Talking to The Lonely Island About ‘The Wack Album’, ‘SNL’, and Why They Haven’t Done a Live Show Yet
Within months of The Lonely Island joining Saturday Night Live back in 2005, the trio – made up of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – marked a new era in the show’s history with the viral hit Lazy Sunday, kicking off a run of Digital Shorts that would include Emmy-winning Dick in a Box and Grammy-nominated I’m on a Boat.
All three have since left the show, working independently on their own big-name projects. Samberg has starred in films like That’s My Boy and Celeste and Jesse Forever, and will be seen in the up-coming Fox sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Schaffer directed the group’s first film, cult favorite Hot Rod, and 2012’s The Watch. Taccone directed the SNL-spinoff MacGruber and played the loathsome Booth Jonathan on the HBO show Girls.
The group’s third record, The Wack Album, comes out tomorrow; the trio, who have known each other since middle school, have been promoting the album by releasing videos and tracks each week on Wack Wednesdays. I met up with them recently in the glittery conference room of Cash Money Records to talk about emulating Kanye and why they still work so well together.
Why did you decide to release the songs in this way? It seems like almost half of the tracks will be out before the album is released.
Jorma: We’re just taking a page out of Kanye West’s old notebook. That he doesn’t use anymore.
Andy: Yeah, we wanted to record a video of ourselves watching the projection of his video on a wall and project the video of us watching it on a wall.
Jorma: And just commenting on how much we liked it.
Andy: Because he’s so good at marketing. And for us, we’re not on SNL anymore and we want to make sure that people know we have a record. So we figured if we had a time and a place that people could know that they could check in for new stuff and check it out that it would be helpful. But it’s been fun. It’s fun to be in our own like mini-SNL cycle where we’re posting things and feeling like we’re connecting with an audience.
Akiva: We’re honestly still on that pace right now. Because of our Wack Wednesdays, and just our own sense. Because we’re, honestly, a little control freaky, about how all of the product that we release comes out. Start to finish, we’re involved in the editing, in the producing, the directing, all that sort of stuff and with with songs too, so the pace hasn’t let up at all.
What’s your relationship like with SNL these days? You premiered the YOLO video there last season – did that develop on its own, or did you work with them on it?
Andy: We worked with them. We had that song written already and we had spoken loosely with Lorne [Michaels], that we would still air things if he wanted them.
Akiva: Oh and that video is co-funded by SNL too, so it’s very much [a collaboration].
Andy: Yeah. Real peek behind the curtain.
Akiva: For Splitsider.
Andy: Point being is, [Adam] Levine was hosting and Lorne said, “Adam is hosting but he’s not a musical guest and it’d be nice to get him singing on the show.” And we had done one with him before and [Lorne] was like, “If you guys had something for him, that would be a great week to do it.”
Jorma: We were just actually in the middle of recording our album, so we had some of our songs done and not all of them. And we were like, this one could work.
Andy: Yeah. It’s right up his alley. And then Kendrick [Lamar] was the musical guest and we were like, that’s fucking perfect timing. And just lucked out that he was down to do it too.
Can we expect more of those in the future?
Andy: We’ll see. You know, it’s Lorne’s show, so when he wants them, we’ll be excited to do them.
Akiva: Yeah, we’d love to keep contributing if they will have us.
Andy: And I would say our relationship with the show is very good. We’re still in touch with everybody there.
Jorma: Trying to make MacGruber 2, too, with them. Just get some free promo.
And now that you guys are all doing so many different things and you don’t have SNL as a base, have you found it difficult to put stuff together?
Andy: It’s more difficult, just because we live in different places now. And also, because, Jorma and I take other jobs, and Akiva has kids. It’s just difficult because we’re grown-ups.
Akiva: It was nice having an office that you had to go to everyday.
Andy: Yeah, SNL forces you into this funnel of productivity.
Jorma: But it’s a priority for us to work together, for sure. And so doing the album is that.
Andy: Yeah. We carved out the time. We all said no to things in order to make the record.
Akiva: Like really cool stuff.
Jorma: Yeah, big time stuff.
Akiva: Like, pfft. We can’t talk about it, but…
Jorma: Like a bunch of trilogies.
Andy: Yeah. Like I could have been a contestant on The X-Factor.
I talked to the guys from Olde English recently about the difficulties of working together as a group for a long time. You guys seem like you all really still get along and there’s not a lot of conflict. How did you do that?
Jorma: It’s just super helpful when you really, really like each other.
Andy: I think it’s because we always have the same goal and we have really similar taste. We prioritize the same things in terms of what we want out of the work we do together, so even if we have a small disagreement, it’s always disagreeing towards the same goal. It’s never, like, “I want this out of what we’re doing and I want this out of it.” If it’s two different things, that’s when you get fucked. The thing that we actually want is the same end product. And it’s just the ebb and flow of getting there.
Akiva: I would say it also helps that we each keep going off and doing stuff with other people, and even with other people that we might really love and have a good time, it’s not the same. And that makes us appreciate this. I think if we just did this all the time, then it maybe we would be in trouble, but going off and doing other things reminds us it’s more fun to work with your friends.
Jorma: We’re all very lucky to have other opportunities and other jobs that we’ve worked on outside of the group too, which is great.
Akiva: But really the answer is that Lorne hired all three of us and didn’t just hire one or two of us, which would have immediately broken us all up.
Andy: Right. I think it’s also just that we know the work we do together, we’ve never not been proud of. When the three of us get together and do something, even if it’s not considered a “hit”, it’s something that we stand behind if it’s the three of us working together.
Are there any plans to do live dates or a tour or anything like that?
Jorma: We would love to, and it’s just scheduling, because it’s difficult to carve out the time.
Andy: We really wanted to tour this time, and we were driving towards it, but it took longer to finish the record than we thought it was going to, and then Brooklyn Nine-Nine got picked up and…it’s hard.
Akiva: And it’s not that we’re saying that we don’t have a single night free. It’s that we want to do a show right. And because we’ve never done a show, it’s not like a band that’s done a hundred shows, and then you go, “Can you do one more night?” And they’re just like, “Sure!” We don’t know what the show would be, exactly, and we’d want it to be a good show, so it’s not that we can’t find one single night to go do a show, it’s that we think that we’d need a month or two, minimally, to create a show.
Jorma: A video component, and just a ton of things, a million pieces.
Akiva: Yeah, we’d want it to be good, and that’s the part that hard to block off.
Andy: Also, performing a good live show takes like, training. [He laughs.] What you hear on our albums is us doing the best we can in the booth and then tweaking it until it sounds presentable.
Jorma: And so many of our songs involve high levels of energy and screaming that we will lose our voices for a couple days after just recording a song. So we would have to train ourselves to not do that.
Andy: Like we did that Spring Break song on that YouTube Comedy Week show and we rehearsed it like four times, and we were losing our voices. And it was like, we’ve got to figure this thing out. [They laugh.] We never really tried. Except, we did I’m on a Boat on Fallon, and it was the same thing. By the time we were done with it, Jimmy was like, “Hey good job guys.” We were like, [with scratchy voice] “Thanks.”
Akiva: When T-Pain showed up like in the middle of his touring to do this YouTube live event, his voice was gone.
Andy: And he like knows how to sing. So what chance do we have?
We talked to Mike Schur recently about Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and he talked about guest stars – his exact quote was, “Every single one of Andy Samberg’s friends is funny.” And chance that we might see The Lonely Island on the show?
Andy: Oh I think there’s totally a chance. I’m hoping there’s a chance for them to be on and to direct. But we’ll see. We’ll see how long it lasts. [They laugh.] Yeah, but I think Mike and Dan [Goor, the show’s creators] are open to that, and I think these guys are too.
Jorma: Very much so. Yeah.
That’s such a fun part of Parks and Rec – if you’re a comedy nerd, you get to spot all these people you love in little roles, like the first time Chelsea Peretti was on with like one line.
Andy: Dude, Chelsea’s funny in the [Brooklyn Nine-Nine] pilot. Do you know that I know her from elementary school? We both went to Chabot Elementary School in Oakland. We’ve known each other since like first or second grade. It’s so awesome. I hope the show lasts so we can tell everyone we’re on a show together.
The Lonely Island‘s The Wack Album is available Tuesday, June 11 on Republic Records.
Elise Czajkowski is a freelance journalist in New York City and a Contributing Editor at Splitsider.
Photo credit: F. Scott Schafer