Interview: Parry Gripp

Parry Gripp is the singer and guitarist for the “nerd rock” pop punk band Nerf Herder, whose self-titled debut album was released in 1996 and included their best known song “Van Halen”, which is a biting tribute to the David Lee Roth era of that band. In their first run, they also released the albums How To Meet Girls (2000) and American Cheese (2002), and recorded the theme song for the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In an surprising second life in music, Gripp has written and posted a number of catchy/hilarious songs on YouTube including “Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom” (31 million views), “Boogie Boogie Hedgehog” (6 million views), “Spaghetti Cat (I Weep For You)” (3 million views), “Guinea Pig Bridge” (6 million views), “Space Unicorn” (15 millions views), “Raining Tacos” (28 million views), and “Baby Monkey (Backwards on a Pig)” (27 million views). There may be some truth to the lyric from the latter song: “The world has gone insane”.

This interview with Parry Gripp was done in person on 2/5/19, and was for a preview article for for the Nerf Herder show at Mercury Lounge in Goleta, California on 2/16/19. (Dana Ross Sherlock photo)

Jeff Moehlis: What’s new with Nerf Herder?

Parry Gripp: Nerf Herder has been around for a long time. We are just playing for fun – it’s kind of a hobby. But it’s nice that people come out to see us. We’re working on a new record. We came out with a new record in 2016, which seems really recent, [laughs] but actually it’s a few years ago. It’s funny, for some reason we’re playing a lot of shows this year. We’re playing this acoustic show, and then we’re playing Denver in March with The Smoking Popes. Then we’re doing an East Coast tour, and we’re doing a little West Coast tour, which is more shows than we’ve played in the last ten years, probably [laughs].

It’s fun. The guys in Nerf Herder are all really good friends, and they’re great guys, and it’s fun to play with them. I mean, if it wasn’t fun we wouldn’t be doing it, because it’s not really lucrative. But it’s fun to do.

When you’ve been playing for 20 years, you get people that come out that, you know, saw us in high school, and now they’ve got kids and they’re adults. This must be what it feels like to be a teacher, where you have these people who come twenty years later and you’re like, “Wow, you’re grown up. You’re a functional person!” [laughs]

JM: Can you tell us about the Santa Barbara music scene when Nerf Herder was first starting out?

PG: In Santa Barbara in the ’90’s – and I think this was true of a lot of towns because the music movements of grunge and punk were really exciting – everyone was in a band. We were basically in a band because it was just what you did, to hang out with people in a club, and then your band would play. It seemed like every person had a band. And it was fun. There wasn’t pressure, necessarily, to be good. But people were good. You ended up having to step up a little bit because everyone was doing it. It was great. Anyone who was in Santa Barbara in the ’90’s who was under 50 years old will tell you that it was awesome.

JM: My favorite Nerf Herder album is the first one. What are your reflections on that album?

PG: That album very much came out of the Santa Barbara scene. A lot of the songs are just about people we knew [laughs]. The songs were kind of written as we were playing. We started playing and we didn’t have enough songs, so a lot of it was kind of improvised. I think you get that feeling from it, especially a song like “Nosering Girl”, that was just a one-take thing. Yeah, there was some kind of magic going on. When I listen to it, it’s like, “Oh, that’s a different person – that’s different people than me,” but it was fun. It’s all very far-fetched that we even got out of Santa Barbara, because we were just goofing around. I guess that’s probably what you hear on the record, and what people like about it.

JM: I believe that was the only major label release for the band?

PG: It was. It was recorded for our friend Joey Cape’s record label. He was just in Goleta. He was in the band Lagwagon – he’s an amazing guy. He had started this label, and we were like the guinea pig band. It’s really unimaginable that we recorded this thing and it was bought by a major label. So they weren’t really involved with making it at all, they were just, “Oh, this thing’s good. We’ll buy it.” And they bought it.

JM: How would you describe that “major label experience”?

PG: It was wild. It was like you’re walking down the street and all of a sudden someone says, “You look like you’re running. You’re in the Olympics now.” All of a sudden we were flying to New York to go to the headquarters to meet Clive Davis. I mean, we talked and hung out with Clive Davis, this really legendary music guy, many times. It was just unbelievable.

I think people complain about being on a major label, but I think it’s always like that. You couldn’t turn it down. I mean, we could’ve gone with an indie label, but what are you going to do? You have to take a chance. You have to do it. Even though we didn’t end up being Weezer or Green Day or something like that, the experience was interesting.

JM: Any interesting Clive Davis stories that you’re willing to share? Was he like, “Oh, I have a meeting with Whitney.”

PG: He would talk about Whitney, because he was friends with her, and you’re like, “Wait… maybe he would talk about you”. He was supportive. One of our first interactions with him was his birthday, and we happened to be there. They had this giant boardroom in their skyscraper, and there were 20 people sitting around this boardroom. I was the person to go in and sing “Happy Birthday” to him, as opposed to Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston. Of course, my singing is awful – it’s kind of my shtick. It must’ve been horrific for the people in the room, but he seemed to like it [laughs].

JM: The first song on the first album is about Haley Street. What’s the craziest thing that really ever happened to you on Haley Street?

PG: Nothing, really. It’s just a notorious street. It’s way less now, but when I was a kid and when I was in high school and college, that’s where bad… Santa Barbara, of course, is a very friendly, safe town. But that was the street where you would think if someone was going to hire a prostitute, or someone was going to buy some drugs or something, they’d go to Haley Street. There was this hotel there – it may still be there – the Faulding Hotel. It was kind of like a notorious hotel. Also, when that song was written it was a two-way street. That’s how old that song is – the street has become a one-way street since it was written.

JM: The original line-up of Van Halen is supposedly getting back together.

PG: Again? Do you think Michael Anthony will be in the band?

JM: That’s the big question. Are you excited to hear that they might be getting back together, or has that ship sailed for you?

PG: I mean, I love old Van Halen. I can’t see them now, because it’s just different. Well, I probably could see them. People probably feel that way about Nerf Herder. “Wait, I saw those guys, but now they’re old! I don’t want to see that.” I don’t know. I really loved Van Halen when I was in high school. You know, it’s different now.

I am kind of emotionally invested, because when they kicked Michael Anthony out I thought, “Oh, come on. Here’s the nicest guy in the world.” I read that book called “Runnin’ With the Devil”. It’s written by the road manager [Noel Monk]. You should never read a book about a band, because you just end up thinking everyone is kind of a jerk. Except for Michael Anthony. Michael Anthony comes out great. They were very mean to him, though. A lot of the stories in the book are about how they were mean to Michael Anthony.

JM: I’ve heard stories about Eddie being a bit crazy.

PG: Yeah, there’s a lot of that.

JM: Another band that perhaps you were even more into was Rush.

PG: Yeah, I listened to Rush a lot. It was maybe equal, but I did listen to Rush a lot and go see them a lot.

JM: I don’t hear a lot of Rush in Nerf Herder, or the later stuff that you did. Did you ever try to write any Rush-influenced songs?

PG: I could just never do it. I realized early on that I was incapable of playing that stuff. I mean, one thing about Rush is that they have this very technical musicianship side, but a lot of their songs have a little pop-y hook to it. That’s maybe something that we have, or that I picked up on. I think that’s what I always liked about Rush. They’d do this part of the song where you’re like, “Oh, this is the sing-along part.” I always liked that.

We have a song on our latest record called, “The Girl Who Listened to Rush”, and it does have some Rush nods to it, musically. I don’t perform those parts. The drummer does a rototom Rush fill, and the guitarist Linus [Dotson], who’s an amazing guitarist, does Rush-y stuff.

It was too difficult for me. I quickly realized that I can’t do this, even though I liked them. I think I started playing when I was 16, and I was a huge Rush fan at the time. “I’m going play this… I can’t do that. Oh, hey, The Ramones – I can do that!”

JM: So, fastforwarding, there were a couple more Nerf Herder albums, and a bit of a break, then you started doing fake jingles and songs about hedgehogs and tacos and burritos. How did that trajectory play out?

PG: It was 2004 or something. Nerf Herder had toured, and it had become clear that it wasn’t going to be a very good job. It was going to be very grueling, because you could really only make money touring. We knew a lot of people who did this, but I think we all were like, “No, we don’t want to be riding in a van for 100 years.” So we stopped. I was just going to get rid of my equipment. I had decided that I’m done with music. My family has an orchid nursery, off of Patterson. So I was just going to work at the orchid nursery.

But somehow I was contacted by someone who was looking for a commercial jingle for waffles. So I wrote this song called “Do You Like Waffles?”, and it didn’t get used as the jingle, but it became this phenomenon on the internet very early on, before YouTube, with a video that someone made who I didn’t know. It got millions of views, and kids all over the world knew this song. I thought, “This is kind of fun,” so I just started writing these little songs. I didn’t know what would come of it. But eventually YouTube came along, and I made some YouTube videos and those became popular, and I started getting work doing commercials and TV stuff. That just steamrolled. It never stopped, and it’s turned into my career.

JM: What is your favorite of your YouTube songs?

PG: I probably like “Space Unicorn” the best. That’s one of the most popular ones. It kind of differentiates people. There are people that love it, and there are people where it’s like garlic to a vampire – they can’t stand it. I feel like it’s good for separating – “This is this kind of person, and this person is eliminated, who I don’t even want to hang out with” [laughs].

JM: Where do this ideas come from? Do you see a video first, or does the song come first?

PG: I would get sent videos pretty early on. “Hamster on a Piano” was kind of the animal one that went big in the beginning. People would send me, “You’ve got to do one about this baby monkey”, or “You’ve got to do one about this.” So I’d get that. A lot of it is just whatever idea pops in my head. Since I was doing a song a week – I haven’t done that for a while – but whatever pops in my head I’m going to do.

JM: I get a sense that you don’t overthink it.

PG: That’s part of the key thing. Because overthinking is the worst thing you can do with anything, I think. I always think that the first thing that pops into my head is a gift from somewhere. This idea came from somewhere – I’m just going to use that. There’s a lot of terrible stuff, too [laughs].

JM: But what you think is terrible, other people might like.

PG: That’s the great thing. When you write songs, someone will come up and say, “My favorite song is this one,” and you’re like, “Really? That’s the song? OK.” But you have this personal thing between you and the song, right?

JM: Without getting too personal, do you make enough money off of this to buy a burrito every day, and maybe pay the rent?

PG: I make great money at this thing.

JM: Good – I think you deserve it.

PG: I appreciate that. Thank you. It’s very unbelievable to me that I can make a living doing it. It’s good.

JM: Do you think that’s the new model now? I’m sure you make more money off YouTube than when you release a new Nerf Herder album.

PG: Yeah, Nerf Herder albums are a thing that I usually lose money on [laughs]. I shouldn’t say that – there’s some money there. This happened accidentally to me. None of this was planned. None of this was, “I’m going to do this, and this will work out.” None of that. It’s all accidental. But, now with the way things are, I can write a song at home. I don’t have to go to a studio. It doesn’t cost me anything. I can upload it to Amazon and iTunes and YouTube, and it’s totally free.

In the old days, if you wrote music, the only way you to get people to hear it, you had to have distribution. So you really had to go with through record company, and they would take most of the money because they’re printing up the stuff and flying it all over the country. So there’s a lot of outlay of money. But now there’s no outlay of money. So an individual who can somehow capture an audience’s imagination can do pretty well now. Until somehow that gets ruined. But it’s pretty good now [laughs].

JM: Are you still involved with the orchid business?

PG: I still go over there. I don’t work there. The orchid business is kind of like Nerf Herder – it’s not part of my income very much.

JM: Is there a temptation to turn it into a pot farm?

PG: No. It’s a family business. My dad started it, and he’s still there. It’s in the middle of a neighborhood. That’s happened in Carp to a lot of orchid nurseries. No, we’re just trying to sit there [laughs].

JM: Any UCSB memories that you’re willing to share?

PG: Me getting into the College of Creative Studies was sort of an amazing thing. I started college, and much like most of what I have done with my life, I had no plan. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just trying to sort of fake my way through so my parents would keep paying for me to hang out in a coffee shop. I had an English teacher, and he said, “Hey, you should be in the College of Creative Studies.” He sort of grabbed me from what I saw as a pointless meandering through college, and put me in College of Creative Studies where I could really goof around and hone my skill of avoiding doing serious work.

JM: Did your CCS experience carry through with what you do now with music?

PG: Yeah, absolutely. You could kind of get away with doing crazy stuff. In the non-College of Creative Studies department – I took some English classes there, I graduated in English – they were sort of like, “This is how stuff is. This is how stuff is done, and this is what this means.” And the College of Creative Studies, at least in my experience, was like “Just do what you feel like doing.” You could write a totally whacked-out paper about something, and they’d say, “Oh, that’s interesting.” You wouldn’t get, “That’s wrong. You interpreted that wrong.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s your idea, so that’s OK.” And you’d get critiqued on your writing, and I think that’s really important, getting accustomed to getting critiqued, because once you get out in the real world the critiquing is way harsher. When your record comes out, or your band plays, people will come up and say, “You guys were terrible. You’ve got to stop.” [laughs] “You’ve got to stop this thing.” People will come up and tell you that. I get it all the time still. “You’ve got to quit.” Having that experience, getting critiqued, you’ve got to get a little bit of a thick skin for that.

JM: Before that, you went to Dos Pueblos High School. How was your DP experience?

PG: It was really nice. I was in the math club, and I was in the computer club. I was just a super-nerd. But there were a lot of nerds at that school. I think it was just a middle-class kind of thing. I heard stories about San Marcos High School – “Oh, they’re wild, and there’s crazy stuff going on over there.” I didn’t experience that [laughs].

JM: You used to have a video of tacos exploding, and I think the song is still on YouTube but the video with the exploding tacos isn’t. Is there a story behind that?

PG: I wish I knew the complete story. It’s a song called “Crunchy Taco”, and I thought this would be cool. My brother-in-law had given me some fire crackers. “I know, I’ll blow up some tacos, and it’ll be cool-looking in slow motion.” What’s cooler looking than a taco exploding, like the lettuce and the cheese?

So I filmed that, and I put the video up, and pretty quickly it got dinged for being adult content or something. There were people that were like, “This is wasting food,” and comments like that. If you get attention of a group of people who are like, “That rabbit looks unhappy,” then you get a billion people commenting and complaining because they think the rabbit looks unhappy. So that song got dinged for adult content, even though it really was just taco exploding from a firecracker. Maybe that’s scary to kids – I don’t know. So I took it down. The song is still up there. I would love to know why someone complained about it. If it’s someone in Goleta, tell me why.

JM: I’m glad I caught it before it went away. But that’s cool that you shot the video.

PG: It was a rare video that I actually shot myself. What an idea! [laughs]

JM: Well, if the music thing doesn’t work out, you can become…

PG: …a special effects guy! Practical effects.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

PG: My advice is always the same. It’s paradoxical. My advice is – don’t follow anyone’s advice. Because people don’t tell you what they did. They tell you what they think you should do, but they don’t really know.

I think a lot of people who are musicians who have made it got really lucky. There’s a lot of luck involved, and I think that needs to be acknowledged. That’s it. Don’t follow that. Just do whatever you want [laughs]. I got tons of advice all the time, and a lot of it was the opposite of what I ended up doing.

JM: And it worked out pretty well.

PG: Yeah, I know – I’m super lucky. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Everyday, I can’t believe this [laughs].


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