Who’s Scruffy Lookin’? An Interview with Parry Grip of
When I mentioned to my friend, Rock Goddess Gail Worley, that I was interviewing Nerf Herder, she replied, “I can’t believe they’re still together.”
Unless you’ve been paying attention, you could be forgiven for thinking that yourself. After making a big splash with the song “Van Halen” (from their self-titled debut album) and their theme song for the hit TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nerf Herder dropped off a lot of people’s radar screens — some people probably even wrote them off as a novelty act. Matters weren’t help by the long delay for their second album, the underrated How to Meet Girls, compounded by a line-up change and legal wrangling to get out of their major label contract (not to mention a potential lawsuit from Courtney Love over the song “Courtney”). A big tour with their friends, The Bloodhound Gang, helped bring their name back into the foreground, and six years after their debut splash, the band (which includes singer/guitarist Parry Grip, bassist Justin Fisher, guitarist Dave Ehrlich, and drummer Steve Sherlock) is stronger than ever.
The band’s third full-length, American Cheese, might be their best yet. As usual, the hooks are infectious enough to merit investigation by the Centers For Disease Control, and the lyrics — celebrating all things ’80s, nerdy, and otherwise related to pop culture — are as funny as anything they’ve come up with. But they also show a more serious side on a few tracks (especially the heartfelt and moving “Jacket”), and it makes for a more balanced album. If you’re a fan, you’ve known all along that they had it in them.
I caught up with Parry via telephone just before American Cheese hit the streets.
Do you think people wrote you off as a novelty act after “Van Halen”?
I think a lot of people did. I think that most people• I mean, that was probably the most exposure we got from any song, so I’m sure a lot of people did. It was a novelty song, I mean, I can’t really fault people for thinking that [laughs].
How do you overcome that misconception?
Geez, I don’t know if you can. I mean, that song was actually a while ago, I think a lot of people have probably forgotten about it. I think that there’s really not much you can do about it other than just keep making records and hope that you develop a fan base that doesn’t care about the song, or that just realizes that it’s just part of everything that you’ve done.
The other big thing that got you immediate notice was your theme song for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Yeah. Another thing like that [laughs].
How did you come to be asked to do that?
Well, it’s actually one of the first things we did. When our [debut] record first came out, a long time ago, on My Records, an indie label — this is before we were ever signed to a major label — we were just guys who had been playing in our garage, I think we maybe played in Los Angeles a couple of times, which is the big city about an hour and a half away from Santa Barbara, where we’re from. And so we really were like just like any band that’s kinda small and has a record come out on an indie, we hadn’t done too much. Somehow, someone on the set of the show was friends with friends with someone we knew, and they had gotten our CD right when it came out, and they were playing it on the set. The guy who created the show, Joss Whedon, had heard the record and liked the way it sounded.
Coincidentally, they had hired someone in L.A. to write a theme song for the show, and he just thought it was corny and dumb; like it was some “professional” songwriting guy. [Whedon] didn’t like it, so he asked a bunch of small-time bands in the L.A. area to try to come up with ideas. I remember him calling me and explaining to me, telling me about the show that he was making. I had seen the movie, the original movie before that, so I was kind of familiar with the idea. And he just said, “well, come up with a 30 second idea,” he didn’t really give me any guidelines at all, other than just saying it has to be 30 seconds. So I sent him a demo, and it just happened to work out really well.
It was really lucky, actually. One thing, talking to him, I didn’t realize at the time, but it’s actually really rare that the actual creator of the show calls you up and talks to you. Normally there’s like some middle person. It was really cool that he was the contact guy, ’cause he was just a really cool guy and easy to talk to.
Do you enjoy the show?
Yeah, I like the show. I sort of watch it sporadically. I think it’s a really funny, well-written show though.
Have you ever been invited on?
No, we’ve never been invited on. We’ve been to different cast things and stuff like that, but we’ve never actually been on the show.
Have you heard that The Breeders are planning to cover the song?
Yeah! [Laughs] I heard that! I know that they cover it in their show, they cover it live. Which is actually really exciting, because I’m a huge Pixies fan, and I always thought that our song, the theme song, sounded kind of like a Pixies rip-off of like “Cecilia Ann” or something like that, one of their instrumental songs. So I think it’s kinda cool.
Another funny story about [the Buffy theme]: When they decided they wanted to use our song, they had me go meet with the music director for the show, who was this lady who• she was a nice enough lady, but she seemed sort of [like there was] something weird about her. So I went over to her house to meet with her, and the first things she says to me is, “oh, I’ve listened to the tape, it just kind of sounds like noise to me, but I guess that’s what they want.” That’s the first thing she says to me [laughs].
And then she’s says, “well, can you give me the music?” I was like, “give you the music? What do you mean?” She’s like, “well, the score, the written-out music.” And I was like, “oh, I can’t read music. I mean, it’s not written out. It’s rock n’ roll,” or something like that, and her jaw dropped, and she was like, “oooh, you can’t do this.” [Laughs] Fortunately, it worked out.
Is there anything you miss about being on a major label, or do you prefer being on an indie?
I would say it’s much more comfortable being on an indie. The things I miss are• occasionally, on a major label, they would spend some crazy, insane amount of money that didn’t make any sense on you, like they would fly you somewhere, or have you do something that was totally ridiculous, like clearly a huge waste of money, and I always thought that was kind of interesting. Entertaining, at least.
When you’re on a major label, you’re literally• even if you think you’re a creative genius or whatever, you feel like you have no power at all. You pretty much have to do whatever they say. Also, at the same time, you feel like they don’t understand you, and that they really• I mean, pretty quickly, with me, I realized, “oh, this is why 95% of the bands that sign to major labels never sell more than 10,000 records.” They have such a huge failure rate for stuff, it’s just like this crazy bureaucracy.
I don’t know, I thought the whole thing was kind of entertaining. Eventually, when we were getting off the label, trying to get out of our contract and stuff, it was kind of depressing, ’cause it sort of makes you feel terrible after a while.
Do you think you’d ever go back to being on a major?
It would have to be for really a lot of money [laughs], like a weird contract or something. I don’t think so, because I really think that the way things are going, it’s much smarter not to be on a major label. I just know, right now, there’s so many• these punk bands getting signed to majors, and you run into them and talk to them, and on one hand, you kind of have to go for it if you’re in a band, like here’s your opportunity to be Green Day or Blink-182 or something, but on the other hand, you’ve got to say, “look, there’s a really good chance you’re gonna be really bummed in two years.”
If you had never discovered punk rock, what do you think you’d be doing now?
Hmmm• I’d probably be in a Rush cover band or something [laughs]. I don’t know. I’d probably be doing what I am doing, which is, my family has an orchid nursery, so I work at this nursery that we have. We all have day jobs.
If you weren’t in Nerf Herder, and you could be in any other band in the world, what band would you want to be in?
Oh, wow! That’s a good question! [Pause] I don’t know, that’s a weird question, I’ve never thought about that. Probably, like• hmm• I don’t know. I don’t think I’d want to be in any other band. Maybe like AC/DC or something, that would be pretty good. ‘Cause I’d be the tallest person in the band [laughs]•
And the soberest, most likely, too.
Maybe not, I don’t know• [laughs], I might have to work on that. But probably the youngest — instead of being like an older guy I’d be like a younger guy. They probably get treated really well and stuff. That’s my answer.
What’s the wackiest thing that happened to you while you were on tour with The Bloodhound Gang?
Oh, man. The whole thing was like a giant bachelor party. The wackiest thing? [Pause] I don’t know. There was just constantly, like, naked girls, and shenanigans, like• [pause] I don’t even know, I can barely remember it. Oh! We had this crazy bus driver, this guy named Billy, and — this was at the very end of the tour — and he had• somehow, a certain member of our band had gotten in trouble with him for bringing some girl on the bus, and he locked the bus with all our stuff in it. Actually, this was sort of the band member’s fault, but he locked the bus up with all of our stuff in it, and the member — who shall remain nameless — called the police, and like the police came and forced Billy to open up the bus so we could get our stuff off, and we still ended up leaving most of the stuff on there, like hundreds of dollars worth of guitar strings, and stuff. It was this crazy incident involving police and this weird guy, Billy, who’s like this big, fat, Southern dude who was yelling at us. [Laughs] Actually, here’s the funniest thing about it: we were at a hotel, and the guy, Billy, runs into the hotel lobby, and I’m sitting there with a bunch of people, and he yells, “I just caught your bandmate jerking off on the bus! You guys are out of here!” [Laughs] I don’t think he was actually jerking off, but I thought that was a funny quote.
On your Web site, there’s a photo of you guys with ‘Nsync. How did that happen?
That was with The Bloodhound Gang. We were in Florida, in Orlando, playing at Hard Rock Live. ‘Nsync actually came out to do a thing with The Bloodhound Gang. Bloodhound Gang had this schtick where they roll out this ‘Nsync case with these costumes and dance. So those guys came out and rolled out the case — I guess they live there, so it was just funny. And they just hung out afterward, and we went out drinking and stuff like that.
Wow, that’s surreal.
Yeah, it was really weird, actually.
Were they cool to hang out with?
Well, I can’t say I actually sat next to the guys and palled around with them, but they did seem really nice. I mean, they were perfectly friendly and stuff like that. They didn’t seem like they wouldn’t have anything to do with us, or anything like that, they just seemed like regular guys going out with us. I was impressed by that, because sometimes you get an impression of people that’s really negative, just from being around them a little bit, but no, those guys all seemed really cool. They hung out, they didn’t split early or anything like that, they just hung out, drank beers, and stuff. It was pretty cool.
I was reading on your Web site that you guys recorded a little over 20 songs for the record, but you only put 12 songs on it. How do you narrow it down?
Well, what has happened with the record, one thing is I wanted to do the record really cheaply, and I wanted to pay for it myself and then sell the songs that Fat wanted to them, so that we could own the extra songs, and therefore do whatever we wanted with them. That’s one thing about being signed to a major, is we lost control of all those songs, and I thought that really sucked. So my idea was to record the record cheap, sell the actual songs on the record to Fat, and then keep the other songs for ourselves. So I just gave all the songs to Fat and said, “you guys pick out the songs for the record.” And they picked them out, and the B-sides we’ll probably release either on comps, or I’d really like to do a CD that has all the B-sides on it. I think some of those are the best songs, but I just figured I’d let them pick the songs that they wanted.
Did they pick the songs that you would have picked if you were putting it together yourself?
I don’t know, a couple of songs, maybe not. But then, I don’t know, it’s probably like you, when you write an article or have an interview or something, you really like it, and then you think about it later and you don’t like it and your opinion of the stuff sort of changes•
So, I don’t know, I’m not really sure if I would do it that way or not.
What’s your favorite song on the record?
Um [pause]• I don’t know, that’s kind of a similar thing, I keep changing my mind about it. Probably [pause]• I like “Rock City News” a lot, I like “Cashmere,” I think that’s a good song. I guess that’s my answer [laughs].
You guys took your name from Star Wars, or more specifically, from a line in The Empire Strikes Back, and now you have a Star Trek song, “Mr. Spock,” on the new record. So which is your favorite?
Oh wow, that’s tough. That’s really tough, because it’s like an apples and oranges kind of thing. I really like the early Star Trek, but more because I think it’s kind of funny. I never had, like, with Star Wars, growing up with the movie Star Wars and loving it sort of religiously, regardless of its faults, and stuff, that Star Trek was more of a nostalgia, funny• I mean, I like them both a lot. I thought the idea of us doing a Star Trek song was sort of funny, mixing the two science fiction things.
What do you think of the new Star Wars movies?
You guys get this question all the time, I’m sure•
Yes, we do. I enjoyed the latest one, more than I enjoyed The Phantom Menace, I mean. Like most people, I think The Phantom Menace was maybe a letdown, but the new one, I thought it was exciting, I thought it pretty well done. I thought the corny romance stuff was bad, but I can see some people, young girls, probably like that, so that’s probably why it’s in there, for George Lucas’s daughters or something [laughs].
Tell me about the song “New Wave Girl.”
I think the inspiration for that song is, I think our last record was criticized a little bit because it had all these eighties references on it, which, if you actually did the math, I don’t know what percentage of eighties references were on there. And I’m sort of fascinated with “new wave,” and I was thinking about that all the time, and I thought, “wow, if we write this song with new wave references then people will probably say, ‘oh, these guys are old and stuck in the eighties.'” Then I thought, “well, you know what? I am old and stuck in the eighties.” [Laughs] So I decided to make it really blatant in “New Wave Girl,” and sing about how much I’d rather be back in that time. So that’s sort of the gist of the song.
That’s what I loved about the last record, though, is all the pop culture references, and there’s a lot of them on the new record, too•
Yeah, we take a little heat for that. A lot of people think it’s corny or dumb or something like that.
Yeah, when I was doing research for this interview, I read a review of the last record in The Onion, and they were just brutal•
You get used to that stuff. I used to write for a paper, too, and I’d write reviews, and you sort of get your initial impression of the record, [and] if you don’t like it, you don’t really delve into it any deeper to see what’s there. So I think that when you’re in a band, you’re gonna get reviews like that.
You’re known for these more lighthearted, funny songs, but then the song “Jacket” on this record, to people that haven’t followed you very closely, is probably going to sound like a complete 180, because it’s such a wistful and sad song.
Yeah, it’s true. I didn’t actually write that song, Dave, our guitarist, wrote it, so it has a different perspective, I’d say, But yeah, it is really different, it is a really sad song, and a touching song.
Do you think that you’re going to end up on John Ashcroft’s hit list over “Jenna Bush Army”?
[Laughs] I don’t know. What’s the hit list?
He supposedly has a list of “enemies of the state,” anyone that talks bad about the president is “unpatriotic.” Not that you were necessarily talking bad, you were being complimentary toward her.
Mentioning her name in like a pornographic nature, or something. I don’t know, I’m really curious about that. I curious to see if we get a reaction from her on the song, ’cause she seems like kind of a wild person.
Do you ever hear any reaction from people that you mention in your songs, other than almost getting sued by Courtney Love?
No, not at all. I mean, just from her, I remember reading somewhere where she said she thought the song was weird. [Laughs] Which is kind of true, it is a little weird. The Van Halen guys, we heard from Eddie and Alex Van Halen that they really liked the song. Sammy Hagar, of course, really hated the song. Other than that, we haven’t really heard from anyone too much. I’m hoping we’ll hear about the Jenna Bush song; that would be great. I don’t think we’ll get in any trouble, it’s sort of vague. It’s sort of celebrating her, in a way.
When you’re writing your lyrics, do you tend to write from personal experience, or are you writing more as characters?
I think as a character sort of exaggerated from personal experience. Like the first record is total personal experience, I would say. That’s more of a personal record, I’d say. I guess it all has some kind of personal• you take a certain real feeling and sort of exaggerate it out.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
We did a video for “Mr. Spock,” did I tell you that?
It’s super funny. I just gotta say• We just got it yesterday. I don’t know if anyone else will think it’s funny, but I personally think it’s incredibly funny. It’s really pretty low budget, but the special effects are perfect, they’re just the right level of cheapness, which is really funny. We’re gonna put it up on the Web site in the next couple of days. The video has a classic scene where we start out and we’re playing on our spaceship, the Nerf Herder spaceship, and we have a keyboardist in a red shirt and he gets killed in the first seconds, so it follows the Star Trek stuff.
Nerf Herder’s American Cheese was released on August 13. The band will be on tour for most of the fall. Check http://www.nerfherder.net for more info.