Nerf Herder
by Interviews

Parry Gripp has had an interesting musical life, from nerd punker in Nerf Herder to YouTube viral video wizard to music writer for children's cartoons. Nerf Herder released Rockingham this spring, so staff writer and Punknews podcast producer Greg Simpson gave Gripp a call to chat about it and to discuss how to embrace your inner nerd-dom.

Me and my friends used to listen to the first Nerf Herder record going out skateboarding. We loved it because while we were skaters and liked punk, we were also band nerds and proud to be nerds. We were big into the nerdy, embarrassment-filled angle you guys took on what people now might call “Ramonescore.” When you look back on the early Nerf Herder stuff, what do you think of the songs? Are you proud of them or are you embarrassed at all, like a lot of people are of their old stuff?

I’m proud of them. It was so long ago, it’s almost like listening to someone else’s band. I’m like, “Hey that guy’s pretty good! He wrote some good songs!” Technically, we were really just goofing around, and the whole thing is nuts that we got anywhere with it. For what we were trying to do, it’s amazing. Compared to The Beatles or something, I’d be like “Oh, this is terrible,” but for guys goofing around in a garage it’s pretty good.

I always loved the picture on the back of the My Records version of the first album with just the trio in a garage, you’re holding the mic…

Yeah, in our practice space! I don’t know if it made the major label release. It should have, because it reinforced what the whole thing was.

It’s like with Weezer when they reissued the Blue album and it has that big fold-out showing their practice space from back when they started. To link it all to the new album, Rockingham, “We Opened For Weezer” is my favorite song. Can you give me a little insight into what it was like opening for Weezer back in the day?

The song lays it out in that it was surprising to us to be opening for Weezer when a few months before that it seemed like something that was unfathomable. Steve, our drummer, and I saw Weezer… I think it was ‘94… at our friend’s birthday party and we just loved them! Nerf Herder was kinda inspired by seeing Weezer at that one show. Getting to open for them just seemed like this crazy thing because we were obsessed with them. We tried to sound like them as much as we could but because we were not that skilled we sounded more like the Ramones or something. It was nuts. We were just guys in our garage and then next thing you know we’re on this tour with guys who we loved.

And it was intentional that you were making it sound kind of like a Weezer song, with the quiet, laid back verses and loud choruses?

Oh yeah! Absolutely. We have that in our sound anyway, and I think if you listen to our records you might think “oh they’re trying to sound like Weezer” and we’re not really trying to, you just sometimes sound like what you like.

The lineage of regular guys rocking out is there: Cheap Trick, the Cars, Weezer, and you guys. I love that. So, to go backwards again, how did you guys get hooked up with Joey Cape when he wanted to put out your debut for his label My Records?

We’re all from Santa Barbara, a small town, and everyone knows each other. He couldn’t help but know who we were. He started Mr Records with Marko DeSantis from Sugarcult and he told Joey you should do this Nerf Herder band’s record because they’re here in town and they have all these songs… so it was just friends helping each other out.

I love the first record, and it’s definitely the fuzziest. As a gear nerd, can I ask what were you using for distortion on the album? There’s even bass fuzz. What were you using for that?

The guitar sound was kinda strange. It was a modified Fender Twin [amp] that I still have, that someone had installed a fuzz circuit in. Ryan Green, who recorded the record, figured out a good sound with it. I thought it was really terrible sounding but he got it sounding good. After that record we switched to standard issue Marshalls. Then the bass I think was some pedal called a “Grunge” pedal or something. I think it might have been a DOD Grunge pedal is what Charlie was using.

Skipping to How to Meet Girls, the song “5000 Ways to Die” is super dark. When I was younger I just saw you guys as funny and must have brushed off the darker stuff. To me it seems similar to a lot of comedians who brush off darker feelings through jokes. Would you agree with that? That you deal with painful things through comedy?

I think that’s absolutely true. If you look at a song like “Sorry”. I used to joke that i’d write a song that’s some sort of suicidal plea. The inspiration is a depressing thing, but you make it funny to make it tolerable.

I feel like when you got to American Cheese and My E.P. and your song on Short Music For Short People, you seemed to ratchet up the sexual and gross nature of the songs. I always thought that was funny because you were getting older yet were getting more immature. Explain!

Well, that was the really result of touring with The Bloodhound Gang. It was just being around those guys. They were nuts. But also, when we recorded the first record we were playing in bars and everyone was over 21. After the record we were touring a while and we were like, “everyone that is coming to see us is like 14 or 15, kids in high school” and I think it came out of that maybe. In retrospect, I sometimes get embarrassed of that stuff, but I also think it’s kind of funny. But probably not something I’d put on my resume when I’m working for Disney and stuff. [laughs]

How much do you amp up your lyrics to make them funny? Or is there any truth at all to these stories from your youth? “Feeling Bad” [from How to Meet Girls] comes to mind especially…

Yeah, that’s totally fictional. As person, I’m like an accountant or something. I don’t do that kind of stuff. [laughs]

Do you ever think “I’m making too many pop culture references?” Like, “Will this not make sense in 10 years?”

When we make pop culture references, they are usually already old, like Mr. Belvidere [in “Welcome to My World” off of 2002’s American Cheese]. I think there are less pop culture references on the new record, which is not intentional, but I never think that way, like, “people will be listening to this record in ten years!”

In 2005, you put out your first solo record, For Those About to Shop We Salute You. It seems like you approached it like jingles. How did that idea come to you?

I was just goofing around. At that point, Nerf Herder was done. It was just something to do, and I would put them up on my website for free. When I had enough songs I thought, “this would be a funny record.” It’s a really strange thing but it changed my life in a significant way because that led to me doing this YouTube stuff which led to a career.

My favorite songs are the breakfast food ones. The ones about dipping. [laughs]

Those ones started with my friend Lisa Kline, who contacted me saying “there’s this waffle company and they need a song.” So “Do You Like Waffles?” was the first thing I thought of and it was funny and it sort of took on a life of his own. This guy did some animation for it and it was really popular. I just thought it was fun, and that I’d try goofing around with this kind of stuff.

One of my favorite videos you made in the time after that record was the hamster eating popcorn on a piano. Was that one of the more popular ones?

It was very popular, and so popular actually that a couple years ago after the Academy Awards there was a Jimmy Kimmel show with actors reenacting YouTube videos and Christoph Waltz played the hamster as they played that song. It was crazy. That song was also in Ricky Gervais’ show Derek where Derek says it’s his favorite video. When I did it I thought it would get a couple thousand views, and it is dumb, but it went on and had a longer life than I ever imagined.

You were right on the cusp of what people call “viral videos” now. What year was that?

It was 2008. In 2008 I had a bunch of videos that were very popular but if I had those videos today they would be like 100-million-view videos. Back then they would be like the most popular video on YouTube for a day or something, which is now unfathomable. But yeah it was pretty early on for that stuff.

You’re getting royalties when it’s on Jimmy Kimmel or on Ricky Gervais’ show, right?

Sure, and that’s not very much money, but what happened with that was that I started getting work doing music for advertisements and television, which led to my career now which is mainly writing music for kid’s TV and ads.

What are some of the shows you’ve written for?

My main job now is I write the music for the Disney show The 7D, which is short for The Seven Dwarves. That’s on Disney XD and it was created by the guy who created Animaniacs, Tom Ruegger. I write all the music for that, and if anyone’s singing on the show, like if a frog’s singing, sometime’s that me being the singing frog. And I sing the theme song. We were nominated for two Emmy’s for two songs on the show, and we didn’t win but I got to go to The Emmys which was exciting. I’ve also done things for Disney Jr. There was a thing called the DJ Shuffle and I did a song for that. I did the theme song for Ben Ten Omniverse, I did the theme to Marvel Superhero Squad, some stuff like that. And there’s going to be a show called Storybots which is going to be on Netflix and I did a lot of music for that.

It reminds me a lot of Mark Mothersbaugh’s career, and I would imagine you’re a Devo fan. Would that be accurate?

Oh, a huge fan. He’s such a hero of mine. He’s a super talented guy, and I feel very lucky to be compared to him. He’s a remarkable guy.

Do you know the guy from the Aquabats and the Yo Gabba Gabba crew? Are you down with them?

We played with the Aquabats once, and I’m very familiar with them obviously because Christian Jacobs does a lot of stuff for TV, but I don’t know those guys at all. I’m a fan.

So the the new Nerf Herder record is out, and I was looking for tour dates online and only found a couple. Will there be more?

Well, this record is kind of something we did for friends, like a hobby, so any touring is something we’re going to base around places we want to go. And some of us have jobs where we can’t just split for a couple weeks. I think we’re playing DragonCon in Atlanta in August, but other than that… we’d really like to play Riot Fest but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

What was the process writing the new record, now that you’re dedicating all this time to your career and Nerf Herder is more like a hobby?

It’s funny. Us guys just get along really well and thought, we should make another record and so we did a pledge thing to self-fund it. It was hard to find the time to get together to work on songs and I was burned out from having to write all these songs for this Disney show and so I was having trouble coming up with stuff. Also I felt like I kind of lost my “Nerf Herder voice.” So we hired this guy Angus Cooke, who has worked on every Lagwagon record, the Ataris, all the Nerf Herder records… and I knew he could help me. He was like a policeman, like, “No, that doesn’t sound like you,” or “Yup, that sounds like you.” And he would go over lyrics and vocal tones with me, and he encouraged me so much and I think it turned out a really fun record. It would have been a much worse record if he hadn’t had that input. He’s a remarkable musician and super nice guy.

Back on an episode of the Punknews Podcast we were talking about “The Girl Who Listened to Rush” and then I played “Van Halen” off of your debut, tying it in as another song you wrote about a big rock band. Then when I got the full album, I realized you reference that song in the end of “We Opened for Weezer” with the ”might as well jump” part. It seemed like you’re like The Simpsons, where you guys have been around long enough that you can reference yourself. Was there a particular reason for that reference to pop up? Was “Van Halen” your closer on that tour with Weezer?

I think that it probably wasn’t. It definitely would have been one of the last songs, but I think we usually did “Golf Shirt” last because it was dramatic and more of a statement about who we were, but “Van Halen” was a song people liked. Kind of the hit, or semi-hit type song.

You’ve got some super-current references on the new album. Like Ghostbusters III. That movie isn’t even out yet. Was that one of the last songs written for the record?

That was actually one of the first. Now that the Ghostbusters movie is coming out it isn’t exactly a great reference because we make it seem like the movie is never going to come out and now it’s coming out. It doesn’t make sense really. [laughs]

And then you’ve got “I’m the Droid You’re Looking For,” with the new Star Wars movie coming out not too long ago. With your band name being a Star Wars reference, do you think you’ve gotten many fans just based on your name?

When we started out back in the old days, people didn’t know that word very much. A few people come up and say “oh your name is from Star Wars,” but most people didn’t get the reference. Now it seems everyone knows it. I think that nerd culture was not that out in the open back then.

Have you guys ever pitched a song to be in “Big Bang Theory”? It would totally make sense.

We haven’t and that seems unfathomable to me that they’d be interested in us.

You’ve got TV hookups now! [laughs]

Well, Disney… it’s a distant hook up. [laughs] In our song, “At the Con,” it’s about how we played DragonCon a couple years ago. It’s about how crazy and fun that was. And I think that song is a progression for us because in the old days if we sang a song like that we’d have to make it self-deprecating like, “we couldn’t date a girl because we were going to this Con,” but this is an out-and-out celebration of that stuff. So it’s almost like a coming out of the darkness and being able to sing about that stuff without being ironic about it.

Yeah. It’s your happiest record, I would say.

Oh good! That’s Angus Cooke.

Congrats on the record, I think it’s great.

Thank you very much. I’m glad you’re liking it and thanks for interviewing me. When we were doing the record, it didn’t occur to me that people would actually like it. [laughs] It’s really nice to have done this a long time, and to come back and have people still be interested.