As The Lonely Island, Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg, and Jorma Taccone have made a career writing songs that parody the excesses of hip-hop and pop. Their collaborators—including Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, T-Pain, Adam Levine, and even Michael Bolton—are often the butt of the joke, but no more than the Lonely trio themselves, who often lampoon their own social awkwardness, especially with the ladies. As they move on to more adult lives and deal with marriage and fatherhood, they may give up on this trope: Now well into their 30s, the group’s latest effort, The Wack Album, finds them maturing ever so slightly. The A.V. Club recently sat down with Schaffer, Samberg, and Taconne to talk about their diminishing fascination with dick malfunctions, returning to SNL, and the possibility of a Lonely Island movie musical.
The A.V. Club: How far along were you in the songwriting process when you decided to call it The Wack Album?
Andy Samberg: We had pretty much written the whole thing, and we were just like, “What are we gonna call this?” We were talking, obviously sarcastically, about things like The White Album and The Black Album, and our version of that would be The Wack Album, naturally, because we are super-wack.
Jorma Taccone: Well, all the songs that we do are wack by their very nature as soon as they exist.
AVC: Just the inevitability of wack?
JT: Yeah. They’re fake rap songs. They’re wack.
AS: Fake rapping is one of the worst things anybody can do.
Akiva Schaffer: It’s a despicable trade.
AVC: There are fewer songs about dick malfunctions on this album. Was that intentional?
JT: Yeah. Well, we’re grown up. There’s more jokes about the inevitability of death and less songs about dick malfunction.
AS: But we also throw in a lot of pussy in there as well.
JT: There’s some dick, though.
AK: So there’s more pussy, less dick.
AVC: Or more dick, less malfunctioning.
JT: When we were making Turtleneck & Chain, we flirted with the idea of calling it Mo Dick.
AVC: What stopped you?
JT: Just the idea of selling the record.
AS: Sense or censorship.
JT: Yeah. Just that you wouldn’t be able to—
AVC: Sell it at Walmart?
JT: I mean, maybe you should ask Fuck Buttons about that.
AK: Or Anal Cunt, do you know what I mean?
JT: Yeah, ask Anal Cunt.
AK: They’ve sold probably less records because of the title of their band.
JT: Yeah, because of the delicate title.
AVC: Speaking of delicate titles, let’s talk about “3-Way (The Golden Rule).” Did you write that with Lady Gaga in mind?
AS: Yes, because we knew she was going to be on the show that week. That was before we left SNL, and we knew the show was Justin and Gaga. We knew we wanted to do another one with Justin and thought it would be awesome to get her involved just to up the ante, because we had already done two.
AVC: That was right after your last record came out. Did you originally kick around the idea for Turtleneck?
JT: No, we did it that week. We wrote it on Thursday or Wednesday of that week. We had locked the record months in advance, so it had already been done and shipped and everything. Generally, when we’re working at SNL, the way you record people is the week they are there.
AS: Yeah, we didn’t have that idea or anything. I mean, the host comes in on Monday and we go, “What are we gonna do?”
JT: It was just like a normal SNL week.
AS: Which is different than, say, a song like “YOLO” that we had recorded for this album and then heard that Levine was going to be hosting SNL and recorded with him in L.A., shot the video in L.A., and then we went to New York and did Kendrick’s part when we found out that he was going be the musical guest.
AVC: Was working with Adam Levine again what drew you back to SNL?
JT: Lorne just asked.
AS: Yeah, he was like, “Adam’s hosting, but he’s not the musical guest, so it’d be great to have him singing some music on the show if you guys have anything.” And we were like, “Oh, yeah. We do, actually, because we’re working on a record.” So, it just worked out.
JT: Yeah, it was good timing.
AVC: There was a while when we thought that SNL Digital Shorts would be done when you left.
AS: There’s been one since.
AVC: Are there more planned for the future?
JT: We’re always up for that. We love doing them there.
AS: Yeah. We still have a great relationship with the show.
AVC: Have you guys talked about other platforms for the songs, like your own variety TV show or a movie musical?
JT: We’ve talked about it in theory, but not in any real way. We ought to because the number of people that ask us that question. So, it seems like it’s a pretty obvious thing to do.
AS: We love working together and want to be able to do that.
AVC: What’s holding you back?
AS: Just generally a “blagh” feeling. Do you know what I mean?
AVC: Yeah. How would you spell that?
JT: Maybe a lot more A’s?
AK: G-H, G-H, G-H.
AVC: When you write songs, do you sit down in a room together, or do you come up with parts individually first?
AK: It’s much like what you’re experiencing right now. Just the three of us in a room listening to beats and riffing.
JT: Sometimes we get a bunch of beats submitted from producers—both high-level and low-level ones, just whatever we can find. Sometimes we’ll already have an idea like, “Oh, we gotta make a song about this or that.” Then we will either sift through them till we go, “Oh, there, that’s kind of an electronic dance one, let’s go to the producers that do that and try to find one to match.” Or ask a friend who makes whatever genre it is to help and send us things that could match or whatever.
AK: Or if it’s just the guys, then I’ll make a really shitty beat in about five minutes.
JT: Twelve minutes.
AK: Yeah. Okay, to be fair, 12-and-a-half minutes.
AS: Or we will seek inspiration from the beat. Sometimes we’ll just sit in the room like right now, and we’re like, “I really don’t have an idea. We’ll just start going through, and we’ll find something and go, “Oh, that sounds like that kind of song. That would be funny.”
JT: I will say on this album, though, we had a lot of song premises before we even started recording.
AS: Maybe 50 percent. A lot of them we came up with once we got to the studio, but then sat on it until we found the right beat.
AVC: Which songs were you just waiting for the right beat?
JT: I had the idea for “I Run NY” for a really long time.
AK: “Go Kindergarten.”
AS: That’s one we actually made a song that was similar to it in vibe like 10 years ago, just for ourselves.
AS: “Spring Break Anthem” was an idea we had from the last album that we never totally congealed.
JT: And “Where Brooklyn At?” That’s an idea I had for a long time and finally put it on Wack.
AS: “Diaper Money” was just something we were saying to each other. Just like a phrase we were—
JT: “Young dad.”
AS: “Young dad, come get that diaper money!”
AVC: Did “Semicolon” come out of your frustration with bad grammar?
AS: That is very much a hip-hop trope. It was hashtag rap that just was getting a little out of control.
JT: But the reason it wasn’t “Colon” is because if it was “Colon” we thought that everyone would think we were making a shit joke or would be waiting for the shit joke the whole time.
AS: So, “Semicolon” sounded better and then also gets the added little jolt at the end.
AVC: How did Solange end up getting involved?
JT: We had met her at her record-release party because we’re friends with Dev [Hynes], who was her producing partner on her album.
JT: We actually sang on the MacGruber soundtrack with her as well. We thought she was really cool and then got really into her album. We had “Semicolon” written at that point, and there was a big hook in it with my horrible singing as temp. We knew we wanted, preferably, a female voice that could do R&B style.
AS: Someone serious.
JT: Yeah, someone respected. And we had been bumping her album for months and we were like, “This makes sense. Let’s see if she’ll do it.” And she was into it and it was super-fun.
AVC: “YOLO” feels like a rebuttal to songs like “Young, Wild & Free.” Do the initial ideas for songs often come from wanting to respond to something you heard?
AK: I don’t think we’d even heard “Young, Wild & Free” at that point. Had we?
JT: There was definitely a huge flux in pop music—like of the Fun. song.
AK: The Ke$ha song.
AS: Like Ke$ha, Katy Perry, and all these people. And “The Motto,” which is actually one of our favorite songs—we fuckin’ love that song! But the “YOLO” idea had been so co-opted and so homogenized that we felt like it was a little out of control.
JT: The fact that it was on T-shirts in Kmart was like, “Ooh.”
AS: It was just our way of saying, “Hey, maybe a little caution.”
JT: Yeah. Let’s not die too young.
AS: We are young, but we don’t necessarily all have to die tonight.
AK: Save it till next weekend.
AVC: “I Fucked My Aunt.”
AS: What? You did? Or are you talking about the song? It’s not a confession?
AK: I think this is like the one website where the people might actually really get that song.
JT: Because the joke of that song—not to ruin it—is it has nothing to do with “I fucked my aunt.” It has to do with saying something. It’s like a storytelling joke. We’re setting up a premise and never delivering on it and never telling you if we even did really fuck our aunts or how it ever happened.
AS: I mean, we say that we did. We just don’t ever get into any descriptive details.
JT: Or how.
AK: It’s a real broad stroke.
JT: Some things are better left unsaid or un-described.
AVC: Do you always start with the lyrics when you’re writing a song?
AK: It’s always lyrically driven, I would say. Right?
JT: Yeah. But we get inspired by listening to beats.
AVC: What are the things that you listen to on a daily basis? Is it mainly the hip-hop you parody?
AK: We kind of listen to everything. I mean, we listen to indie shit.
AVC: Would you do like a Vampire Weekend parody?
AS: I don’t think we can sing well enough.
JT: We definitely listen to Vampire Weekend.
AS: Yeah, that album’s awesome.
JT: If we could play instruments and sing, we would. But we’d also ask Ezra [Koenig, Vampire Weekend’s frontman] to do it with us because he’s our friend.
AK: But we listen to everything from INXS to Ace Hood to whatever. I mean, we listen to a whole smorgasbord of music.