It only takes a few minutes in conversation with Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering and comedian Tim Heidecker to understand their connection. The unlikely duo sings together throughout Heidecker’s lush and existential new album, Fear of Death, and their common ground goes deeper than you might think. They both grew up in Pennsylvania (Mering is from Doylestown, Heidecker from Allentown); they both gravitate toward a laid-back corner of ’70s singer-songwriter fare in their own music; and they both view the world through a lens that can feel absurd and artfully rendered, surreal but strangely relatable.
On Fear of Death, out September 25, they work together seamlessly, harmonizing on nearly every song and co-writing two of them. “We were vibing off that Bob Dylan, Joan Baez thing,” Heidecker explains over the phone, citing last year’s meta (and surprisingly Heidecker-esque) documentary Rolling Thunder Revue as a source of inspiration. “Not that I’m Dylan or anything,” he adds. Mering is quick to corroborate: “No, you’re way too nice to be Dylan.” It’s one of several times during the interview they seem to finish each other’s thoughts, setting one another up for punchlines and twists.
Along with Mering, Heidecker recorded the album last year in Los Angeles with collaborators including Weyes Blood keyboardist Drew Erickson, Foxygen producer Jonathan Rado, Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, pedal steel player Connor “Catfish” Gallaher, and Long Island duo the Lemon Twigs (whom Mering calls “fairy pixie dust, pure magic”). While the performances effortlessly call back to the classic rock staples of their respective record collections, Heidecker hopes it’s not heard as parody—a question he raises earnestly midway through the interview. “Just because we’re having fun doesn’t mean it’s a joke,” Mering says. “Thank you,” Heidecker responds. “I’ve always gotta be reminded of that.”
Pitchfork: Natalie, this collaboration began when you appeared on Tim’s podcast Office Hours last year. How did you two become acquainted?
Natalie Mering: I knew about Tim from Tim and Eric. They’re from Philly, and that was a big deal to have something cool come out of Philly—it seemed rare at the time. I don’t remember exactly how it all played out. I think Tim heard my single “Andromeda” and hit me up on Instagram, just randomly.
Tim Heidecker: That sounds kinda sketchy, like I’m just scrolling… We actually did a show together at Father John Misty’s wildfire benefit, so I did meet you there, briefly. You played before me and you did this beautiful Christmas carol. I was going on right after you and I was going to play this little anti-Trump song, and you were out there killing it—just blowing the house down. I was like, “Oh fucking great! I’m gonna bomb.” But you ended your set by saying, “And now the star of [Adult Swim show] Decker!” I was like, “Oh you get it.”
NM: That’s right. I was star-struck and I can’t believe I forgot that.
TH: So I didn’t reach out to you totally unannounced. I just wanted to clarify that for the record.
NM: For the record, we met at a wildfire benefit.
TH: And we burned the place down.
So when did the idea to make music together start?
NM: It started on Office Hours! We sang “Fear of Death,” which is the first single off the record, and I improvised some harmonies. That was the beginning. But [keyboardist] Drew Erickson is kind of the glue of the whole project. He was playing with me at our [Titanic Rising] release show in L.A., and Tim came out.
TH: He heard us on “Office Hours” and was like, “If you want to record, I’ll book the studio and I’ll get a band.” That’s like—no pun intended—music to my ears. It was a Thursday and we were in the studio by Monday. It was very quick and spontaneous.
NM: Total whirlwind. I had no time to sit down and think about the repercussions of it all.
Is this process of working so quickly and spontaneously reflective of how you generally work?
NM: When it comes to music, I like to keep certain things very spontaneous but I also have a tendency to obsess over little details. I can get overly precious. Collaborating with other people is my opportunity to be free and let all that stuff go, for better or worse.
TH: I tend to mull less in everything I do. But also, Drew put together this unreal band. I’m not a professional musician, really, but everybody around us was just killer. I’d send a demo and they’d start playing, and it would just sound good. I was like, what am I going to say? What notes could I possibly have? It was so pleasant.
The sound of the record is a blast but lyrically it’s pretty dark—nearly every song is about death. Where did that inspiration come from?
TH: I’m 44 and starting to feel mid-life anxiety: mortality is actually feeling real. I have kids now and I just start thinking dumb shit: I might not know my kids’ grandchildren. It’s a waste of time. But death can also be very funny and absurd. It can be ridiculous. It’s something that’s going to happen to everybody, as far as we know. There’s just a black void waiting down the road and we’re all walkin’ towards it.
NM: I’m too young to think about such things! I think I have to get some more life stuff out of the way before that black void really starts smelling like it’s close.
There’s a similarly existential element in your music, Natalie—blending serious thoughts with humor and surrealism. Is that something you do consciously?
NM: My favorite music has always been able to balance that. I always feel like I’m pushing a little to break up the seriousness of my music, to give it a reality check. When doing any kind of soul-searching, it’d be absurd to omit the humor of it all. I have that propensity sometimes when I’m doing a live show. We played the same songs for almost a year, so by the end of [the tour] I was just riffing and doing jokes. I actually would have to catch myself and be like, Don’t break the vibe. People are coming here to cry.
A standout from the record is your reimagining of “Let It Be,” which you previewed last year. Why did you want to cover it?
TH: We were playing this game—could you remember Beatles lyrics if you had a different tune? It’s really hard, which makes sense because we tie those two things so closely together. But we locked into “Let It Be” and it was actually cool. But the funny part is, right before we were about to put it out, that Gal Gadot “Imagine” video dropped. We hit the kill button right away. It would either have been seen as us making fun of that or…
NM: Or just more of the same.
TH: We didn’t want this coming anywhere near that. Natalie was like, “It’s perfect tucked away toward the end of the record.” It’s cool to have Lennon and McCartney on the back of your record, no matter what the context is…. I think it’s better than the original!
TH: Please add “laughs hysterically” at the end of that.
How was working on a record like this different from your other experiences, Natalie?
NM: When people are making albums, it can get dark and stormy really fast. You hit a hard point where people start losing perspective and questioning if something is good. It can become really laborious and intense—getting out the Oblique Strategy cards and not even have them help. It’s rare that a musician can stay free and spontaneous as their career progresses because the pressure just starts to mount, either to attain new levels of success or to maintain whatever success you already established. There are very few sessions like this one. There’s not a label executive like, “Hmm, not sounding Gen Z enough.” These are things that real musicians have to deal with! This was refreshingly separate from that whole universe.
TH: I try to keep music a thing that gives me happiness. If it became a drag, I would probably stay away. I’m just grateful that Natalie was so open and so giving with her time and creativity. It was very touching to me.
NM: Tim made a deal with me that I could be on the Tim and Eric and Natalie Show. That’s the exchange.
TH: We’re still in development.
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork