Perhaps best known for his vomit-inducing camerawork in Cloverfield, T.J. Miller has been acting and doing comedy for almost as long as he’s been able to legally own a gun. He’s recently appeared in She’s Out of Your League and Yogi Bear, and his first one-hour stand-up comedy special is set to hit Comedy Central hour on Nov. 11. And somehow, in the midst of all that, T.J. has managed to produce a comedy record (read: music) as well. Laughspin chatted with with T.J. recently about that album, The Extended Play E.P., which is funny as it is musically competent. Let us be clear: This is a quality collection of music that offers some damn fine laughs.
Most of us are familiar with comedians putting together an album of their stand-up comedy, or guitar comics putting together an album of guitar songs. But you’re not a musical comedian. So what made you decide to put together a collection of comedy songs?
I don’t know. (Laughs.) I really don’t. I wanted to do a few bonus things for my hour special which is coming out in November, and I started working with a musical director at Second City Chicago named Jesse Case. He produced another album for my friend Nick Vatterott, and it was really well produced. So I asked Jesse if he could make me three or four beats, again just as bonus content for no reason. And eventually we got to the point where we had 10 great tracks, and then I started coming up with ideas for new songs. And he’s as driven as I am, a really great guy, and suddenly we had 30 tracks, and then I wanted to bring in guests. And then we realized it was a full album.
Full is indeed correct. You’ve got 41 tracks here.
I know, right? Forty-one tracks of anything, including this album, is ridiculous. My friends have asked me, ‘Didn’t you leave anything on the cutting room floor?’ But I figure, if you end up liking three or four songs, then I have the same hit rate as somebody who released 12 songs. For me it’s always been quantity over quality. I’m so sick of artists who release one single and say, ‘Here’s my single, I did one, everybody get excited!’ So I put 41 singles onto the same album. And I challenge you, Lil’ Wayne, to do the same thing.
But that’s part of the point, isn’t it? This over-the-top self-indulgence?
Absolutely. Comedy Central Records picked up the album, but I also put a lot of my own money into it because for me it was an experiment in comedy that revolved around music. Part of the satire is how many tracks there are. We live in a time when people can always get singles because of the Internet, and there’s just so much shit coming out all the time. And so what is more self-indulgent than a comedian coming out with an album with 41 tracks, many of which are self-referential. That was really what was interesting to me about it. Bo Burnham is actually a really good musician, and then Lonely Island does their own thing but it’s very broad and they bring in big stars. My thing was to stay away from that whole idea and be centered on this persona of someone who thinks he’s Yogi Bear and unstoppable. I had a friend describe it as ‘absurdist hip-hop’ which isn’t entirely true because there’s also pop and folk music in here, but it’s a pretty good summary.
One of the things that impressed me most about this album is how well-produced all these songs are.
And you know, that is the greatest compliment. Not that it’s good, not ‘I loved the music,’ but that it sounds like a real record. Jesse is an incredible musician. And we kept going back into the mix, and then we got it mastered and re-mixed, because I wanted to make sure that if you were at a stoplight and heard it in somebody else’s car you would think it was a real album. I wanted you to think that you were listening not to a comedy album, but to a real, honest, shitty pop album. (Laughs.)
You’ve got a lot of guest appearances on this album – Doug Benson, Bo Burnham, Ugly Duckling. Was it hard to get any of these people to collaborate?
Well, Bo and I are friends from when we first started seeing each other perform. We have very similar sensibilities. Bo’s very funny, but he’s also waifish and easy to push around, so I basically made him do it. Megan Grano is a Second City person.
I loved the voice mail she left you on one of your tracks.
So do I, and it was all improv, totally off the cuff. Ugly Duckling was crazy because that was this weird situation where I bought one of their albums in 2004, and I loved it. And then I was in New Zealand, filming Yogi Bear, and I saw they were going to come, and I was very excited. I went to their show and approached Andy C and Cat and Dizzy Destin and got them on board. And they are the coolest, and super funny, if you listen to ‘Taste the Secret,’ it’s got great comedy in it, and so we sort of bonded over that. I made it very clear that I’m not a musician and not trying to be a musician. They’re on three different tracks, and they also performed at my birthday party and have become friends.
And the idea to battle rap everybody and lose but not to call out the fact that I lost was an idea that came from Nick Vatterott. Honestly, my favorite part of the album was what the other people said. I had to have some texture to this whole thing. That’s why some tracks are longer, some are shorter, different musical style. I didn’t do this to show people how good I was at making albums.
So you’re not looking to become a musician?
As much as music blogosphere won’t believe me, I do not want to be a musician. Shooting a music video is the most tedious unfun thing in the world. Going through lyrics is so annoying to me. Getting notes on the music over and over, turning the bass up, compressing the vocals – it’s all a realm that I’m not naturally talented in and not all that interested in. For me I feel like I do a great amount of comedy, I’ve been in 10 studio films, I do stand-up nationwide, I’m releasing this hour special, and I’ve produced and starred in two Sundance specials.Music is something I hadn’t ventured into, and so I wanted to do this first foray and make it as ridiculous as possible.
So no tours on this album?
Fuck no. I guess if it caught fire and people loved it so much. But I don’t even want to go to the release parties. It’s hard to memorize your own lyrics. I’d have to sit in my car, listening to my dumb song, which is a joke in the first place. The whole project was an experiment in satire. I feel like I made this album just in case people liked it. That’s a good way to put it. I made a 41-track album just in case people wanted a 41-track album. Just to break up the monotomy of the real artists.
Have you always been musically inclined?
I’ve always liked music, but I’m definitely not musically inclined. I played saxophone in middle school for five or six years, but I don’t consider myself a musician, and I don’t have very good musical taste. I don’t think ‘listens to good music’ is a personality trait anybody would mention about me. I listen to the worst techno music and then a lot of hip-hop. None of it is particularly discerning.
What do you have coming up?
My hour special, No Real Reason, comes up Nov. 11. And then also I have three music videos for this, I have a cameo in Rock of Ages, a cameo for a Steve Carell movie called, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; I’ve done plenty of TV projects, and of course touring. Always touring.
And not like that’s not enough, but what’s next?
I am currently on set in Los Angeles.
Seriously. They made me sign a non-disclosure. It’s becoming a pretty standard practice.
It’s not, but yeah, it sounds that way. And I guess that’s what happens once you drop a 41-track album. (Laughs).
Click here to download yourself a copy of T.J. Miller’s The Extended Play E.P.