- 'SNL' star Andy Samberg and two friends started The Lonely Island
- They have attracted several stars to appear on their tunes
- Some of the celebs had to Skype their performance
The Lonely Island isn't quite so lonely these days.
Even though its members -- Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer -- are often apart because they live on different coasts, they're still united in the studio as well as a series of Wack Wednesday videos -- seriously, how many artists drop a video for just about every song on the album anymore? They also have a bevy of guest stars to keep them company on the tracks, in the clips, and in televised performances (check out Alanis Morissette covering Solange's part on "Semicolon" -- which is, as they say, ironic).
The band's latest release, "The Wack Album," out this week, features not only Robyn ("Go Kindergarten," with Paul Rudd and Diddy weighing in on the video) and Pharrell ("Hugs"), but also Hugh Jackman and Kristen Wiig ("You Got the Look") and Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong ("I Run NYC"). And that's not counting the guest stars who turned out for the video of "Spring Break Anthem," in which Zack Galifanakis, James Franco, and Ed Norton gamely step up and make a gay marriage statement with their Lonely Island lovers.
And yet, the guys still lament not being able to fit more friends in. But as Samberg said, laughing, "There's only so many spots on one fake rap album!" And there was one icon he really wanted. "Sheila E. would be the s**t," he enthused. "I saw her at the Forum, and she was awesome. She's on the wish list."
The group's previous albums, "Incredibad" and "Turtleneck & Chain," were enriched by access to "Saturday Night Live" guest stars. These days, scheduling is a bit trickier. "When we made albums in the past," Samberg said, "it wasn't always because someone was on the show when we asked them, but in their minds, they were like, 'There's a chance this is for the show.' People came to 'SNL,' and we plugged them into songs."
"They just walked into our office," Schaffer said, "and it was easier to get everything done. Now we may get a yes just as fast, but there's logistics to consider: 'OK, but where are you?'"
So for the new album, some participants were recorded in New York (such as Solange and Kendrick Lamar, who guests on "YOLO" with Adam Levine), some in Los Angeles (Pharrell and Too Short, who guests on "The Compliments"), and some on Skype. Jackman, who was in the middle of doing press for a film, accommodated the guys during his promotional junket.
"We rented a room adjacent to the hotel room he was doing it in, and we had an engineer there, and I was on Skype," Samberg said. "He just walked in, and I watched him record for a good 45 minutes to an hour. He did a bunch of great takes, and then he asked if there was anything else I needed -- and there was not. It was great. It was Jean Valjean meets Cameo."
How comfortable the guests get with being raunchy or silly also plays a part in the recording, Schaffer said. "We're very conscious of the different personalities, if someone doesn't want to curse as much, or if someone doesn't want to play with their image too much," he said. "Hugh Jackman was very comfortable, but sometimes people will be like, 'Yeah, I'm not that comfortable.' It helps to be given parameters."
Sometimes a guest's point of view may shift a bit. Michael Bolton, for instance, at first asked the group to give him something "even crazier" than what they originally came up with for "Jack Sparrow." Then he passed on that version, deciding it had become "too filthy." But later, he added his own F-words to a separate digital short.
"We were like, 'Dude! Totally!'" Taccone said. "And now there's a Michael Bolton character that only exists in the world of our videos," Samberg said.
To make it easier on some guests, Samberg will sing a temp vocal track, doing both the highs and the lows, "so they can hear an almost finished version," Samberg said. "Then, somebody like Solange, she did her own countermelodies," Taccone added. "They come in with harmonies, and the talent," Samberg said. With rappers, however, the Lonely Island guys are less likely to write a verse until they know who will be doing the part, and even then, they invite them to rewrite it.
"For rappers," Schaffer said, "we'll leave open which bars of music they're going to do, and give them bullet points of joke ideas that they can put into their own words. We want the rapper to feel like himself, and not like he's doing someone else's lyric." "It has to be in their voice," Samberg said. "The style is so specific."
Soon the guys will start to juggle their nonmusical projects with the idea of a Lonely Island tour. Taccone, who co-wrote and directed the film "MacGruber," will be locking himself in a room with Will Forte and writing partner John Solomon to get to work on a script for "MacGruber 2."
And Samberg will soon be decamping to Los Angeles to start shooting his new television comedy, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
"Other than 'Girls' and '30 Rock,'" he noted, "I defy you to name a show set in New York that doesn't shoot in LA! I wish we could have shot it in Brooklyn -- I still love New York. But the irony of television production knoweth no bounds."
Speaking of "Girls," will Taccone -- who played Marnie's lover Booth Jonathan -- be back for another round, since the HBO comedy is shooting its third season this summer in Brooklyn?
"Dude, if you talk to Lena (Dunham), tell her I'm totally down!" Taccone pleaded. "Maybe they can squeeze me in. But I don't know what more you can see of me on that show -- except for the front part, and nobody wants to see that."