Above the Fold

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★  Jul 22, 2024  ★

Parody, Punk Rock Puppets, and Life After Super Deluxe With Nick Lutsko

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Original Fuzz recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Chattanooga songwriter, producer, and new king of music comedy, Nick Lutsko. Creating satirical music videos with the entertainment company Super Deluxe, Nick has quickly garnered a sterling reputation for his pitch-perfect parodies, stylistic versatility, and animated live performances featuring his band of otherworldly creatures—The Gimmix.

By Luke Graves

OF: Hey Nick, thanks for taking the time! How long have you been in Chattanooga? Are you originally from the area?

NL: I’ve pretty much grown up here. My family moved here when I was in elementary school – around second grade. I went away and studied at MTSU in Murfreesboro, came back right when I graduated, and I’ve been here since.

What’s your songwriting journey been like so far? Did you study music at university?

I did the commercial songwriting thing [at MTSU], and my freshman year was the first year they started the program, so we were very much guinea pigs. I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do. The main thing they taught was, “If you want to make money writing music, just turn on the radio and repeat.”

Not only did I not enjoy it, I just wasn’t good at it and didn’t have the same fervor as for what I was creating. I learned really quickly that this wasn’t the route I wanted to go down. So it’s like, I have this degree in this thing that I’m not very good at and don’t really know anything about. But for songwriting, it’s not, “Hey, can I have a job writing songs for you?” They’re not gonna say, “Can we see your degree?” They’re gonna say, “Can we hear your songs?” So, it’s kind of a weird thing to begin with.

Especially now as we’re seeing more artists going outside of the formal music education and label/studio routes towards independent recording and self-promotion.

Yeah, I produce all of my own stuff and could have benefited so much from getting deeper into the audio side of things. I was lucky enough to take some music business classes that I learned a lot from, specifically those social media management type classes. I feel that’s a big part of the reason of why I’ve had luck here in Chattanooga – just having a handle on how to grow and connect to an audience. So many people weren’t even thinking of that five years ago.

I was shocked to hear so many professors lament over how the music industry was dead. It’s a matter of adapting rather than saying, “Oh, it’s a sinking ship. Let’s try to pull it up and set sail again.” That’s long gone, and there’s a new way to do things now. If you don’t get with it, your ship’s going to keep sinking. It’s like that Bob Dylan song, “Your old road is rapidly agin’, please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand...”

Can you talk a bit about your current process, both as a solo artist and for your work with Super Deluxe? I assume there’s some overlap there.

Yeah, there started to be. I don’t know if you saw, Super Deluxe shut down yesterday. That was totally unexpected. But it is interesting; since 2013, my main hustle has been writing and producing music. There was never really a comedic element to it. I did the first two records entirely by myself, and the second album sounded like I had a band, but it was really just me playing all of the instruments.

I knew that when I released a record, I wanted to put together a band. But before I was able to do that, I shot a couple of music videos and used these hand puppets that I had made in college as my backing band. So before I got the band together, I was trying to figure out a way to actually have puppets on stage performing with me. Then the idea of the puppet costumes came up, so we tried that out. People responded to it really well, and we did that for about a year before I started working for Super Deluxe.

How did you initially connect with Super Deluxe?

That was a total fluke. I was following Tim Heidecker and Vic Berger on Twitter and was just really into their work. They did this election special – this is 2016 – where they went to the RNC [Republican National Convention] and DNC [Democratic National Convention], and I was playing bass in my bed and had this little riff that went “Vic and Tim at the Republican Convention.” I stayed up all night recording, editing in Alex Jones sound bites and stuff, and tweeted at them the next morning. They got back to me and said that they loved it and asked if they could use it as the official theme song.

Super Deluxe was producing that, and from there, I just let them know, like, “Hey, I’m trying to do music for a living.” Keep in mind, I was living with my parents at the time, didn’t have an income outside of playing shows and selling records, and I knew my time was limited. So, I let them them know that I was interested in doing more work like that, the music comedy kind of stuff, even though I’ve never really done anything like that before other than that fifteen second sound bite.

[Donald] Trump had also had a Twitter storm that day, just really whiny stuff about the election, and my producer said, “His tweets sound like an early 2000s emo song.” I think he specifically mentioned Blink-182, and I literally had a Tom DeLonge Stratocaster that I hadn’t touched in fifteen years, so I pulled that out and stayed up all night again to record the song. I felt like I had so much to prove—I think they reached out at 7 PM, and I had them something by 8 AM the next morning.

So, we did a couple of those, and it was the next one that really went viral and got the ball rolling. I did music with them for about two years and things were really starting to pick up these past few months. I was writing a song every other week, and they were syndicating the old ones [for Super Deluxe Music], so they were in constant rotation, these songs.

How are you feeling, given the recent news of their shutting down again? Are you already thinking about what’s next?

Yeah, I’m in this weird place where I built this brand out of music comedy which was such a fluke that I got into it in the first place, and now I’m at a real crossroads. Do I really commit and try to lean into this thing? Am I going to try and bridge the gap between my original music and this thing that I started doing for this company? Or am I going to try to find another company that will pay me to do this kind of thing without my name attached to it? So, yeah, I don’t know. I’m at a crossroads for sure – it’s just a matter of what the following days and weeks bring.

I left my day job at the end of last year to do music full time and have been working on my next record for the last year and a half at least. It’s been my number one priority and is very, very close to being finished, so that’s the next thing I know for sure that I’m going to be doing – figuring out the best way to put out this record.

What roles do you think these platforms and the internet play in terms of politics in 2018? Your videos, while incredibly funny, certainly don’t shy away from the political and shine a spotlight on the often-absurd rhetoric of politicians and celebrities.

I mean, it’s definitely scary. The one thing that I really get bummed about, especially on Twitter, is seeing 90% of the people I follow sharing the same political views. It’s really easy to get in this bubble…and for each perspective, everyone’s living in this extreme version of their own bias.

I do think political satire is a great way to point out how absurd something can be. It’s really tricky figuring out how to engage with someone, especially with strangers on the internet. I don’t know how much political satire is actually changing anyone’s mind, though. I think the best thing it does is make people feel better. “I’m not the only person who feels this way.” It’s such a weird thing to navigate.

My new record, Swords, deals with this a lot. It’s very much influenced by the current political climate and has songs told from different perspectives, showing how it’s often two sides of the coin.

What else would you like people to know?

It’s a weird time, because Super Deluxe has been my sole income for the past year, so it’s scary in that regard, but I am really excited and am proud of everything that I did with them. And I feel that I have a lot to kind of jump off from. We’ll see what happens next.

Artist Nick Lutsko and his puppets The Gimmix strike a Beatles pose

This conversation has been edited and condensed for your pleasure. All photos courtesy of the artist. Watch, listen, and discover more from Nick Lutsko at nicklutsko.com.