Nick Offerman on Playing the Hip Dad in 'Hearts Beat Loud,' Buying a Guitar From Jeff Tweedy & Crate Digging

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Courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky/Eric Lin
Offerman (right) and Clemons in Hearts Beat Loud.

In the touching indie drama, Hearts Beat Loud, out Friday (June 8), Nick Offerman plays a Brooklyn record store owner and single dad, who connects with his college-departing daughter, played by Kiersey Clemons, through their weekly “jam sesh.”

In his first leading film role, Offerman sings and plays guitar, bass and drums on the original songs written by Keegan DeWitt. “It really changes your acting if you’re really playing, I found,” he says. “I [was] like ‘Holy shit, we’re rocking out. We’re for real.’ That really grounded me.”

The actor talked to Billboard at Offerman Woodshop, his East Los Angeles-based wood shop collective that sells a full range of items online. “We have four people working full time,” he says. “This year, I was able to get everybody health insurance and worker’s comp and give them benefits.” Offerman, who is teaching himself to make ukuleles, had returned to Los Angeles the day before from touring with his wife, Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally, and her duo, Nancy and Beth.

Offerman, 47, keeps the exact location of the woodshop secret, in part because at least a couple of times a month a Parks & Recreation fan shows up looking for “Ron Swanson eating a steak,” he says, citing his beloved, aggressively carnivorous sitcom character. Today the interloper is the four-legged kind: a massive raccoon who trundles to the open entrance of the woodshop, intrigued by some empty pizza boxes on the ground. “Let’s go look at it!,” an enthusiastic Offerman suggests. Much to Offerman’s delight, the raccoon nonchalantly saunters down the alley before climbing a fence to a tree. “We spotted each other and he was like, ‘I’m just cruising by,'” Offerman observes, giving one of his patented gurgling laughs -- the one that sounds like it’s turning in on itself -- before raising a low net across the door to keep out other critters.

STARRING MAN STATUS: ”Brett Haley, the director of Hearts Beat Loud, and Mark Basch write these movies and this is their third together. The second was The Hero with Sam Elliott, in which I have a supporting role. Getting paid to sit and watch Sam Elliott talk. Forget about it. He’s chiseled from granite. You can have whoever your boy toys are. He’s 73 and just gorgeous. Thankfully, [Brett and Mark] took a shine to me and said, ‘We have an idea. We think we’re going to write you the next one.’ I loved Brett’s first two movies so much, I pretty much would have signed on without reading the script. I trusted them. Their movies aren't edgy, they’re not taking big swings, they’re really mature looks at people dealing with shit in their lives. Ultimately, whatever questions are posed, love is usually the answer in some form. Once I read it, I just felt immense gratitude because no one’s written me a movie like that. I was so thrilled.”

FAMILY TIES: “As soon as [Kiersey] showed up, I started trying to get her to think I was cool, like a dad would. I’ll never succeed, but that was immediately our dynamic. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m cool like you! I use the Insta-Twitter and all that stuff. Check this out: Kool & the Gang, you’re in for quite a surprise.’ That’s not a good example because they’re timeless.”

CALLING JEFF TWEEDY: “I play guitar but I’d never played electric before. That took me three months of sweat and cramping fingers to just to be able to play these easy little parts. But it was thrilling for me. I felt like Eddie Van Halen. The Les Paul custom in the movie I [bought] from Jeff Tweedy. We’re buddies. I got this job and I called Jeff and said, ‘I’m playing this guy who’s this rock star wannabe. He’s always been in a band, he runs a vinyl store and he has a shitty acoustic guitar and a crappy electric and then overspends on some guitar. Will you please tell me what guitars to get so that I don’t pick the wrong ones so that when you see the movie you don’t hate me because I didn't ask you what guitars to get.” Jeff collects guitars. It’s this amazing, ever-evolving collection. Once a year, he’ll announce he’s going to get rid of 30 and they’ll do a sale. He said there’s actually a few coming up in the sale that would be right. That’s how I ended up with that Les Paul.”

RECORD STORE DAYS: “We shot in a really cool record store called Academy Records in Greenpoint and we just turned it into Red Hook Records. We actually changed it quite a bit, but the stock was there. Interestingly, every record that you see we had to clear, which was crazy. We had to get permission to show the album art.”

CRATE DIGGING: “I was just in Cape Town working and there was this really groovy record store. Megan really loves old records. We share a lot of tastes, but she’s way more encyclopedic in her knowledge and her tastes are more refined, but I went through every stack of records in that store to see if there were treasures for her. I [found] five amazing, in really good shape, Bob Newhart comedy albums from the ‘60s. She is besotted with Bob Newhart from soup to nuts, so those went over very well. I’m very specific. First I look for Tom Waits. No one does romance like that guy. When I met Megan, one of the big green flags is she had just recorded her first record with her previous band, Supreme Music Program, and one of the songs was Tom Waits’ ‘Ruby’s Arms.’ We went to her car and she played if for me and I was like, ‘Well, I wasn't looking for a wife when I went into this car but now I believe I’m all set.’ I chose ‘Picture In A Frame’ as the recessional for our wedding.”

FORMATIVE DAYS: “There was a record store in Urbana-Champaign when I was there late ‘80s, early ‘90s [at University of Illinois] called Record Service. In my head, it’s the coolest record store of my life. Everyone there seemed like they were Joan Jett or Nick Cave. It was a really cool college town. For me, the small town kid just discovering counter-culture, all this was new to me. I mean the White Album was new to me in 1989. Talking Heads and Nick Cave and The Cramps and Laurie Anderson, Sweet, Shonen Knife. My immediate best friends and roommates, the first thing they gave me was They Might Be Giants and it took some time for it to soak through. I was like ‘What is this nerd music?’ And then on the third listen, I was like, ‘I’m going to memorize every one of these genius poems.’ A woman who worked in the record store named Krista Khrome had a band named EKG. We all were smitten with her. We’d go see her band play and we’d try to remain in the perfect spot in the mosh pit so she could spit on us during the show. It was a good time."

MUSIC DISCOVERY: ”These days, I only get new music when people tell me about it or send it to me. NPR is the only radio I listen to. Megan and I perform regularly at [Los Angeles nightclub] Largo, but Largo has a pretty specific aesthetic: Anything new there is no more than two degrees removed from Sara Watkins or Jon Brion. It’s painful to follow Largo on social media because really every night there is goddamn amazing.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the June 2 issue of Billboard.