Aside from their remarkably consistent palette of jokes, the most astonishing thing about The Lonely Island’s new record, The Wack Album, might be the guest list. Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Billie Joe Armstrong, Pharrell, Solange, Hugh Jackman—it’s a few robot masks away from being a Daft Punk record, which I bring up when I’m interviewing Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer at the Universal office in Midtown. That comedy writers as accomplished as the three could put out one or two songs funny enough to be reblogged and catchy enough to make the playlist at a college party seems obvious; that they’re three records strong into this side project and constantly upping the ante is something that literally no one else in comedy or music is doing. I’ve only been allotted ten minutes with the guys, but it’s the least pressure-filled ten minutes of any interview I’ve ever done; they’re as casual and jovial as you might expect from a group that straightfacedly wrote and sang a song called “I Just Had Sex.”
JORMA: This is BULLETT? You guys had Franco on the cover, right?
ANDY: Tell them if they wanna put us on the cover, we’re cool with it.
JORMA: Franco style. Pretty cool photo, too.
AKIVA: We could look cool. [Noticing my voice recorder] This is professional. This is the most professional that anybody’s been.
ANDY: I like this rig. How much was it?
It was a full gimmick for about 100 bucks.
JORMA: Not too bad. That actually is something that we should get, because we’ve recorded stuff on our iPhones that has ended up on our album.
JORMA: We would do it for “Dramatic Intro.” [The opening song on the album.] it’s just a series of news clips and there’s just a guy that I was working with who has a great English accent, and we recorded him on an iPhone.
ANDY: Is there audio in MacGruber from an iPhone?
AKIVA: Yeah, the Russian guys talking at the beginning through the radio.
ANDY: Oh. That sounds fine.
On one hand you have the informal iPhone recording and on the other hand you’re recording with all these celebrities. How do you go about recruiting people on this thing that’s ostensibly just you guys, just hanging out and shooting the shit?
ANDY: Well, a lot of times we’ll get a proper studio for them. And we recorded all our stuff in a house that we rented out in Los Villas that had a studio in the basement. We didn’t actually like use the soundboard or anything. But the one advantage is it had a proper soundbooth. It’s the first time we’ve had a soundbooth.
JORMA: We still don’t have an engineer, we just record. If one of us is not on the track then that person’s recording, and we just sort of rotate.
Have you ever considered doing a Kanye retreat where you go to Hawaii or Paris or one of those?
ANDY: We discussed it.
JORMA: It almost feels like a retreat already. The first albums we did just in the Valley, but we rented a house and we all lived there. This time Akiva has kids, but he just came over every day. So it almost feels like a retreat.
ANDY: You’re not in New York City anymore. Leaving New York City is kind of a retreat.
Have you ever been beaten out for a collaboration by someone? Like you call someone up and they were like “Oh, definitely but Daft Punk actually booked us first?”
ANDY: No. Though we share two collaborators with Daft Punk in Julian [Casablancas] and Pharrell.
JORMA: It’s true.
AKIVA: We have similar taste in collaborators.
ANDY: It seems like the inevitable conclusion of this is us doing a song with Daft Punk.
JORMA: Which is destiny.
Or fighting them.
ANDY: [Laughs.] We don’t want to fight them. They’re robots, they’d kill us.
When you’re pitching, how do you go about pitching these ludicrous concepts to people? Has the line ever been reached? Like if you asked Lady Gaga if she’d sing about fucking a bear and she was like, “no.”
AKIVA: It helps that we can point to previous videos. And say, it’s like this. I think if we were pitching cold, it would be impossible.
ANDY: Also, generally, we have the song completely written. Almost always. We’ll do temp vocals for what we want the guest to come in and do. The jokes are already written. So people who are rappers who write their own lyrics, and it’s an easy pitch. You just play them the song and they either want to do it, or they don’t. People think it’s funny or they don’t. And they are either into what we do or they’re not. And I think, you know, we always understand either way. But it helps to be a little more cut and dry in terms of explaining. It’s always easier to do something and show it to people than to tell them what it will be.
JORMA: Definitely had funny moments talking to people like Michael Bolton trying to explain. And he’d say “so you want me to say . . .” and then we’d give him these insane lyrics. The first time we met with him I just doubled over and was like “Yes! That’s exactly what we want you to say!” It’s hilarious.
Was Michael Bolton totally in on the joke?
ANDY: Oh, he’s way in. One hundred percent.
AKIVA: But he did have his limits. Some lines, he’d say “I still have concerts with my fans and I have to look them in the face.”
ANDY: And, by the way, he was totally correct.
On the flip side of that are you guys ever approached to do serious stuff? Have you ever been asked to do like an episode of Law & Order: SVU or something?
AKIVA: Strangely, no. SVU has never asked us to make tunes for them.
Not even just music. But acting.
JORMA: We’ve done serious acting stuff, though. Like Andy was in a movie, Celeste and Jesse Forever which was actually a bit of drama.
JORMA: And I was in Girls. I mean, I’m being funny, but it’s definitely in a different way.
But nothing collectively with you guys together.
ANDY: Not yet. We’re open to it. If you want to spread the word. If SVU calls for the three of us to come do a scene.
JORMA: We will happily be molested.
In terms of coming up with songs, do you guys have the music written before you approach people with it? How does the division of labor go?
ANDY: When it started out, Jorma used to make a percentage of our beats. But now almost all except for one or two on this album are outside producers. So we get through the label and people send big bundles of files of really awesome beats and we sift through them all and choose the ones we really like and try to think of ideas to go to with those beats. Or, on the flip side if we have a premise we’ll look for a beat that matches that premise.
JORMA: It’s come a long way from us making little beats on a digital 8-track. Or like “Lazy Sunday.” Just a crappy little beat on to working with some of the more well-known producers of the biz.
ANDY: Don’t say the biz.
JORMA: Okay, but the Biz Markie.
Before my time ends: I watched Face/Off for the first time last night.
JORMA: Oh, Congratulations. It’s so good.
It’s one of the greatest movies I’ve seen. Which one of you can do the best impersonation of the other?
ANDY: The other?
AKIVA: Oh, if you got your face off.
ANDY: I could’ve sworn that was headed toward a Nic Cage thing and I was gonna be like, “do you need to ask?”
What’s the first thing you would do if you were in Andy’s body?
AKIVA: I would be like, uhhhh, I’m so tired. Smorgeborg!
That’s pretty good.
AKIVA: It’s pretty accurate.
ANDY: I’m the one that’s always so tired. Except you’re way more tired than me nowadays.
AKIVA: Yeah, having kids does that.
Who’s the most famous person any of you have been accidentally photographed with? Somebody you didn’t know and you were just pulled into it.
AKIVA: [To Andy] That’s gotta be you at one of the Oscar parties or something.
ANDY: Yeah . . . I’m trying to think. I did comedy at this Time 100 event, I was the comedy MC and I accidentally got photographed with Sarah Palin. And based on the way the photographers in the room were acting, she was certainly one of the more famous people there. I won’t describe her in any terms other than that. She’s incredibly famous, though.
With the controversy over the pronunciation of gif and jif, have you ever considered changing your name to Gorma?
JORMA: [Laughs.] I change my name all the time. I mean, I actually tried to get credited when I was in Land of the Lost; I tried to get credited at Germac Pachoney, but my manager said that was the dumbest idea she’s ever heard.
ANDY: In retrospect, though, it might’ve been a good move.