Get ready, because you’re about to feel. That’s what Tim Heidecker warns on Fear of Death’s opening track, “Prelude to Feeling.” And he means it. This is a Serious Album about Serious Topics – a doomed future, abandoning life in the city, and, you guessed it, the inevitability of death – and without a warning, those feelings might just sneak up on you.
Fear of Death is the follow-up to 2019’s What the Brokenhearted Do…, which chronicles a fictional divorce from his wife and the accompanying depression. Just like that one with its morose theme of a contentious breakup, the new album puts Heidecker squarely in the tradition of comedians and actors like Steve Martin, Hugh Laurie, and Donald Glover, eschewing his funny side in his music and leaving the jokes for the screen.
“I didn’t know that Fear of Death was going to be so focused on death when I was writing it,” Heidecker says. “It took a minute for me to stand back and look at what I was talking about to realize that, yes, I am now a middle-aged man and my subconscious is screaming at me: ‘You are getting old, dude! You are not going to live forever! Put down that cheeseburger!’”
We first saw Heidecker and Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering performing together in the summer of 2019 when a video of the pair singing “Let it Be” backstage at a charity event went viral. But their story began earlier that year when Heidecker, having just become familiar with the singer, hosted her as a guest on his Office Hours Live podcast. Months later at a Weyes Blood record release show, Mering’s friend and keyboardist Drew Erickson (Jonathan Wilson, Dawes) proposed that the three of them go into the studio together. “This was a Thursday night,” recalls Heidecker. “We were recording on MONDAY. The rest of the story is on the record.”
“Drew was the perfect co-conspirator,” Heidecker says. “He knew all the right people to come play with us, and he had impeccable musical chops and taste! And Natalie, I believe, is a generational singer/songwriter, a major talent who glided into this project with so much grace and a good attitude. I think she could harmonize with a doorstop and make it sound dreamy.”
The all-star band on Fear of Death includes The Lemon Twigs’ Brian & Michael D’Addario, frequent collaborator Jonathan Rado, and string arrangements by Spacebomb’s Trey Pollard (Foxygen, Bedouine, The Waterboys, Natalie Prass). Weyes Blood sings principal on “Oh How We Drift Away,” and contributes backing vocals on the album. The resulting record is Heidecker’s biggest sounding and fleshed out album yet, featuring winding guitar, slow-building percussion, gentle keys, and a 14-piece string ensemble.
The album’s lead single, “Fear of Death,” is “about as ‘Dead’ as I get,” says Heidecker. Over an intricate guitar line, Heidecker’s voice intertwines with Mering’s elevative vocals as he swears off partying and risky decisions: “I don’t see the value in having fun // I think I’m done growing // fear of death is keeping me alive.” And while “Fear of Death” is an upbeat take on avoiding potentially fatal choices and avoiding death, “Nothing” comes to terms with it. “Nothing, that’s what it amounts to, they say // A black void waiting down the road for us one day,” Heidecker sings from a recording session that he calls “one of the more spiritual and emotional moments of my creative life.”
The band nods to J.J. Cale in the bluesy and smoky “Say Yes To Me” and The Faces in the uptempo ode to country living, “Come Away With Me.” The album’s haunting and sad closer “Oh How We Drift Away” began as a Bernie Taupin/Elton John-style writing experiment, with Heidecker supplying the words and Mering setting them to music. “I was very interested in trying to do something big in scope and otherworldly,” Heidecker says. “I hope it leaves you thinking.”
While this is serious music about serious topics, it’s not all doom and gloom. Heidecker says, “I hope my observations and meditations on death, the afterlife, the future, while at times a little dark and grim, offer a little comfort and catharsis for some people, as I don’t think I’m the only one who occasionally thinks about this stuff.”
“This record is a dream come true for me,” he continues. “I got to work with some of the best, and nicest, musicians in town who helped me take some shabby, simple tunes and turn them into something I’m really proud of.” Occasionally, an idea with the shabbiest, simplest beginnings will grow into something more special than ever intended. With Fear of Death, Heidecker and his band of friends have achieved just that.