June 18, 2013
Guests: Andy Samberg & Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone (The Lonely Island)
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. You know those really funny hip-hop videos on "Saturday Night Live," videos like "Bleep in a Box," bleep being a word I don't say on the radio that's slang for a guy's privates? It featured Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake; and "3-way," featuring Samberg, Timberlake and Lady Gaga? They're part of SNL's series of digital shorts.
My guests are the trio that wrote and created those shorts: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Together they go by the name The Lonely Island. They met when they were junior high students in Berkley, California, After college, they all moved to L.A. and started to write and star in their own comic video shorts. In 2005, they were all hired to work on "Saturday Night Live," Andy Samberg as a cast member, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone as writers.
During their first at SNL, they wrote, produced and shot the digital short "Lazy Sunday," featuring Samberg and Chris Parnell. After its broadcast, it went viral on the Internet before NBC forced YouTube to take it down. The three now do projects on their own. Samberg has starred in numerous films and has a new sitcom coming to Fox in the fall called "Brooklyn 99." Schaffer directed the film "The Watch," and Taccone played the pretentious artist Booth Jonathan on the HBO series "Girls."
They continue to create digital shorts, even though they've left SNL. The Lonely Island has just released its third album of hip-hop inspired parodies called "The Whack Album." Let's start with a track. This is "YOLO," and it features guests Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, YOLO)
THE LONELY ISLAND: (Rapping) YOLO, you only live once. The battle cry of a generation. This life is a precious gift. So don't get too crazy, it's not worth the risk. You know that we are still young, so don't be dumb. Don't trust anyone 'cause you only live once. Ugh, you only live once, that's the motto. So take a chill pill, ease off the throttle.
(Rapping) Never go to loud clubs 'cause it's bad for your ears. Your friends will all be sorry when they can't hear. And stay the hell away from drugs 'cause they're not legal. Then bury all your money in the backyard like a beagle. 'Cause you should never trust a bank, they've been known to fail. And never travel by car or bus, boat or by rail.
(Rapping) And don't travel by plane. And don't travel at all. Build a bomb shelter basement with titanium walls. And wear titanium suits in case pianos fall on 'ya. And never go in saunas 'cause they're crawlin' with piranhas. And never take the stairs 'cause they're often unsafe. You only live once, don't let it go to waste.
(Rapping) You know that we are still young, so hold off on the fun. Cook your meat 'til it's done, 'cause you only live once. Yeah, and here's another piece of advice: Stay away from kids 'cause their hair is filled with mad lice. There's no such thing as too much Purell. This a cautionary tale, word to George Orwell...
GROSS: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for coming. So let's start with "YOLO," which we just heard, which usually means you only live once, but in yours it's you ought to look out. So which one is more of the motto of your life?
GROSS: Which one were you more brought up with?
ANDY SAMBERG: You know, our version begins as you only live once, and by the end, the conclusion is you ought to look out. So I think it's kind of like telling our story of getting older and using more discretion and more caution. But it's also a cautionary tale. Like you ought to look out, and you only live once. It's somewhere in between I think is what...
AKIVA SCHAFFER: Yeah, you can go far. You can too far with you ought to look out, as well, until you're just basically sitting in a room by yourself rocking back and forth holding your knees and not wanting to go outside.
JORMA TACCONE: Howard Hughsing it, so to speak.
Yeah, so that could be bad, too.
GROSS: Well, my favorite line is there's no such thing as too much Purell.
SAMBERG: Thank you.
We did not get paid for that. That was not a sponsored line.
GROSS: Oh, I hadn't even thought of that.
SAMBERG: No, we actually didn't. The way he said that made it seem like it was open-ended, like maybe we did get paid for that.
TACCONE: Oh right, no, we didn't, we didn't, yeah.
GROSS: So the hook of this, the song part, is like really catchy. Did you really want to be regular songwriters, as opposed to comic songwriters when you were young or now?
SAMBERG: Not really. I mean, this is Andy. I'm speaking personally. I always wanted to do comedy in one way, shape or form. And I did mess around with comedy music when I was in, like, high school and college.
TACCONE: Yeah, we all did, for sure.
SAMBERG: And then we sort of fell into it on accident when the three of us decided to move to L.A. together, and we were all living together, and our roommate had like a little digital eight-track, and we would have some drinks and come home and make joke songs. And that's sort of how it started. But it was never - any ability music-wise is completely happenstance, sort of stumbled into that part of it.
TACCONE: We grew up in Berkley, California - this is Jorma speaking, hi - listening to hip-hop and R&B, and so in college I started making little beats on very, very simple programs like Sound Edit, which doesn't even like a metronome in it. And so when we had our friend's eight-track, we would just loop old funk samples, like sort of the way that, you know, hip-hop came about, and make little beats and just hang out and make songs until the wee hours of the morning, basically, just to mess around. I wasn't even thinking that it was going to go anywhere.
GROSS: Now on your new album and on, you know, some of the digital shorts, you have like real hip-hop stars on there with you. So what are some of the things that you've learned from working with people who do this seriously, for real?
SCHAFFER: That they're better than us.
SAMBERG: Yeah, it's harder than it seems.
TACCONE: We learned a lot about recording from Justin Timberlake, legitimately, because that was so early on when we did the first on, "Blank in a Box." I don't know what you're allowed to say.
GROSS: Yeah, not the thing that's in the box.
TACCONE: OK, great.
SAMBERG: "Richard in a Box."
SCHAFFER: But that was pretty early on in our comedy music career. So we were still really just doing - like teaching ourselves how to use the stuff and didn't really know how to use, like pro tools or any of that stuff. And we never used engineers. We would just be in our office. So when he came and did that song with us, he taught us, like, 10 things, I would say, that we still use to this day about just proper recording and kind of little tricks about using, you know, the left speaker versus the right speaker and stuff like that.
TACCONE: And stacking vocals, especially on a singing part, things like. You know, every song we make that has a singing part, I'll do a temp vocal and sort of come up with a loose melody that if you listen to the early one versus what we end up with when we get a professional on it sounds vaguely similar, but obviously one is professional and one is temp.
But even when we do that, just to get a feel for how big and how poppy we want the song to sound, we'll use those tricks that we learned in terms of stacking vocals and possibly even doing, you know, flourishes and hypes and harmonies and that kind of stuff.
SCHAFFER: And we'll be very meticulous with that, too. Like Andy will do countermelodies and all sorts of things like that - you know, just to make it sound right so we know if it's going to work or not.
SAMBERG: They might be countermelodies. We have no music training. So we sort of just...
TACCONE: We have no idea. Like, well, it sounds bad, so that might be counter to something that sounds good.
SCHAFFER: It's counter to what you want to hear.
GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guests are Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, the three members of Lonely Island, the group that did all those great digital shorts, music - like hip-hop digital shorts for "Saturday Night Live." Now they have a new album, and that's called "The Wack Album," and we should hear another track from it.
So I - since we were talking about Justin Timberlake, why don't we hear "3-way," which is really hysterical, and it's in a digital short on "Saturday Night Live," and now it's on the new album. So I'd like you to talk about how you came up with this idea, and the idea is basically it's cool for two guys to be together if it's a three-way with a girl in between. So...
SAMBERG: How did we come up with it?
TACCONE: They're looking for any excuse to get into bed together, these two guys.
SCHAFFER: Yeah, that's the real...
SAMBERG: Yeah, it was the third in the trilogy of these two guys, these two characters, and, you know, in the first two there were all sorts of allusions to, like, how into each other they are. And we felt like that was sort of the natural next step.
SCHAFFER: How deeply they were looking into each other's eyes and how close they were.
SAMBERG: Yeah, they're best friends who find each other extremely cool and sexy. But it was also a case of just SNL circumstance, which was Justin was hosting, and Lady Gaga was the musical guest, and we knew that for the third one it would be a real ante-upper to throw Lady Gaga into the mix, and naturally when you add a girl to the two guys, it turns into a three-way.
So then we had to think of a comedy angle for that, and that's what we came up with.
GROSS: And did - were they both willing, or did you have to convince them?
SAMBERG: Oh, they were willing. I mean Justin, when we did the second one, "Mother Lover," me, Akiva and Jorma were the more hesitant ones. We were like I don't know if we want to go back to that well because, you know, "D in a Box" was so - it went over so well. I don't know if we want to mess with something that is generally liked. And, you know, if we don't do it, we're safe.
And Justin said that's exactly why we should do it.
SAMBERG: Because who would have the audacity to do it again?
SCHAFFER: That was very similar on "3-way," as well. I mean, we had the idea really early on in the week, and usually, you know, we only come up with the idea on like a Thursday night, record it Thursday night and start filming Friday into Saturday morning and start editing Saturday morning until the show airs. And that's basically the, you know, natural way that we did any of our digital shorts.
And in this one, we actually had the idea on a Monday, and the three of us were totally hesitant the entire week, and Justin kept being like no, it's great, just do it.
SAMBERG: He's very confident. And to answer your question, Gaga was 100 percent into it. Like we...
GROSS: That's a lot of work to do in a few days.
SAMBERG: Oh, yeah, that's why we...
GROSS: Because it's like your videos, it's like there's an edit every few seconds, and the scene keeps changing, and there's costume changes. It's a lot of work.
SAMBERG: Yeah, I mean, that's why we don't work there anymore.
TACCONE: We still put the exact same amount of effort into the videos that we're making now, it's just that we have, like, maybe three more days to do them.
SAMBERG: It's really intense. I mean, the credit also to SNL and to their crew and their system that's built in to be able to pull something off that fast. They allowed us to do it in that crazy schedule, and, you know, they had props and crew of, you know, people putting together sets overnight on a Thursday for a Friday shoot, constantly.
When we'd come up with an idea late Thursday night and be like OK, this is it, and then all these people have to be like OK, all the wardrobe and everybody and the wig department.
TACCONE: We need a horse head and a hot air balloon basket.
SAMBERG: Yeah, and it's - you know, you get so used to it that then you show up on Friday morning, and you're like where's our horse head. And they're like guys, you gave us the song at like 5 AM.
SCHAFFER: Yeah, we're having a puppet master make it.
SAMBERG: Yeah, so it was - you know, it's an incredible machine to be a part of, and it's the only way it can really happen is to have hundreds of people all working towards this one goal at the same time because there's no choice because it's airing Saturday.
GROSS: OK, so this is "3-way" by Lonely Island, and it's from their album "The Wack Album," and we're going to hear Andy Samberg, Justin Timberlake and a little bit of Lady Gaga. She's more prominent on the video than she is on the song. So here it is, a cleaned-up version of "3-way."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "3-WAY")
ANDY SAMBERG AND JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE AND LADY GAGA: (Singing) Your mom says hi jinx. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, jam. Summertime in the city, and everybody's having sex.
(Singing) You know I just got a page from a girl that I met last week at the Pay-less Shoe Source. I also have a cutie to call who loves the way I knock on her boots. Well it's time to mack, let's handle that. In two to six hours, we'll meet back here and regroup. Now let's shoot.
(Singing) Roll up to her crib with some Bartles & James, hop off the bus with a Alize. Now hold up player, what you diggity-doing here? I should diggity-ask you the same, and she sang. Hey, boys I want you both. I hope that you think that's cool. Say word? I know most guys won't freak together, But she forgot about the golden rule, a huh, huh.
It's OK when it's in a three-way. It's not gay when it's in a three-way. With a honey in the middle there's some leeway. The area's grey in a one, two, three-way. Normally, I don't get down with dudes...
GROSS: That's "3-way," with Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga from the new Lonely Island album "The Wack Album," and my guests are the three members of the lonely island, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. And that's just, like, so funny, and...
SAMBERG: Thank you.
GROSS: And Andy, what did they do to you? Is there processing on your voice, or did you just, like, use a different voice on it?
SAMBERG: I think maybe we do drop my voice on those ones in particular slightly, ever so slightly pitch shifted down. But like if I...
GROSS: To make you just like a little more seductive?
SAMBERG: If I had just woken up like right now, I could probably pull it off, like hey girl.
SCHAFFER: That sounds pretty good.
TACCONE: That's pretty close.
GROSS: I've got something real important to give you.
SCHAFFER: Oh man, you're making me real attracted to you.
SAMBERG: So just sit down.
SCHAFFER: Oh don't, please.
SAMBERG: And listen.
SCHAFFER: Oh, it's too much.
GROSS: Now, you'd never say anything - tell me you'd never say anything like that in real life to a girl.
SAMBERG: No, definitely not. In real life, I'd go, um, hey, I think you're pretty, uh, neat, and, uh...
TACCONE: Do you want to go to the library with me?
SAMBERG: What's your take on this week's "Game of Thrones"?
GROSS: My guests are Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, Known together as The Lonely Island. Their new album is called "The Wack Album." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview I recorded with the three members of The Lonely Island, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Their new album of hip-hop parodies is called "The Wack Album."
So when you started working together when you were, what, in junior high school...?
SAMBERG: Yeah, we were all in different sort of goofy music groups. I was in a group with two friends of mine called Strike Three because we had all been dissed by girls, so we had all struck out.
GROSS: So did you do for-real music or comic music?
SAMBERG: No, it was all jokes. We had joke rap music.
SCHAFFER: Yeah, me and my friends would record ourselves on, you know, little boom boxes with the record button on cassette and do like comedy raps that we had written in high school.
TACCONE: I would say we were people who were very, very into music, not just people who just kind of liked music. I'd say that was more our training, for no - I would say that making whatever these little they're talking about are were not ever, like - there was never any goals on it. There was no Internet back then. So it wasn't like we were putting things online or anything.
SAMBERG: I will say I wasn't a part of it, but I feel like I remember the first actual Lonely Island piece of audio, which is Akiva and Jorma recorded themselves over this skit from a Wu-Tang Clan album. And it's like this really intense...
TACCONE: It's very sad, actually.
SAMBERG: It's a bunch of - yeah, it's all the Wu-Tang and people on their block being like you, did you hear this guy Shaheem(ph) got shot, and everyone's like oh my God, no, and it's like really intense. And then Kiv and Jorm dub themselves over it going oh no.
SAMBERG: Not Shaheem. Wait, is he the guy from - oh sorry, sorry, I interrupted, sorry. What were you saying?
SCHAFFER: It was just us being super lame.
TACCONE: There's so many members of the Wu-Tang Clan, you just, you can just slip a couple nerds in there, and you'll never notice.
SCHAFFER: These two nerdy guys who get railroaded into...
TACCONE: That's a part of the gang.
GROSS: So what were some of the differences between the music that you loved when you started doing this and the lives you were actually living?
SAMBERG: Well, you know, we grew up in Berkley, where hip-hop and R&B was the predominant culture, but we're, you know, tiny little white dudes. We weren't, like, living the rap life at all. We just loved the music.
SCHAFFER: No, we definitely were fans of it and appreciators of it but from an outside perspective, and I think that's where our comedy comes from. It comes from a love for what that music is and what it represents but also always drawing a clear line to let everyone know that we don't believe that we are part of it.
GROSS: So what were your mothers' reactions to you listening to rap music that - some of which was probably very sexist and some of which was probably, you know, very much, you know, bragging about violence? I'm assuming that your mothers were - I think all your parents moved to Berkley from New York in the '60s and '70s. That's what I read; I'm not sure if it's right.
TACCONE: That is correct.
GROSS: But I'm sure that they had, you know, an ethic that was kind of different from, like, the kind of sexist bragging on a lot of rap.
SAMBERG: Absolutely, as do we.
SCHAFFER: We had to hide in our house like pornography, literally. Like something I hid them...
SAMBERG: And my mother would go through and actually edit my tapes. Like she'd edit out the songs that were in any way - like, you know, I had a Fat Boys album that she edited, and I remember her hiding Run DMC's album "Raising Hell," which was one of my first albums that I had on vinyl, and hiding it behind this bookshelf, and I would have to go and sneak and listen to it.
And by today's standards, it's like - I mean, it's the most tame thing ever, you know, I mean...
TACCONE: Yeah, I don't want to throw my parents...
SCHAFFER: My mom took away "License to Ill" because I did it like this, I did it like that, I did it with a whiffle ball bat, so - the first Beastie Boys record. And that was enough. She head that line and took away the whole record.
SAMBERG: Little did they know that we were listening to, like, Too Short...
TACCONE: I was going to say I have two older sisters. I have two older sisters, and Eazy-E and Too Short were on all the time. And I think because I was the youngest, by the time it got to me, and what I was listening to, they were kind of just tired.
SAMBERG: Yeah, you had a distinct advantage. Both me and Kiva are the oldest child, so it was much harder for us.
TACCONE: Yeah, also my dad got into rap. We'd like, bump the "Boyz n the Hood" soundtrack in the car on the way to soccer practice and stuff.
SCHAFFER: We - I don't know what I was thinking most of the time, but I played so much rap for my mother growing up because I was like, oh, this was so cool, and this guy does this cool verse and whatever. And so she - at this point she knows rappers. Like she can pick out really - like people, like rappers that people wouldn't know. Like I mean, she knows when Keak da Sneak is on, on the radio.
SCHAFFER: Like she'll be, like, oh, that's Keak, he sounds great.
SAMBERG: Oh, it's Keak. How's he doing?
GROSS: So did your mothers ever sit you down and explain why women should be treated as equals and not seen as sex objects when you were listening to rap?
SAMBERG: Yes, absolutely. There was a moment. I don't know what I can say on the radio, but like there was a moment where I, under my breath at one point, said - called my mother a bitch. And my mother hit me so hard and like shook me and looked me in the eye and was like don't ever say that word about a woman ever in your life. It is the most insulting thing you can possibly say to a woman.
And then I remember my brother, years later, saying - he did the exact same thing under his breath, he called her a bitch, and then she, like, did - tried to go there with him, and he was like: I said witch. Oh my God, why would think - like and just completely tricked her. I was like oh, just younger kids, they're just smarter.
But because of that, I mean, I've never - we've never - I'd never say that word ever. I find it very insulting.
TACCONE: I had a similar experience, but it was with my sister and her friend. I had friends over, some of which were girls, and I was in like junior high, and I was trying to impress them, and I called my sister a bitch, and her and her friend came in the room and like pinned me down and hit me a bunch of times. It was humiliating. But I definitely stopped.
GROSS: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone will be back in the second half of the show. Their new album under their group name "The Lonely Island," is called "The Wack Album." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our interview with Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Together they go by the name The Lonely Island. They wrote and produced those really funny hip-hop videos for "Saturday Night Live," which was part of their larger series, "Digital Shorts." Their first year on the show, 2005, they did the video hip-hop parody "Lazy Sunday," featuring Samberg and Chris Parnell, which went viral on the Internet after it was broadcast.
Samberg is a former "SNL" cast member, Schaffer and Taccone are former writers. The Lonely Island has just released its third album of hip-hop parodies called "The Wack Album."
So you all got on "Saturday Night Live" at the same time - Andy as a performer and writer and Jorma and Akiva as writers. Did you have a joint audition or did you each audition separately?
SAMBERG: Auditioned separately. I had been doing a lot of standup, so I auditioned first and then, you know, we had been writing for the MTV Movie Awards and Jimmy Fallon was the host, so he was there, along with Steve Higgins and Mike Shoemaker, who were producers at "SNL" and a bunch of "SNL" writers came with them. And we got along really well with all of them, so Jimmy and Higgins and Shoemaker recommended us to Lorne. So I came in and auditioned and it went well, and then they said, you know, these guys are best when you have the three of them together, you know, which was correct.
SAMBERG: So they offered Akiva and Jorme to audition as well. Jorme did audition...
TACCONE: Yeah, which is the most nerve-racking thing I will ever do, and it's being beamed to like NBC West Coast and Lorne and Tina are in the room. It's totally nerve-racking.
SAMBERG: And Akiva, who had no interest in being a cast member, opted to just have a writer's meeting. It went well enough that I got hired to the cast and Akiva and Jorme both got hired as writers. But I think what they did not realize they were getting was two writers who also happened to be really good directors and that was...
SCHAFFER: Thanks, Andy.
TACCONE: You're welcome. It's part of the story.
SCHAFFER: Because when we were brought in we were not hired to make shorts.
SAMBERG: No, not at all. But, you know, the classic thing that we have always done, and I think Kiv really the spearheader of that, is to be really proactive and to just, if you have an idea you like, go out and make it and then you don't have to explain to people why something is funny, you can just show them. So these guys went out and shot a video on their own called "Bing Bong Brothers" and brought it in and said, would you ever air this? And they were like, well, we're trying to break all of these new cast members so it would be confusing to put something on with you guys in it, but definitely continue to do these and bring them in, because we always need pre-tapes to turn sets over during commercial breaks or when we're in an act break kind of a thing. You know, we can run a pre-tape and that gives us more time to do costume changes and set changes, so we just started shooting them on our own. And the third one we made was "Lazy Sunday" and after that they were like, OK, you guys are a film unit. Keep going.
TACCONE: And Akiva was always our sort of our main director. Like I mean I kind of learned how to direct from him, and to edit as well. And so we would, you know, in the beginning it was always Akiva as the director and I would be making a lot of the music for what we're doing, and then that sort of changed when I started doing some the "MacGrubers" and some other ones, and so I started doing shorts as well.
GROSS: Akiva, did you study videos so you could really make yours look authentic?
SCHAFFER: I was studying for it my whole life, not knowing I was studying for it. I was just obsessed with them. I didn't have cable growing up and I would go to friends' houses and just watch MTV, like honestly like - it was like I would have like sugar cereal and watch MTV, because those were the things that were not allowed in my house...
SCHAFFER: I would just do it like a fiend. Like I wouldn't even care if they were home or they were asleep, I would just watch.
SAMBERG: For sure.
TACCONE: And Kiv's parents had, they like had his TV under lock and key, literally. Like there was a key that you had to - how did it work, Kiv? I mean you used to sneak up into their room and take the key...
SCHAFFER: It only lasted like a month, but there was a month where my mom like got out of some catalog like a thing where it's like, you know, where like somehow it locks the power cord or something, you know, kind of the equivalent today of like, you know, putting a password on people's iPads, which I'm sure they do, so that the kids can't play with their iPads. But it was a much more clumsy box that made it that you couldn't turn on the television.
SAMBERG: It's like a chastity belt for your cable box.
SCHAFFER: I just found out recently - we had a black-and-white TV for a lot of the early part of my childhood, and I always thought that's just because that's what we had, and I just found out that we had a color TV and then when I was a baby I was looking at it too much, like I was too into it and so my mom got rid of the color one and got a black-and-white TV so that I'd be less interested in the TV.
GROSS: Well, apparently this didn't work.
SCHAFFER: No, it backfired. It was the exact opposite. And still to this day, like when I watch TV I kind of feel like I'm like getting a treat.
GROSS: Akiva, unfortunately you're in LA and Andy and Jorma are in New York, and we have to drop the LA line now, so we're going to lose our connection. I want to thank you so much for coming, Akiva Schaffer. And I wish we could talk some more but we're going to have to drop the line. So congratulations on the new Lonely Island album.
SCHAFFER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Thank you.
SCHAFFER: We're big fans.
GROSS: Thanks so much. Bye-bye. And Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone, you can stick around, I hope? Yes?
GROSS: Terrific. So we'll continue the conversation after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are two of the three members of The Lonely Island, Andy Samberg, who is best known for his years on "Saturday Night Live" and Jorma Taccone, who was a writer on "Saturday Night Live" and is also known now for his portrayal of the really pretentious artist in "Girls" who is seeing Allison Williams for a few episodes. And he also directed the "MacGruber" movie, and directs those AT&T commercials.
TACCONE: That's right. Yeah.
GROSS: Earlier, we were talking about your auditions for "Saturday Night Live." And Andy Samberg, I have a question for you.
GROSS: When Bill Hader was on the show...
GROSS: ...I think it was in the past year, he talked about his audition for the show, and he said when he was auditioning for the show, on the way up the elevator at NBC to audition, he met you in the elevator...
GROSS: And he saw that you had all these props.
GROSS: Well, I'm going to let him tell the story. Here's a clip of him, of Bill Hader telling the story about meeting you on the way to his audition at "Saturday Night Live."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BILL HADER: I remember getting in the elevator for my audition and there was a guy next to me who had a backpack full of props and wigs and things. And I went oh my god, that guy is so prepared. I have nothing. I have no props. And that was Andy Samberg.
And Andy Samberg said he was looking at me going, oh, that guy has no props, he doesn't need props.
And that, that was the first time we met, it was in that elevator.
GROSS: OK, so that was Bill Hader on "Saturday Night Live," not too long ago.
So Andy Samberg, is that an accurate portrayal of what happened? Did you see him and think, oh, he's so confident, he doesn't even need props?
SAMBERG: Yeah. I thought I was dead in the water. And by the way, I was right, he did not need props and it was - it's embarrassing. You know, I mean...
SAMBERG: The difference between Bill and I has always been a joke between the two of us because we are really good friends and we do have a lot of respect for one another comedically, but we do such different things, which I think is what allowed us to be and stay close throughout our time at the show. Because I look at him and he's someone who is like a master impressionist, can drop in and out of characters really well, can play sort of, you know, adult characters really well - like game show hosts and news anchors and stuff. And I was always kind of like the like floppy younger guy who was making fake rap videos. You know, looking back, I wish I had used less props in my audition.
TACCONE: It's always the most embarrassing point, like watching someone at the end of their audition have to clean up all of their props that have been just strewn around the stage.
SAMBERG: Yeah. A slow gathering.
TACCONE: Like, well, thanks a lot, guys, you know, over silence...
TACCONE: ...like collecting their things and walking out.
SAMBERG: You can hear like the buzz of the lights in the studio.
TACCONE: Like, OK well, I'm just gonna pick up this dreadlock wig...
TACCONE: ...and this skinny hat.
GROSS: When I was looking back at early "Saturday Night Live" sketches that you were on, Andy Samberg...
GROSS: ...one of the things I noticed was your really shaggy haircut.
SAMBERG: Mm-hmm. Hard to miss.
GROSS: Yeah. So when you showed up with that haircut, did anybody say anything?
SAMBERG: When I had my final meeting with Lorne before I got hired - which was essentially a meeting to be told I was hired, although he never told me I got hired. I got told after I left the meeting that I was hired because that's how he works.
TACCONE: Very Lorne Michaels.
SAMBERG: One of the questions he - he asked me a few questions. He said, so do you think you can do this? And I said, yeah, I like to think I could. And he said and you feel like you could live in New York? And I said yup, I actually lived here for two years at NYU. I love New York. And he - there was a long pause, and then he said, would you consider cutting the hair?
SAMBERG: And I said, I will shave bald if that's what you want. I really want to work here. And he laughed and said, OK. And then I left and then the assistants in his office said, so? And I was like, did I get it? And they were like, yes, you got it. And I was like oh, great. And then I called my parents and cried.
GROSS: But you didn't cut your hair.
SAMBERG: It was even longer when I auditioned than it was on the show.
TACCONE: It's not like Lorne hasn't been around shaggy haired guys before.
SAMBERG: It was a little bit of a challenge for wigs and stuff - like, you know, it's a lot of hair to get underneath a wig. But, you know...
GROSS: I think it was more like the total stylessness of it...
GROSS: ...than the length itself.
SAMBERG: It was a real mop. It was a real mop.
GROSS: And Jorma, I want to ask you about your role on "Girls," as the very pretentious artist, Booth Julian.
TACCONE: Booth Jonathan.
GROSS: Booth Jonathan. I'm sorry.
GROSS: And my favorite - well, I have several favorite of his of appearances but...
GROSS: There's one episode in which the Allison Williams character is in your home dash studio and you've done this massive video installation piece. So it's just like bank of videos, it's like four walls of videos and it's like a very small room of videos.
GROSS: And so...
TACCONE: It's almost like a torture chamber.
GROSS: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.
TACCONE: Of art.
GROSS: That's perfect. Perfect. And you kind of like stick her inside and then shut her in. And she's locked in. She can't get out. And then she's stuck watching all of these images of things like a dog barking and a baby crying, and like a herd of animals preying on another animal. And I think like maggots or something.
TACCONE: Yeah. Well, I check my email and make myself a coffee.
GROSS: Exactly. Exactly. And it's really hysterical...
SAMBERG: And Booth Jonathan has AOL, right?
TACCONE: Yeah. Of course. Of course.
SAMBERG: That's my favorite touch of the episode is that Booth Jonathan has a little alert that goes, you've got mail.
Like oh man, he's not even on Gmail?
TACCONE: He's not a current guy.
GROSS: In one scene that you're in, you have just like the, I think the worst seduction line. You've been flirting with the Allison Williams character and, you know, she's been flirting with you, but she insists she's not going to kiss you. And I'm going to play the scene and we'll bleep out the necessary word.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GIRLS")
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) So do you live with your boyfriend?
ALLISON WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) I live with my best friend.
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) Is she cute? Is she?
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) No. I mean yes, she's cute, but I would never let her anywhere near someone like you.
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) Oh, burn.
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) Yeah. Well, you usually you hook up with like French girls and models, right?
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) Not all the time. Sometimes.
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) Sometimes?
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) Most of the time.
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) Yeah.
(as Marnie Michaels) I feel like I have to say something.
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) What do you have to say?
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) I feel like I should tell you that I'm not going to - I'm not going to kiss you.
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) Why would you think that I would want to kiss you?
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) I don't know. I was going out on a limb. Don't make me feel stupid.
TACCONE: (as Booth Michaels) When you assume, you make ass out of you and me.
(as Booth Michaels) That's a saying. People say that.
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) It's been a long time since I heard that. Well, touche. I just felt like I had to say it, Booth Jonathan.
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) OK.
WILLIAMS: (as Marnie Michaels) OK?
TACCONE: (as Booth Jonathan) I see.
(as Booth Jonathan) But I want you to know, the first time I (bleep) I might scare you a little, because I'm a man and I know how to do things. See you later.
Yeah. Effective, right?
GROSS: That's my guest Jorma Taccone and Allison Williams in a scene from "Girls." So what a horrible line. So what reaction did you get to that?
TACCONE: You know, what's funny is I felt the exact same way you did, like both me and Allison were really nervous about the scene too of just, is this working? You know, I'm not like, you know, the most incredibly striking handsome man on the planet. I look OK, but like I was kind of like, you know, how am I pulling this off? Is this supposed to be like a really, you know, funny but potentially sexy kind of moment? And it was interesting afterwards, because I expected most people to be like kind of like that was laughable, and it sort of is to us, like obviously for I think for all my friends who saw it were kind of thinking how hilarious it was and I thought so too. But I was more surprised at the reaction that I was getting from women for the last couple of years who, you know, when they find out that it's me or, you know, or when they first meet me, are like that line was pretty hot.
SCHAFFER: And I was really shocked. And it's women of all ages too. It's been really - I've been, there's women over 50 who have said that like, that line, pretty hot. So...
SAMBERG: Yeah. We were pretty bummed when we realized that girls thought it was sexy.
SCHAFFER: Yeah. It was kind of - it was really horrifying.
GROSS: That's really hot...
TACCONE: So I was like, oh, I'm doing it wrong, apparently. I guess have to be a huge jerk.
GROSS: Your new Lonely Island album, one of the things that it jokes about is getting older.
GROSS: And you know, for Akiva he's a parent now. He has two kids.
GROSS: So what does that mean to you in terms of the kind of comedy that you do about hip-hop?
SAMBERG: Well, I mean there's a trend in hip-hop of being more mature and getting older for real right now as well. So it actually coincided really nicely for us in terms of, you know, certain songs on our album, things like "Diaper Money" and "YOLO" that are more about, you know, being an adult and the joke of bragging about the responsibilities that come with being an adult.
TACCONE: And you know, we figure if Jay-Z can rap about how he can only wear button-ups now, we can rap about how we're married and how great that is.
SAMBERG: And how we've got a great grave plot lined up.
TACCONE: We can't wait.
GROSS: I want to squeeze in one more song from the new Lonely Island album, the "Wack" album. And this is an excerpt of "Diaper Money" and it's an excerpt because several of the verses aren't clean enough to play on the radio. But describe what the premise of this one is.
SAMBERG: "Diaper Money" arrives in three suites, each represented by a verse from each of the three members. The first one is "Diaper Money," which is Akiva who has two young children. And it's sort of bragging about being a dad. The second one is Jorma, which is something I can't say but it's about how proud he is to be in a monogamous married relationship with his wife.
SAMBERG: And the third verse is me bragging about how I've got an incredible grave plot lined up.
TACCONE: He's very excited about his coffin.
SAMBERG: And how - I would say it's like a meditation on the inevitability of death.
GROSS: Accept that.
TACCONE: We're in a more mature place in our lives now.
SAMBERG: Like a hilarious meditation on that. It's, you know, it's about we're all in our mid-30s now and we're all either married or engaged to be married and having kids or headed towards kids. And it's our reality and we're like why not embrace it and make an anthem for that?
TACCONE: And sadly, this is our most mature work to date.
GROSS: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, thank you so much. It's really been such great fun. And congratulations on the new Lonely Island album.
SAMBERG: Thank you so much.
TACCONE: Thank you very much.
SAMBERG: It's been an honor for us to be on.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAPER MONEY")
LONELY ISLAND: (Rapping) I got that grave plot. I got that grave plot. I got that grave plot. It's right off the highway. Wobble-dee-wobble-dee-drop into my grave plot. You afraid of death? Well, I'm afraid not. 'Cause I got the bomb spot right off the highway. I did it my way. A very small percent of the time way. I got my coffin picked out. Styrofoam painted like wood. Tricked out.
(Singing) It's even got handles to lower me smooth and my tombstone only has minimal typos. Grave plot. I got that grave plot. I got that gave plot.
GROSS: Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone are members of the trio the Lonely Island, along with Akiva Schaffer, who joined us earlier in the show. The new Lonely Island album is called "The Wack Album." You'll find links to some of their videos on our website, freshair.npr.org.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:This is FRESH AIR. Our jazz critic, Kevin Whitehead, has a review of the debut album by singer Cecile McLorin Salvant. He says few jazz debuts by singers or instrumentalists make this big a splash. Cecile McLorin Salvant was born in Miami to French and Haitian parents and started singing jazz while living in Paris. Back in the States, she won the Thelonious Monk vocal competition in 2010.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU BRING OUT THE SAVAGE IN ME")
CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT: (Singing) My blood boils with the tropic heat and the rhythm of my heart has a tom-tom beat. You bring out the savage in me. Primitive love cries move my ears with the pressure of a hundred million years. You bring out the savage in me. Oh. Call it madness or sin, how was I not to know what was creeping within me?
KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Cecile McLorin Salvant and drummer Herlin Riley. That's a 1935 curio by singing trumpeter Valaida Snow, who had her own Parisian minute early on. McLorin Salvant's unusual material sets her apart as much as her power chops do. The most recent non-original tune on her nervily accomplished debut "WomanChild" is by Fats Waller.
A couple tunes were recorded by 1920s blues star Bessie Smith and a couple more are older than that. McLorin Salvant also does two or three bona fide standards from the 1930s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS")
SALVANT: (Singing) Grand to be alive, to be young, to be mad, to be yours alone. Grand to see your face, hear your voice, feel your touch, say I'm all your own. I did not know what year it was. Life was no prize. I wanted love and here it was shining out of your eyes. I'm wise and I know what time it is now.
WHITEHEAD: Cecile McLorin Salvant doesn't just fine-tune her pitches; she'll also shade her vocal timbre from one phrase to the next. You can trace some of her effects back to Sarah Vaughn, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln, and maybe Paris-trained Madeleine Peyroux and Catherine Russell's early jazz period pieces.
But McLorin Salvant uses those examples mostly to illuminate the possibilities. She has her own sense of drama. The 1906 song "Nobody" comes from comedian Bert Williams, the droll Caribbean-American entertainer who didn't sing a song as much as act it out. Nina Simone also did this ode to cranky individualism in the '60s, but its character sketch sounds more contemporary now, even with archaic musical touches.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOBODY")
SALVANT: (Singing) When winter comes with snow and sleet and me with hunger and cold feet, who says here's 25 cents, go on, get something to eat? Nobody. I'd never done nothing to nobody. I ain't never get nothing from nobody, no time. And until I get something from somebody, I will never do nothing for nobody no time.
WHITEHEAD: You can hear how much time pianist Aaron Diehl's trio put into working with the singer to make every piece distinctive and brick-solid. On the oldest tune, the man-versus-machine ballad "John Henry," Diehl chokes the piano strings with his free hand for a percussive prepared-piano effect. He makes you hear those hammers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOHN HENRY")
SALVANT: (Singing) John Henry said to his Shaker, now Shaker why don't you sing? I'm shaking 12 pounds from my hip on down and I don't hear that cold steel ring. Don't you hear that cold steel ring? Don't you hear that cold steel ring? Don't you hear that cold steel ring?
WHITEHEAD: Cecile McLorin Salvant makes it all sound not effortless exactly, but sort of easy. You get the strong impression she's having a blast. In a way, that ease of execution is a problem - it creates the temptation to top herself and go for the extra big moments.
It makes sense that she'd exploit her extreme highs and lows; she won't be able to reach them forever. And age tends to calm folks down, so the over-exuberance may take care of itself. My point is this: She doesn't need to try to knock us out. We're already knocked out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO")
SALVANT: (Singing) Ooh, what a little moonlight can do-o-o-o-o. Wait a while till that little moonbeam comes peeping through. You'll get full. You can't resist him. And all you say when you have kissed him is ooooh. What a little moonlight can do.
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure, DownBeat and eMusic and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "WomanChild," the debut album by Cecile McLorin Salvant on the Mack Avenue label.
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