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THE WEIRD AL YANKOVIC INTERVIEW

In 1979, Weird Al Yankovic released "My Bologna", a parody of the The Knack's "Sharona", and a legend was born.  Over 25 years and 12 albums later, the accordion playing wacky genius is still going strong with his latest release "Straight Outta Lynwood".  With tracks like "Don't Download This Song" and "White and Nerdy", Al's as relevant and funny as ever, with his uncanny ability to parody pop tunes while capturing the look and feel of the originals in both song and video form.  Using Myspace and YouTube to reach more fans that the nearly music free MTV can handle these days, Al's fan base continues to get bigger.  A day after his CD release, we interviewed Al to talk about things old and new, and of course, Osama bin Laden.

Your new CD just came out this Tuesday, correct?

Yesterday, right, yeah.

So the fan response has been pretty amazing so far.  What do you think is so different about this CD that's made it such a big so far with a lot of the fan community? Especially on the internet.

It's hard for me to say. Every time that I put out an album I try to make it the best thing I've ever done. I'm a little biased, I suppose, there's a little bit pressure every time I do something to top myself every time out. I think the material on this album ranks up there with some of my best stuff, and I think fans are hopefully picking up on that.

 
Weird Al's latest video, "White and Nerdy" featuring Donny Osmond!

The video for "White and Nerdy" is really making  the rounds out there pretty heavy on YouTube and other websites and whatnot.  What was it like working with Donny Osmond in that video?

It was amazing, I have to tell you.  I didn't know exactly what to expect.  Donny was the first call, because if you have to have a white and nerdy icon in your video, like who else do you go for? I didn't really know what he'd bring to the table, frankly. As soon as he showed up on the set, he blew everybody away. I didn't give him a whole lot of direction, he was asking "Like what do you want me to do?" And I said, "You're basically the Krayzie Bone in this video. And you're gonna be behind me, just kind of like dancing and moving. Just let the cameras roll and we'll do coverage of the entire song, we'll do one take, I dunno do something, and we'll take a look at it and see what's good and what's bad."  So we turn the camera on and we got on the set and Donny just went nuts. And it was the most hilarious thing I've ever seen. We watched the tape, and the two of us were just cracking up, we were like two little kids.

Oh yeah, it's hilarious.  It's just great.

So he really didn't need any direction at all from me, he was just amazing. It was just so fun.

 
Robot Chicken's take on "Weasel Stomping Day"

That's cool.  What was the inspiration behind your  song "Weasel Stomping Day" on your new CD?

I don't know where that came from exactly, I wanted to do a song about some bizarre made up holiday and "Weasel Stomping Day" just sort of came to mind. I wanted it to sound like a festive holiday song like it was part of one of those Rankin Bass holiday specials from the sixties, very cheery and festive, yet at the same time, as disgusting as possible.

Yeah, the sound effects of the actual weasel stompings really add a nice touch to the song, that's for sure.

Thanks. I don't know if you saw the making of documentary that's a part of the DVD for it but it shows me actually squishing the watermelon in my hands and biting the celery and making all the actual sound effects.

That's great.  Well Dr. Demento was instrumental in helping you launch your  career.  What was it like when you actually met him for the first time.

Well, I think I might have been all of 13 years old when I met him.  He came to a school assembly at Lynwood High School to do a show for the kids.  I was a bit star struck, of course, and I think I might have had a cassette tape that I gave him at the time, cause he was having some kind of "Pico and Sepulveda" song contest, I forget what the prize was, I think maybe a copy of the actual 78 RPM record of "Pico and Sepulveda" (retroCRUSH note: This was a 1947 song by Felix Figueroa and was used for years as Dr. Demento's radio show theme song), but I wasn't even in the running, it was so bad back then, he never even played it on the air. That was my first physical contact with the good doctor.  And of course I sent him stuff in the mail and continued to send him things until he played them on the radio. And then after a few more years my stuff became popular on his show, and by the time I graduated from college I had a cult following and a couple of nationally released singles.

That's right, and if I'm correct, every album since your first has had more sales than the last?

Not exactly.

Well give or take?

Give or take, but the fan base continues to grow.

Do you find it ironic that your career and success has outlasted many of the folks that you've done parodies of in the past?

Yes I do (laughs) I suppose I'm amused by that, yes.

Do you find one genre of music more fun to parody than others, or are they all equally fun to kind of  take a crack at?

They're all fun. I try to hit as many different genres as I can, and that's part of the challenge of what I do. I hope not to repeat myself too terribly much. I'm always looking for new genres to cover and new avenues to explore. I shamelessly follow pop culture wherever it goes.

 

Here's a great example of Weird Al's ability to do spot on parody using music video, with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Al's "Smells Like Nirvana" side by side.  I still laugh when he sings with those marbles falling out of his mouth.

I really loved watching this footage of Nirvana watching your "Smells Like Nirvana" video, and just watching them laugh and fall on top of each other thinking it was so great.

I'm sorry, what is this?

There was this special on MTV some time ago, where Nirvana was sitting  watching your video for "Smells Like Nirvana".

You're kidding?  I don't think I've ever seen that.  I'd love to get that footage, I wonder where I can find that? That sounds great!

It was great, gosh, I wish I could recall what it was , it might have been one of those Kurt Cobain tribute specials or something.

Man, I wish I could track that down, that'd be cool.  But thanks for letting me know about it.

Is there a nervousness that you have before the artist first hears what you've done with their song, wondering what they're going to think of it, or do you kind of work that out with them as it's progressing before they hear it for the first time?

Well, I run the idea by them first, I don't bother writing an entire song before I even know if whether have a sense of humor or not.  As soon as I have a concept for the song, and I feel that the concept is strong enough to merit being on the album, generally I'll have my manager contact their representatives and see if they're even open to the idea....If they've agreed to the song in content, I've never had someone come back and be disappointed with the final product. If an artist is just predisposed toward not liking or wanting parodies, then I won't bother because I don't want to spend all the effort if they're just going to turn it down anyway.

Now you've mentioned, on your site I believe...that Prince has always been a longtime holdout in not wanting to have his work parodied.  What are some of the ideas that you've thrown at Prince through the years that he's said "No" to?

I hate to start mentioning the ideas because I tend to recycle, if I don't use it for Prince, maybe it'll show up somewhere else.

It's now an Eminem song.

Right.

It's been about 12 years since your last boxed set.  Are we gonna see a Super Deluxe Weird Al Collection any time soon?

No plans any time soon. I would anticipate there being some other kind of collection in the future. Certainly my record label has the prerogative for doing as much. The original boxed set actually went out of print, because oddly enough, my old record label had either lost or misplaced all the artwork for the boxed set. 

They couldn't even make more copies of it, huh?

I guess they could probably Xerox the existing copies, but that wouldn't have looked so hot.

Yeah, old ditto paper stapled on there.

Well, it's just as well, anyway, it's a little bit of an anachronism, it's not really so much a boxed set if it's my collected work up until, whatever it was, 1993 or something.

If you had to pick just one of your songs as your all time favorite, what would it be?

Out of everything that I've done in my entire career, I'd have to say my all time favorite parody is whatever one I'm currently promoting, so that would be "White and Nerdy" probably.

Well, how about your original song that you like the most?

Again, it's hard to peg, there's several on the new album that I'm very fond of. "I'll Sue Ya" is a favorite song of mine, and we're looking forward to doing that live on stage for the next tour. "Don't Download This Song" is another big favorite. That was actually the first single for this album, which is quite unusual because we usually release a parody as the first single, but I thought that putting that out first would be a good sort of appetizer for the album.

 
Al's "One More Minute" video from 1988

I remember really liking your "One More Minute" song when it first came out.

Thanks!  That's a longtime favorite.  I've done that one in concert, gosh, for about 20 years now, it's one of my favorite ones to perform live.

Are you planning a tour to support this CD?

Yeah, we're not going out immediately. We're definitely going to be on the road next summer in the US.  We were talking about doing some international dates, that's not for sure yet, but if we can work it out we'd love to go back to Australia maybe early next year.  And we've never played in Europe so it'll be great...if we can work it out logistically.

Do you have any advice for kids that'd like to learn to play the accordion?

Well I think accordion playing is a stepping stone to much bigger things in life, so you can't go wrong taking accordion lessons.

I would think your daughter is pretty lucky to have Weird Al sing songs to her at night time, does she have any particular favorites, or do you get to try out a lot of your material out on her to see what she thinks?

She's heard a lot of my stuff, and I'm very happy that she seems to be a fan. She often requests "Daddy Music" which is very touching, of course. She doesn't particularly like "Don't Download This Song", she thinks it's too slow. But she loves a lot of the songs from the new album, in fact, one of her favorites, and I was very leery about playing this for her, because it's a little violent, but she loves "Weasel Stomping Day". I didn't know how appropriate it was to play that for a 3 year old (laughs), but she thinks it's very funny. I wanted to make sure she understood the irony of the song, and said, "You know, Nina, you wouldn't really stomp on weasels" and she said, "I KNOW that...it's a JOKE, daddy!", and I'm like, "Good, as long as you get that."

You may be sued now...from someone blaming you for their weasel stomping spree.

(laughs) That's the problem with doing irony is like there's always people out there that won't understand that it's supposed to be ironic.

 
"Don't Download This Song" with animation by Bill Plympton

Speaking of the irony, you've got your "Don't Download This Song", the first single from Straight Outta Lynwood here, at first it certainly sounds like a real holier than thou scolding but then it just gets like, "you're keeping us from buying gold-plated Humvees and diamond-studded swimming pools."

Right

But you have been really vocal on the reality of downloaded music and royalties versus buying the CDs and whatnot.  Where do you balance...as an artist that really wants your fan to enjoy your stuff versus the horror stories you hear where the RIAA is suing dead people because their son that visited was downloading some songs.  Is there a happy medium, or are we at the right place now with more enforcement of what's out there?

I think the record industry is just trying to feel its way around the whole issue right now.  And as you could probably tell, the lyrics in that particular song of mine are fairly ambiguous because I don't really come down hard on either side of the issue. Basically what I feel is I think it's OK to illegally download music, unless we're talking about Weird Al Yankovic songs, in which case people should be handcuffed and tortured.

But seriously, I feel like illegal downloading is obviously a major problem for the recording industry and it's something that the industry needs to deal with, but I think that the RIAA's reaction to it has been a bit ham-fisted to date, and I don't think that the criminalization of file sharers is necessarily the bet way to deal with the problem and it's certainly not the best PR.

I'm curious what your all time scariest movie is?

Probably The Way We Were...it freaks me out.

We opened up to our readers and the Something Awful website's forums, they're big fans of your as well, in fact they were really pushing the "White and Nerdy" video out there pretty heavy when it first came out.

Cool.

Which is funny, by the way, I don't know if you've ever checked out YouTube too often, but there's already people making their own "White and Nerdy" videos with your song.

I saw that there were "White and Nerdy" videos out  on YouTube before we were even finished doing ours.

It's almost like they're embracing it as an anthem to be proud of.

Right, absolutely.

But the one question that came up that a lot of people wanted me to ask you was, do you feel that you should have done more to catch Osama bin Laden?

That I should have?  Every day I feel the guilt that I didn't do more and take advantage of my situation, back when I had a chance.

Well we're looking forward to seeing you on tour and I advise everybody to check out Straight Outta Lynwood.  Is there anything you'd like to say to the fans before you go?

I would just like to encourage all of the fans to brush and floss regularly, because dental hygiene is very important.

One more question for you.  You're a fairly recent vegetarian, correct?

Well, since '92, so...

Someone wanted me to ask you if science could grow meat in containers that was never alive, would you consider that OK to eat?

(laughs) Ask me again when that happens.

Thanks so much, and thanks for talking to us.

Thanks so much, take care!

Interview by Robert Berry- Sep 27, 2006
rberry@retrocrush.com

LISTEN TO OUR INTERVIEW!
RETROCRUSH THE PODCAST EPISODE 93 HAS THE FULL INTERVIEW PLUS MORE!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE EPISODE

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Visit Weird Al's Official Website
Try and become one of Weird Al's closest MYSPACE FRIENDS
Visit Dr. Demento
Something Awful

Watch the "Pico and Sepulveda" segment from Forbidden World
See a live version of "Smells Like Nirvana"

 

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