Madness, sweat and puppets: The online world of Nick Lutsko

The 31-year-old musician discusses exploring the strange side of songwriting and his sudden social media success with Samuel Hornsby.

On Twitter sits a sweaty man posting demented songs about gremlins, feline urination and Donald Trump’s arse. He froths at the mouth as he proclaims his appreciation for boat parades and proudly yells out about his grandmother’s warnings about the man who lives in his basement until he’s red in the face. This is Nick Lutsko, or rather it is his viral social media alter-ego.

The real Nick Lutsko is the complete opposite. He is calm, laid back and welcoming. However, even if his persona is all fantasy, his love for music is a concrete reality.

Though he has been a professional musician for years he suddenly hit new heights of popularity in August 2020 when he decided to post a joke song satirising the Republican National Convention.

Musical madness: ‘I wanna be at the RNC!’

“My online success was gradual and for years. Then I released ‘I wanna be at the RNC’ and it was massive,” he says.

“I had made three of those types of videos before this. The first one was about the model Chrissy Teigen unfollowing me, the second one was about my cats pissing on my bed and the third was about QAnon. Then I released this one which was just deranged. It was totally unhinged and repetitive and it was going on about Dan Bongino who I didn’t know if anyone knew about, it was just a fun name to sing.

“I remember telling my wife ‘this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever written’ and was worried this would be the song that would make people go ‘okay, this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing’. It turns out that was the song that changed everything and showed me the path forward. I learnt that irreverent and bizarre is more of a good artistic default for me.”

Nick’s first foray into comedy song writing came about accidentally with social media once again lending a hand.

“Back in 2007 I tweeted an unsolicited theme song at the comedy duo ‘Tim & Eric’ for this election special they were doing at the time for an online entertainment site called SuperDeluxe. They liked this little song I made and used it for the show’s theme which got the ball rolling.

“When SuperDeluxe ended I then did some stuff with College Humor and when they ended, I did some stuff with Netflix. They were meme songs where I would take somebody’s words and turn them into a parody of a popular artist.

“I’d always kind of done these things for money and my name were very much behind the scenes on all these projects. I was never really comfortable attaching my face to it because there was some imposter syndrome because I never really envisioned myself as a comedian,” Nick says.

Creative mashups: ‘Eminem as a Talking Heads song’

However, during the pandemic he experienced a sudden change of heart and decided to take a leap of faith by producing musical output that was spontaneous and funny with his face at the forefront. This newfound confidence allowed him to see how far he could take this unrestrained approach to content.

Over time these videos grew to feature a surreal storyline full of strange and mysterious recurring characters. They all followed the narrator who Nick describes as a “misguided 30-year-old man who lives with his grandma and has these paranormal creatures who may or may not exist that interact with him” and that he is either “a pathological liar or severely deluded.”

As the outlandish nature of the videos increased so did their popularity to the point where Nick decided to press this series of deluded viral anthems to vinyl. He started a Bandcamp campaign for the record which received $56,126.79 which was 1331% of the minimum target goal.

Collection of derangement: Nick’s advertisement for ‘Songs on the Computer’

“I was blown away with the success of the recent vinyl campaign and not anticipating that level of support.

“Bandcamp just sent me an email one day saying they were starting this crowdfunding campaign thing. It seemed easy because I just had to press a few buttons and type a few words, then it was live. It was a low-risk situation that didn’t require much work.

“The irony is, as a result of one of the campaign pledge benefits, I now have to shoot 350 videos dressed up as my alter-ego gremlin-human hybrid Desmond which is gonna take a lot of time,” he says with a chuckle.

Green alter-ego: The fan trailer trailer for ‘Gremlins 3’

On the campaign paged he expressed his disbelief that his first vinyl release was a collection of comedic Twitter songs but that it felt on-brand for the decade so far. This is because, despite his recent success arising from light-hearted short songs, music has always been a lifelong pursuit with much of his previous material being far more personal and serious.

Nick began taking guitar lessons in the fourth grade which continued throughout high school. After that he then went on to major in commercial songwriting at Middle Tennessee State University before graduating in 2012 when he moved back in with his parents so he could fully focus on his craft.

He says: “I just always struggled through being an amateur musician and any music that I made just went back into building what I was trying to do artistically.”

Now Nick is often accompanied on these more serious projects by his backing band ‘The Gimmix’ who boast the unique look of life-sized puppets with the costumes created by Nick himself.

“Essentially what happened is I started producing my own records and my album ‘Etc.’ had a full band sound even though it’s just one guy doing everything on it. When it came time to do a music video, since I didn’t have a band at the time, I had the idea of using these hand puppets that I had made for the backing musicians.

“I just really like that it accented this surreal kind of feeling that I was trying to get through with the music and I thought it would be cool to carry that through to the live show. By the time that I did form a band I decided to recreate that by having a human sized puppet band on stage with me. We’ve been running with that ever since.”

Puppet pals: The music video for ‘Predator’

The band rarely tours as a result of many of the members having prior responsibilities and primarily focuses on creating fresh engaging live shows for local crowds in their hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The spectacle of the live shows gradually grew bigger and more different with the band collecting good quality footage to show to new possible venues in the future.

However, COVID-19 thwarted any plans of the band branching out to new live spaces any time soon.

So, with live shows ruled out, Nick was constrained to creating music from his primitive home studio. There he found himself wanting to do something lighter as the world seemed more desolate than ever.

“My previous album ‘Swords’ was very much a direct response to the Trump campaign in 2016 and the administration that followed. You couldn’t help but be bummed out by it. After that I knew I wanted my next project to be more fun,” he says.

Nick prides himself in the fact that he always tries to approach his creative projects from an alternative angle but for his new exploration into comedy music, he found himself having to develop a different method of songwriting.

“With my serious output I like to try and find the path less travelled and in contrast, there’s no concern as to whether the joke songs are derivative. I let the subconscious drive the bus and see where it ends up.

“For example, with the RNC song, I had no work to do that day and knew I wanted to create something. That year’s RNC had just started and so I sat down and wrote the song in maybe an hour then recorded it, shot the video and had it up by the end of that day.

“Then, realising that I could do something that day where there’s not much editing or prior though and getting a warm reception from it was very liberating and had made me able to trust my instincts a little bit more.”

He acknowledges his sudden social media spotlight is a strange chapter in his artistic journey, but it is one that has helped him grow an audience, develop new skills and given him the confidence to explore further into the world of comedic music.

Nick says: “Looking back, I’m glad that I’ve been able to make fun music even though a lot of it is about these dark times. It’s nice to be able to package it in these silly, danceable songs.”