Nick Lutsko on His 'Spirit Halloween Theme' and Extended Universe - Nerdist
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Nick Lutsko on His ‘Spirit Halloween Theme’ and Extended Universe

On September 17, 2020, Nick Lutsko gave the world a song it didn’t know it was waiting for. He wrote an unofficial theme for Spirit Halloween. The impossibly catchy track and its equally strange and hilarious video involves animatronics, talking skeletons, and Jeff Bezos. If it’s possible for any song to be an instant holiday classic his more than qualified. But that wasn’t the beginning of his story. And it certainly wasn’t the end. Over the last year he’s turned his musical comedy into an extended, increasingly bizarre universe. It follows the exploits of an unusually sweaty, definitely unstable, delusional man always on the verge of ruin. Whether that be with his grandmother’s bird-loving boyfriend, the police, Amazon’s founder, or monsters who live in his basement. A story told via songs, videos, fictional movie trailers, and social media.

Nick Lutsko looks sweaty in white jacket next to a picture of a Spirit Halloween doorNick Lutsko

Like many, including famous faces both in and outside the world of comedy, I’ve been completely obsessed with Lutsko’s work since finding it. I backed his Band Campalbum, “Songs on the Computer.” I’ve listened to his music almost every single day since finding it. And I’ve converted countless friends into fans. So for the one-year anniversary of his “Spirit Halloween Theme” I reached out to Lutsko to discuss the song that led to him becoming a viral sensation, how it got an immediate sanctioned sequel, and expanding his own ridiculous universe into comedy and music gold.

Nerdist: Where did the idea for your “Spirit Halloween Theme Song” come from?

Nick Lutsko: It’s a long story I’ve been a little bit secretive about. But I don’t really feel like I have much reason to be anymore. I’d been doing musical comedy-esque stuff for Super Deluxe. When they shut down, I started doing stuff for Netflix. But it was always very behind the scenes. My name and face wasn’t necessarily attached because it was all work-for-hire.

Music has been my main thing. I went to college for commercial songwriting and kind of fell into that. I never really pursued comedy. I’ve always been a huge fan, but always had this hesitancy to fully embrace it because I had a little bit of imposter syndrome. Maybe since I didn’t set out to do that. It’s a weird insecurity I had for a long time. But during the pandemic, the kind of work I was doing with Super Deluxe and Netflix, like the lip sync type of taking people’s words and turning them into songs—I remember one day Trump kept talking about his cognitive test. And he was going, “Person, woman, man, camera,” over and over again. I was sitting down with that footage and trying to figure out how I could turn it into a song. And it just felt so boring.

I thought, “I’m so tired of this.” That was the same day I realized Chrissy Teigen unfollowed me on Twitter. And my band mate John said, “Why don’t you write a song about that instead?” That really was the key that unlocked everything. I thought, “What do I have to lose? I’ll just shoot something, film me playing it, and upload it.” Instantly I realized people were really into it. More so than all the other stuff that I’d been doing for years trying to get people to pay attention. It was like, “Okay, let me explore this sort of approach where I’m kind of at the center of it.”

Essentially, that got the ball rolling of me making these short Twitter songs in the first place. The “I Wanna Be at the RNC” song was the one that really went crazy and had a lot of pretty big comedians reach out and say really nice things. SNL actually asked me to submit a tape for their audition process of that season. It was surreal, all this stuff happening overnight. And to me, it was a green light to pursue this for awhile. “Maybe this is my career now. With this little effort, this much has happened. I’m going to see what I can do with this.”

Lutsko didn’t getSNL. (Though the show did inspire one of his songs.) But he says the factSaturday Night Live even considered him gave him more confidence to keep producing songs and videos. Just as important, it convinced him to trust his gut when making them.

NL: I entered this mindset of going with my first instinct. Not trying to rationalize it. Not trying to over calculate what am I trying to say. With the “RNC” song, I woke up that morning and it was the first day of the event. Everyone is talking about the RNC? I’ll write a song about it today. I wrote it, I recorded it, and I posted it that evening.

In the past when I’ve done songs, sometimes it takes me months or years to write. I pore over every line and make sure everything is exactly how I want it. I redo takes over and over again and try different instrumentation. It was a really cool lesson, just doing something, not giving anything a second thought and putting it out there to see people respond to it. And I decided, if I’m going to keep doing these, that’s also going to be a big part of how I do this is. I’m going to let my subconscious take the wheel and go with it. Work as quickly as I can and and trust my instincts as much as I can. That’s the long subtext of where I was when I got the idea for the Spirit song.

“I Wanna Be at the RNC” might have been his first viral hit from what became his albumSongs on the Computer. However, it was his unsanctioned theme song for Spirit Halloween that became something more. And it all started with some unplanned silliness.

NL: Spirit stores were opening up and I went with my wife. We’ve always been into Halloween, but she was especially into it last year because of how awful the pandemic was. She started decorating the house in August. We went to Spirit that month and I filmed stupid videos of me getting irrationally scared by all the animatronics. When I was thinking about what’s the next thing I’m going to write a song about, I had all this footage of me getting scared by animatronics. I thought, “Maybe I can do a theme song.”

Obviously there are some humorous elements to pull from. Like everything is shutting down and Spirit Halloweens are opening up. In a way it’s this dark commentary on the state of things. But at the same time, everyone’s really pumped about it. It was just one of those things that I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into. It was just, “This seems funny to me inherently, and I can’t really rationalize why and I just ran with it.”

Nick Lutsko walking into a Spirit Halloween storeNick Lutsko

How long did it take you to write the song?

A day, probably. Like with “RNC,” I had the idea in the morning and I had the video out by that evening. The songs that I’ve been doing recently, usually if I get the idea on a Monday I post it on a Tuesday night. I’ll lay the groundwork the first day and most of that evening, wake up, put the finishing touches on, shoot the video, edit the video, and then I usually post in the evening.

In the editing, like with the songwriting, it’s just move through it as quickly as possible. And you can tell on a lot of the songs there are typos and glitches. Sometimes they’re intentional. But a lot of the times they’re not. I kind of lean into that. It sits very on-brand for the character. I don’t get too hung up on it. But like in “RNC,” the “Bongino” towards the end gets an extra “g.” That was not intentional whatsoever. And that’s one of my favorite parts, because people really seem to appreciate that it was totally over my head as I was working on it. I don’t think “Spirit” has anything like that, really.

Are there any alternate lyrics for your Spirit theme?

NL: I don’t think so. I do have a specific memory of sitting on my back porch and thinking of what I could do. I don’t remember what the alternate ideas were, but it was funny because the more simplistic and stupider it got, the better it was. “They got skeletons” was the first thing that made my wife laugh. But I remember calling John, who suggested doing the Chrissy Teigen song, to run “Spirit Halloween” by him and there being a real hesitancy. He was like, “Am I missing the joke?” I don’t know. It’s part of the joke how it’s not really saying anything.

I got introduced to you and the Spirit song early last October when somebody on my Twitter feed said they’d always retweet the video when it came up. I clicked on it thinking it must be an old song with an old fanbase. Yet it had only come out a couple of weeks earlier. When did you know that the song had become a hit?

NL: I don’t know. It’s weird being in Twitter world and thinking something is a hit. Especially seeing how something can do so well on Twitter and then on YouTube it’s largely overlooked. It’s a strange thing, but yeah, I guess it got a lot of retweets for sure. I think “RNC” might be the most viral song if you’re going to call one a hit. But “RNC” was more of a moment.” When I posted that song, it somehow divinely matched the minute when Don Jr. stepped on the stage of the RNC and his face was red and sweaty. He looked like he’d done a bunch of coke. It was a perfect moment.

“Spirit Halloween Theme” is less of that. It’s not as current event-y. So maybe it is a little bit more of an evergreen thing. But as far as when did I know it was a hit, maybe when you emailed me asking me to do a one-year anniversary piece. It’s weird to get a good gauge on how popular any of these songs are. I started doing this just over a year ago. I don’t know if any of these are going to stand the test of time. It is cool to see people caring a year later though. That’s very exciting to me and it’s something that’s very new.

Somebody noticed the song right away. How quickly did Spirit Halloween contact you?

NL: It was the next day. I posted it on a Thursday. They Venmo’ed me some money on Friday morning. They made a Venmo account that said “Spirit Halloween” and they Venmo’d me a fairly large sum of money and basically said, “Get in touch. We want to do more.” That was the beginnings of “Unleash your Spirit,” the sequel. The reason that I know the specifics of the dates and the days is my wife and I went out to celebrate that evening and we found out she was pregnant when we got home.

Wow.

NL: Yeah. So there’s some interesting trivia.

Who first suggested doing a sequel? Spirit Halloween or you?

NL: They sent me the money and were like, “Hey, shoot us an email. We want to do more together.”

Even if you didn’t realize how popular your Spirit theme was, or how popular it was about to become, it’s obviously really good. Were you worried at all about doing a sequel to something that good, especially so quickly after you had just written it?

NL: Yeah, for sure. That definitely crossed my mind. It’s difficult to get into my specific head space at the time. But I knew that it needed to be different. Yet, at the same time I think I was a little bit relieved because I was already at the point where I was trying to put out as many videos and songs as I could. And here’s someone offering to pay me to do something that I know people already like. All I have to do is make sure it’s catchy and fun. Looking back, maybe I should have been more hesitant, but it came together pretty well.

How long did it take you to write “Unleash Your Spirit?” How much was Spirit Halloween involved and what was your process?

NL: I pitched the idea pretty early on. I do remember really struggling. They wanted to do another song and they really liked the original song. But I think [the first song] went off the rails a little bit at the end with all the Jeff Bezos talk.

Hard disagree. I’m going to hard disagree with you right there.

NL: They didn’t want to ruffle daddy Bezos’ feathers I don’t think. They were like, “Yeah, do another song just without all the murder stuff and Bezos stuff.” I was like, “Okay.”

I remember it was really hard trying to find an angle that made sense. Then the first thing I pitched them was, “What about a Halloween party where the guests are only animatronics?” And they said, “Yeah, cool. Do it.” To me that was just exciting. Because I get to go get all these animatronics for free. They’re still in my basement.

Do you know the value of them? Is it really a hundred thousand dollars worth of animatronics?

NL: It’s not a hundred thousand dollars, no. I don’t know if they would like me to share the specific total, but you can ballpark it by going on the website and seeing what I ended up getting.

But that’s where it started and they were into it. They were awesome. Then they said, “We’ll give you some money. Make something. We don’t really want to tell you what to do. We just want to let you create. The only thing that we would like you to do is include the term ‘unleash your spirit.'” Because they were doing an “unleash your spirit” campaign, trying to encourage people staying in and unleashing their spirit pandemic style. That was another way for me to lean into a bunch of animatronics.

Nick Lutsko in a tuxedo surrounded by animatronics from Spirit Halloween from the video for Unleash Your SpiritNick Lutsko/Spirit Halloween

Spirit Halloween didn’t want you to specifically mention Jeff Bezos. But he makes an unnamed appearance in the song and video. A later song confirms though that it was Bezos who ruined your Halloween party and also possibly killed your grandma. Over the last year the Nick Lutsko Expanded Universe has become more intricate and connected. When you mentioned Bezos in the first song, did you have any plans to ever mention him again in future songs? Or is it just something that happened organically?

NL: I never have any plans ever. Everything is always: I write the one song and then when I get to the next one, anytime I feel like this maybe is getting a little too redundant or too predictable, I ask myself, “Where can I go to turn this on its head a little bit?” It’s nice I have a well of things I can pull from. Between the men in the tunnels, the man under the stairs, Jeff Bezos, and Mel and grandma, it’s like, “Okay, I can look in this bag and see what’s there. Or I can kind of take it in a new, weird place.”

But I really never know what I’m going to do when I start something. Not unless there’s a direct correlation between whatever I’m singing about and whatever I sung about in the past.

Characters and stories from your songs started crossing over and expanding on your Twitter account. When did you decide to start incorporating social media into your expanded universe? Why did you make the decision to make your comedy a more immersive experience?

NL: There was a flip-of-the-switch after the first Songs on the Computer, where it ended with grandma presumably murdered by Jeff Bezos. It ended on that cliffhanger. I don’t ever want the songs to be so exclusive to the point you need to hear 20 other songs to have any idea what is going on. Obviously that happens a little bit. But I like there to be something that pulls you in. For example, the presidential inauguration. Everyone knows that Joe Biden’s having an inauguration. I’m this weird guy who’s been beat up and he wants to play. He needs money.

In a practical way, [the Twitter elements] needed to happen as a way to keep writing songs that weren’t so convoluted and filled with details of minutia story stuff. Twitter is a way for me to give some context for the people who really are following along and appreciate the story. I really am trying though to feed both groups of people though. Including the random Twitter user who has no idea who I am or what’s going on with me. They get those few sentences of a storyline that might entice them to go back and try to figure out what’s going on. But I don’t want it to ever be so isolated that people just listen to the song and are like, “I don’t know what is going on so I’m done with this.”

I’ve probably done a bad job of that a few times. But it’s a line of trying to keep the diehards happy and also not make it such a niche thing. It gets more and more difficult the more and more intricate things get. I just did the school board song. Do I want this to be this fun thing? Or do I want to try to incorporate some new story branch? I always figure it out on the fly. What feels right for that song.

I’m thinking about how much of a presence Big Pizza has been in your world without really being in the songs that much. (note: Big Pizza is a possibly imaginary strong man who beat Nick up after Nick “accidentally” killed $100,ooo worth of exotic birds owned by his grandma’s boyfriend Mel. A Big Pizza Twitter account opened and started posting knock-off Nick songs and threatening him.)I don’t know if you want to reveal this secret or not, but are you also Big Pizza?

NL: I’m happy to reveal that I am not Big Pizza.

That makes me very happy.

NL: I do know who Big Pizza is. I don’t know if I should reveal their identity. Maybe I’ll keep that a secret. It’s nice I have no control over it. I love the songs that Big Pizza has put out and I’m a fan of the tweets. I do let him or her know if I’m about to do something, so please don’t create your own thing that I’m going to have to try to chop down.

How have these songs changed your life beyond just the popularity and the music sales?

NL: Something I’ve been somewhat defeated about a little bit, I looked back at Songs on the Computer and I realize I wrote almost all of those songs between the end of July and the beginning of December. So 15 songs in five months. It’s crazy to me now that I’ve technically been working on Songs on the Computer Two since January, which has been nine months. I did a lot more songs in the five months and a half than the last nine months. It makes me feel like I’m a slacker. But during those few months in the pandemic last year, that really kind of became my full-time job. That was pretty much my mission just to make as much stuff. And then this year I’ve kind of been reaping the benefits of those things. I did have a kid too.

That will cut into your free time.

NL: Yeah. That took a lot of our free time. But I worked on an Old Spice commercial, And I worked on a couple other projects that are coming out. I have some TV stuff that’s kind of in development that I don’t know if I can really talk about. And I had the vinyl campaign. A lot of energy went into that.

That vinyl campaign included making personalized Desmond videos for people who backed his Band Camp album. Desmond is the main character for Lutsko’s unmadeGremlins 3, which is as absurd as anything else he’s made. Of course he plays Desmond in an equally absurd costume that did not hold up during the making of all those videos.

NL: The fricking Desmond videos. I think I did about 400. And they were all between a minute to two minutes long. I literally dressed as Desmond for like a week straight just talking to my camera.

In my video (a surprise message for my pregnant wife where Desmond suggested “Desmond” for my son’s name) Desmond is basically devoid of teeth.

NL: The teeth literally fell out. No teeth by the time I finished. It was pretty funny. And I still need to get new Desmond teeth if I’m ever going to shoot anything with Desmond again.

What famous fans of yours have caught you off guard?

NL: A lot of people follow me that I was very surprised by. It’s a pretty short list as far as people that I’ve had direct correspondence with though. I did get a really nice note from John Mulaney. He said he was a pretty big fan of all my stuff. I should also mention Tim Heidecker. I did music for the Tim and Eric tour at the beginning of 2020 and I sent him a lot of my stuff. He’s been extremely supportive and I think a lot of the reasons anyone like Chris Hayes or any other famous people follow me. He was an early retweeter of my stuff and very appreciative of all of his help along the way.

Obviously I’m not going to ask you about your finances or your financial relationship with Spirit Halloween. But I will point out your original September 17 tweet has a combined 10,600 retweets and quote tweets. At a rate of $1,000 for 100 retweets, that would be pretty sweet. Without getting into specifics, would you prefer to be negotiating with skeletons all of the time?

NL: Oh yeah. I mean, if those are the terms and they agreed to them, most definitely. I will say, it’s interesting it’s 10,600. It was very intentional trying to get that number as close to 10,000 as possible before “Unleash Your Spirit” dropped. I really wanted it to look like Spirit Halloween paid me in animatronics. Hit the 10,000 mark? They owe me a hundred thousand dollars. And now here I am spending them all on Spirit Halloween animatronics.

The hundred thousand number just repeatedly keeps popping up. We’re even calling ourselves Nick Lutsko and the $100,000 Band for live shows we’re going to do. And that’s of course why I had to do the Morgan & Morgan jingle. That’s my shot at the 100k.

Nick Lutsko the musician and comedian is a polite, thoughtful, normal person. But I also wanted to talk to Nick Lutsko the character, the sweaty madman constantly accused of murder. If that sounds like nonsense because this interview is your introduction to his work, the following questions will sound totally bananas. They’re also the most important.

You were very, very, very briefly president of Halloween. (A title Lutsko gave himself during a surreal hour long special surround by Spirit Animatronics. Which he then relinquished immediately under a cloud of controversy.) Do you think your resignation for a potential first degree murder misunderstanding hurts your Halloween credibility?

NL: Frig. That’s a hard question. I don’t know if I can own up to that. I’m going to say no. I don’t know if I can bring myself to think that. I’m doing this thing for Spirit Halloween where I’m judging a costume contest for them. My one condition was, “You need to refer to me as the former president of Halloween.”

I look back at that time, and I resigned when I was on a lot of drugs and a lot of painkillers. Because my ass had been so badly beaten by Big Pizza. I don’t want to say too much. But I am curious how well that resignation holds up under Halloween Law. Just something to think about.

How are things currently with you and grandma?

NL: :a long pause: I think things with me and grandma are perpetually on the rocks. A lot of tension, especially as long as Mel is in this house. There’s not a lot of productive conversation happening. We’ll leave it at that.

Any comment on the untimely death of Dr. Scripps?

NL: Yes. A tragedy of course. It was her dying wish to give me a clean bill of health. And so I grieve, but I also just find joy in knowing that her wishes were granted and I’m just going to live my life knowing that her vision was fulfilled.

I immediately worry I’m getting too close to some uncomfortable truths. And the last thing I want is to be on the wrong side of a man who wrote a whole song about Donald Trump’s ass and tries to feed enemies to monsters in his basement. It’s probably best to end this conversation with the real, normal Nick.

It’s been a year since you gave the world the “Spirit Halloween Theme Song.” Now the spooky season is here again. What might be next for you and Spirit Halloween?

NL: I wish my baby slept enough last night for me to give you a clever little quip on the fly. I want to be vague about it. People have been DM-ing me on Instagram and I respond with the eye emojis. I’m not going to say anything official.

Unlike his character who never shows any remorse for anything, Lutsko apologizes for his non-answer. But he doesn’t need to. He said more than enough to get people excited for Halloween 2021. Besides, he doesn’t need to say anything at all.

Nick Lutsko fans are always on the lookout for his next release or tweet. And in the meantime, they’ll still be listening to his first two Spirit Halloween songs. I know because I haven’t stopped since the first time I did.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike, and also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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