We stopped by Universal Records' New York offices for a roundtable interview with The Lonely Island dudes - Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva ("Kiv") Schaffer - in honor of their latest music comedy effort, The Wack Album.
From top to bottom: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone
When it comes to working with famous musical collaborators, do you write the lyrics or do they?
Andy Samberg: Generally when we work with a rapper, we give them talking points of what we think would be funny and then let them write it, because it’s so much more specific to do a verse of rapping than it is to sing a hook. Generally, when we have a singing part, like for Adam Levine, there’s a version of me doing a temp singing part much worse than him, and then we say, “These are the words and this is the general melody.” And then he makes it much better.
Jorma Taccone: Any time there’s a singer, there’s a version of Andy doing temp singing.
Andy Samberg: Yeah, it’s humiliating. For example, on the song we did with Pharrell, we wrote all of the choruses that he’d sing the hooks on, but then there was like a bridge, sort of rap section, and we gave him talking points and he wrote that section himself. Or, Kendrick Lamar, on “Yolo,” he came into the studio and we were like, “Something like this, and maybe like this,” and he sat there and wrote a verse really quickly on his iPhone and then went and dropped it. We didn’t know what he was going to do until he was recording. So there’s always this moment of like, ‘I hope it’s funny!’ But we’ve been really lucky that the people that have wanted to work with us have a good sense of humor and come up with good stuff.
What was it like to work with Hugh Jackman (on “You’ve Got The Look")?
Andy: He’s a delight to work with, he’s the nicest dude in show business. I had met him a few times like at Knicks games and stuff, and I played him on SNL.
Akiva Schaffer: Ohhhh, Knicks games!
Andy: Yeah, I met him once at a Knicks game.
Jorma: Way deep, I mean, like you have nosebleeds.
Andy: No, no, I have good seats, you guys! I was on TV for like seven years! But I played him on SNL and I did a terrible impression of him, but it was this thing called The Hugh Jackman Show and it was just all Australian stuff and my accent was terrible.
Jorma: Don’t sell yourself short, it was a great impression, man.
Andy: No, the impression sucked, the sketch was good. But it was all about how he plays two sides in his career, where he’s like Broadway guy and then he’s also this action guy, and he loved it, so he came on SNL and did it one time, and I think he played Daniel Radcliff or something, and I was him, and it was that classic SNL thing where you’re playing the person next to them. So we knew him a little from that, and then we had this song written (again, with me doing all the temp vocals), and we were just brainstorming who would be incredible to have, and I think Kiv was like, “What about Hugh?” I don’t remember who thought of it, but regardless, we were like, “I kind of know him!” so we just sent it out and asked and he was like, “Yeah absolutely.”
Jorma: But it is obviously always exciting to have somebody who you wouldn’t expect to be saying something that they’re singing about. Michael Bolton is a prime example of that.
Does anyone ever turn you down?
Andy: People have, but it’s usually like, “I’m on tour, I’m too busy,” that kind of thing. It’s never like, “I hate it and I won’t do it and I hate you guys.”
Jorma: It’s usually very respectful.
How do you want "The Wack Album" to be a development from "Turtleneck and Chain," your last album?
Jorma: It’s a natural evolution. We’re grown men, so some of our songs are now talking about really adult issues…. And then a lot of them aren’t.
Andy: Yeah, many of them are not.
Akiva: But also, as pop music changes, we’re changing with it, and, you know, our references are referencing things that maybe didn’t exist two and a half years ago when the last one came out.
Andy: Yeah, new developments in tropes…
Did you want to push the envelope more, now that you’re established?
Andy: I wouldn’t say push the envelope in terms of shock value or anything, but certainly try and be thinking of different jokes just so it doesn’t feel stale. Different ways to construct a comedy song if we can think of them and stuff like that.
What was the thinking behind releasing something every Wednesday in the run-up, because by the time the album comes out it seems about half of the tracks are out in the world?
Jorma: We’re just taking a page out of Kanye West’s old notebook that he doesn’t use anymore.
Andy: Yeah, we wanted to record a video of ourselves watching the projection of his video on a wall, and project the video of us watching it on a wall, and then video people watching it. Because he's so good at marketing. And we’re not on SNL anymore, and we wanted to make sure that people know we have a record, so we figured if we had a time and a place that people know that they could check in for new stuff and check it out, that would be helpful. But it’s been fun, it’s fun to be in our own mini-SNL cycle where we’re posting things and feeling like we’re connecting with an audience.
How much pressure do you feel to make the videos as big as the songs?
Akiva: When we’re writing the songs, even the smaller songs, we are always thinking, “Oh, if we do a video, this is what it will be.” I know what the video would be for every song on this record or any of the past ones, basically.
Jorma: Yeah, we’re always writing very visually, and obviously it’s another great way to get the joke across too.
Akiva: And we know how valuable they are for some people that have trouble picturing jokes when they just hear them, they kind of whiz by them and then it’s just being like, “Here’s what the joke is!” Everybody gets it when it’s in a video, so in a perfect world, we’d make a video for every song, but, that’s not very realistic.
Jorma: But we’re doing as many as we can.
Andy: I would say in terms of feeling pressure about it though, we generally just go with whatever we think is funny and is making each other laugh.
Jorma: And there are songs that we kind of feel are bigger, either both in sound and joke, so there’s ones that we’re more excited about doing, certainly, and it’s always a little frustrating when you aren’t able to get to them, whether it’s scheduling or whatever.
Have artists or actors approached you with their comedy song ideas?
Andy: [Laughing] A couple times.
Jorma: When we were at SNL it happened a little more. We won’t say who, but they were all great ideas. We couldn’t get to them, but they were all great ideas.
Andy: The very notion of rapping for comedy is a really fine line, and we try to be really careful about how we walk it, because when it’s not done right it’s like the thing we hate the most in the world.
Akiva: By definition it’s a pretty lame thing, comedy rap.
Jorma: And can get very insulting to the genre that we actually love so much.
Andy: Yeah, so, a lot of times, it’s a little weird because there are some people I’m sure who see what we do and lump it in with a bunch of other stuff that we would be insulted that it’s compared to, but at the same time, we always try to be careful about not doing ideas that we feel the joke is that “We’re white nerds rapping!” You know, like, there’s gotta be a joke, and then rap or R&B or pop is the vessel with which we deliver the joke.
Akiva: Yes, I would argue that you could switch us out for other people in any of our songs and hopefully the song would still be funny.
Andy: Right, or a different genre of music even.
Jorma: If any of us could sing or play instruments we would be doing songs of other genres.
Andy: Yeah, there would be more variance.