Jemaine Clement: Gentlemen Broncos
By Fred Topel
Nov 4, 2009
Flight of the Conchords fans know that Wednesday is business time. In their song â€œBusiness Time,â€ Jemaine Clement sings that Wednesday is his weekly love making night, so itâ€™s business time. It follows then that for an interview with Clement on a Wednesday, it is also business time. â€œI suppose so, according to my own rules,â€ he said in a roundtable interview with a group of reporters.
His Flight of the Conchords character might not be much of a stretch. In person, unscripted, Clement carried himself and spoke the same way as his folk singing counterpart. He sat stiffly upright with hands folded and shoulders tight, and spoke in stunted fragments.
He didnâ€™t get any more relaxed in a private, one on one interview either, but we wouldnâ€™t have it any other way. That awkwardness makes sincere, innocent comedy in his songs with bandmate Bret McKenzie and their TV show on HBO. It also works for his new movie, Gentlemen Broncos.
Broncos casts Clement as sci-fi author Ronald Chevalier. Chevalier was a big shot with his Cyborg Harpies books but these days he resorts to plagiarizing work from kids at his writerâ€™s camp. The film from Napoleon Dynamite writer/director Jared Hess combines his quirky real world characters with their bizarre sci-fi creations. Fans of the fictional Ronald Chevalier can find out more about him on the official website the filmmakers set up.
The Conchords also have a new album out, â€œI Told You I Was Freakyâ€ which includes songs like â€œSugarlumps,â€ about their male organs, and â€œHurt Feelings,â€ a sensitive hardcore wrap. This interview contains a lot of inside jokes about Conchords songs so if anything sounds strange, listen to their music to find out what weâ€™re talking about.
Suicide Girls: Did your hair grow out to Ronald Chevalier length or was that a wig?
Jemaine Clement: That was my own hair. I just sit there and someone does it but it take a lot of hairspray and a lot of back combing. Usually you do a screen test or a costume test before you start and at first I got there, the makeup artist was local. They try and hire local people as much as they can and she didnâ€™t have a brush. Firstly, she wouldnâ€™t look at the photo. I had a photo of a guy. I had all these different ideas which I went over with Jared. There were different ideas but I wanted this really big poofy one. I showed her and she said, â€œOkay.â€ She was doing it without a brush. She didnâ€™t have a comb, she didnâ€™t have a brush, with her fingers trying to do it and she wouldnâ€™t look at it either. I remember like, â€œNo, itâ€™s not like that. Youâ€™re not looking at it.â€ â€œNo, I saw it.â€ She got fired for a different reason. She insulted one of the actresses apparently on the same day. She got fired. If youâ€™re a hair stylist, youâ€™ve got to at least have a comb.
SG:Is Chevalierâ€™s wardrobe comfortable?
JC:Well, itâ€™s mostly comfortable but the jeans were very, very high so they could get uncomfortable at times.
SG:With the Chevalier websites providing more Chevalier beyond the movie, how long will you continue playing Chevalier?
JC:Well, I donâ€™t really continue doing it. I did a thing in Austin and I think I might introduce the film tonight as Chevalier but itâ€™s not really my character. Itâ€™s Jared and Jerusha [Hess]â€™s character so I canâ€™t take it and have his own life without them.
SG:Are there musicians as pretentious as Chevalier is as an author?
JC:Iâ€™m sure there are. Iâ€™m sure there are.
SG:That youâ€™ve encountered?
JC:Yeah, I knew that you were getting at that. Well, I started off doing theater and by that I mean putting on ridiculous shows with my friends with very little money. I meet people all the time that are just awful, just awful and just opinions of solid steel, just unchangeable.
SG:Have you been looking to have a career outside the Flight of the Conchords?
JC:We kind of started the Conchords as something else to do while we were doing other jobs, so it was more the other way around. The Flight of the Conchords was just an outlet for something fun to do.
SG:Well, youâ€™ve been in several movies now. Are you more famous than Bret?
JC:I don't know. Bretâ€™s got a different interest really to me. He mostly does music. We split up and I usually go and do comedy and he goes and plays gigs. He started a massive ukulele band. Almost every member plays ukulele and they do covers. Theyâ€™re really successful in New Zealand. They travel around and heâ€™s also in this reggae band which is one of New Zealandâ€™s biggest bands actually. They play these big gigs and he plays with them too. So thatâ€™s what he does. He had a solo album and heâ€™s probably writing some more music.
SG:I will have to check out his solo album.
JC:Yeah, check it out. Itâ€™s not a comedy album though. Itâ€™s dance. Itâ€™s about dancing.
SG:My favorite Conchords song is â€œMuthaâ€™uckasâ€ because I also have too many muthaâ€™uckaâ€™s â€˜uckinâ€™ with my shiâ€™.
JC:Yeah, who doesnâ€™t?
SG:What can we do about all these muthaâ€™uckas â€˜uckinâ€™ with our shiâ€™?
JC:â€˜Uck them up.
SG:Well, thatâ€™s simple.
JC:Yeah, thatâ€™s all I can say.
SG:It was also great how you covered every era of David Bowie, including Labyrinth. Were you a big Labyrinth fan?
JC:Yeah, I was actually. I remember when that movie came out in my town. The line was right around the block. Even the line to the movie was exciting. It was just the biggest line youâ€™d ever seen. At that time, it was probably one of the biggest groups of people Iâ€™d ever seen all together, were lining up for Labyrinth.
SG:Were all movies like that in New Zealand?
JC:No, I don't know why. I guess because of Bowie. I guess there was a lot of hype around that movie.
SG:Is â€œSugarlumpsâ€ your answer to Fergieâ€™s humps?
JC:Yeah, and Kelisâ€™s milkshake and a few other things. I thought it was time men objectified themselves.
SG:What was the idea behind a sensitive rap about hurt feelings?
JC:Usually the ideas for the song come first so a song about hurt feelings. Because our characters in the show think of themselves as rappers even though theyâ€™re pretty far from it, theyâ€™re pretty serious about rap.
SG:Have you ever recorded a proper version of â€œWho Likes to Rock the Party?â€
JC:No, but I remember the first time that we did it live. I mean, the first time was all right but then the next time we did it, we used to do it like this: One of us would go, â€œMmph, kjj, oof, who like to rock the party, kshh, who likes to rock the party?â€ We were trying to do a dance tune but with no instruments. We just bombed, but we brought it back to life for the show.
SG:When is the robot uprising?
JC:Yeah, itâ€™s late. Itâ€™s late. Itâ€™s nine years late. Robots are surprisingly badly organized.
SG:Do your love songs actually woo women?
JC:Once someone came up to me and told me that she had sex listening to our live album and she thanked me. So I don't know, I guess.
SG:Iâ€™m wondering if I tell a woman she could be a waitress or a part time model, would that work?
JC:Try it. Iâ€™d love to know.
SG:Do you start with really good music and then think of words, or do you start with funny words and then add music to make it work?
JC:I think weâ€™ve done every approach that you can do. Even more than that, sometimes we think of a character and we think of a song as a character. Say, like the song we did, â€œBus Driver Song,â€ itâ€™s about this bus driver who was driving around the country. Thatâ€™s not in the show so itâ€™s not as well known. Yeah, sometimes itâ€™s a tune. Definitely when we first started it was always the tune. Weâ€™d make up words and sometimes they were funny and weâ€™d try and add more jokes and stuff. So it definitely began like that but usually now it starts with the idea of the song.
SG:Why does so much music take itself so seriously?
JC:Man, once I was doing this interview in Ireland and it was quite bad because it was over the phone, like on a cell phone. We were playing some sh*tty gig and we were trying to promote it. There was a serious musician on the show so the DJ was asking me, talking about funny music, â€œSo you do funny songs?â€ And then the serious musician was really offended. He hadnâ€™t heard any of our stuff but heâ€™s like, â€œWhy are you hiding behind [humor]? Do you not have emotions?â€ Really accusatory. I don't know why theyâ€™re like that. Also, a lot of our songs actually do come from serious things. Some of our breakup songs have come from breakups. We just think of it like that. We play in comedy clubs so weâ€™ll talk about real breakups but weâ€™ll disguise it. I donâ€™t even know if I could do that myself, actually go and put my heart out there.
SG:In a way, you can relate more to the real emotions of funny songs. â€œIâ€™m Not Cryingâ€ is really about pretending youâ€™re not sad.
JC:Thereâ€™s so much interpretation open to music anyway. A lot of people think Leonard Cohen is the most depressing singer but heâ€™s one of my favorite singers. No, my favorite singer Iâ€™ll say, and I find a lot of his lines really hilarious and clever and funny. But other people donâ€™t connect to them like that.
SG:Is there style the Conchords havenâ€™t done yet? Thereâ€™s been rock, techno, hip hop
JC:Well, for all the talk of folk, we hardly ever do folk. So maybe itâ€™s time to do some folk. Bret, when he does his own music, itâ€™s as I said dance music so he loves high production and stuff like that, always adding instruments. If I was more in charge, because Bretâ€™s more in charge of that side of it, if I was more in charge it would be more like a folk album.
SG:â€œIf Youâ€™re Into Itâ€ is folk, right?
JC:I guess so, in the instrumentation anyway.
SG:Youâ€™ve said you donâ€™t want to do a third season of the HBO show because of the high demand to write scripts, write music and perform them both. But, hasnâ€™t the show allowed your music to thrive more than it ever would have without that exposure?
JC:Yeah, definitely. Yup, but I mean, usually we used to write one show a year maybe. Iâ€™m talking about a live show so it was like an hourâ€™s worth of songs. It would take about a month, but itâ€™s quite hard to do and then weâ€™d play those songs for years along with other songs that we developed. If we had a whole lot of new songs ready that we loved, then we might go and make a show or a movie or something.
SG:Did the show inspire the songs or did the songs inspire plots for the show?
JC:Mostly in the first season we had the songs first, so sometimes weâ€™d think of a storyline to incorporate the song like the Bowie one. We had the Bowie song so we thought of a storyline to incorporate Bowie. But still, we would just write storylines and see if we could fit [the songs] in. Sometimes they worked really well, just coincidentally, and sometimes they didnâ€™t. Sometimes they seemed very forced. Hopefully people laughed at that.
SG:Itâ€™s a musical. You donâ€™t care what the reason is for breaking into song.
JC:Thatâ€™s right, you donâ€™t care. We care, but who knows? Perhaps we take it too seriously ourselves.
SG:What happened to the R in your name?
JC:When my mom had me, she was 17 and it was in the mid â€˜70s at the height of Jackson 5 fever. I think she may have even been to a Jackson 5 concert sometime before she knew she was pregnant with me. So I was kind of named after Jermaine Jackson and my parents didnâ€™t want me to be called Jerm in school, so they took the R out. In New Zealand you donâ€™t really say your Rs.
SG:That is really thoughtful of them. Most parents donâ€™t have that foresight.
JC:I think you do think about that. I think most people do think about it but they were so young, they were just out of school and stuff.
SG:Can I be the second Flight of the Conchords fan?
JC:Yep, sign up.
SG:Is the sincerity of some of your ridiculous lines an important part of the humor?
JC:Yeah, yeah, thatâ€™s the fun part about doing it as well. Itâ€™s hard not to ham it up. Itâ€™s hard to resist.
SG:You often end up being the response guy in the song. Is that a role you take on purpose?
JC:Yeah, well, â€œIf Youâ€™re Into It,â€ I wrote that one so I gave myself all the jokes. I definitely did that one on purpose, gave myself all the funny lines.
Gentlemen Broncos is now playing and â€œI Told You I Was Freakyâ€ is available in stores and online now.