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14 Pretty Far Out Facts About Flight of the Conchords

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Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie make up the Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand's self-proclaimed "fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo," who starred in their own HBO series for two critically-acclaimed seasons. The beloved show was a one-of-a-kind comedy about two guys trying to make it as a musical group in New York City, even though they only seem to have one fan (albeit a very devoted one). On the tenth anniversary of its debut, we're taking a look behind the scenes of Flight of the Conchords.

1. IT WAS A RADIO SERIES BEFORE IT WAS A TV SERIES.

Rhys Darby played Brian Nesbitt, Jemaine and Bret's manager, in the BBC Radio 2 six-part series, like he would later do on HBO (but this time with the name Murray Hewitt). Rob Brydon was the narrator/presenter. Comedian Jimmy Carr played the band's stalker. Some plot points made it to the TV series.

2. NEW ZEALAND TELEVISION TURNED THEM DOWN.

In 2014, Clement recalled that television producers in his home country weren't interested in a TV series with him and McKenzie. “They’d say, ‘Middle New Zealand won’t get it.’ Idiots! I’d go, ‘What are you talking about? I’m from middle New Zealand, and you’re not.’ I always have a working-class chip on my shoulder about those people. Not being too clever is a concern in New Zealand TV. It does really annoy me.” Fortunately, an HBO talent scout discovered their live show in Montreal in 2004.

3. KRISTEN SCHAAL WAS CAST AS MEL BASED ON HER STANDUP.

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HBO sent Clement and McKenzie a tape of Schaal's standup and they decided, after "about 30 seconds," that she would be perfect for the role of the band's obsessive fan, Mel. Schaal later said the guys pitched the concept of her character as accurately as possible—though "They never pitched that she was a stalker, but she's ... obviously a stalker."

4. DAVE WAS A CARICATURE OF ARJ BARKER'S ACTUAL PERSONALITY.

Comedian Arj Barker admitted to The Guardian that when he met Clement and McKenzie at an Auckland comedy festival in the early 2000s, it was during a period of his life when he was "partying a lot and drinking" and "chasing girls as much as I could." Clement and McKenzie's first impression of Barker led directly to the creation of Barker's character Dave, the aspiring ladies man.

5. THE FIRST SEASON BUDGET WAS MINUSCULE.

David Costabile (Doug) described the first season budget as "insane," "shoestring," and "so crappy." On his first day, they shot in an abandoned Lower East Side apartment with no running water or electricity. The breakfast catering was one box with 10 sandwiches. By season two, there was more food.

6. MEL'S PICTURE OF JEMAINE'S LIPS DIDN'T COME FROM THE WRITERS' IMAGINATION.

The 2006 documentary Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey documented Clement and McKenzie's time at the SXSW festival, pre-HBO fame. In the doc, a big fan of theirs revealed that she kept a picture of Jemaine's lips in her wallet (the other two pictures were normal ones of her kids). In the show's first episode, "Sally," Mel shows Bret the picture of Jemaine's lips she keeps in her wallet.

7. BOTH JEMAINE AND BRET WERE PHYSICALLY SICK OVER THE NEW YORK WEATHER AND THE SUDDEN WORKLOAD.

Clement got pneumonia during the first season, and due to the overwhelming workload they both lost a lot of weight. "We looked like skeletons," McKenzie said.

8. DAVID BOWIE DECLINED PLAYING HIMSELF, BECAUSE HE HAD JUST DONE SO ON RICKY GERVAIS' EXTRAS.

After considering Noel Fielding and John Cameron Mitchell, they opted to cast British comedian Dan Antopolski to play Bowie. Technical difficulties caused Antopolski's performance from London to be dropped entirely, so director Troy Miller suggested Clement himself to play the famous musician.

9. CLEMENT HAD TO BE CUT OUT OF ONE OF THE BOWIE COSTUMES.

"My silver jumpsuit was so tight—my legs swelling from the accumulated blood no longer allowed to circulate—I had to be cut out of it. I didn’t care. I was David Bowie and this was art," Clement recalled.

On the last day of shooting the Bowie scenes, Clement was given permission by the makeup and costume departments to walk the Lower East Side in his costume. He ran into Schaal, who not only did not recognize her co-star, she looked frightened.

10. THE SONGS CAME FIRST IN SEASON ONE. IN SEASON TWO, THEY WROTE THE SCRIPTS FIRST.

The show's first season consisted of tunes Clement and McKenzie had written and developed from stage shows, in some cases for almost a decade. In season two, they worked the opposite way. "Well, by the second series it got quite chaotic because when you’re recording TV shows during the week and then going in the studio on the weekend to write the songs for the next week so it was really high-speed songwriting," McKenzie elaborated. "The second season, we started writing songs more for videos so the songs had visual ideas within them that the punch line may not be so much in the lyric, but in the visual of the music video."

11. THE "TOO MANY D*CKS ON THE DANCE FLOOR" WERE CANADIAN.

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The song from "Unnatural Love" came about after McKenzie, Clement, and two other New Zealand guys went to a nightclub. "These Canadian guys were like 'Hey, too many d*cks! Too many d*cks! Spread out the d*cks!.' So we just used that and put it into the script to sort of make fun of them," McKenzie admitted to The Sun.

12. MICHEL GONDRY DIRECTED "UNNATURAL LOVE."

Gondry and the Conchords met through a costume designer. Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was one of McKenzie and Clement's idols. Gondry was particularly interested in drumming; he kept asking McKenzie when he was going to come in the studio and drum on the songs.

13. FAMOUS MUSICIANS LOVED THE SHOW.

Daryl Hall claimed he knew the show was going to be "big" after seeing the pilot, and agreed to appear as the World Music Jam Host in "New Fans." Art Garfunkel played himself in "Prime Minister." "I love the deadpan, off-the-wall, let's-play-against-predictability style," Garfunkel told TV Guide after his episode aired. Mick Fleetwood didn't appear in an episode, but he did admit to hearing and appreciating the Rumours joke in "Sally."

14. MCKENZIE SAID THERE ARE PLANS FOR A MOVIE.

In 2012, McKenzie admitted that the movie was just in a "throwing ideas around" stage with Clement. They still needed a story at the time. In 2015, Clement confirmed this, before saying the movie is “definitely a couple of years away, at least."

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‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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17 Electric Facts About MTV Unplugged
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Michael Stipe of R.E.M. goes Unplugged.
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Making its debut in 1989, MTV Unplugged—in which famous musicians perform stripped-down arrangements of their biggest hits—was a hit for both the cable network and the music industry, particularly in the early- to mid-'90s. Though it lost its regular time slot in 1999, in the near-20 years since, a handful of artists have popped in for brief revivals. But now it looks as if Unplugged is ready for a reboot; MTV has announced that the series will be back beginning on September 8, 2017, with Shawn Mendes as its first guest. In the meantime, here's a look behind the scenes of the music series that became a phenomenon.

1. OPINIONS VARY ON WHO CAME UP WITH THE IDEA.

Singer/songwriter Jules Shear has said that he came up with the concept for MTV Unplugged to promote his acoustic album, The Third Party. In 1992, The New York Times wrote that Shear was inspired by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora's two-song acoustic set at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.

That's all well and good, but producers Jim Burns and Bob Small claim they got the idea for MTV Unplugged after Bruce Springsteen treated the two—and the thousands of other fans at one of his concerts—to a final encore featuring just himself and his acoustic guitar. (Springsteen would find his way onto Unplugged in 1992.)

Executive producer Joel Gallen has referred to Unplugged as his "baby" as well and, like Shear, was inspired by Bon Jovi and Sambora's VMA set, which he called a "jumping off point." In I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, Small said: “Please do not credit Bon Jovi for creating Unplugged. Jon Bon Jovi thinks he was the inspiration for it. He wouldn’t even do the f***ing show until almost 20 years later.”

2. BOTH HBO AND PBS SAID NO.

HBO passed on Unplugged when Shear proposed the concept to the pay channel. Burns and Small pitched the series to PBS after MTV initially said no. PBS simply echoed MTV and HBO. It was only when Burns and Small ally Judy McGrath got a promotion at MTV that a pilot got a greenlight.

3. IT WAS A CHEAP PILOT TO SHOOT.

Bob Small said he had just four hours to set up for the Unplugged pilot, with another four hours to film it—and all on a budget of $18,000. "I couldn't get money to hire a director," Small said. "They said, 'You direct it.'"

4. THERE WAS A HOST FOR THE FIRST 13 EPISODES.

None other than Jules Shear was the undisputed master of ceremonies for the first season. He also joined in on some songs.

5. THE FIRST GUESTS DIDN'T QUITE GRASP THE CONCEPT OF UNPLUGGED.

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford from Squeeze were the stars of the first episode, which aired on November 26, 1989. But they were unprepared. "Chris and Glenn showed up for rehearsal with electric guitars," Alex Coletti, who would end up producing the show through 2001, recalled. "I said: 'Very funny, guys. Where are the acoustics? It’s Unplugged.' They looked at each other and went, 'Riiight… Make a phone call, quick!'"

6. PRODUCERS SCRAMBLED TO GIVE JOE WALSH ACTUAL FRIENDS.

"The fifth episode was billed as Joe Walsh and Friends, and Joe showed up with only one friend—Ricky, his bass player," Coletti remembered. "We thought it meant his famous friends, but apparently that got lost in translation." Walsh had been a member of The Eagles, who had an infamous falling-out, but Walsh's claim of buddies gave MTV employees false hope. Producer Bruce Leddy found Dr. John recording at a neighboring studio and convinced him to come on and be Walsh's "friend."

7. DON HENLEY WAS NOT HAPPY THAT WALSH PLAYED "DESPERADO."

Walsh's former Eagles bandmate wrote "Desperado," as well as a three-page fax explaining to MTV that he didn't want Walsh to play it and he was refusing permission to air the performance. It was after the fax that the network invited Henley to come on the show himself to perform it. Henley was the first artist to get an entire half-hour on his own as the only artist, which quickly became the status quo for Unplugged. In 1994, when The Eagles reunited, they appeared on an MTV Unplugged special.

8. LL COOL J HAD NEVER WORKED WITH A LIVE BAND BEFORE.

The first Unplugged featuring rap artists took place in 1991. Pop's Cool Love backed LL Cool J, MC Lyte, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest. “[It’s like] you drink milk for 10 years and then [you have to] drink fruit punch,” Quest's Q-Tip said about performing with the band. “It’s not that the fruit is bad, but you have to get used to it.”

But LL seemed able to adapt. "We rehearsed the night before and LL Cool J had never worked with a live band," Coletti said. "Before long, he was calling the shots like he'd been doing it his whole life."

9. LL COOL J KNOWS YOU SAW HIS DEODORANT.

"People have teased me about the deodorant for years, but I love it," he said. "It was raw! It was nasty! At least you know I wasn’t stinking.”

10. PAUL MCCARTNEY WAS THE FIRST ARTIST TO OFFICIALLY RELEASE HIS UNPLUGGED SET.

Before Paul McCartney, no other Unplugged artist body had thought to release their acoustic set as an album. But after he performed in 1991, the former Beatle was worried about it getting out to the masses illegally. “I figured that as Unplugged would be screened around the world there was every chance that some bright spark would tape the show and turn it into a bootleg, so we decided to bootleg the show ourselves," he admitted. "We heard the tapes in the car driving back. By the time we got home, we’d decided we’d got an album—albeit one of the fastest I’ve ever made.” He even titled the live performance collection Unplugged (The Official Bootleg).

11. ERIC CLAPTON WAS HESITANT TO RELEASE HIS SHOW AS AN ALBUM.

"Slowhand" performed to acclaim in 1992, but he initially didn't think it was good enough to be released officially as a CD. So naturally, his live album Unplugged won the Grammy for Album of the Year. His "Tears in Heaven" performance in particular won Song and Record of the Year. Two years later, Tony Bennett followed suit, winning the 1994 Album of the Year prize for his time on the show.

12. NEIL YOUNG WALKED OUT ON HIMSELF.

Neil Young's Unplugged was supposed to have been taped at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York on December 12, 1992. Instead, on that night—at that venue—the audience saw something they would probably never forget: Neil Young walking out the door after numerous mistakes. The "stunned" crew members managed to get him to come back to try again that night. Young opted to junk the performance entirely, and tried again two months later—this time with a band, and with much more success.

13. TORI AMOS WALKED OUT, TOO.

Amos was thrown off and "couldn't harness the energy." But unlike Young, she was able to walk back onstage, perform, and not have to try again with another set on a different night. As the singer/songwriter remembered it, she and her manager paced "beneath the MTV thing" backstage thinking about the problem. "Then my [lighting director] came down and said, 'Something just doesn't feel right. I can’t put my finger on it,'" Amos told Worstgig.com. "For 700 shows over the five years (prior to that), I'd played with the lights down. So all the lights were up to catch the audience and I felt like somebody was watching me take a shower. So they dimmed the lights, I felt better. By that point because I'd made the choice to stop it and make some changes, I felt like I began again. And I turned the whole show around."

14. ALEX COLETTI FOUGHT TO CUT "THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD" FROM NIRVANA'S EPISODE.

"Maybe I shouldn't give this secret away, but I built a fake box out in front of the amp to make it look like a monitor wedge," Coletti admitted to Guitar World in 1995. "It's an acoustic guitar, but he's obviously going through an amp," he added, talking about the now iconic David Bowie cover. "I actually fought pretty hard to leave that song out [of the final edit of the show], because I felt it wasn't as genuine as the rest of the songs. But I'm a huge Bowie fan, so I couldn't fight too hard against the song."

15. DAVE GROHL WAS ALMOST UNINVITED TO NIRVANA'S SHOW.

The Nirvana drummer remembered that it was a minor miracle that the band's Unplugged performance went so well. “That show was supposed to be a disaster,” Grohl said. “We hadn’t rehearsed. We weren’t used to playing acoustic. We did a few rehearsals and they were terrible. Everyone thought it was horrible. Even the people from MTV thought it was horrible. Then we sat down and the cameras started rolling and something clicked. It became one of the band’s most memorable performances.”

As Coletti told it, Kurt Cobain was thinking of just replacing Grohl behind the kit, or maybe not using a drummer at all. “What I didn’t know was up until the day [of the Unplugged performance], there was talk of Dave [Grohl] not playing at all in the show,” the producer revealed in 2014. “Kurt wasn’t happy with the way rehearsals were going; he didn’t like the way Dave sounded playing drums with sticks."

But Grohl turned up the day of filming, and Coletti gifted him some brushes and sizzle sticks to give his drumming a softer sound. "I was afraid Dave would just roll his eyes, like, 'Oh great, the a**hole from MTV is trying to be my friend,'" the producer remembered thinking. "But instead he opened the package and said, 'Cool, I've never had brushes before. I've never even tried using them.'" The album Unplugged in New York won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album in 1996. It was the band's lone Grammy win.

16. YES, THEY TRIED TO GET ROBERT PLANT AND JIMMY PAGE TO PLAY "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN."

The Led Zeppelin bandmates reunited in 1994 for the Unplugged special: No Quarter: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page Unledded, which at the time was the highest-rated episode of the series ever. MTV suggested they film it in Queens, New York. Plant suggested Morocco and Wales because it was where he wrote "Kashmir" and "Down by the Seaside," respectively. Network executives explicitly requested "Stairway" but were shot down. "I think we're in a disposable world and 'Stairway to Heaven' is one of the things that hasn't quite been thrown away yet," Plant said in 1994. "I think radio stations should be asked not to play it for 10 years, just to leave it alone for a bit so we can tell whether it's any good or not."

17. LIAM GALLAGHER HECKLED HIS BROTHER.

Oasis lead vocalist Liam Gallagher backed out of the Royal Festival Hall gig in London at the last minute due to a "sore throat," so songwriter/guitarist/brother Noel took over the vocal duties. Noel would later disclose that Liam in fact appeared an hour before showtime "sh*tfaced," and when he tried to sing it sounded "f**king dreadful." Liam watched the performance from the balcony and at times jeered the band. Noel told him to shut up. Coletti thought it was all for the best. "There's something when the songwriter himself sings it. Maybe he's a little more connected to the song."

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