Billboard spoke with the Knight Rider/Baywatch legend to find out the story behind this bonkers video, his recent stint performing on American Idol ("I just hammed it up), and what Justin Bieber is doing in his next movie.
Hey, I'm Joe. I work at Billboard.
Hello, Joe. I work at the Internet.
The "True Survivor" video is insane. I know a lot of the footage comes from the Kickstarter-funded Kung Fury, but how did you come to be involved in all this?
The story is equally as crazy. I got a call from Sweden Universal where I was just finishing up a talk show -- it was received quite well –- and they said, "This guy is a new animator, he went on Kickstarter and raised a lot of money, the second-highest amount of money outside the U.S. ever. He's got a video he wants you to do. He wants you to sing a tribute to the '80s and some high-profile Swedish writers are involved." I said, "Let me see the trailer." I saw 10 seconds of the trailer and I was like, "I'm in." It was magical fun -- Sin City with a throwback to the '80s. The kid, David Sandberg, had charisma and charm. I called him and he said, "I can't believe I'm talking to Knight Rider. You're a childhood hero to everybody, would you please do this?" And I said, "Sure, why not?" I believe in Kickstarter, we'll see where it goes. People have given me a break before, so I thought, why not give him a break.
So I flew to Sweden and got into the studio with one of these writers and heard the track and I thought, "Wow, this is terrific." It's definitely a throwback to those Kenny Loggins '80s tracks that I love. The guy who wrote this, Jorgen Elofsson, is awesome. His track record is sick. From Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" to songs with Celine Dion. I kept looking at his wall going, "Boy, am I with one of the master writers of all time." When I heard the track, I went ballistic because I knew I could sing it. It comes from the '80s! That's where I have my big hits, it's the music I organically love. It was the days of Queen, Prince, and Michael Jackson's heyday. So we cut it, and then four months later, I was in the studio in Sweden again shooting the video. I'm hooked up to harnesses, taping my face back, putting on some hair so I could try to look like a young Michael Knight. We were just having a great laugh.
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So what is Kung Fury about?
The movie is about a cop from the future who goes back to kill Adolf Hitler -- the Kung Fuhrer -- and he goes back too far. It's got a lot of references to the '80s and it's a lot of fun This guy told me, "And I am honored you're going to do this movie. I made this in my home, with my friends, and eventually the phone rings and it's Universal Studios. They wanted to make a deal. Then Jeffrey Katzenberg calls with Dreamworks, and they wanted to sign me. And then William Morris Endeavour called and wanted to sign." This movie really is a dream come true story. David Sandberg is sitting in a village in Sweden. His girlfriend plays Wolf Girl in the video. All the people in the video are his friends. They were doing all the stunts in the garage, and they just knew how to use their computers. This kid just has a vision. I call this guy a force of nature in the digital animated world. Now he's got this big toy to play with -- which is a lot of money and DreamWorks -- to make a monster feature, and I think he's like the up-and-coming George Lucas on the block. Wait until we see what these guys can do when we give them the tools.
But the music video is a tribute to David. David Sandberg is the hero here. He made me younger and gave me a good song to sing, so I'm happy and humbled and would like to say thank you very much to him and Universal for calling The Hoff.
The whole project seems very self-aware.
We're just over the moon and having a laugh. That's what the '80s were about: having fun, passion, crazy… so much talent back then was unleashed around the world. Everyone was having fun and it was all positive. The video reflects it. Everything in in that video: Dinosaurs, Miami Vice references, Airwolf, David Hasselhoff, flying cars. I think the reason it's such a big success -- I was trying to figure this out -- is that people in their forties and fifties lived in the '80s, but everybody else didn't know what it was about. And how they're going, "This is the '80s?" I sang on American Idol the other night as a gag. They wanted me to present the finalists and I said, "No, I want to sing a medley." And they said, "okay," so I put together a medley and just hammed it up and sang. And the response was crazy. It's not about taking yourself seriously, it's about having fun.
This song really sounds like it's from the '80s. Is that the kind of music you still listen to?
Yeah, I've been doing a tour called Celebrate the '80s and '90s with The Hoff. We bring on everybody from Vengaboys to Haddaway to Rick Astley to Scooter. Katina and the Waves are coming up. Besides that, I'm writing and starring in a musical. I was offered to do a musical by Eclipse films with Kudos productions. They did Boogie Nights and Dreamboats and Petticoats, a jukebox musical. Kinda like Mamma Mia or Rock of Ages. So I have a full-blown musical. I was just singing "I'm Going to Ibiza" and we wrote a show around it. That goes on tour in October throughout the U.K. We're already selling well, and this "True Survivor" comes out and it seems to have struck a chord with everybody.
What's the central plot of your musical?
David Hasselhoff is a father who runs clubs in Ibiza and his estranged daughter comes to see him after three years. She says, "You weren't really a good dad." And he says, "No I was a good dad." She said, "All you do is go to clubs and chase women" and he said, "no I don't, that's the persona I have. That's my job. I was a good father. And your mother didn't want to have any part of it so she left." So it's about my relationship with my daughter and the club scene in Ibiza -- the beginning of ecstasy, how the father doesn't know what's going on, and she gets caught up in it. It's a love story between a father and daughter, and it's about "do as I say, not as I do." It's about their relationship set with the backdrop of Ibiza and all the songs of the 80s and 90s. We take songs like [Rufus & Chaka Khan's] "Ain't Nobody," which is an uptempo song, and we turn it into a ballad. She sings it to me and I sing it to her. We do a 30-minute encore, and then everybody leaves the show singing the '80s and '90s.
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Are there current artists you listen to? What about the big artists on the chart now, like Taylor Swift or Bruno Mars?
I run into them all the time. Taylor Swift was on America's Got Talent performing [when I was a judge], and I ran into Bruno Mars at the European Music Awards. I go to them every year, and that's where I met Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber when they were together. I ended up doing a video with Bieber recently and he's actually doing a cameo in my movie, Killing Hasselhoff. I go to Coachella every year, but I was still stuck in the '80s with AC/DC and Steely Dan [laughs]. But as far as the new bands are concerned, sure, I listen to them, my daughters really got me into techno pop. In fact, I just got a call from deadmau5 who wants to remix "True Survivor." I don't know if they're ready for that in Sweden yet. And I got Afrojack calling me and telling me how great it is. Everybody's calling me. Mark Ronson is one of the new producers on the block I absolutely love. My daughters keep me abreast of the new stuff. But I'm an old rock guy. I love Scorpions, Status Quo, good ole rock and roll.
What's the story with the movie Bieber is doing a cameo in?
Killing Hasselhoff. It's about a group of guys in college who do a death pool with David Hasselhoof, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Gary Busey -- whoever dies first gets paid. Ken Jeong, from Hangover fame, is down on his luck. Loses his job, his girlfriend, almost loses his mind, decides, "Well, I'm gonna cash in." Hires a hitman, and the hitman happens to be gay and loves David Hasselhoff. Thereby the crazy madness happens. We hired a lot of standup comedians who are really good at improv and kinda just let them go. I've seen the first cut, it's really funny. It's going to Toronto Film Fest in September. It's a good year right now. You're gonna see a lot of retro stuff with Hasselhoff coming back. We'll see what happens.
What about more music?
I'm really anxious to get back in the studio with the same producer and do more songs that throwback to the '80s. I'm definitely going to do that. Plus I'm going on tour with the musical, and the second season of Hoff the Record will be on in the U.K. And recently I did "Looking for Freedom" on New Year's Eve to another million Germans on the 25th anniversary of Berlin Wall. That song still works after 25 years.