Interview: “Weird Al” Yankovic

on June 28, 2011, 10:00am
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weird al yankovicFor as long as there has been popular music, there have been parody musicians. But not only until very recently, at the dawn of the Music Video Age (brought about by the slaying of the Radio Star), was it possible to make a life’s work from this noble, comedic pursuit. Since 1981, “Weird Al” Yankovic has been the parody musician. Like some great arbiter of popular culture, he observes our media mess, and unleashes his reconfigured Frankenstein-babies when the time is right. It’s been nearly five years since his last studio album, Straight Outta Lynwood, and in that time he’s released a five-track Internet EP, gotten involved with a fair share of projects, toured, and had a now infamous misunderstanding with a certain mommy monster. Now, at last, the Alpocalypse is upon us.

Yankovic’s 13th LP dropped this week, and for the occasion Consequence of Sound and Nerdy Show‘s own resident “ALcoholic” Cap Blackard had a chance to speak with the man, the legend. They touch on Al’s legacy in modern pop culture, his influence on a whole generation of young parody artists, and the creative teams behind Al’s album’s worth of brand-new videos. So, grab a Twinkie-wiener sandwich, dim the lights, and snuggle up for an intimate conversation with “Weird Al” Yankovic.

From the 80’s to our current generation of pop music, there’s been a wide shift in styles, and you’ve been neck deep in all of them. In working with the past three decades of music, what’s been the biggest challenge for you as a parody artist?

Well, it’s so easy for me to transform and morph into whatever style is popular at any given moment. I think my biggest challenge is always just trying to be fresh, and not repeat myself too much, and not rely on the same gag, and just try to always be different, and surprising.  It’s tough to be around as long as I have and still surprise people.

Has your method of writing parody music changed over the years?

I think I more or less have the same kind of comedic sensibility. I think I have gotten better at what I do over the years, in terms of writing and performing. But, I think it’s hard to say…The writing process is similar. Again, I’m always trying new things, so it’s probably expanding, and getting more complicated as time goes on.

In the age of the Internet, amazing parodies appear days, even hours after the original content’s release. What has this dramatic shift in the world of parody music been like for you?

I think it’s a great opportunity for people. The kids growing up in the YouTube age have the opportunity to have millions of people hear their work if it’s quality work, which is great for them. The downside of it, for me, is that I will never again be the first person, and certainly not the only person to ever parody a hit song. It doesn’t really change what I do, but I find that I have to put blinders on, cause I don’t even want to know what else is out there. I just have to keep doing my job the way I’ve been doing it, and try not to be upset that I am probably the 10,000th person to do a Miley Cyrus parody.

With web sites like The Funny Music Project (aka “The FuMP”), where a number of artists from the Dementia scene, all of them inspired by you in some way, do you need to steer clear of that sort of thing for the betterment of your own work?

I don’t mean I am insulating myself from other artists. I mean, I appreciate them, and I heard their “I Wanna Be Weird Al” song, which I contributed to, and I’m really grateful and flattered by that. I just mean in general…When I decided I wanted to do a Lady Gaga parody, I didn’t go out and Google “Lady Gaga parodies”, because I’m sure there are tons of them. I just try to do what I do, but I certainly appreciate other comedic artists, and other people doing parody, and people that do it well. I just try not to expose myself too much to that, because I don’t want to cloud my own personal vision.

This new album, Alpocalypse, has been a long time coming. I know I’ve been waiting for a new full-length ever since your EP, Internet Leaks, was announced in 2008, and that didn’t really get realized until mid 2009.  Then, in 2010 you announced you were working on a film, and later that year it was announced that it was canceled.  Then you went on tour, the Lady Gaga mix-up happened…It just seems that the last few years have been really stressful for you. What’s it been like?

Yeah, I’ve gotten a few gray hairs in the past five years. It’s just a lot of stuff going on. I don’t know if it has been more stressful than normal, but there are a lot of things going on. The movie thing was on Cartoon Network. That was a disappointment, obviously. There were other projects that came and went without ever being publicized. It feels like there has been a long time between albums, and it has, but I certainly haven’t been slacking. It feels like I have been working pretty hard the whole time. I wish I could be releasing more albums in a more timely fashion, but there are a number of reasons for that, the primary one being that I have to be inspired, and feel like the time is right. Some of my albums in the ‘80’s I may have put out too quickly, because I was just feeling more pressured to get anything out there, and now, every album I put out, I like to feel like it’s an event, and I feel I have the luxury to take my time until it’s something that I am very proud of.

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