.
Paste: And you’re also in pre-production for a third season of Check it Out! With Dr. Steve Brule?
Heidecker: We are. We’re starting that on Monday. I love the language that the show is created [in]. We get to do really weird, fun, dark, crazy things on that show. And just to get to work with John [C. Reilly]. We really just sit and let him go.
Paste: Anything else in the pipeline for you currently? Maybe a good night’s sleep?
Heidecker: The only other thing I’ll mention is that we’re making another record in December that’s called The Yellow River Boys and it’s a project I’ve done with another partner of mine, Gregg Turkington, who is the comedian Neil Hamburger. It’s a very strange record but it’s something I think people are going to be surprised that it’s pretty good, too. It’s sort of a country rock, Lynyrd Skynrd-style country rock band where every song is about drinking urine or being pissed on or being in this whole fake scene we’ve created about people who love to drink their own piss. So there’s that, too.