Donald Trump's divisive political career has inspired all sorts of musical responses, but none have been as funny as Tim Heidecker's.
The comedian, actor and musician best known as one-half of the duo Tim & Eric has been slowly sharing songs over the past year parodying Trump and his self-described alt-right supporters that are clever and catchy enough to have you singing along. Even Father John Misty is a fan, as the satirical singer-songwriter made clear when he shared an unprompted cover of Heidecker's "Trump's Private Pilot" that takes the perspective of the song's namesake as he grapples with the decision to crash his boss' airplane between campaign stops.
To be sure, these musical parodies don't risk taking Heidecker's attention away from his various other projects, which right now include involvement with too many TV shows to list via his and Eric Wareheim's Abso Lutely Productions company; a Tim and Eric 10 Year Anniversary Awesome Tour kicking off this summer; his own more serious musical follow-up to 2015's In Glendale album that he'll likely record with Jonathan Rado of Foxygen (when they find the time); and plenty more. But it's all at least good for a much-needed laugh and still enough to make him today's most popular political musical parodist and a voice of the resistance for the humor-loving sect.
As such, Heidecker's release method is earnest and unshowy, posting the songs online without any marketing push and donating Bandcamp profits to charity with the intent of undermining his target's political actions. For example: A song about white supremacist Richard Spencer benefits the NAACP, the song "Trump Tower" supports Standing Rock protesters, and his latest song named after POTUS' so-called Winter White House in Florida, "Mar A Lago," helped fund the Everglades Foundation.
Billboard spoke with Heidecker about his musical approach to roasting Trump's America and why it's better to take it all on with a solid sense of humor.
How did you first start doing these political parody songs?
I've been following Trump for a long time, and the political stuff never really crosses into my Tim and Eric work, but it does tend to come up in my stand-up and on Twitter and stuff. Trump, of course, to me and to my friends and just about everybody I know, is this great comic character that doesn't seem to turn off. He just keeps getting crazier and crazier. ... With the music, I'd done this record in 2012 [inspired by then-presidential hopeful Herman Cain] called Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain, so I kind of established a precedent to find ways of doing music, doing comedy and talking about politics or the world. And I'd done this song called "Our Values Are Under Attack" for [the Adult Swim series] Decker that was kind of satirical and political and from the point of view of a Trump-style right-winger. So that'd been kind of bubbling, and now there's just so much going on that every couple weeks there seemed to be new material for me to draw from.
How easy or difficult is it writing these very topical songs compared to your more serious music?
It's hard to sit down without an idea and write a song. The idea comes from the unconscious or thin air, and then it's just like you sit down and you do the work. I'm fairly limited in my musical abilities so try to keep it pretty simple and sort of basic folk-song kind of four chords, that kind of thing. And that's A) because I like those kinds of songs more and B) it's about as good as I can do.
The last song I did, "Mar A Lago" -- and most of them really aren't like this -- I was like, "I can't believe that someone hasn't done a Jimmy Buffett-style song about Mar-a-Lago." It just felt like it was the lowest-hanging fruit and was so easy to figure out what that would be. So I just listened to a couple Jimmy Buffett songs to refresh my memory about what his tricks are or what makes something sound that way, and then I just got to work building it out. Pretty quickly, I figured out that this was gonna be from the perspective of Trump that is like, "I don't know what I'm doing and I just want to go to Florida and play golf" -- this idea of him being just kind of a puppet of other people, which works really well in the song but is not necessarily the whole story or anything. And then it just became really fun, because in my little home studio, I stopped worrying about the politics of it and it was more about, "How can I make this sound good?"
Your song "I Am a Cuck"is basically packed with all the alt-right insults toward the left. Have your political songs and opinions made you the target of this sort of name-calling?
I was being attacked just for speaking my mind -- that's where it came from. It wasn't coming from a hypothetical situation: These are all things people were saying about me. And it wasn't like I was putting out 35-page policy papers about universal health care; I was saying what a dodo this Donald Trump guy sounds like and just goofing on him. So that just drew the ire and angst from this alt-right group, and I would get attacked every once in a while, depending on what I had tweeted or had said, and this "cuck" word just kept coming up, and it was just such a stupid insult. I just felt that it was so disconnected from me and my life, and there's this racial undertone to it. ... It was insane and depressing.
So my attitude leading up to writing that song or writing that parody -- it's obviously "I Am a Rock"; I have to give some credit to Paul Simon there for writing a really good tune -- but that was sort of just like, "All right, I'm gonna hand this back to you guys and show you that I think this is all just a big joke and you're not bumming me out, you're not intimidating me." I'm taking away that one weapon and letting everyone know you can think whatever you want of me, I don't really give a shit.
Were you surprised when Father John Misty covered one of your songs?
Let me tell you: Yes, I was blown away. I didn't know he was doing it or anything; it just popped up in my news feed. I was a fan of his and I admire him, and those are the kind of cool moments about what I do when I put something out without any expectation or anything and someone like him recognizes it and covers it. That's a sign of respect to me; that's a sign of acknowledgement that I'm in the same league as him or something. And I saw this link, and I put on my headphones and I was like, "I can't wait to hear what he's gonna do with this song." And I start playing it and it's starting, and I started getting emotional because his voice is so beautiful and I'm getting into this almost choking up. ... And then, like, all hell breaks loose in my house, because I have two little kids and my wife is just like, "Tim! Get in here!" Somebody's crying, somebody spilled some milk or whatever it was, and I was just like ripped out of this very emotional personal moment to go help my wife in the kitchen.
I was very honored by it, and I got in touch with him and we went out and had dinner -- I had never met him before -- and we became pals after that experience.
Is there ever concern about you losing audience, or is that just part of the world that we live in?
I think that it's part of the world that we live in. Does it bother me? Yeah. And I realized that when I was in the heat of it there for a while that it was affecting my mood. To contradict what I said about "these words have no meaning," when you see the negative "Go kill yourself," "You're not talented" -- those are little flicks on the brain and they eventually start bumming you out, and I took a nice long break from [social media] and didn't engage and I don't really engage as much anymore. But it does have an effect; it would be insincere of me to say that it doesn't. But it doesn't seem to be affecting my career. Eric and me are going on tour, we still have a great relationship with Adult Swim, and I still seem to be doing about the same. It doesn't turn into "We're not interested in working with you anymore because there's this 10 percent or 5 percent of an audience that is mad at you because of your beliefs."
As far as your political engagement goes, where are you at currently? Is it inspiring, or are you feeling exhausted from the intense pace of news that's been going on?
I think there is this settling in right now. There was this big reaction in the first few months, and now we're kind of settling in. There's so much happening every day, you're wondering: Is he going to flame out? "Well, maybe he's going to be gone by the summer." But there's bigger, darker forces at play than just Trump. I don't really have a plan for how I'm approaching any of this. I was thinking the other day: Well, maybe that's it for my Trump songs. And then I'm taking a shower, and "Mar A Lago" pops in my head, so then it's like, "Sorry honey, I've got to go down to the basement for a while."