Roots Report: An Interview with Weird Al

Okee dokee folks… Almost exactly one year ago I saw Weird Al Yankovic at the Zeiterion in New Bedford. In all honesty it was one of the BEST shows I have EVER seen. It was fun, funny, energetic … basically AWESOME! I had a grin on my face the whole time. Weird Al is a comical/musical genius. I know a lot of you will scoff at this and probably think what he does is easy. It’s not, but he makes it seem that way as he effortlessly genre-shifts and works lyrical magic with the lampoons. Weird Al is bringing his Mandatory Fun Show to the Providence Performing Arts Center on September 14, and I had the opportunity to talk to him about his tour, music and upcoming show. Before I did the interview I asked folks on Facebook what they would like to know about Al, and I based my all of questions on those responses.

John Fuzek: What was your favorite video to film?

Weird Al: Probably “Tacky” (a parody of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams). It was also one of the easier videos to film because it was all done in one shot. Once we had the DP and the crew rehearsed, my celebrity friends came in. We told them where their marks were, everybody was professional and we knocked it out in a couple of hours. It was great. I got to work with some of the funniest people I know: Jack Black, Aisha Tyler, Kristen Schaal, Margaret Cho and Eric Stonestreet … you know, they’re in my address book. I have a lot of friends in the comedy community, which is nice because if I have a project like that I can just call them up and if they are not already engaged they come along for the ride. It was actually over a lot quicker than I would have liked.

JF: Who comes up with the idea for the videos?

WA: I will for the live action videos unless I am doing an animated video. Then I like to hire talented people and give them free reign. I found the director for ‘Word Crimes’ online and he did an amazing job with that. Most of the live action videos I direct and when I do I am basically writing it as well. I’ve been creatively involved in my music videos pretty much from the beginning.

JF: When you are writing a song do you take the visual into consideration as well as the audio part? Are you thinking video when you are writing the song?

WA: Not necessarily, because the songs have to work in and of themselves without any kind of visual aids. Although there have been times when I am writing a song that I know is going to be a single. If I know for sure it’s going to have a video attached, sometimes that will help to shape the lyrics a little bit because sometimes I’ll want to do something that maybe I can translate visually. But by and large I try not to think about it that much when I am writing.

JF: For “The Saga Continues,” the Star Wars song, did you have to get permission from George Lucas to use all of that?

WA: Yeah, I did. George Lucas has always been a great sport about it. He has a terrific sense of humor. I got his blessing both for “Yoda,” which came out in the ’80s, and for “The Saga Continues,” which came out in 1999.

JF: Your songs are well-thought-out, well-written and often, in my opinion, better than the originals. One person asked on Facebook, “Do you think that your parody of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is better than the original?”

WA: I don’t think that any of my parodies are better than the originals. I am not trying to supercede the original, I am just trying to have some laughs. It’s not a competition.

JF: Do you have any songs that you are working on now?

WA: Honestly, no. I am really focused on the tour and I’ve got a few other projects that I am working on. I’m not going to be proactively working on any new song or video material until I get off the road. The tour is over in September and once I get re acclimated to family life I’ll try to figure out what my next move is going to be.

JF: Do any of the people that you parody get mad at you?

WA: Well, no, because I always get their permission before I do it so it’s not like a surprise to them when they hear it on the radio. ost artists these days look at it as a rite of passage to get a Weird Al parody. It’s like you’ve achieved a certain level of success in your career. You’ve got your Grammy and your platinum album, now where’s your Weird Al parody?

JF: Someone wanted to know how many women have you had…err…I don’t really need to know that and I am sure that your family doesn’t need to hear that. You don’t have to answer that one!

WA: Oooooo-kay! (laughs)

JF: Was the inspiration for “Another One Rides the Bus” from riding the bus in Olneyville, RI?

WA: (laughs) I can’t remember ever having done that say I will have to say no.

JF: Will you run for office?

WA: (laughs) I really have no interest in politics, so probably not!

JF: How do you keep your curls so frizz-free?

WA: Well, I wash my hair from time to time. Sometimes I use conditioner. Sometimes I’ll even comb it!

JF: How do you stay relevant as music disperses to various formats and niche markets?

WA: It is tougher to figure out what the mainstream is these days. It used to be I could just look at the Billboard charts and that would be a sole indicator if a song is popular or not. Things have gotten so segmented and now I look at a number of different charts. I also have to be aware of what is happening online — what the memes and trends are. I basically have to keep my finger on the pulse of pop culture and have a healthy awareness of what the zeitgeist is.

JF: Do you play any other instruments besides accordion?

WA: Not well. I play keyboard instruments because the right hand part of an accordion is a keyboard. I have never been able to learn to play the guitar, so if you see me onstage or in a video with a guitar, it’s a prop.

JF: So is your current tour the same tour that you have been on for the past year or so?

WA: It’s still the Mandatory Fun Tour. We toured for five months last year and then took a nice long break. We started up again in June and we’re doing four months this year, so it’s basically a nine month tour with a big hiatus in the middle.

JF: I saw you in New Bedford in August and LOVED the show. Will the Providence show be similar?

WA: It is essentially the same show. Same set list and the films are 80-90% the same, but I changed them a little to freshen them up a with some new clips that have come in in the meantime.

JF: We are pretty much the same age and I was wondering: How the hell do you still do high kicks?

WA: (laughs) I have always been pretty flexible. I am not double jointed, but I have been told that I am hyper extended. I have always been kind of Gumby-like, which is, I guess, a good thing to watch on stage.

JF: Damn, I have a hard time putting my shoes on! Do you have any plans to rewrite your “Gump’ song (which is a parody of the Presidents of the United States of America’s song, “Lump”) into a Trump song?

WA: No, for a number of reasons. I tend to stay away from politics because it is so divisive. Even if you don’t take any kind of a stance or opinion on something, just doing something political tends to upset a lot of people. I learned this because I have Twitter (laughs). The other thing is that political humor dates very poorly. Anything that a is very popular and a hot button topic in the political climate likely won’t be quite as topical a month from then. I like my songs to be a little more evergreen, so I stay away from politics in my music because I don’t want my material to be dated and I don’t want to alienate half of my fan base.

JF: What did your parents want you to be when you grew up?

WA: They just wanted me to be happy, which is great. I never felt any overt pressure from them to do anything. The best thing my father told me was that the only true sign of success is being able to figure out what makes you happy and then try to do that for a living, which is what I did. I got my degree in architecture, but I realized before graduating that that wasn’t really my passion in life. I thought, “Well maybe I’ll do something with comedy and music and see if that works out.”

JF: Your father was an accordionist, right?

WA: No, a lot of people think that my dad was Frankie Yankovic the Polka King and he was not. Frankie and I are no relation, although we did meet a number of times before he passed and we became close friends actually. A lot of people assume that we are related because what are the odds of two famous accordion playing Yancovics?

JF: What was your inspiration for “Hardware Store”?

WA: It is one of my obsession songs. I think it’s fun to write about people who are obsessed with random things. The character in the song is just obsessed with hardware stores and I thought it would be fun to do a bridge where he lists all the things in the hardware store in rapid-fire succession. So that was my reason for doing the song.

JF: Who are your main musical influences?

WA: The people who inspired me early on are people I was exposed to on the “Dr. Demento Show” like Spike Jones, Alan Sherman, Stan Freeburg, Tom Leahrer, Frank Zappa, Monty Python and Shel Silverstein.

JF: Is there anything else you want to tell your fans before we hang up?

WA: If you liked the show last year you’re going to like it again this year! If you haven’t seen it yet I don’t know what the problem is because it’s MANDATORY so you HAVE to go!

Check out my review from last year (motifri.com/roots-report-getting-weird) — you REALLY NEED to see this show! Get out your Hawaiian shirts and tin foil hats. Get to PPAC and have some MANDATORY FUN! For more, “Jackson Park Express” to PPACRI.org

Thanks for reading! JohnFuzek.com

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