Tim Heidecker on “Fear of Death” - Getting the Band Together | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, November 26th, 2020  

Tim Heidecker on “Fear of Death”

Getting the Band Together

Sep 25, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Collaborations are nothing new for Tim Heidecker. The comedian and musician, perhaps most known as one half of the comedy duo, Tim and Eric, has worked with a range of comedians and musicians in his time. And now, with the release of his latest album, Fear of Death, Heidecker has amassed a tight-knit collaborative group of professional musicians (including Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood and Jonathan Rado from Foxygen) to play alongside him.

On the surface, Fear of Death might appear like some of Heidecker’s past albums—records which were firmly entrenched in parody or satire, or explored his penchant for musical pastiche. But after only minimal digging, it’s clear that the album’s material and personnel make Fear of Death a much more serious affair. 

“This one is like I’m in my midlife crisis kind of reflection,” says Heidecker of the album’s themes, which range from growing older, to existentialism and nihilism, to, of course, death. “Some of that wasn’t really apparent right away. It’s only afterwards that I see that there’s a link with all this stuff.” 

In the face of these rather heavy themes, it can be easy to latch onto darkness. However, the songs on Fear of Death remain intricately clever and light-hearted. It’s easy to take them as humorous takes on life and death, due to Heidecker’s effortless charm in songwriting and delivery. “I didn’t really want to approach it like Nick Cave or somebody would,” Heidecker says, “where it gets really serious and dark. I think there’s playfulness in the music. I love pretty music, like Brian Wilson might say, but even in dark subjects I want the music to sound pleasing and pretty.” 

Fear of Death, therefore, deals with existential topics that many artists might shy away from, and which Heidcker manages to roll into powerfully wry and anthemic tracks that remind the listener of ’70s classic rock and Americana. Heidecker’s vocals are paired harmoniously with Mering’s rich voice, while the instrumentation sounds slick and polished. The record is a shining example of an artist in complete control over his art and his message—but that kind of control didn’t always come easy to Heidecker. 

“I think the last few records have been a process of learning more about songwriting and what I’m capable of, what I’m good at,” explains Heidecker, “and at the same time getting more comfortable with myself in a public way—writing songs that aren’t necessarily funny or ironic. The more I do that, the easier it is, and the more comfortable I am doing that.” 

The album brings together a big band sound (from the star-studded list of collaborators), a masterful production, and spot-on album art from Robert Beatty. And on each of the record’s 12 tracks, it’s clear that Heidecker and Company had a lot of fun putting these songs together. 

Heidecker recalls that the whole recording process came together incredibly quickly. “I had ‘Fear of Death’ roughly sketched out, and I had ‘Come Away with Me’ and ‘Say Yes’ and ‘Someone Who Can Handle You’ in a folder of songs I wanted to do someday.” 

Things really picked up when Heidecker had Mering on his Office Hours podcast: “I always have a guitar standing by, and I said to her, ‘I have this one song that’s this Crosby, Stills and Nash kind of thing. It’s kind of jaunty, kind of rhythmic, but it could really be cool as a duet.’ I played it for her on the show and we both very loosely improvised around it and sang together. Our mutual collaborator Drew Erickson then heard that and was like, ‘Hey, if you wanted to do some songs I could get a band together.’” 

After that Thursday podcast taping, Erickson and Heidecker brought together a who’s who in the indie rock scene (Mering, Rado, as well as The Lemon Twigs, Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint, and Trey Pollard of Spacebomb Records), for a recording session the following Monday at Valentine Studios in the Valley, which Heidcker describes as a “’70s-era time capsule.” 

“The process was pretty straightforward,” says Heidecker. “Everyone was just like, ‘these are fun songs to play.’ We were all getting along well, so it was not intimidating. I just got into the studio and went: ‘Here’s how I hear it, here’s the demo, let’s try it and see what happens.’”

Fear of Death is therefore more of a studio session than a laboured and longform project. “That’s my favourite kind of music probably,” says Heidecker. “It’s the zone I work in most these days, songwriting-wise. You go in with players who are reacting to the basic structure that I bring in, and they’re gonna lean that direction.”

Of the album’s production decisions, Heidcker explains that he purposely tried to keep the music as simple and organic as possible. “We didn’t add synths or drum machines or anything. There were definitely overdubs and choices that we all kind of tried to keep from sounding too much like a parody or a pastiche. It never felt like yacht rock, it’s not fully meshed in major seventh chords and Fender Rhodes.” 

For fans of Heidecker, Fear of Death’s brilliance won’t surprise. The tracks are incredibly funny and playful—albeit occasionally morbid. “Nothing” explores the celebrity lifestyle with nihilistic wit, with Heidecker singing about life’s pointlessness: “But it’s alright, don’t listen to me/I could be wrong, let’s wait and see/but if you see me in Heaven just let me be.” The track “Property” tackles the capitalist dilemma of graveyards in a future world where land is more valuable, and “Backwards” depicts a utopia north of the United States, called Canada. 

For people who have never heard of Heidecker before, there’s still plenty to enjoy. In addition to the cover of The Beatles’ “Let it Be” (performed as a Rawlings/Welch-inspired duet), there’s the incredible musicianship found in every corner of this album.

www.timheidecker.com 

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