Tim Heidecker Always Wants to See What’s Next

Photo by Andrew Levy / Pitch Perfect PR

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Songwriter, comedian, actor, and all-around creative person Tim Heidecker cares most about process. The products of his work are secondary. Yes, they are what’s consumed by the audience and how he and his like-minded colleagues support themselves. But more than those aspects, Heidecker cares about the moments when he’s elbow-deep in the work.

He says the phrase “Don’t look back” is something of a guiding light. But that mantra can’t always be the reality, given Heidecker’s most recent work, his forthcoming new LP, High School, which he’s set to release on Friday (June 24). He’s not one to examine his past body of work, he doesn’t want to get tripped up on it. Instead, he’s willing to mine his past for new work, as he looks ahead down creative roads. So, while his new album is of the past, it’s also a part of his future and may, in the end, even portend what Heidecker will do next, artistically. 

“In that sense,” Heidecker tells American Songwriter, “the end product is not as valuable as the making of it. And my focus is on how do I keep making things? But I enjoy when it’s all working. I take satisfaction that it worked. I’m happy with that, regardless of what other people say.” 

Heidecker found music as a young person in several ways. His grandmother played music on the piano. He sang songs in church. He learned tunes from Sesame Street. And his dad would often play a bunch of classic songs on cassettes in the car while Heidecker was growing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania in the 1980s. Songs from acts like the Beatles, Cream and Simon and Garfunkel, and others from “the canon.” Later, as a present, he got a guitar and began to try to figure out these songs on his own, strumming away. 

“I wanted to be the Beatles,” he says. “I wanted to do that, to do that thing. I had some like-minded friends who were also into it. Like everybody else, I got a cheap guitar for Christmas, and I’d go in the basement and try to learn, like, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ or ‘White Room’ by Cream and build from there.” 

Growing up in the suburban town of Allentown, life was both uneventful, Heidecker says, and interesting. There were pockets of creativity, specifically in the local theater scene, of which he was apart. The town is a few hours outside of New York City, and so, actors with ties to the Big Apple would also spend time in Allentown. Heidecker learned from and performed with them, first via the children’s’ theater scene and then later as a young adult. The theater world became his hangout, his safe space. He’d take part in multiple shows per year. That led him to creative areas in college, at Temple University, which is also where he met his future collaborative partner Eric Wareheim. The two would later start, among other projects, the Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! 

“I thought as a younger kid, I was going to be an actor,” Heidecker says. “I was maybe disillusioned by that.”

Heidecker says he didn’t get into the programs that would lead him to be a serious actor. But he began to discover more things that inspired him, like the idea of being an “auteur” in the vein of directors Martin Scorsese or Quinten Tarantino. That led him to discover smaller, more nuanced aspects of entertainment that tickled him. And this is what he and Wareheim dove into, as well. He liked David Byrne, and Christopher Guest, too. His mind was expanding. Since then, he’s worked for Adult Swim, made Old Spice commercials with actor Terry Crews, created Bob Dylan parodies, and much more. 

“I don’t look back often,” he says, “but it is nice to look back and occasionally look at a body of work and see if there’s anything that holds up, that matters. I’m proud of a lot of the stuff I’ve done. I put my best foot forward.”

For Heidecker, it’s often the small moments during the creative process that he remembers most. And it’s also these smaller moments in his past that he mined when creating his new album. The songs for the new LP were born from him, as he did when he was a kid, going down to a secluded space (this time, his garage) and plunking out notes on his guitar. Heidecker wanted to create a new album on the heels of his last LP, Fear of Death, which he was happy with but was unsure what a follow-up would look like. But as he began writing, themes of his younger years, of high school, popped up. 

“[Songs] about the period of my life I don’t really reflect on very often,” he says, “and never really had gotten into in my music or in my comedy.”

As he wrote, questions about distance and whether he did what he could to keep in touch with friends and folks from his past arose. For many who throw themselves into their work, these queries often bubble up. Should he have focused less on his career and more on his relationships? It’s a big change to leave home and pursue dreams. The downside is often losing touch and then once that happens, old friendships can seem more like going back into photo albums rather than active relationships. 

“There’s nothing feeding that [type of] friendship,” he says. 

To create the new album, Heidecker employed some big names, including Kurt Vile and Mac DeMarco. As he began to demo the songs that he’d written in his garage, he realized he was venturing into some sounds and aesthetics common with, as he puts it, the midlife crisis of the boomer generation sound. The songs harkened to artists like Bruce Hornsby and Mark Knopfler, among others. Synths, drum machines, these were the core of the record, he says. That’s when a producer friend suggested DeMarco, who has a knack for smooth lead guitar playing and eerie synthesizers. Heidecker also worked with Eric Johnson from the band Fruit Bats, who provided harmonies and other tasteful sonic components that gave the record the right sense of musical cohesion.  

“It feels like a band,” Heidecker says, “not just a random collection of songs”

Now, looking ahead, Heidecker is set to take the music and his comedy on tour. The tour kicks off in about two weeks and will comprise two acts, one with Heidecker performing as an “awful” standup who will “set the bar real low” for the night (intentionally, comedically). And then the “top-notch” band he put together will take the stage and play a cross-section of songs from Heidecker’s discography. The music set will be rocking, soulful, sad, and funny, he anticipates. For him, music is personal and spiritual, hard to quantify. But in the end, it’s what comes next that’s most appealing, as always. 

“Out of that summer of shows,” Heidecker says, “I’m excited to see where I am and what we come up with on the road. I want to do some writing with the band, some kind of fun project. That might be the next progression.” 

Photo by Andrew Levy / Pitch Perfect PR

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