Our Interview with the Irreplaceable Weird Al Yankovic

The most prolific voice of parody for the last 30 years shows no signs of slowing down.

Zack S. Westby Zack S. West

Recently, I was fortunate enough to get to talk to one of my childhood heroes. Weird Al Yankovic has been the go to guy for parodies for literally my entire life. People just assume every parody is his. Which is ridiculous, because that's like assuming every painting is a Picasso. Other people write parodies too, guys.

But, obviously, not quite like Weird Al. As it turns out, he's funnier and nicer than, child, you could have possibly hoped when you dreamed of being a guest on his TV show. And he's on tour!  Seriously, you should probably go see him, because he's pretty friggin' awesome.

Here's some proof.

 

 

Zack S. West: You just released a new album, immediately went on tour, and generally haven't stopped in decades. You have this ridiculous, rambunctious persona… how do you keep up the energy, all the time?

Weird Al Yankovic: (laughs) Well, to keep it up, have I sleep in my hyperbaric chamber 20 hours a day… and I just have to limit the weirdness. Some people want to advertise their weirdness, and spread it out, that's not me. I have to pinpoint specific moments. That way I don't waste it.

ZSW: I was just listening to the tribute album "Twenty Six and a Half", and I gotta say it's fantastic. While I'm sure it's a great honor, I noticed they were performing covers of parodies. Are you afraid of creating a parody paradox and destroying the universe?

WAY: You could do a cover of a parody… you could do a parody of a cover. You should be fine. You could do a parody of a parody for all I'm concerned. But I love the album. I was blown away by the talent of the people, and the production values. It was a real honor.

ZSW: Speaking of new albums, your new album "Alpocalypse" came out recently. Was there a specific method or theme you approached this album with?

WAY: No. (We both laughed here, heartily. Feel free to do the same.) The Alpocalypse theme was just a funny visual I had in my notebook. I thought it would be funny to see me as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I never have any real conceptual continuity, as Frank Zappa would say. They're basically just a collection of funny songs. I try to do about half parodies and half originals, and many of the originals are the pastiches that are meant to sound like another artist or group, and then of course there's the requisite polka medley. But other than that I try to make every song on the album sound as disparate and be as much of an eclectic group as possible. I actually really enjoy jarring, horrible segues between songs, so I try to do as many genres as possible- try to mix it up. But there's no real thematic continuity on the album, I didn't go into this album thinking "…this is the new phase of my career!" I write songs that are funny, and when there are 12 of them, I have an album.

ZSW: Speaking of which, people don't talk enough about your original work, especially the really scathing and brilliant pastiches like Dare to be Stupid (sounds like Devo) and Close But No Cigar (sounds like Cake). How do you distill the essence of a band into an original song like that, and then still make it funny?

WAY: Well, that's certainly my goal. It is a real labor of love. I wouldn't do a song like that for a band I didn't appreciate. It usually starts with me listening to their entire body of work, taking notes. I try to pick out things that are emblematic of their style, or if they have any musical idiosyncrasies, or really anything they do more than once. At that point I just wait for inspiration to flow, because I try to come up with a melody based on those notes that sound familiar but aren't outright plagaristic. There's a fine line between doing a pastiche and doing a parody. My biggest (pastiche) successes were when you can tell "oh, you're definitely doing this artist", but you can't immediately pinpoint "oh, it's supposed to sound like this song." I've assimilated the style so you can't tell what the specific influences are.

ZSW: You also have a children's book out this year.

WAY: Yeah, it came out in February, and it actually made the New York Times Bestseller list, which means I can annoy all my writer friends by saying I'm a New York Times Bestselling author. And I'm actually right now working on book number two. I don't know when it will come out, probably a couple years, because I found out there's quite a lead time on children's books, so we're probably talking 2013 or 2014 at this point. But I'm working on it, so hopefully it'll come out someday.

ZSW: So, for a nerdy white boy from the suburbs with a penchant for the accordion, and now children's books, you've become quite the rapper. You have an instantly recognizable flow, and your rhymes are impeccable and hilarious. Songs like All About the Pentiums and White and Nerdy wouldn't work without it. How did you develop that skill?

WAY: Well, I grew up a few scant yards from the Compton border, so maybe there's something in the water, or my DNA. It's hard to say. But I think it comes down to the fact that I'm completely shameless and willing to try anything. I'm obviously not a rapper, and I don't have any claims to be one, really. But I put everything I've got into it, and I give it my best shot, and sometimes that works. It was amazing for Chamillionare to tell me that I had great rapping skills because, you know, I'm faking it.

ZSW: Well, I'm faking it with this interview, so I'm right there with you.

WAY: That's how it works. You fake something until you're good at it.

ZSW: Absolutely. Well, we're running out of time here, so I would like to say in these last few moments that I genuinely believe your song Albuquerque (the 11 minute song/rant epic from Running With Scissors) may be the only perfect thing in existence.

WAY: (laughs) I really appreciate that, thank you.

 

You can find Al at www.weirdal.com, and me @ZSWest on twitter.

And as a special treat, here's the video for Al's  new polka, polka, Polka Face.

 

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"Weird Al" Yankovic – Polka Face
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