Veteran nerdy musicians Paul and Storm, of w00tstock! fame, are already known for their nerdy music and catchy Twitter hashtags but they’re about to catapult into geek royalty with their new show Learning Town. The show, which centers around the shenanigans of the duo as they try their hand at children’s television, premiers on Geek and Sundry January 15th. Check out the interview below to see Paul and Storm dish about being nerds, setting puppets on fire and what makes them geek-out.
Let’s get personal right off the bat. Storm, I’m also from Northern Virginia and I’m wondering what it was like for you guys growing up geek in the DC area and if being from this area, and outside Philadelphia, has influenced the work that both of you do?
Storm: D.C. is one of the most educated places in the country, so in that regard there were a lot of nerdy/geeky types in my school growing up. So, I wasn’t, like, the only kid who was interested in the types of games and shows that we now celebrate today. So I think we probably had a leg up as nerds in the DC area.
Growing up, did you always want to be professional nerds and epic twitter hashtag creators?
Storm: Of course, the creators of Twitter originally were going to build a car wash and we were like, “no man, there’s this thing you can do where…..”
Paul: Microblogging’s where it at guys!
Storm: And then they went and learned programming… No, I don’t think we could ever predict we’d be professional musicians or entertainers. Let alone of the geeky variety. But just being who we are, it makes a lot of sense when you look backwards at things.
How did you fall into being nerdy musicians?
Paul: Storm and I started out in 1994 or so. We were in an a cappella band called Davinci’s Notebook and that started out as basically a cover band slash doo-wop group. Just sort of a copy thing. Storm and I had very similar upbringings as far as nerdy interests go. Lots of TV watching. I was really into musicals and Storm was to a degree. He was in show choir. I would have been if there’d been a show choir at my school! So we had this very similar and complimentary upbringing. We gravitated towards one another.
A number of the cover songs that we did that had a geeky bent to them, the songs that were smarter and funnier, tended to get the best reaction and were also our favorites to perform. We started writing those kinds of things for that group. Those songs became very popular and it became a natural thing. People seem to enjoy this, so let’s give them more of this! Because we’re really smart!
Storm: We can catch onto trends like that! It was a natural progression. It was never a conscious decision. We never said “We’re going to go and be really successful nerdy musicians.” It was an extension of our personalities. You sort of look down one day and you realize “I guess we’re nerdy musicians” as an avocation, not just a description of who we are and that was fine by us.
Who are your biggest influences? Both for general music and also nerdwise?
Storm: Not to speak for both of us but I think it’s true that we both love music. I know it’s a cliche thing about musicians. I will not say we love every type of music. There are certainly types that I do not relish listening to. Growing up, I listened to pop music. The Beatles were huge for me. Still are. Nerdwise, Weird Al was a very big deal.
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. Carl Sagan. Cosmos came out in 1980. I was 10. I was absolutely in the perfect demographic for a show like that. I was like, “Wow. Here is a thing that is smart and interesting and is not dumbed down at all.” I loved everything about that whole series.
Storm: If it’s not just musical stuff, then science fiction books. We had a whole library, both of my parents loved reading. Books everywhere. Even as young as 7 or 8, I was picking up Asimov and really getting into it. Probably not understanding all of it but I’d read these different books every year and find something new in them.
Paul: From a career perspective, early on in the Paul and Storm duo days, shortly after Davinci’s Notebook stopped performing, we ended up getting together with Jonathan Coulton, nerdy singer-songwriter and king of the internet. We took a lot of cues as far as how to interact with your audience and how to use your online presence to your best advantage to get your music out there and get people to see you. We took a lot of cues from him. He is just a terrifically smart person. Not just from a “knowing information” standpoint but he has the right instincts as far as ways to take advantage of internet 2.0.
Storm: Coulton has the most internet street smarts of probably anyone that you will meet.
I know the internet has been helpful to you. In fact, that’s how you met Felicia Day. You stalked her on Twitter!
Paul: That’s exactly what we did! [laughs] We had a podcast, because everybody had to have a podcast! When we started our podcast a few years ago, we were coming up with a few ways to get whatever the podcast equivalent of “eyeballs” is. And also just because we’re like that…
Storm: I think it’s “earballs”
Paul: No, “earholes!”
Earballs is better, I like that.
Paul: Okay, we wanted earballs pointed at our podcast. We decided we wanted Felicia Day to notice us and acknowledge our existence. This was probably around season 2 of The Guild. It was the time Felicia Day debuted as “Queen of the Internet.”
Storm: She was known from Dr. Horrible mostly.
Paul: It took awhile for word to get around but it was in the process of that when we became Twitter friends with her friend Kim Evey, who is Felicia’s friend and producer of The Guild and now one of the 3 people running Geek and Sundry. That helped grease those wheels, so to speak. In its own way, it led to our turning Learning Town into a show because Kim was our biggest backer and cheerleader and really made this thing happen. She was the one who said “We should really do a show and not just sit around every so often and talk about it. Let’s write something down.”
Storm: Felicia thought that was a fine idea as well and has been part of the process too.
Let’s talk about Learning Town. At least, whatever you can tell me, because I know you signed a non-disclosure agreement!
Can you talk about the puppets? I hear there are puppets!
Storm: There are puppets. There are quite a number of puppets. They are part of this fictional show, Learning Town. It would have been like Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo… where you had one host and then the cast of puppets.
But this isn’t a kid show, right?
Storm: It is not a kids’ show!
I shouldn’t let my 10 year old niece watch it?
Storm: Uhhhhh, how sophisticated is she?
Paul: It’s not like it’s an onslaught of filth but there are definitely some adult themes within the show. There’s no kids’ content within the show.
Storm: But it’s not highly sexual or anything.
Is it just mostly snark? Snark with puppets?
Paul: I don’t know if it’s actively kid unfriendly. But hey, it’s always nice to give that impression because that means the kids will be more excited to watch it, right?
Storm: The premise of the show is that there is this musical comedy duo called “Paul and Storm.” We had to rack our brains to come up with that one… They take over this kids’ show and they are ill equipped to do it. They are incompetent. They have never run a kids’ show or any show. It’s about them trying to find their way and their friends that help them.
There’s a producer that comes from a rival kids’ show that’s sort of a Yo Gabba Gabba hipper than hip type of show. Her name is Cookie Tuesdays. We bring her in to help us, as well as our only fan named Teddy. He’s the nicest guy in the world. If there’s a person who’s more incompetent in the world than Paul and Storm, it’s Teddy.
In your last podcast, which focuses on the initial filming of Learning Town, it sounded like you guys were pretty overwhelmed by the first day of filming. Have you gotten used to the Hollywood lifestyle?
Paul: We’re very jaded now. I’m wearing sunglasses as we speak.
So Paul and Storm Hollywood Monster Watch has already started?
Storm [laughs]: Yes. If the oreos aren’t served at exactly 92 degrees, there’s going to be trouble at craft services.
Paul: That first day was very big day. We were recording a very big and complex music video on that first day, as well. Then we came back about a week or two later and did almost 3 weeks of solid filming. It very quickly became a thing you got used to. That said, that very first day we went into what is an actual Hollywood soundstage, that had an actual set built with cameras and lights. It was everything you dream about as a young kid saying, “Boy I’d love to be in movies one day! That’d be neat!” It was difficult to describe. It was an interesting mix of emotions. Mostly pleasant. To walk on a stage and here is this thing that a year previous, was just you sitting around a table with some friends kicking around ideas and then suddenly, dozens of people have made this thing into a reality. Then you have to go and act in front of these people. It was tremendous to see.
Storm: I think the hardest part was that there were so many new things to learn. You think, “Okay. There’s going to be a camera. They call action and then you say your lines and then you go home.” But there’s so much involved in it and the pacing of it. These are long days. 10, 12, sometimes 14 hours. You’re seeing how they set up the lights, so they can set up the cameras…. You see how critical it is to be standing in this right place but in a way that doesn’t look like you’re trying to stand in this one place. The sheer number of people involved…. We had the most amazing crew, as well as cast. Everyone was enthusiastic and had fun with it. I think the total number of people was 150, which is just insane. As Paul was saying, it was just us goofing off and kicking around ideas at first. I think the moment for me where I felt like we had something special, was when the grips, who are regular Joe dudes who aren’t Hollywooded out, are up and around and humming songs that they heard on the set. That said to me that this is something that people are really going to enjoy.
Geek and Sundry, at least on the internet, is huge. It’s a big deal.
Storm: They are certainly a power player.
Are you prepared for the amount of nerd-famous that you’re about to be?
Storm: We’re definitely hoping that this will reach a wider circle of people who didn’t know about us before. We’re actually retooling the website with that in mind. There are going to be a bunch of people who don’t already know who we are and we want to put our best faces forward. We think it will be business as usual, just on a larger scale. We love interacting with the people who listen to our music. We’re super active on Twitter, a little less so on Facebook and certainly we’ll be interacting with the comments on YouTube. I think it’ll be a net good.
Do you think taking things to this level and adding the show dynamic, having the crew and the puppets…. does that give you more creative freedom than when it was just the two of you or do you think that you had more freedom when you were a duo?
Paul: It’s sort of a double edged sword. With a crew, it’s a larger machine to steer. It’s not necessarily as immediately responsive. If you suddenly want to change directions or try a new thing it takes more to make that happen.
That said, you also have a much larger support network to take an idea and make something of it. I’m trying to think of an idea that’s not spoilery. Let’s just say there’s more than a few fire extinguishers involved in the course of the story of Learning Town. It’s something where you kind of hope that someone will shoot off a fire extinguisher and hopefully that will work! Then when you get some special effects people to put something together and make it a practical effect, suddenly you can come up with a lot more ideas and ways to use it. You have more freedom to change directions as a duo but at the same time, having the army behind you has its own advantages.
Storm: And the whole Geek and Sundry team from Kim, Felicia and Sheri to our director Sean Becker and with our head writer Josh Cagan, they really let us do everything we wanted to do. On the outset, Kim said to the two of us and Josh, “You go ahead and write the show you want to do. Try not to make it where there are 1000 locations, because that’s not practical. We’ll pull it back as needed.” But really, nothing got pulled back. They made notes to help improve things. It was always something that was a great idea. So while you can’t just on the fly change things, we were able to realize, with Learning Town, our intended creative vision.
Paul: It was really kind of amazing. As Storm says, some things got changed for budgetary reasons or to compact down the story. While things were changed, it never felt like we had to compromise on anything. The show that is coming out is everything we could have wanted. Looking back on it, however the show does, we will be happy. Insofar as, we never felt that they made us change all this stuff that would have been awesome. We got to make this awesome show that came out of our heads without really any compromise. That was really a wonderful experience.
Storm: That said everyone in the world is going to love this show.
When does it premiere?
Paul: January 15 and then it comes out weekly after that for 10 episodes.
I know you love A Song of Ice and Fire. What else are you currently nerding over?
Storm: Patrick Rothfuss, the King Killer Series. That’s big. I’m still catching up on Doctor Who.
Are you serious? What kind of a geek are you?
Paul: I know he’s so lame
Storm: I came late to that game but I am rapidly becoming a Whovian.
Paul: I just read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King. It’s a two book series that was really interesting. Sort of like Harry Potter for grown ups. I’ve been getting into table top games.
I wonder how that came about…
Paul: Imagine that! We actually did an episode of Table Top that will eventually air with Wil. Literally, going on that show got me buying some games and playing them with my family. We play Castle Panic pretty regularly now. That’s lots of fun.
You can check out more of Paul and Storm in the Learning Town trailer below. Don’t forget to tune into Geek and Sundry on January 15th when Learning Town premieres!