In Pop Shop, we support the dying art of physical shopping by visiting independent record and bookstores with some of our favorite actors, writers, directors, and musicians. This week, we met Reggie Watts at Rockaway Records in L.A.
The shopper: Reggie Watts makes a grand entrance, even when he’s trying to be inconspicuous. The normally reserved and cool staff and clientele at Rockaway Records (think High Fidelity) suddenly titter and smile when Reggie and his hair walk in the door. Fans follow him around, and he graciously smiles and takes pictures with the staff. The former sidekick/one-man band on Comedy Bang! Bang! has recently transferred duties to The Late Late Show with James Corden, bringing his eccentricities, musical improvisation, and everyman charm along for the ride. We shopped with Reggie as he went crate digging and DVD shopping.
Reggie Watts: All of this is really good. “Playing By The Rules” is great. This whole album is awesome. I was in a cover band called Hit Explosion, which was a ’70s disco cover band in Seattle in the ’90s, and I remember just becoming totally infatuated with that song and the album. I would listen to it after we would play a gig. It would be late at night, like 2 a.m., and reeking of smoke because smoking was still allowed. I remember driving my car to the water, being by myself, and just listening to this album and looking out over the water.
The A.V. Club: With someone with such a distinctive voice as McDonald, were you more attracted to the rhythms and the beats?
RW: All of it. I just think he was this really cool, soulful cat, and the musicianship on the albums was absolutely incredible. As a songwriter, I liked his voice. It’s really beautiful. The closest person that sounds like him is Billy Ocean. It’s just him and Billy Ocean. They’re the only ones who possess that voice.
AVC: Daryl Hall?
RW: He’s got a higher register. [Sings “You Make My Dreams Come True.”] He was this blue-eyed soul guy, and that whole blue-eyed soul movement that Daryl Hall was a part of.
AVC: I just watched Rock Icons on VH1 with Daryl Hall, and he got so much shit for the blue-eyed soul thing.
RW: For him it was just music, but of course it’s going to be a big deal. They were writing hits and he looked like this blond, big-haired, skinny white dude. Michael McDonald came from The Doobie Brothers, who I love [Sings “Black Water”]. They were a great band, but they were weirdly divided. You could hear McDonald, when he would sing, “Takin’ It To The Streets,” you could hear that he was more into R&B and soul, while the rest of the band was more into folk and country. It was funny to see them divided that way, and of course it was inevitable that Michael McDonald would have a solo career. He just kills it. He did stuff with Kenny Loggins. [Sings “What A Fool Believes.”] They’re badass singer-songwriters with killer voices, and McDonald just put me in a cool space. I was into jazz and musicianship back then, and really everybody on the record is incredible. I love this album.
AVC: This doesn’t have “Dead Man’s Party,” so I’m at a loss.
RW: This one has [Sings “This is my private life, my private life!”]. It’s so good.
AVC: Is this a lesser canon Oingo Boingo record?
RW: I think so. This is 1982, so it’s an early record. Elfman is a crazy guy. There’s obviously something manic in his music, but this album really kind of pulls of this manic circus, schizophrenic, talking about things that you really shouldn’t be talking about in your music.
AVC: Have you been inspired by his scores?
RW: I liked him in the beginning, now every time I hear it, it sounds the same. It’s all very circus-y. But I really loved Oingo Boingo. I’m 43, so there ya go.
RW: I was looking for Bauhaus, but I love Love And Rockets because it was an offshoot from Bauhaus. Peter Murphy went solo, and we had Love And Rockets.
AVC: Were you into that “darkwave” scene, if you want to call it that?
RW: That’s a pretty accurate title. They did some incredible things. “No New Tales To Tell” has this weird, participatory chanting chorus. It’s a weird mix of things. It’s this songwriting that’s kind of dark and brooding, and “No New Tale To Tell” is this triumphant anthem. It’s a departure from Bauhaus, which was kind of droning, driving, and dark. Love And Rockets is a little bit lighter and more experimental. They kind of moved into a pop zone but maintained their voice.
AVC: It reminds me a bit of Public Image, Ltd.
RW: PIL did a great job of taking world music, African rhythms, and fret-less bass playing and married it with Lydon’s monotone, shouting, almost-annoying voice. But what a badass. I love Public Image, Ltd. With Love And Rockets, I just really dig their vibe. They occupy a really interesting world, which is kind of dreamy and distant but pokes through into a celebratory vibe.
AVC: Are you a sci-fi guy?
RW: I love sci-fi. It’s my fave.
AVC: When did you discover Blade Runner?
RW: I was 10 when it came out, and I was definitely stoked about it. The imagery from it is crazy iconic. I don’t really remember when I first saw the whole movie, but probably when I was a teenager. I was immediately interested in it. It’s a very sexy, future noir.
AVC: Do you think any sci-fi film has topped it?
RW: With Blade Runner, the whole construct was based off of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? This film dealt with the existential question of artificial intelligence, synthetic beings and do they have autonomy? Are they in fact their own being or just reactionary programs that mimic human constructs? Can you fall in love with a synthetic being or replicant? It’s complicated. It’s an important movie for the future, when the line between humanity and machines are blurred, does our relationship to them actually mean something or are we projecting humanity onto machines? I also love the whole futuristic landscape of dark, rainy neon, the mix of Eastern and Western cultures and the beautiful shots of the flying cars.
AVC: Plus Rutger Hauer is so cool.
RW: “Time to die.”
AVC: Ex Machina was pretty cool.
RW: Ex Machina was ill. It’s kind of like a smaller paradigm. It deals with the same thing and it’s really amazing, but it’s just not as grand.
AVC: It’s like a little microcosm.
RW: It’s almost like a prequel, like Blade Runner 40 years before.
AVC: Speaking of replicants, well, I don’t know what Kelly LeBrock is exactly, but it’s the embodiment of a teenager’s fantasy of sexuality. It’s also just a funny movie, but again, we have a non-human.
RW: The idea of science being able to conjure up the dream girl that we’ve always wanted, which is heavily based on Frankenstein. T’he joke is they make this beautiful woman who ends up being very smart, because they made her that way. It turns out she also has a heart. She’s a virtual or artificial intelligence, but she’s an actual being as well. It’s a weird one, because it’s somewhere between magic and science.
AVC: Bill Paxton is so funny as Chet.
RW: So good in it. [Imitates Chet laugh.] It just engaged every fantasy because it was about nerds, these really wimpy, weirdo nerds. One is egotistically charged, undeservedly so, and the other one is a doubter. It was also the ’80s, so the idea of being rich was crucial.
AVC: You have Robert Downey Jr. as the embodiment of the rich dickhead.
RW: Yeah, they’re driving a Porsche 944, and as a kid I wanted that Porsche.
AVC: Did you grow up middle class?
RW: My mom was a pretty hard worker. She worked her ass off, but I’d say we were middle class. I had a car in high school, so I loved the idea that I could mimic this lifestyle.
AVC: Were you a high school nerd?
RW: I don’t know what I was. At first I was anonymous, then I was a geeky, nerdy kind of kid, but I played football for a while, but that was just more of a social experiment. I was in the student union and student government, AP art, orchestra. I was just kind of my own thing.
AVC: So these movies were just escapist fantasies?
RW: No! I was like, “How can I do that?” I wanted to live the lives of the John Hughes movies. The fantasy of being the underdog, the Duckie, who I identified with the most. was always wanting a beautiful woman as a nerdy underdog.
AVC: Fighting the good fight.
RW: Fighting the good fight, having some fun and getting over the popular kids and ending up with the truly beautiful woman, the woman who is smart, cool, and compassionate, as opposed to just the popular girl.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
AVC: These are your friends essentially, right?
RW: Well, now they are to an extent. We know each other and have great conversations, but that cast is ridiculous. David Hyde Pierce…
AVC: “Oh, fuck my cock!”
RW: [Laughs.] That’s such a funny line. And that thing with his trowel, where it just flies off.
AVC: There’s so much glass breaking.
RW: [Laughs.] Oh God, I know. It was cold and rainy where they filmed it in upstate New York, and they’re all wearing super short shorts. It’s so incredible, and really mixes in all the elements of ’80s movies in one place. Michael Showalter is so ridiculous. I’m of course looking forward to the new Wet Hot show they’re doing. It’s amazing, because I think they got everybody back on board. When it came out I was freaking the fuck out. I fell in love with that Stella humor, thinking, ”This is exactly the type of humor I want to be doing.” Super stupid, smart humor. I fell in love with that, and then I saw Wet Hot in the theater seven times, even though it was only in theaters for like three weeks. The movie reignited my passion for wanting to make stupid comedy videos.
AVC: How long have you been making short films?
RW: I always did music, but music is an easier thing for me. Making videos and doing comedy things was more of a challenge, so I was more interested in that. Music is a little bit more automatic. Getting people together to film something is a lot of coordination. I was always wanting to do it, and when cell-phone cameras came along, and I met some friends with some gear who were burgeoning filmmakers, and we made a bunch of stuff. I love filming that stuff and coming up with really stupid shit.
AVC: So you never wanted to play by the rules? You never wanted to be a “Hollywood guy?”
RW: No, that’s never been the idea. I just want to be able to do, what I want to do, whenever I want to do it. That was really the goal, which was to fuck around and create stuff that I think people would find hilarious or cool. The path, wherever it leads me, is where it leads me. The most important thing is to keep creating and following my inklings as they come into being and acting on them.
AVC: What is the antithetical musical genre or film for you?
RW: Music is a tough one. Something that I really don’t like is new country. It’s like pop music with a singer that has a slight Southern accent.
AVC: It’s way overproduced.
RW: It’s just pop music with a person who has an accent; adds a pedal steel, violin and a few sprinkles of Westernism in it; and suddenly it’s a country-western song. It’s terrible. I love old country. It’s essentially just folk music, but Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton for the most part. She kind of crossed over into pop back in the day, but was always country. There are so many amazing country artists that did crossover a little bit, but Johnny Cash is quoted in an interview, where they were talking about new country back in the ’70s, and he’s like, “I don’t recognize it. I don’t consider it country.” That’s kind of how I feel when people say they’re a country star. It doesn’t mean anything. That bothers me.
AVC: Does your head work the same way, whether you’re improvising music or comedy?
RW: I’m just listening for something out in the ether that wants to come into being. It’s really like channeling something. I might have an idea for a beat kind of, but I just basically start and that informs the next thing. It’s really just about listening to what wants to exist.
AVC: You and Scott Aukerman share a penchant for unique sweaters. Is your fashion sense just, “Fuck it”?
RW: I enjoy a good sweater. Right now I’m wearing a fishing sweater that a fan gave to me onstage. I don’t think too much about it. I wear the same pants, same shirt and same shoes every day. I learned it from the greats, like Einstein. It’s a uniform essentially. The only thing that varies is the sweater or what my T-shirt says.
AVC: How does that meld with The Late Late Show brass? Were you ever told to tone down or class up your style?
RW: For the show, I purposefully try and make it as easy as possible. It’s just a button-up shirt and a jacket. That’s the only difference. When I’m done I just take off the jacket and shirt. I have my T-shirt underneath it, put my suspenders back on, and I’m out the door. They initially wanted me to wear suits, and I was like, “Fuck that.” They’re very nice people, but I look at all the other late night bands, like The Roots, and they’re all super dressed up. I think there’s enough of that and I’m just not into it. I’m not into looking crisp. That’s not how I dress or who I am. The band isn’t like that either. I told them that I wanted it to be believable, and not stuff you would wear on a Sunday afternoon trying to impress your grandma. I thought, “Let’s just be casual but we’ll be weird.”
AVC: The hair and the beard is your image, so they didn’t have a problem with that?
RW: They wanted all of it. They wanted the chaos.