Flight of the Conchords
Published Apr 26, 2009They may have been subtitled "formerly New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo accapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo" at one point, but Flight of the Conchords' stock has grown since they first appeared on the comedy circuit. It's risen so much, they'd likely even admit that they're a top three act now. Forming back in 1998, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie have had a slow rise with their subtly dry style of comedy, which mixes self-deprecating humour about their New Zealand heritage, absurdist fantasy and genre-spanning music. But in 2007, they finally found their break with the introduction of their self-titled HBO sitcom, which threw them into the merciless environment of New York City, as a struggling pair of unknown musicians trying to, well, find their break. A few Emmy nominations, a Grammy award for Best Comedy Album (for 2007's The Distant Future), a platinum-selling debut album and a immediate sell-out tour of North America later, Clement and McKenzie are in a good place, finishing off an album of their second season's music, touring all over and contemplating whether they're up for that third season HBO is waiting for.
The night after their first sold out concert in Toronto, the two Kiwis answered a barrage of questions in a round table interview. Here is the transcript.
How are your shows different now than they were when you were playing to one person, as you mention, in Calgary back in 2000?
Jemaine Clement: We would talk to the audience less and have more banter between ourselves, but that's because our show wasn't as developed back then.
Bret McKenzie: There was a time when the show had just started when we'd play shows in the States and it was the first time that people would request songs and sing along. I guess the rooms are bigger now so we can't really hear them sing along anymore. As you saw last night, it was unusual for us - there was a fan throwing props on stage. They go along with the songs, so jellybeans, a monkey, toothbrushes. It happened once last tour...
Both: I think it's the same person [laughs].
BM: I think she may have travelled from New York.
That's not a usual part of the show?
BM: It's not, no.
There are fan sites that have guides to decorum during the shows, where you don't throw out eye-patches or whatever...
JC: We probably don't mind that as much as they do.
How have you dealt with fame, going from shows with two people to sold out shows and a hit TV show?
JC: We're pretty much the same as before we had the show.
BM: We get given a lot more free things. Like shoes [points to new Puma kicks].
JC: I just got a tour of the Palaeontology department at the [Royal Ontario] Museum. One of the kickbacks!
Was that a request of yours?
JC: Nah, they just came up to me and said, "I love the show, how much time do you have?" It was cool.
BM: I also got a tour of the White House.
JC: Yeah, I didn't go.
Did you meet Obama?
BM: He wasn't there, but I saw his office. I got to lean in.
Those are the perks, but when does it get out of hand? Like, someone rushed the stage last night in Toronto...
JC: Yeah, but Bret always beckons.
BM: In New York someone ran across the stage, like a streaker at a cricket game. A clothed streaker. It was funny because he ran across and then these two security guards followed him on stage.
Wow, just like Morrissey.
BM: Yeah, I'm not sure what was happening.
Has Crazy Dogggz ever performed at one of your shows?
JC: No. We occasionally get requests for it. I think we may have tried it once.
Is it easier to do shows now that you have such a breadth of songs?
JC: We've had enough songs for a long time to do them.
BM: We do try to throw the new one in to mix up the show...
JC: Yeah, we could do it completely different live, but we won't [laughs].
BM: No, we try to change a couple of songs each night.
Your music is very eclectic. Where do you come up with some of the ideas for the music?
JC: When we used to flat together we were both learning guitar and we would try to come up with... you know the French song ["Foux Du Fafa"]? That just came from some chords that we were learning of this Latin style. And I had just been to France.
What does "Foux Du Fafa" actually mean?
JC: I think it means "crazy for Fafa" [laughs]. But we don't know.
BM: It was just something we thought sounded French.
Are you writing any music at the moment? Both: No.
Is there anything stored away that you're sitting on?
JC: Ideas. Sometimes we come up with ideas but we never actually write any songs though.
The first season's songs were older and most were done before the TV show, whereas the second season it was kind of the reverse. The second season's songs seem to be written with the episodes in mind. How was that different for you guys as far as writing? Was it easier or harder?
BM: Well, as long as we didn't trap ourselves with the old songs, they were just songs as stories. Sometimes it helped us, we sent ourselves on a little journey with a story, and we needed to get the song out. The second season we were writing what we were doing...
JC: Yeah, storylines are just songs, whereas it's much harder to come up with something out of the blue.
But it felt like the out of the blue ones were more of a hilarious take on that genre as opposed to trying to push a narrative across. Is there an example of a song you wrote independently and then put into the show? JC: "I Told You I Was Freekie."
So, do you guys get chased by a lot of women? JC: Umm... they're more internet based.
Is there any real life Mels?
JC: There are, yeah. Some will be at one show in America, and then the one here [last night].
BM: A lot of our fans like to make us crafts, as opposed to blow jobs [laughs]. Last year in Philadelphia some of them gave us cookies with our faces on them.
Did anyone paint you a portrait?
BM: A lot of pencil sketches.
Obviously your sense of humour is pretty low-key. Are you surprised that it caught on in North America? Subtlety isn't really the predominant comedy genre...
JC: Originally when we came to Canada we were thinking there's no way people are gonna come to the show because we found a pile of photos of Canadian comedians and thought, we're doomed! [Laughs]
So, will you guys do a third season?
JC: We don't know. We'll probably have a meeting afterwards...
There was a quote from HBO's west coast president saying he expected you back...
JC: Yeah, I saw that.
What was your reaction to that?
BM: I didn't see that.
His name is Michael Lombardo, and he said that you were gonna take a break and go on tour before they get back to it.
JC: We'll think about it. We need enough time away from the show.
You guys started out as a live performance act and then went to TV. Which do you prefer? BM: I like playing live. You can really mess around and try new jokes that night. TV's really stressful...
JC: But then you can film it again.
If there wasn't a season three, would you keep performing as Flight of the Conchords as you're doing right now? BM: Well, we're talking about going to Europe.
JC: In the last season we wrote a lot of big gag songs, so might try to do some more subtle songs that aren't for TV. And we try to take off as much time as we can.