Every breath he takes, every accounting decision he makes, we’ve been watching him: Brian Baumgartner, who plays lusterless man-childish bean counter Kevin Malone on NBC comedy The Office, isn’t afraid to steal a scene every Thursday night. But he really steps up to the mic in the Feb. 8 episode — see the exclusive sneak peek above — as the singer/drummer of the substandard Police tribute band Scrantonicity, which performs at Phyllis’ wedding. We asked Baumgartner to take us behind the music.
How did this come about? Did Office executive producer Greg Daniels just say to you one day, ”You’re going to be in a bad cover band”?
He came to me and said, ”What can you play?” and I said, ”Nothing.” And he said, ”What do you think would be funny to play?” I was always [going to be] the lead singer, but we also wanted something else as well. We talked about a Blues Traveler-harmonica thing, a saxophone and lead singer, and ultimately decided that a drumming lead singer would be the funniest choice, even though I had absolutely no drumming experience, and it’s a difficult instrument. Despite what children think, banging on pots and pans is not easy. I can now attest to that. Before the music video [seen briefly in the final episode last season, when Jim was helping Pam weed through wedding band videos and they stumbled upon Kevin’s tape], I had quite a few drum lessons. It’s been really fun because it’s given me the freedom to go, ”This is impossible, I don’t drum — or quite frankly sing all that well, and certainly not way up where those guys are singing. So just let it go and rock out as well as Kevin can.” I will say, though: Filming this episode was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done artistically.
Why was it so hard?
The drumming and singing — trying to do that together. So many takes, and I think it ended up being seven different songs that we played. ”Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” ”Roxanne” was so unbelievably high — it is not physically possible for a male to sing that high, in my estimation.
How did you settle on the Police?
The idea of Kevin being in a band has been around since the absolute beginning of Season 1, and he had a Steve Miller tribute band. And because of some issues and negotiating with Mr. Miller, those scenes did not appear on the show. We did have to make a very last-minute change to do this… Kevin talks so low, and has very little expression, and there is no band that sings higher and with more expression than the Police. So the juxtaposition of that was a major reason. And the idea that in Kevin’s spare time he would go rock out to the Police is kind of unbelievable. There’s several things in the show that make Kevin a savant. Suddenly you find out that he has a World Series of Poker bracelet, and you’re like, what? Or that he makes 14 baskets in a row in the basketball episode, and you’re like, what? Similarly, I’ve been told that it is basically physically impossible to drum and sing the Police songs at the same time. Because all the drumming happens on the off beat, and all the singing happens on the down beat, you would have to be a genius musical savant to accomplish this. So regardless of the quality of the sound he makes, there’s something sort of genius about Kevin’s ability to do that.
Did you have to call in some stunt musicians to assist you with your performance?
We got some help with that, I’ll be honest with you. But the problem is when the camera is there, having to even look like doing what you’re supposed to be doing, is sort of the same thing. But there is a curtain behind me and there is another drummer behind me who is also playing.
Anything you can tease from this episode?
It’s the first wedding from The Office. Michael plays a very important role in that wedding. He is to walk Phyllis’ dad down the aisle by pushing him in a wheelchair, which in his mind is him walking Phyllis down the aisle, a very important position of authority. Of course, Phyllis has asked him to do this only so she can get six weeks of vacation time. But for him it’s a place of honor, and from there, things don’t go quite the way that he hopes.
What kind of reaction do you get on the streets these days?
I will walk into a bar, and hear ”Scrantonicity!” yelled out. I have been pumping gas, and people driving by on the road have yelled ”Scrantonicity!” That catches me so off guard. It was a reference in one episode! I have this MySpace page; I’m up to half a million blog readers on these things, and the friends list is at 30,000. I get requests all the time from people: ”No, really dude, when I get married, would you come and play? I don’t live that far from Scranton.” And I want to write back and go, ”You know I’m not really in Scranton, right?” It’s not like you can bribe me with a short commute. There’s some guy who’s made Scrantonicity tour T-shirts on the web, and the reason I know that is because my mom bought some. They came to visit me, and she and my dad were wearing Scrantonicity T-shirts. It’s so crazy to me. All these requests: ”Post Scrantonicity music!” I want to say, ”We’ve only kind of got one song, guys.” The music video is the only time I’ve sung anything from Scrantonicity or the Police.
You really should play at one of these weddings.
Honestly, I would love to. If Donald Trump could sing at the Emmys two years ago, why not? I mean, we can’t be any worse than that, right?
Speaking of MySpace, there’s a dude named Brian Baumgartner who played guitar in the metal band Sworn Vengeance. What would you say to him if you ever met him?
I would tell him to keep rocking. I would ask him if he could rub off some of his musical ability onto me, and if he can hit a high C without going into falsetto. Sworn Vengeance! That’s very awesome.
How psyched are you about the Police reunion?
First of all, I’m hoping that I can get some backstage passes for that because that would be really awesome. I think it would totally rock — mostly because it would be really good for Scrantonicity.
Would Scrantonicity consider opening for the Police?
You know, I don’t want to upstage them. It’s been awhile for them, and we have been practicing. It would be tough, but if we split the gate, we might consider it.
Want more video from The Office? Go behind-the-scenes with John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Steve Carell in this clip from People.com.