If you played in a band for any stretch of time over the last two decades, chances are you dreamt of putting out an album on Kill Rock Stars, the Olympia-bred label that brought us such canonical indie acts as Bikini Kill, Elliott Smith, and Sleater-Kinney. That dream is about to come true for Kurt Braunohler, but don't expect any Unwound-style feedback solos on How Do I Land?, Braunohler's debut album and the label's first comedy release. What you do get is a potent distillation of Braunohler's affable weirdness: a style, combining classic joke-telling with surrealist urges, that on one track has him eating a hardboiled egg while reading off his least popular tweets.
We recently caught up with Braunohler in his adoptive home of Los Angeles. Read on to learn more about the Kill Rock Stars deal, the skywriting caper that gave the album its name and cover, and the unbelievably strange sketch, conceived with Braunohler's comedy partner Kristen Schaal, that inspired the "CD + Personalized & Engraved Glass Double Dong" merch package.
How did the deal with Kill Rock Stars go down?
It was totally crazy, actually: it was just through Twitter. They had retweeted one of my jokes, and I jokingly responded that, if my 14 year-old self knew that Kill Rock Stars retweeted one of my jokes, after a lot of confusion as to what Twitter was, he would then be very excited. And then from there I just, on Twitter, said, did you ever think of doing a comedy album? They immediately got in touch with me and were like, "We've been talking about it for a really long time, and we think that you'd be a great first album." Literally, it was within a day. The afternoon is when I tweeted, and by the evening I was going to make a record with them.
Tell me about the "aha" moment that led to you hiring a skywriter to write "HOW DO I LAND?" over Los Angeles.
I'd been doing this greeting card project for a while, where I sign greeting cards with alternate endings and put them back on the shelves for unsuspecting shoppers to find (see: "Making the World a Better Place" on the new album), and I was just thinking like, there's got to be a bigger venue for giving people a little, weird treat. And then I just sat down to write a bunch of stuff, and skywriting was the first thing that came to mind. And right after skywriting, "HOW DO I LAND?" came into my mind, and then I spent the next three hours trying to figure out other funny things that a skywriter could say in under ten characters. Then I let people vote, and overwhelmingly everyone wanted "HOW DO I LAND?" I should have trusted my first thought; I wouldn't have had to sit there and bang my head against the wall for three hours.
Is ten characters the industry standard for skywriting?
Yeah, it's $4,000 for ten characters.
The Twitter of the skies. So when did you move to LA?
I moved in October.
And how are you liking it so far, compared to New York?
I don't think there's any comparing them. New York City will always be my favorite city. But Los Angeles is like a fun paradise place to live in for a while.
Are you there indefinitely?
Oh, I would like to come back to New York. But right now I'm gonna play the LA game for a bit and see how I like it.
What's it like being immersed in show business all the time?
I mean, what's overwhelmingly shocking is how many comedians are there. When I walk into a bar, or a comedy show, I'm looking at 90% people I knew in New York. Everyone I know in LA, I knew from New York. So in that way it's very similar. Of course, there's all the bad things, like the traffic, and there are a ton of shitty people. But I don't ever interact with shitty people, surprisingly, 'cause I only interact with people I know. The one thing that I don't think people realize about it is, there's some insane number like 56,000 square acres of parkland just in the city, and it's overwhelmingly beautiful. Which I like.
I did not know that.
Also I surf, so that really helped me lock into it. If I'm driving up to Malibu to go surfing, I drive through a giant mountain pass canyon, which is all green and lush and not a house in sight, for like half an hour. It's amazing.
Do you live near the ocean?
No, I don't, I live on the East Side. I would live by the ocean but every single person I know is on the East Side.
What was the logic behind recording your album in the Pacific Northwest?
It's Kill Rock Stars, so I felt like I had to shoot it in the Pacific Northwest. I mean, hell, if I could have shot it in Olympia, which is the fabled home of Kill Rock Stars -- they're now in Portland -- I would have shot it in Olympia. But it's such a small town, so I just did the two cities just around it, Seattle and Portland. Also, Portland and Seattle are some of the best comedy fans in the country. They love comedy and they're super smart and enthusiastic.
Were you tempted to go into more high-concept territory for this album, or were you more inclined to keep it classic standup-style?
I think my standup is probably a mix between more of a classic style and something a lot weirder. I do have a lot of stuff that's just straight up jokes. But I also have a whole portion of the album where I just eat a hardboiled egg that's been in my pocket for 45 minutes while reading tweets that I wrote that everyone on the internet hated.
I heard that on the album (see: "Sad Snack"). Are you actually eating that in real life?
I am actually eating that, yeah. So I think it goes back and forth. With this album at least, it does have a lot of getting comedy off the stage and into the real world. And I don't know if I'll do that forever or if it's just for this album, but that's kind of a theme of it.
There are several merch packages for your album, one of them involving a double dong. And in "Dildo Jog" on the album, you explain that you once bought a double dong for a sketch. I'm curious about the sketch that you bought the original double dong for.
It's this fucking super weird sketch that Kristen and I have done, I think twice, and both times it has never worked. Which is: at the beginning of Hot Tub, we're already onstage, but we're wrapped up in butcher paper on the ground, like in a cocoon, and then when the show starts, this beautiful music comes on, and we slowly unfold ourselves from being wrapped up in the cocoon, like we've been molting for however long -- since the last show, is the theory -- and then we come out of it and Kristen has these beautiful butterfly wings on her back, and I spend a lot of time complimenting them. And then I'm like, how do my wings look? And I turn around and it's just two dildos on my back. And she's like, "They're nice. They look really nice." And I'm like, well, describe them! I did such a good job of yours. What do they look like? She's like, "Well they're...they're a little more...they're dildos." And then we become a crime-fighting team: when we see criminals Kristen will fly towards them and distract them, and then I come and I fuck them. So it's pretty weird.
Do you still have that first double dong?
No, because it was made of something that smelled horrible. I had it wrapped up in a plastic bag in my closet and I took the jacket out -- it was permanently attached to the jacket now, 'cause I cut the double dong in half -- and it just smelled like chemicals and horribleness and I was just like, fuck this, it's not worth it, and I threw it away.
And now your fans can have this experience, thanks to the double dong package.
I wanted to make it classy, so it's a glass double dong, and then there's a personal message from me engraved to you.
We premiered your "Three Things" video a couple weeks ago. Have you actually done those three things?
Yeah, I've definitely yelled "Nothin' but net!" I did do the "Y'all ready for this," but it was in a cafe where I knew the people who were working, so it wasn't that bold. But when I thought of it I did it, and then I wrote it down.
What about the Facebook photo-liking thing?
Yeah. And now that I have that joke, people do it to me all the time. And even though I know that it's coming from my joke, I still find it creepy.
How Do I Land? is out today on Kill Rock Stars