As The Lonely Island, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone make going viral look easy. Show me someone who hasn’t seen “Lazy Sunday” or “Dick in the Box,” and I’ll show you someone who deserves the curse of Sergio. As the creators of SNL’s Digital Shorts, their brand of unpredictable, absurdist humor is on weekly display. But if that’s not enough Lonely Island for you, the boys have just finished Turtleneck and Chain, their second album of jokey and surprisingly catchy urban music: part hip-hop, part R n’ B, all brilliant.
On it are tracks familiar to those keeping tabs on the boys’ Saturday night escapades: The Akon-featuring fuck-ballad “I Just Had Sex”; Dick in the Box sequel “Motherlover”; and “Creep,” co-starring Nicki Minaj. Michael Bolton and Santigold show up elsewhere, but it’s Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone who own this thing, track after track. We recently spoke to the Lonely Island, who gave us an in-depth look at their creative process, discussed the unfortunate circumstances behind the song “Japan,” and revealed their dream Saturday Night Live hosts.
I always wonder how you come up with the basic ideas for your songs and videos, so I’m going to list a couple of tracks, and you’re going to tell me how they came to be. Let’s start with “Threw It On the Ground.” Akiva: Our friend Drew made the beat, and we had it in our iTunes library with all the other potential beats. And there was something about it, how it was quiet and then broke into those big synths that made me for no reason be like, What if it’s just ‘throwing it on the ground,’ and then we could use that Phantom camera that does the thousand frames per-second beautiful slo-mo — this was before it had been used in almost anything — and when it hits, it would just be this blossoming of slo-mo. That was the initial kernel, and then we developed it, and then it became about this guy who thinks he knows everything, almost a slam-poet kind of guy, and it’s kind of a Bay Area person that we knew, who’s so sure they have it all figured out, and everyone else is fools.
So do the ideas for videos usually come before ideas for the songs? Jorma: It doesn’t usually happen like that. Usually it’s a concept for a joke, or the beat inspires the concept for the joke. But when we are writing, often times we’ll think of things that can be visually appealing or funny.
How about “Rocky,” where Andy describes a boxing match against Rocky. Andy: We’ve loved that beat forever. I just knew I wanted to use that beat so much, so it was one of those times I just locked myself in a room and listened to it over and over again until I came up with an idea. There was something about the horns. It had that kind of nostalgic— Akiva: It’s obviously a Fresh Prince-style song. Andy: Yeah, but it became that after I started writing, because initially it was more—it just became funnier when we made it Fresh Prince. Originally, it reminded me not literally, but almost in a sort of a vibe sense, of the Rocky theme, or like a sports anthem. So I started writing it that way, but was shying away from making it full-on Fresh Prince, because Kiv had already done one kind of like that on our website.
Do you make your music with the intention of transforming them into Digital Shorts? Akiva: It happens all different ways. An SNL week, it’s all about the Short. If it’s the summer, when a lot of these songs were made, then it’s like, Maybe it will be eventually, but right now it’s all about making a funny song for the album. We’re always thinking about the video, but it doesn’t mean there ever will be a video. Is there another song off this album that will appear on the last 3 weeks of SNL? Jorma: We always hope to do videos for them, just because they make them so much funnier. Something like “Threw It On the Ground” is only funny when you’re seeing the video. Andy: I think that song could be funny without the video. Akiva: It better be, because it’s our album!
What about “Creep”? Andy: That was another one that was inspired by the beat. Kiv just started doing the dance.
So it sounds like you guys are inspired by the music a lot. Akiva: A lot of the times, but for “Dick In a Box,” Jorm just came up with the kernel of the bit, and then we designed the beat around it from scratch. On the new album, “No Homo” was a full concept we had and then we went a found the beat that we liked for it.
In light of recent events, did you consider taking “Japan” off the album? Andy: We did, but it was too late. It was already locked. We talked about. Akiva: The song is a love letter to Japan, but we didn’t want anybody to misconstrue it in light of things that have happened. Andy: It was written out of us wanting to take a trip there. Jorma: We still hope to go there and shoot the music video for it, because the whole point of that song is the possible video for it. Andy: The joke is at the expense of our record label. Obviously everything that’s happened there is very tragic, and we are hoping that we’re going to be able to talk about it enough that for anyone who does take it wrong will know we recorded it before anything happened. Akiva: I think anybody who hears the song won’t take it wrong. It will just be somebody looking at the word, and going, Whoa, they shouldn’t be joking about that. Andy: We are planning on making a donation to the Red Cross immediately, based on the record.
Who are you dream hosts for SNL? Jorma: Who hasn’t been on the show? Akiva: Tom Cruise? Jorma: For me it would be someone who just came to the show, not as a host, but Pee Wee Herman. Andy: Mel Brooks, that’d be crazy. Jorma: Larry David?
What about Jerry Seinfeld? Andy: That would be awesome. Akiva: He hosted once before we worked there. Andy: He came and did “Really!?” with Seth. I’d love for him to come back and host.