Weird Al Yankovic: Interview
The Couple Has Since Broken Up… But the Spatulas Remain
When I was around 10 years old, I
walked out of a chain superstore clutching a plastic bag that held two brand-new
tapes. Both albums would change the way I listened to music forever. One,
unsurprisingly, was Nirvana's Nevermind. The other was Weird Al
Yankovic's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2. If Nirvana was my gateway into the
musical underground, then it was Weird Al who developed my taste for the truly
eclectic and bizarre. His parodies and polka medleys made me listen to the songs
on the radio with a more critical ear and introduced me to great songs I'd never
heard before — I admit that I heard Al's "Yoda" long before The Kinks' "Lola."
On his new album, Straight Outta Lynwood (Zomba), released September 26,
Al is just as sharp and relevant as ever. He pokes fun at everyone from
Chamillionaire, in a hilarious parody of "Ridin'" called "White & Nerdy," to
Brian Wilson, whose unmistakable style served as inspiration for "Pancreas," a
love song to what might be our most underappreciated internal organ. The
undisputed highlight is the record's finale, "Don't Download This Song," a
brilliant send-up of the RIAA's crackdown on illegal file-sharing. A DualDisc
release, the album includes a DVD with videos for all six of the original songs
on the album, each created by an accomplished animator, as well as bonus footage
of Al and company in the studio.
Call us nerds (it certainly wouldn't be the first time), but TMT abounds with
longtime Weird Al fans. His appeal is so wide, in fact, that everyone with whom
I discussed the interview — friends, family, my boss, a certain Editor-in-Chief
who will remain nameless — was intrigued. Some told me stories about how Al was
their first live concert, and others spontaneously thought of questions to ask.
As a tribute to the broad nature of Al's audience, I've included a few "guest
questions" along with my own. Al's responses, from a new wave-heavy mix tape and
a story about a couple with matching spatula tattoos to his views on illegal
downloading, didn't disappoint. Well... okay, maybe I do wish that he would have
answered that Prince question more thoroughly. But hey, at least this is the
only Weird Al interview on the internet that doesn't heavily reference
Star Wars. Surely that's worth something.
The album's first single, "Don't Download
This Song," really channels "We Are the World" in a way that highlights the
absurdity of making such a big deal about illegal downloading in a world with
countless larger problems. As an artist who is so popular on the Internet, what
are your thoughts on illegal downloading? Is it hurting you, helping you, or
just not affecting you much? What, if anything, should be done about it?
I actually have mixed feelings about the whole situation – and I think that
ambivalence is reflected a bit in the lyrics to "Don't Download This Song." I
don't think it's unfair to say that illegal downloading has hurt the recording
industry over the last few years, and I also
don't think that criminalizing file-sharers is the way to combat the problem.
I'm not exactly sure how the issue should be dealt with, but hopefully the
industry will be able to adapt to the new paradigm and figure out a way to
survive in this brave new world.
"I don't think it's unfair to say that illegal downloading
has hurt the recording industry over the last few years, and I also don't think
that criminalizing file-sharers is the way to combat the problem."
"I don't think it's unfair to say that illegal downloading
includes a DVD featuring videos for your six new, original songs, animated by an
impressive group of animators. Why did you decide to include these videos and,
as an experienced director yourself, what made you choose animation? How did you
work with the animators to create the videos?
I knew I was releasing a DualDisc, and that meant I needed to supply some video
content for the package. Being a huge fan of animation, I was excited about the
idea of doing videos for all of the "original" songs on my album. Since those
songs generally get recorded way before the album is actually released, doing
animation seemed feasible
– plus, it would hopefully give attention to my original songs, which
historically don't get as much attention from the general public as the
parodies. I was thrilled to work with six of my all-time favorite animators:
Bill Plympton, John Kricfalusi [of Ren and Stimpy fame], Jim Blashfield,
David C. Lovelace, Thomas Lee and the guys from Robot Chicken. I had
creative input with a couple of the videos, but by and large I tried to suppress
my control freak impulses and just let these geniuses do their jobs.
Also on the DVD included with the new album is footage of you in the studio.
Though perhaps I shouldn't have been, I was surprised at how earnestly you
seemed to be working at such humorous material. What is your recording process,
and how does it differ between original songs, style parodies, and parodies of
I wanted people to see that even though this is comedy, there is a real process
here – real musicians hard at work, creating in the studio. It's funny stuff,
but we're very serious about what we do. The documentary only covers the first
session (where we did the 6
original songs) because that's always the most creative period. When we do the
parodies, we're more or less just trying to duplicate the original recording in
the studio, so there's not as many creative decisions being made. The style
parodies are by far the hardest to
do, because they combine my obsession with duplicating the arrangement and sound
of the original source material with the assignment of coming up with a totally
new and original composition.
Because of your parodies, you need to keep very current with mainstream
music, from pop to hip-hop to country. My dad, a Weird Al fan since before I
knew what music was, wonders what kind of music you listen to in your spare
time, completely for your own enjoyment. To that end, and since I do write for a
website called Tiny Mix Tapes, could you give me the first five songs of a Weird
Al Yankovic Leisure Time Mix Tape?
1. Ben Folds Five – Song For The Dumped
2. The B-52's – My Own Private Idaho
3. Cake – Sheep Go To Heaven
4. The Presidents of the United States Of America – Love Everybody
5. Devo – Uncontrollable Urge
What always seems to make your polka medleys funny is that they strip away
the pop star posturing and slick production that endears many singles to
listeners, leaving only the lyrics and general melody. What do you think makes a
song, like The Killers' "Somebody Told Me" and Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's
Hot," a good candidate for polka?
Well, I think you hit on it precisely – once you take the lyrics and melodies of
these popular songs and juxtapose them with an incongruous genre... hilarity
You've noted that the only artist who consistently turns you down for
parodies is The Artist Once Formerly Known as Prince but Now I Guess Known as
Prince Again. Which of his songs would you most like to parody? Could you give
us a few lines of lyrics?
Oh, there were several Prince songs in the '80s that I was considering, but he
was just never really into the whole parody thing. I'm reluctant to say what the
ideas were, because I like to recycle.
met a guy and a girl that had large spatulas tattooed on their stomachs because
of a line in my movie UHF: 'What better way to say "I love you" than with the
gift of a spatula?'"
Maha who, it must be said, did study literary theory in college, is interested
in the parodies and imitations of you and your work (what she has dubbed
"meta-parody"). For instance, The Onion seems to love using you in its
fake news headlines, and many of your fans have disseminated Weird Al-style
parody songs that are sometimes even falsely credited to you. How do you react
to these parodies and imitations? Is it always flattering, or is there a line
that shouldn't be crossed?
I'm throwing bricks all the time, so you think I'd want to live in a glass
house? I think all those parodies are cool, and I'm flattered by it all. I'm a
particularly big fan of The Onion – they can do no wrong by me.
You probably have a wider-ranging audience than almost any musician around. For
instance, my boyfriend grew up in Central Pennsylvania and was surprised to find
that the Amish really took to "Amish Paradise." He often heard it blasting from
the speakers of horse-drawn buggies. What is the strangest or most surprising
encounter that you've had with a fan?
I once met a guy and a girl that had large spatulas tattooed on their stomachs
because of a line in my movie UHF: "What better way to say 'I love you' than
with the gift of a spatula?" Unfortunately, the couple has since broken up...
but the spatulas remain.
By now, you're almost as famous for your films and TV shows, from UHF to
AL-TV, as your music. Besides music videos, will we be seeing Weird Al on the
big or small screen any time soon?
I've been doing a lot of promotion for my new album, so I should be popping up
on the small screen here and there. I may or may not be doing another AL-TV –
we'll have to wait and see how that pans out. Other than that, I'm very
interested in doing other television and feature film projects – hopefully I'll
be able to develop something that studios will be excited about, or I'll be
offered something that's a good creative match with me.
You've been recording for almost 25 years now. Do you ever think of
retirement, or do you see yourself releasing albums for years to come? After
almost a quarter of a century, what keeps you excited about what you do?
There's nothing I'd rather be doing than what I'm doing. I'm still thrilled to
have this gig. I do have my own family now, and I'm careful not to let my work
detract too much from that part of my life, but I do love my job and I don't
plan on quitting anytime soon. As long as the fans are still excited about
hearing Weird Al albums, I'll keep on making 'em.