In an alternate world, Nerf Herder would be lousy with Weezer-styled devotion, while Rivers Cuomo and co. would be cultivating cool through YouTube clips. In the late ’90s, the band, led by Parry Gripp, were embraced as nerdcore gods with the release of their 1996 song “Van Halen,” an ode to the David Lee Roth-era of the titular rock band.
In the 20-plus years since then, Gripp has done some stuff, such as winning an Emmy for a song he wrote for Disney’s The 7D, writing the theme to Buffy The Vampire Slayer and racking up ridiculous numbers with videos that will drastically improve your mood. After a long, long respite, today (May 22) Nerf Herder are going out on a brief tour with Teenage Bottlerocket, ending up at Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas alongside Direct Hit! Whatever you do, don’t go—it was the first PRB club show to sell out, that’s why.
Nick Woods, frontman of hooks-and-heck-raisin’ pop-punks Direct Hit!, chatted up Gripp about the legend of Nerf Herder, the roots of “nerdcore,” what the internet has done for him lately and the reminder that if you like pop punk and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.
NICK WOODS: Did the name Nerf Herder come about just because it’s alliterative, or is there a story or reference behind it?
PARRY GRIPP: Steve [Sherlock, drummer] thought up the name. I think he was watching The Empire Strikes Back on TV, and he heard the line where Princess Leia calls Han Solo a “scruffy-looking Nerf Herder.” I always liked it because it had a similar sound to “Weezer,” and they were one of our favorites at the time.
Nerf Herder’s nerdiness seems to be a pretty common focus when I’ve talked with others about your band. Did you cultivate that image intentionally? Do you see yourself as a “nerd” and in what way?
We got together a little bit before Weezer’s first album came out. We saw them playing at a Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara. They wore the nerd thing on their sleeve. I don’t think we thought of ourselves as nerds exactly, but one time early on a photographer looked at us during a photo shoot and said, “Oh! I get it! You guys are trying to be nerds!” Ha ha, oh yeah, we’re “trying…”
In the same vein, how closely do you feel like you’re aligned with punk as an ethos? I’m not fishing for reasons to call anyone a poser here, just wondering about the roots of Nerf Herder’s sound and where your influences are rooted.
We were posers before it was cool. Everyone is doing it now, but we were the first! I have no idea what the punk-rock ethos is. I don’t even know what the word “ethos” means! Way back when, someone said we sounded like Weezer meets NOFX, and I think that’s pretty accurate. We were listening to those two bands a lot at the time, for sure. Also, Steve and I were really into Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. And the Ramones. Those are our biggest influences.
At what point did memes and the internet start to work into your mentality when it came to writing music and releasing records? Your YouTube channel is awesome.
Thank you! I think “Van Halen” was an early viral song. It took off on its own because it was so ridiculous. We were just goofing around, and then all of a sudden, we were on MTV. I don’t understand memes exactly, except I’m pretty sure that a cat is usually involved.
Can you talk at all about why Nerf Herder became less active in the early 2000s, especially after American Cheese—which happens to be my friends’ and I’s favorite album of yours?
I’m glad you like that record! It’s one of my favorites of ours, for sure. American Cheese was produced by Angus Cooke, who has made many great records. We stopped because we were burned out, and it had become not fun. We’re doing it now because it is fun! We all get along really well. We’re constantly hugging each other. If we weren’t going on tour, we’d probably just go camping. Also, touring is great aerobic exercise.
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How do you manage to come up with so many incredible hooks? Is there a secret to how prolific you’ve been, at least as far as mocking or championing internet media goes?
That’s very generous of you! I just have one hook that I reuse over and over. The secret is not thinking about it very much—or at all. Originally, I thought I was making fun of internet media, but it turned out that I am internet media. I accept it and am at peace with that fact.
How much of that comes up when you’re working on new Nerf Herder material? Have you ever said something to the other members of your band like, “Just listen to ‘Chimpanzee Riding On A Segway’ and you’ll see what I’m going for here?”
[Laughs.] I never say that. I try to give no direction at all, because I’m bad at it. The other Nerfs are so good. They just join in, and it sounds amazing. Our last record, Rockingham, really produced itself, from my perspective. There might have been a lot of effort going on, but I was not involved in that part.
Do you like the internet, or does it depress you or somewhere in between?
It can be very depressing because it allows a raw view of humanity. Humanity is disgusting! But the internet has been like a miracle to me. YouTube—and streaming—really changed my life in an incredible way. I can sit in my little studio, record “Raining Tacos” and upload it for the world to hear almost instantly. I’ve got a great career and life because it. You’d all barf if you knew the details.
Do you have a daily routine that keeps you in a songwriting groove? Or are you more of a write-when-it-strikes-me kind of person?
I had more of a routine a while ago. I was doing a song of the week and also cranking out lots of music for TV and ads. Now I’m lazy: two or three songs a month. I have about 100 Nerf Herder songs that are 5% finished. I should be working on those right now…
As a songwriter and musician, do you see your work as more of a mechanical process or an art?
Mechanical process, for sure. Like a sausage factory. The art is in choosing the correct sausage for whatever sausage roll you are sticking it in. Whatever you do, people will hate it or love it. There are so many people, the trick is finding the right people who like your sausage roll. My advice: Crank out that sausage, and wave it in the world’s face!
Nerf Herder dates:
05/22 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
05/23 – Santa Ana, CA @ Constellation Room at the Observatory
05/24 – San Diego, CA @ The Casbah Club
05/25 – West Hollywood, CA @ Troubadour
05/27 – Las Vegas, NV @ Punk Rock Bowling at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center (w/ Direct Hit!)