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How Coffee Inspired Chelsea Peretti to Make an Instant-Classic Comedy Concept Album

Coffee queen Chelsea Peretti. Photo: Chelsea Peretti/YouTube

No one likes coffee more than Chelsea Peretti. David Lynch comes close, but only Peretti could have written the ridiculous banger “Coffee Crankin’ Thru My Sys” from her podcast, Call Chelsea Peretti. Eight years after that musical debut, and one year after leaving Brooklyn Nine-Nine where she played Gina Linetti, Peretti has matured as a musical artist, although her muse has remained the same: java, baby. Over the past year, Peretti has collaborated with her friend and producer Kool Kojak to craft a concept comedy music album that explores “the complexity of human emotions through the lens of coffee.” The songs are funny but poignant, silly but deep, and feature guests, including Reggie Watts, Juliette Lewis, and Terry Crews.

Today, Peretti’s releasing her five-song teaser EP Foam and Flotsam; call it a sip of things to come. She’s also releasing two music videos: “Oatmilk” featuring Reggie Watts (and both John Early and Joel Kim Booster are in the video!) and “Late.” Check out the videos for yourself below:

Ahead of the release of today’s EP and music videos, Peretti was a guest on Vulture’s Good One podcast to chat about the process of making this album and how baring your soul through music differs from baring your soul through stand-up. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Why She Made an Album About Coffee

I think that it might be because my dad’s side of the family, which is a hodgepodge that leans Italian, would give me coffee with milk in it when I was littlish. I don’t know. But anyway, regardless, what’s not to like? It’s a real pick-me-up. It smells great to me. And then it just makes me so energized. I’m … explaining coffee. When I drink a lot of coffee, I do wind up getting really, really energetic. Then I tend to sing or act — you know, act a fool as the case may be. So, you know, it’s a muse. It’s definitely a muse.

It’s funny because anything I’ve created, people always ask the genesis story, and I have a weird blind spot. I can’t exactly remember how it unfolded. When I used to go on the road doing stand-up more, I would drink coffee, and then I would send [Kojak] these audio recordings of me just singing, a capella of course, just random songs. And then he would turn them into actual songs with instrumentation, and I would put them on my podcast. That’s how the coffee-drinking songs came about, because Kojak has worked with, like, pop people, and he’s good at making an actual pop sound if he wants to. So he took my manic drivel and turned it into this catchy thing. I mean, listen, I don’t want to undersell myself. I’m an incredible songwriter. So that’s kind of how we started. Then we had thought and talked about doing an album; never did it. And then we both were at a place in our careers where we just wanted to do something solely for the creative spirit of it all.

We were just going to slap something together really quick and do it in like a month and put out an album, and then it turned into this odyssey. What has it been, a year? I don’t know. It’s eaten up all my time. I just kind of followed it down every wormhole.

It started like, We’re just going to make a coffee album. So, of course, your first thought is just really hyper songs, really aggressive, really repetitive, and that’s what we were making. Then as I was reviewing them, I’m like, I hate listening to this. So I’m like, Is there any way we can make this album less annoying? Then I feel like I got into really trying to make good music again. There was a phase of that for a couple of months. And then it was like, Wait a minute. These songs aren’t funny anymore. What, am I … just trying to make real music now? So then we bounced into a much more comedic phase where we got into songs that sound good and are funny.

On Using Her Sick Voice for “Oatmilk”

The day I recorded that, I had to redo a bunch of the vocals because it was actually really, really, really slow. But I had lost my voice. I had kind of been sick for two months, getting sicknesses from my toddler. But I went and recorded with Kojak and I’m like, “We should use the fact that my voice is like uhhhhhh.” It sounded so yearning. So I put that into the song. I was like, “I won’t have this cool voice forever.”

On “Late” and Self-Hate

That song wound up being, I think, of any of the songs on the album, the most like stand-up. It has a lot of what I would call reversals in it — you think, Okay, I know the joke, and then it changes again.

It also feels kind of like … I hate to use the word rant, but it feels like exploring every angle of why something is irritating. That’s what I would do in stand-up. It has twists and turns that are, you know, the surprises that make people laugh when you’re doing stand-up. It has been, creatively, just such a fun process to see what translates from stand-up and comedy writing into music.

I’m always interested in the idea of hating yourself, and this song certainly is an examination of that. You know: I fucking hate when people do this, but I myself do this. I mean, there’s a whole term “self-hating Jew.” Why is that? And why is it that some people are born with less self-doubt than others? Why do some people feel confident when they wake up in the morning? I’ve been sort of obsessed with the idea of confidence and believing in yourself, thinking you’re hot, thinking you’re smart. Whatever. Actually, I will say I think I’m smart, but that’s where a lot of my problems lie. So it’s a song about a pet peeve, but then implicating yourself as well and saying, “Listen, I’m not immune to this.”

On “Chore” and Anita Baker’s Involvement on the Album

I always was a big fan of Chika, and I loved her videos online, and she has that same vulnerability. She also clearly has a great sense of humor. We initially were writing it for Anita Baker because Baker has become sort of, I don’t know what, a fairy godmother, mentor. There was a time when she was maybe going to be on the album.

She followed me on Twitter. I followed her. Then she would tweet all the time about coffee. She’s like, “Coffee cups up!” She’s always posting pictures of coffee. I knew I loved this woman. So the whole time we’re making this coffee album and she keeps posting these things, I’m telling Kojak and he’s like, “You have to ask her.” I’m like, “I’m not asking legendary multi–Grammy Award–winning songstress Anita Baker to be on this dumb coffee album.”

But eventually, of course, I did. I DM’d her and sent her, honestly, the absolute most embarrassing, what do you call it, musicians demo or something, where Kojak was singing and I was singing. And it’s just … We’re trying to emulate her insane voice. It just sounded like dogs howling at the night sky. But somehow we had the balls to send this to her. She came to the studio and we played around with her, and Money Mark was there, and we were writing a song together and it was four hours. And then she was exhausted and she went home. But I think she just came to realize, like, What am I doing? I can’t come out of retirement for this nonsense. But she’s remained on our team as a guide and she’s been so awesome.

Then we completely retooled it because it was made in the sound of Anita Baker, but we loved the concept. I was like, “I have no idea if I’m about to get rejected again, but let me reach out to Chika because I think she’s so cool.” And then she was down to do it. She came and we totally did it in this very different way. It became a song that, to me, feels like one of the songs that you would hear on the radio. It’s cool, but it weirdly touches on so many of the themes that I feel right now.

On Her Love-Hate Relationship With Stand-up

It’s voracious of your entire life. Holidays, weekends, every single night, I felt guilty if I wasn’t onstage, and I didn’t like that feeling of owing my life to something in that way. I’m also very moody, so I didn’t like that I’m supposed to kind of be onstage dancing for people, tap-dancing for people every night, regardless of how I’m feeling.

I do think I’m increasingly introverted. But also, most lineups — even though there are so many successful female comedians right now, most lineups at clubs are mostly guys. And I always feel like, the guys that are like “You gotta get up there every day,” would you feel that same way if it was 20 women and you every night? Would you be as psyched to go? Especially when I was younger, I felt like I was going up after like eight guys who fucking hate women and were going on and on spewing all this shit. And then I have to go up and be like, “Hey, I’m the person that everyone hates!” I just felt like I had this chip on my shoulder.

On Leaving Brooklyn Nine-Nine

We shot like 20-something episodes a year. So I just felt it took what I had creatively. I know some people are able to be on a network show and then go do sets every night. For me, that was my creative energy. So when I was off the show, I was finally able to write a movie, which I wanted to do for like 27 years, and then make this album. So it’s the silliest thing to undertake. But on the other hand, it has something that I take really, really seriously, which is creative fire — like true passion and excitement. And like I said, listening to the creative voice in me and just following it and not worrying about if it looks good post–Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or will it sell, or what will my numbers be. I really think it’s funny. And I’ve worked really hard in comedy, so I hope that I have a good sense of what is.

This is a very morbid time, and I’ve really thought, If I died, at least I made this album! What a crazy thing to leave behind. And also my movie script. I guess we could put that up online if I die. I mean, I know it seems so silly and dumb, but this is what I wanted to be my whole life: making something that I’m fully inspired and passionate and engaged in making. And I want you to see it through — everything from merch to this dumb Spotify playlist to the music videos to my bio on Spotify. This sounds so cheesy, but I really, really believe when you follow your heart and you follow the spirit of true creativity, you reap untold offshoots from that.

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Chelsea Peretti Made an Instant-Classic Comedy Concept Album