ABOVE: (LEFT TO RIGHT) JORMA TACCONE, ANDY SAMBERG, AND AKIVA SCHAFFER. PHOTO COURTESY OF F. SCOTT SCHAFER.
The Lonely Island burst into the national consciousness on the back of their iconic SNL digital short “Lazy Sunday,” a song about going to see a movie—including snack combinations, film choice, and which mapping software to use. In 2006, the trio, which consists of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, became a bona fide Internet sensation with the Justin Timberlake-featuring “Dick in a Box.” Their third The Wack Album features an all-star cast of collaborators, from Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell Williams to Hugh Jackman. With the help of their famous friends and under the guise of various characters, Taconne, Schaffer, and Samberg sing about spring break, gay marriage, and punctuation—occasionally at the same time. As always, their new album is slickly produced, performed, and often hilarious. We sat down with them to discuss collaborating with T-Pain, listening to beats, and the general creative process that is the Lonely Island.
MICHAEL HAFFORD: Where do you guys see yourself in the hierarchy of comedy-song groups? Are you at the top or near the top?
JORMA TACCONE: [laughs] There are such different genres of it. I mean, we’re fans—
ANDY SAMBERG: I can tell you how we think of ourselves and categorize ourselves as a hip-hop and R&B version of Tenacious D or Flight of the Conchords. Those are the people that we consider our contemporaries. I certainly wouldn’t say we’re more successful, but you know [laughs]…
TACCONE: But they’re both groups that are telling jokes and paying attention to how it sounds musically.
SAMBERG: They’re writing original songs with jokes. That’s what we aspire to.
HAFFORD: When you set out to write a song, does one of you come up with the idea or is it kind of collaborative process?
SAMBERG: It’s different every time. Sometimes one of us has an idea in the shower and brings it in and we write it on the idea board and look for a beat that matches it. Other times we’re just sitting there, listening to a bunch of beats and the style or genre of beat will inspire a joke and then—
TACCONE: We’ll listen to a beat and just start saying something. That’s when “Chain” happened. Once we’ve come up with a concept for a song, we all write it together.
HAFFORD: Is there any singing into someone’s answering machine? Or is that a little old-fashioned?
TACCONE: That may have happened once or twice. There’s a lot of finding old premises of jokes that we’ve typed into our phones, kind of thing. We have like a master list.
AKIVA SCHAFFER: Kernels of ideas.
HAFFORD: Who was the most exciting person to work with on your new album, and were there any people that surprised you?
SAMBERG: I honestly couldn’t say I was any more excited about any one person than another. I know that sounds political, but I was actually super excited about everyone for different reasons. Like, working with someone like Hugh Jackman on a song was really exciting because he’s a Golden Globe-winning, Tony Award-winning actor doing our silly song and just ripping it and crushing it. But on the other hand, we were equally as excited to work with somebody like Too $hort, who is a Bay Area legend. That’s where we grew up. And to hear him on a track with us was easily as exciting, for us. [laughs]
TACCONE: And just to even say that the two of them are on the same album is hilarious in itself.
SAMBERG: We feel really fortunate. It’s another incredible list, as far as we’re concerned.
SCHAFFER: We’re fans of all those people is why we asked them, so the most exciting moment is the moment you’re hearing their voice start to be recorded. And you’re like, “It’s really them!”
SAMBERG: It’s also especially cool when you’re listening to someone’s music and really feeling it. So like Solange or Kendrick Lamar or someone like that. Those are two people whose records we’ve been bumping all year, then actually got a chance to work with. So it’s like, there’s that excitement of being a fan in this moment.
TACCONE: Or Pharrell, we’ve been fans of for years, obviously. He’s been in the game forever, and then this summer he’s got one of the most exciting, fun songs to listen to. “Get Lucky” is awesome. And then you’re like, “Oh, yeah, and he’s…”
SAMBERG: Just fucking super genius.
TACCONE: His voice just sounds amazing. To get him on a track is great. It just breathes new life into the song you’ve been listening to for months of hearing Andy’s sweet, sweet temp vocals on it.
HAFFORD: Do you have any sort of crazy stories from the recording process? Like, T-Pain related?
SAMBERG: [laughs] No crazy T-Pain-related stories. T-Pain, or Trent Painovich, his full—
TACCONE: —his Christian name.
SAMBERG: No, yeah, he’s come through twice for us [laughs]. The dude’s genuinely funny. To send him a song as strange as that and have him be like, “Yeah sure.”
SCHAFFER: To have him come in and crush it and just be like, “Done.”
HAFFORD: He seems pretty up for it as far as you guys are concerned.
SAMBERG: He’s a super funny guy. He’s a genuine lover of comedy, also. He’s in with Adult Swim and all that shit.
TACCONE: When we first met him, he was quoting Hot Rod, which is a movie that we made when we first came to SNL.
HAFFORD: I notice that you guys use juxtaposition in “Spring Break Anthem” and the “Jack Sparrow” song. Is that something that you consciously strive for, you know that’s going to be funny, or is that something that you stumble into and you just happen to have done it twice?
TACCONE: I don’t want to blow this for us, but comedy in general—
TACCONE: —sort of involves juxtaposition almost on every level. There’s usually some juxtaposition involved.
SCHAFFER: Those two are very specific, that we stumbled upon. “Jack Sparrow” was a byproduct of the nature of the beat. That was one where we were listening to the beat and we were like, “This is pretty dope.” And then the hook came on and we were like, “This sounds like the fucking Pirates of the Carribean.” [laughs]
TACCONE: [laughs] It just changes wildly.
SCHAFFER: We reverse-engineered the premise of it based on how the beat made us feel and the way it sounded. Once we had that written, we were like, “We need to think of the perfect person to get that joke across in a way that feels really unexpected.” That was when we pitched [Michael] Bolton and all fell in love with it and chased him until we did it. [laughs]
TACCONE: That’s actually the second time we worked with those producers, too. Crew of dudes who did “Semicolon” also did the “Jack Sparrow” one. That’s more for your guys’s knowledge.
SAMBERG: Or just the heads.
TACCONE: Yeah, the heads.
SAMBERG: The Lonely Island backpackers. [laughs]
TACCONE: Group of producers called Rice and Peas did that.
SAMBERG: Big shout out to Rice and Peas.
SCHAFFER: Rice and Peas did “Jack Sparrow”? They’re fucking dope. [Laughs] I love those beats.
TACCONE: They’re sick. Those guys are super exciting.
HAFFORD: How involved are you guys in the videos? Do you direct them yourselves?
SAMBERG: We do everything.
TACCONE: It was actually interesting shooting this last video, that has yet to come out, having some of the people who are Facebook fans of ours who we invited to come out because we didn’t have enough money to pay enough extras.
SCHAFFER: It was a concert scene, so we needed a lot of people.
TACCONE: It was funny hearing people be like, “Wow, you guys are really involved. You guys do it all.”
SAMBERG: We’re very much hands-on in every aspect of both creating the videos and editing them to completion. That’s what we do.
SCHAFFER: We’ve never used an editor.
SAMBERG: That’s the same thing with recording the album, too. We don’t have an engineer. We record each other.
HAFFORD: What’s next for you guys?
TACCONE: Andy’s got a show on Fox coming out called Brooklyn 99.
SCHAFFER: It’s very funny.
TACCONE: It’s a cop show by the same guys that created Parks and Recreation. I don’t know what day it’s on, so I can’t promote that.
SAMBERG: Tuesdays at 8:30. I believe it’s leading into New Girl.
TACCONE: Just before tuning into New Girl, tune in 30 minutes early. Why not? [laughs]
SAMBERG: Can we take that VO and use it?
TACCONE: For a heavy fee. This guy’s AFTRA. He’s protected.
SAMBERG: Jorma’s making MacGruber 2 happen.
TACCONE: Yup, in the writing process of that.
SAMBERG: Will it into existence.
TACCONE: It will happen if you believe. If you build it, they might come.
SAMBERG: It’s like Christmas Spirit. If you believe in it, it’s real [laughs]. I can tell you, for one, as a fan who has nothing to with MacGruber: I believe, and I’m pumped.
TACCONE: He’s gonna BitTorrent it.
SAMBERG: No, I’m gonna rip that shit.
TACCONE: Whaaat?! [laughs] Ah man, fuck. Yeah, we’re working on a bunch of different things. There’s feature stuff that we’re talking about, and the three of us would love to work together in the future, so that’ll be like television ideas.
SAMBERG: Akiva’s child-rearing.
SCHAFFER: Yeah, and then I’m just going to look for a job. Craigslist, whatnot.
SAMBERG: He’s not going to say this, but he gets offered stuff all the time. He’s focusing on his family. He’s really picky. He’s in high demand. [laughs]
TACCONE: [laughs] Super boring. Next!
HAFFORD: Do you have a favorite song from the new album?
SAMBERG: It changes every day. The one that’s made me laugh the most is “Perfect Saturday,” the very last song. Which is the G-funk genre and arguably one of the most immature jokes we’ve ever done. To glorious effect, in my mind. That’s saying a lot. That was a joyful creation.
TACCONE: I was going to say the same, but there’s a song, “Hugs” with Pharrell, that I think both sounds great and is a “hoo-banger.”
SCHAFFER: There’s one called “Run New York,” with Billie Joe from Green Day, that I’ve been really digging on, because he was one of the last people to join, so it’s the freshest in my head.
SAMBERG: Thanks, ‘Kiv!
SCHAFFER: It just stars Andy and Billy Joe. I’m not on it, so I really enjoy it.
TACCONE: There’s a song called “The Compliments,” with Too $hort, which is also very exciting for us, because we’ve been fans of him since we were 10 years old.
THE WACK ALBUM COMES OUT TOMORROW, JUNE 11, VIA REPUBLIC. FOR MORE INFORMATION, CHECK OUT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.