Tim Heidecker has been creating delightfully absurd comedy with partner Eric Wareheim under the Tim & Eric moniker for nearly 20 years — but the music Heidecker releases under his own name is anything but comical, instead wrestling with the realities of middle age, mortality and marital mishaps.
On his latest album, “Fear of Death,” due Sept. 25 from Spacebomb Records, Heidecker gets a musical assist from Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering, who co-produced, sings throughout and co-wrote two of the 12 tracks.
Both Pennsylvania natives, the pair met in January 2019 when Mering guested on Heidecker’s “Office Hours” podcast, and that June, they recorded an impromptu cover of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” backstage at a comedy benefit. Weyes Blood keyboardist Drew Erickson contacted Heidecker shortly thereafter to suggest they all hit the studio, and within a matter of days, they were recording new music together.
“He made it seem easy,” Heidecker tells Variety. “He just said, ‘I’ll get a studio and get Stella from Warpaint to play drums, and the Lemon Twigs are in town, and there’s a string section, and it’s all going to be cool.’ That would stress me out, personally, but he was able to pull it together.” Adds Mering, “Drew is a super-connector. He knows all these other amazing musicians.”
Driven by their shared love of ‘70s singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon — “It would feel a little silly to incorporate trap beats into my work,” says Heidecker — the pair developed a quick and easy rapport in the studio, untethered to Heidecker’s more familiar comic sensibilities.
“I take Tim & Eric very seriously and I think it transcends comedy and becomes art,” Mering says. “I tend to write really sad songs, but in theater there’s the happy mask and the sad mask, and they’re not mutually exclusive. So making serious music with Tim actually didn’t feel that far off from what he normally does. And maybe for me, it was good to break up my seriousness with levity and have fun with the music.”
“I don’t go around thinking about dying all of the time, but that can be therapeutic to talk about or sing about,” Heidecker says. “There’s dark stuff in the world, but there’s also my own mortality and the fact that I’m in middle age now. I’ve got a clock ticking that is my body and it will fail me at some point. My body wants to eat cupcakes and pizza and cheeseburgers. Those days are coming to an end, and it’s sad.”
The pedal steel-flecked opener “Prelude to Feeling” sets the mood for those ruminations, as Heidecker and Mering croon, “Sit on back in your favorite chair/ You don’t have to be anywhere/ Put your headphones on, if you dare / You’re about to feel.” From there, the pair dabbles in peppy country rock (“Come Away With Me”), sad piano balladry (“Nothing”) and the Laurel Canyon-y closer “Oh How We Drift Away,” which finds Mering crafting music to lyrics Heidecker wrote on his phone while hiding from his kids on a family trip to a farm.
“This kind of Mexican cantina music was playing over the loudspeaker and I wrote a few verses to it,” Heidecker recalls. “I sent Natalie and Drew the lyrics and said, if you want to take a crack at writing a tune for this, I’d be very humbled and honored.” Says Mering, “I can write melodies really fast, but I tend to labor over lyrics for a really long time. The things Tim was saying in that song definitely were things I felt but never would have said that way. By writing the melody, it still felt like me.”
“Fear of Death” is rounded out by a studio rendition of “Let It Be,” which expands on the backstage version the pair recorded last year. “We were playing this game where we did Beatles songs divorced from their melodies. So we did ‘Let It Be’ in a major key, which gave it a totally different energy,” Heidecker says, acknowledging the absurdity of covering one of the most beloved and familiar rock songs of all time. “We countrified it! We fried it in some Canola oil.”
Heidecker and Mering hope to perform music from “Fear of Death” together at some point when COVID quarantining is no longer necessary (“We’re getting body scans so we can be turned into virtual 3D performers,” he says). And although Heidecker will star alongside John C. Reilly and Fred Armisen in Showtime’s fall series “Moonbase 8,” which was shot well before the pandemic, he’s in no rush to resume production on any Tim & Eric projects or his own cult favorite “On Cinema” franchise. “For the shows we make, the margins do not allow for million dollar surpluses to be added to the production budgets to hire COVID safety teams,” he says with a laugh. “So for now, there’s nothing to report.”
As for Mering, she’s hard at work on the next Weyes Blood album, which will be the follow-up to last year’s “Titanic Rising.”
“There’s some pressure coming from the CEO of Spotify about artists needing to work harder and put out more records,” she says sarcastically, in reference to recent comments from the streaming giant’s Daniel Ek that the traditional album cycle is over. “I’m not going to rush-job anything, because I want to make something that is extremely meaningful. I think people need meaningful art right now, not some rehashed trash.”