An Interview with Sean Himmelberg (Faux Burnham) about Still Inside and His Future in Music and Film
As we all remember, Bo ends his newest comedy special with the song "Goodbye" and the following simple request:
"Hey, here's a fun idea. How 'bout I sit on the couch, and I watch you next time? I want to hear you tell a joke when no one's laughing in the background"
Since scouring the Internet for the past year, watching practically anything that had the name "Bo Burnham" attached to it, I have come to the conclusion that Sean Himmelberg's Still Inside is the BEST response to Bo's call for creativity.
A faithful shot-for-shot recreation of Inside, complete with new lyrics focusing on how much Sean looks like Bo?!
It's absolutely brilliant and claims the prize for most innovative take on Bo's masterpiece.
After watching this parody more times than I can count, I wanted to reach out to the creator who wrote, directed, and edited this piece and find out more about his musical expertise and future projects.
Sean was very kind and was generous enough to provide me with thorough answers about everything from his haircuts to maintain the right hair length in each segment to his struggles in capturing his "Welcome to the Internet" parody! Such a gem.
Here is my interview with Sean, condensed and edited for clarity purposes.
Bo Burnham Historian: Hi, Sean! What's your musical background/history with performing? Are you self-taught like Bo, or have you studied music theory? I have to say the harmonies on Panoramic are amazing (you have a lovely voice), and it seems like you play a lot of instruments. Do you have a preferred one (like Bo and the keyboard)?
Sean Himmelberg: I was born and raised in Columbia, MO, later going to school in Kansas City at the University of Missouri - Kansas City. I moved to Austin, TX with my partner, Rosemary McGraw (who is also beginning an acting career), in 2019 where we currently live.
I've been attuned to music from a young age. I started learning piano in Kindergarten, but quit somewhere around 4th grade. I've always regretted this, but I joined band in 6th grade and started learning saxophone. In Junior year of high school, I started teaching myself guitar. I've always been interested in writing music and can remember little songs and things I wrote in my childhood—I even have an old tape of myself singing improvised songs with a toy guitar at the age of 4. As a teenager, I started writing compositions and songs much more seriously, obsessed with getting the lyrics and arrangements right. I later decided I would go to college for Music Composition, and yes, I have always had a knack for music theory.
I'm partial to Saxophone, since I've played that for the longest, but I mostly play guitar now and really enjoy it. I think I grew up with rock, so I naturally adhere to guitar playing. Arguably, I enjoy bass guitar even more. My songs are often driven by the bass line, and I take after bassists like Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones, and Chris Squire.
BBH: It's really funny that you and Bo both started out playing the sax. So many similarities!
Who are your favorite bands/musicians?
SH: I'm a huge Beatles fan. I grew up with classic rock, which I mostly have my dad to thank for. I love Led Zeppelin, Yes, Steely Dan, and am always inspired by The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Some other more modern artists that I like are Beck, Audioslave, and Fleet Foxes. I should mention I've always loved film scores too, so I'll throw John Williams, Howard Shore, and Thomas Newman in there as well.
BBH: What's your favorite song that you've created? Is there a particular part in your music you really enjoy (like a guitar solo or something)? My favorites are "The Artist" and the sweet love song "Ask Me Twice."
SH: So happy to hear your favorites! This is practically impossible to answer. I think "The Artist" is possibly my strongest, both lyrically and commercially.
But I also think "Reverie" and "Childhood" are strong lyrically. I love the guitar solos on both "Valentine" and "The Truth." Those may be my favorites musically. I'm most pleased with the mixes on "Valentine" and "She Will Come."
BBH: I had a lot of trouble finding your music online. Do you have a website/central location for your stuff? When I looked up "Rainier," YouTube and Amazon Music came up with other performers (I think...they don't sound like you. "Finish the Job"? "Apartment"?). Any idea why? What have you actually released so far, and when can we expect new music (no rush, obviously)?
SH: There isn't much I can currently do about how difficult it is to find my music. The best I can do is tell people that my name is Rainier and the album is called Panoramic. It was very important to me to create my own publishing company so that I could remain independent, and this likely also has something to do with it.
Creating a website as a central hub where people can find all of my work—from music to film to everything in between—is at the top of my ever-growing to-do list. My hope is to hire a professional web designer, but my budget prevents me from doing this immediately. I'm still researching what my best options are. [Editor's note: Sean has decided to use Wix like me, and he will be launching his website soon!]
As of right now, Panoramic is the only thing I've released, but I plan on releasing a new single in the next few months (I want to film a music video for it too) and hope to follow this up with a new album within the year. Hard to believe it's already been 3 years since I released Panoramic, but I admit that the pandemic threw a wrench in things for me.
BBH: Speaking of music, are you planning to release any of your brilliant parodies? I could seriously listen to your songs every day and not get bored! I think people don't realize how much work goes into writing clever parodies, and you should be recognized for that (like changing up "How the World Works" so that Socko is now an expert on copyright infringement? Genius!).
Socko admonishing Sean in the spoof of "How the World Works"
SH: I'm so glad you enjoy my music! I wondered a few times about releasing the parody songs in some capacity, but I don't think I would feel comfortable doing so. I would risk crossing the threshold into profiting off of the parody and I would like to avoid that. Perhaps I could release them as individual videos on YouTube.
As for the lyrics, I will be adding captions to the spoof in a day or two [Editor's note: They are up now, and I helped proof them!], so hopefully that helps.
BBH: Totally understand about not releasing the parody songs. No worries! That's just me selfishly wanting to add them to my playlist.
So, when were you first compared to Bo? Have you known about him since his YouTube days? Also, have you always been a fan of his work, or do you have a love/hate relationship with him based on your similarity in looks? What's your favorite joke/special by Bo?
Sean recreating the floor scene from Inside
SH: Believe it or not, I didn't know about Bo for a long time. The first time I remember someone telling me that I looked like him was while I was making coffee in 2013 [Editor's note: Sean was a barista like in the song!], well after he got his start.
Even then I never really sought out his content, although I saw Eighth Grade when it came out and really enjoyed it. I think it's true that I somewhat avoided watching his stuff for a long time because there was a bit of jealousy there or feeling like he was living a career that could have been mine. This is petty of course, and I don't actually put much stock into those feelings, but I admit I felt it a little bit.
Since that first comparison, the comments became more and more frequent. It's true that I grew my hair out long before Bo, and escaped comparisons for a long time, but after Inside I've gotten more comments than ever. [Editor's note: At 6'2, Sean's height also plays into these comparisons.]
I watched Inside a few weeks after it came out and it is by far my favorite thing he has come out with so far. It was surreal to watch—I was even exclaiming at one point, "That just is me! That's literally me on the screen." I have since watched more of his stuff and can safely say that I'm an ironic fan now.
Sean with a bowl of cereal on the left, Bo on the right, in "Faux Burnham Instagram"
Sean pointing out his similarity to Bo during the stand-up bit from Inside
BBH: How many times have you watched Inside? Do you have a favorite song/bit? I work in marketing, so I adore the Social Brand Consultant part, and "That Funny Feeling" is my favorite song.
SH: I've watched Inside at least 5 times and probably more. I went through it several times to get certain things about the spoof just right. I have a lot of favorite songs, so it's hard to choose one. "All Time Low" is short but sweet and I love it. "Comedy" is great. "All Eyes on Me" is a banger. I actually saw Phoebe Bridgers' cover of "That Funny Feeling" live at Austin City Limits the weekend after I filmed the spoof. That was surreal.
Bo and Phoebe performing "That Funny Feeling" at the Largo last summer
BBH: How long did it take for you to make this spoof? Was everything filmed in your apartment like Bo? What was the most difficult section to film ("White Woman's Instagram," maybe)?
SH: This is a complicated question to answer. I decided I would make the spoof a month or two after Inside came out. I spent a month or two writing the script and the songs. I filmed everything in a single weekend at the beginning of last October. I spent the next week or so doing the rough edit. I finished recording and mixing the songs just before Christmas and then basically had the thing finished around late February/early March. At the suggestion of a friend, I realized it would be great to release it on April 1st for April Fool's Day (which also happens to be my birthday).
Sean recreating the Twitch streamer segment from Inside
I did film the entire thing in my apartment, almost exclusively in my bedroom. Everything changed about this spoof the moment that I realized my bedroom looked almost identical to Bo's house [Editor's note: It was actually Bo's guest house at the time], and I realized I could match shots almost perfectly. Fate really seemed to play a role in this one.
The hardest part by far was "Welcome to the Recesses." Full disclosure: I never really got the performance down for that one. I stayed up super late filming it over and over, and when I finally did nail it I found out that the battery on my camera had died, and still had to reshoot some of it the next day.
Sean performing "Welcome to the Recesses"
BBH: Happy belated birthday! So you are 28 years old now since the song parody for "30" says you'd turned 27 earlier. Nice! And April's Fools Day must be a fun birthday to have.
Your spoof is the closest thing we have to best understanding the timeline of Inside, specifically Bo's varying beard and hair lengths. Unlike Bo, you knew how long the process of recording would take and could plan accordingly.
How did you manage to keep track of your hair compared to Bo's? Did you grow it out and then cut it to the correct length to film those specific scenes that needed shorter hair? Bo won't provide any answers, so you're our best chance to find out, confirm theories, etc.
SH: My guess is that Bo actually was growing his hair out over time and filming it as he went, but I legitimately filmed my spoof in a single weekend. My hair was already long, and I actually went through the trouble of getting three haircuts to film the different sections.
Sean's hair and beard at various lengths throughout Still Inside
BBH: Wow, that's a lot of haircuts. Thanks for striving for accuracy! It made the final product that much better.
Why did you not parody the Bezos songs or "Don't Wanna Know"? Were they not thematically relevant? I think that was the right choice, and the through line between songs is much stronger because of it.
SH: You're exactly right. I only did songs that I felt I could rework to fit the theme I was trying to convey. While I love the Bezos songs, there wasn't much I could do with them, and they weren't very useful for comparisons of our appearances either.
BBH: I was wondering if you've had religious trauma based on your lyrics in "I Never Said" (and the molestation line in "Welcome to The Recesses"). Is that correct? I am a former Catholic (in the process of converting to Judaism currently), so I totally get it if that is the case.
By the way, I LOVE how you used "chagrin" in that song—you have a great vocabulary!
SH: In short, yes I grew up Catholic and experienced religious trauma, mostly in the form of strict parenting. I often blame my extreme performance anxiety on this and believe it's why it has taken me so long to come into my own as an artist...suffice it to say that I have gone to therapy and am doing fine. My upbringing was otherwise warm.
BBH: No need to explain further! ;)
Do you have some connection to Washington state? I'm just curious as to why you decided to call your band Rainier.
SH: Totally valid question and one that I'm certain I will continue answering for the rest of my career. I am not from Washington, however the name does come from the mountain. I've always been attracted to Seattle and have often thought that it's the place I will one day end up.
Around the time I was trying to come up with a stage name, I finally took a trip to Seattle for the first time and was blown away by Mt. Rainier. It may sound silly to some people, but I legitimately felt spiritually impacted by it. I couldn't take my eyes off of it—no matter where you were, you could see it. Even while driving everyone around, I couldn't keep my eyes on the road.
A lovely shot of Mt. Rainier, the inspiration for Sean's stage name
Anyway, I thought afterward that it sounded like a great stage name and I just went with it. I hope Washington is okay with that.
BBH: I'm sure they will be! How can fans of your music and talents best support you? Is streaming your music on YouTube better than listening to it on Amazon Music or Spotify? Are you planning to create a Patreon?
SH: As of right now, streaming will be the best way. I also plan on making a proper Rainier YouTube channel within the month. This is the first time I've had any kind of a legitimate following and it's exciting. [Editor's note: Sean let me know that he has created the Rainier YouTube channel, but he can't properly sync the licensing for his music until after he's had two more official releases. How frustrating!]
Patreon has crossed my mind before, but I never thought there would be much use for it until now, so I think I may set one up! It would be great if this could also be used toward a short film that Rosemary and I are planning on filming in the next year.
I distribute my music through CD Baby, and they used to have an online store where people could purchase physical copies of my music, but they have since gotten rid of this. Perhaps I could use Patreon for this purpose as well.
Thanks so much, Sean, and we can't wait to see what you create next!
You can follow Sean on Twitter (@Rainier_Scyth94) and on Reddit (u/Scyth94). Thanks for reading!