Of Ukuleles, Tolkien, Garfunkel and Bond: A Chat With Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords
Brian Tamborello McKenzie (front, with Clement) rides the folk train
October is Folktober for fans of New Zealand's fourth most popular digi-folk parodists, the mighty Flight of the Conchords; following the second season of their acclaimed eponymous HBO show, which bagged several Emmy nominations including one for Best Comedy Series, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement last week unleashed I Told You I Was Freaky, a collection of tracks from their second season plus some classic nuggets that longtime fans will recognize, busting at the seams with their trademark brand of folked-up funk and terrifically clever lyrics. (It's impossible to overstate the anthemic genius of "Too Many Dicks On the Dance Floor," surely the greatest protest song against being cock-blocked while clubbing since... well, ever.)
We spoke with McKenzie via phone from New Zealand (Clement, presumably, is off doing press for his starring role in Gentlemen Broncos, which opens Friday), to discuss, among other things, the album, that oft-rumored third series of the show, and the thrill of getting one of your idols to do a role you wrote especially for him.
So you've been home for a bit, you recently reunited with your friends in the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra and did some shows.
They were a blast, yeah I did a handful of gigs with the Ukulele Orchestra. I was pretty rusty, there was a little bit of miming involved. I dropped some Randy Newman on the punters.
How did that go down?
Some of the shorter people in the audience were slightly offended. They didn't catch the bridge... [in "Short People,"] he wins back the short people with the bridge, he tries to emphasize that it's ironic just to make sure people understand a little.
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, with Bret McKenzie, performing Outkast's "Hey Ya!" in 2006:
Guess it's all about the delivery. Surely the ukulele helps, too, it's all about the ukelele.
It's all about the ukulele. My current mantra is "Ukes, Not Nukes."
Here's a burning question about the new Conchords album for the geezers out there...
Do it, get it off your chest.
Yeah, that was an inspiration point. We love that album... cover. I don't know the album very well...but hasn't it got, it's got [the track] "Summer Breeze" on it, right?
It does indeed.
Yeah, I love that song. So yeah, you busted us.
Looking at the tracklist for the album, it does play in large part as a soundtrack for the second season of the show, but there's still a wealth of material going back a long way to your early days as a group. "Petrov, Yelyena and Me" is one of your very first tracks.
Yeah, that's a really old song. That was back in the day when we only knew three chords... There's still a few [older] songs, but many of them are completely unusable. A few songs that we couldn't get into the TV show, they didn't fit the format. There's one called "Stana" that's sort of a Western epic, but it requires... the characters in the song are one man and his doppleganger, and they end up becoming lovers. Unless we animated it, it didn't really fit into the Lower East Side world of the show. If we do another album, I think we'll have to start fresh pretty much and come up with a whole bunch of new songs.