The album features an orca that never sleeps, a giant squid that lives at the bottom of the ocean, seagull men, etc. If you were making an elevator pitch for this as a script, how would you sum it up?
Jimmy Hayward I was at the Doctor [Dreyer]’s place, and he can say a bunch of shit at once, like when there are 10 TVs on at the same time. I was getting the general picture when he said, “Hey, man, I want you to write me a nautical spaghetti Western.” He had this whole idea of this Japanese diver. The eve before his wedding, he’s undersea doing his job, and a tsunami hits that causes a reactor to release all this radiation into the ocean. Suddenly, you’ve got this 150-foot deep-sea diver who’s enraged that his wife is killed, so he goes and sacks the city. That’s where it started, and the songs are all interconnected from there. Doctor and I have this crazy relationship, like Lennon and Lenin.
Peter Griffin (Laughs.) McCartney and McCarthy!
Give us a window into Dreyer’s imagination.
Hayward I think we get along so well because we both create imaginary worlds. Also, he grew up in Coco Beach, Fla. I also grew up on the water. That’s the funny thing about our song “The Orca” -- there was a little place called Sealand in Victoria, BC. I went to school with a girl whose dad owned it. They had one of the world’s first captive orcas. She fed that orca all the time, and one day, she ran out of fish, and it pulled her to the bottom of the tank, pinned her down and killed her. The Canadian government shut the place down, and they sold it to SeaWorld, where Doctor lived. That whale, Tilikum, became Shamu, and it killed some people where he lived, too.
The album is really theatrical. How did you reflect some of those dark undertones in the music?
Hayward An old studio guy told me back in the day: “Always reward smart people for paying attention.” As you really dig in, the layers come off. Like, if you look at some of the lyrics of [album track] “The Fogger,” where we talk about retribution against the abusers of the beautiful life in the ocean -- there’s more there than the surface story.
Listen to Legend of the Seagullmen in its entirety, which Billboard is exclusively streaming today:
Griffin That’s what got me interested in the band to begin with. I hadn’t heard a note when I talked to Jimmy about the whole thing. Now, I’m not sure I ever want to be in a band that doesn’t have a movie director in it. The whale noises, the creaking ships and stuff like that -- I don’t know of anybody in any band I’ve ever been in who would’ve thought to put that much into a record. It’s almost like an old radio show. The visual thing and the music can be at odds sometimes, but I don’t think that’s the case with this. I stand behind the music first, plus it has this heavy visual component. Even just the liner notes and album artwork are on a level that I don’t think exists elsewhere.
Hayward We make all our own merch, we shoot our own images, and we craft all those paintings. I do those photo shoots on a green screen, and then Doctor and his brother and I treat them. We don’t have some art director at a label. We hang out in studios all the time. We’re guys who just like to make shit.
You recorded Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, and Woody Harrelson’s voice parts in Free Birds separately, but there was also a lot of improvisation. A lot of the band recorded separately as well.
Hayward I had to keep all those conversations in my head, sometimes for months. Improvisational comedy is one of my strong suits when I make movies. That’s what I do all the time when I’m with my friends. And we make music that way.
People might assume that improvisation would be impossible without everyone being in the same room.
Hayward That’s my favorite thing to do.
Griffin That’s what was amazing about me coming in when a lot of the stuff had already been tracked. When it came time to get ready to play live shows, I had no idea how well Jimmy played guitar. That shouldn’t be surprising, but unconsciously, there’s almost like a jealousy there. I’ve spent my entire life studying music, and then I run up against people like him, where there’s a natural ability that’s undeniable.
After making six films at Pixar and two at Blue Sky, you insisted on shooting Jonah Hex with anamorphic film. How organic did you keep this record?
Hayward It’s all analog synths and outboad gear -- no plug-ins or anything like that. All the effects and amps are analog.
Having worked on Toy Story, what reflections do you have on being part of something that became so iconic?
Hayward We did that movie with 25 dudes in a strip mall next to an oil refinery. Steve Jobs was running around in his Daisy Dukes! We knew we were onto something, but we didn’t know we were going to cinematically change the world and the idea of what that type of entertainment could be. I remember talking to [writer] Pete Docter, standing there in the little strip-mall studios we worked in, going, “Do you think this is going to work?” [Laughs.]