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Weird-Al-Yankovic

Mandatory Interview with “Weird Al” Yankovic

In the kingdom of pop music, there have always been Kings, Princes, and Queen Bees—Yas, Slay, Yas…—but there has only ever been one court jester, and that’s Mr. “Weird” Al Yankovic. An anomaly in the last 30 years of music, the accordion playing jokester with an innate talent for absurdly clever wordplay sounds more like an act on “America’s Got Talent” these days—which may be precisely why Al is so interested in how my generation (millennials, sorry everyone) consumes art, media, and ultimately, his music.

I was super surprised to find out that your last album Mandatory Fun was your first No. 1 album on the Billboard charts. Tell me about the unique promotional process behind that.
Well, I was trying to figure out what was the best way to promote my music in 2014. And I realized I couldn’t do it like I’d done it in the past. I mean, MTV hadn’t played music videos for a couple decades by that point, and radio hadn’t always been that supportive. I didn’t have what I considered a stand-out single. I thought it was a really strong album, a lot of great tracks—but no stand-out single. That’s how they traditionally do it: you have the one song that’s like, “This is the one we’re going to promote and we’re going to try and get this on the radio and MTV.” These are all old business models that aren’t even relevant anymore.

Blurred Lines was a very controversial song when it came out. What made you want to tackle that song in particular for a parody?
Well, I really kind of wrestled with the idea because, I mean… it was a huge song, the biggest of the summer 2013, and I kind of felt that if I didn’t do it people would be saying, “WHY DIDN’T YOU DO THAT ONE?” The omission would be glaring! And at the same time, it had so many parodies, like thousands of parodies of that song, and it felt like why would I come out with a parody a year after everyone else? And I thought, if I just tackle it from a completely different direction and not make it about how misogynistic the lyrics were or anything like that, just think outside the box, maybe it’ll feel a bit more fresh.

Absolutely! On the other hand, are there any songs you flat out say, “I’m not going to touch that one.”
Yeah, I guess there are some songs—not many. Now, are there artists I consider too sacred? I’d say no. But, Tears in Heaven… that’s a song you probably want to stay away from. [Laughter] By and large though, I think that pop music is silly and ridiculous on its own. I think that anything is a potential candidate for parody.

Speaking of silly and ridiculous—you’ve had a polka song on every album since the first, notwithstanding one or two…
I think I didn’t have one on Even Worse. I left it off and people were up in arms! “How could you not have a polka melody!!”

I’m marrying a Slovenian Girl—we go to weddings and listen to polka through the whole thing. It can be rough… I mean, what is it about polka that made you want to be a rock star?
I grew up playing the accordion—my only act, my only formal musical training. My folks decided when I was six that I should take accordion lessons and you know, I was fine with that, but I found out quickly that they don’t teach you “Stairway to Heaven” on the accordion. It’s all polka and classical. I wanted to rock out with my friends and for some odd reason none of my friends wanted an accordion player in their garage bands. So I found if I wanted to rock out, I had to go my own path in life.

That’s incredibly admirable and very brave of you. [Laughter] Any common misconceptions about Weird Al?
Uhhhh, well I mean, it’s hard to say—I don’t really think this a common misconception, but some people maybe think I’m weird all the time. That I’m this lunatic that’s bouncing off the walls everywhere I go. I try to focus all that energy for when I’m on stage, and then I’m pretty weird for those two hours.

“Kinda Weird Sometimes” Al doesn’t have quite a ring to it.
Right. Like “Intermittently Weird” Al. [Laughter]

Have you ever done a parody and after, thought to yourself, “This is way better than the original.”
[Laughter] I’ve never thought that, I’m not trying to better anyone’s thing. Just having some fun with it, and I think some of my fans might think that… [chuckling again] But I never think of myself as improving someone’s work.

You mentioned Mandatory Fun could be your last traditional album in past interviews—have you considered going back to movies? I know you’re doing Comedy Bang! Bang! as the band leader. Any Hollywood aspirations to do another movie like UHF?
Would love to. I’ve made no secret of wanting to do another movie. Ever since UHF came out and bombed, [laughter] I’ve always said, “Yeaaah, I’d like to do another movie.” So far, Hollywood hasn’t been pounding down my door. Extremely open to it. I don’t like wasted energy though. Any music I record or any video, I know that people are going to see it; whereas, I don’t want to be another guy in L.A. with an unproduced screenplay.

You’ve also mentioned writing musicals, which seems closer to what you’ve been doing. Is that in the works or gestation process?
Something I’m very interested in—on the bucket list. I’ve been talking to very high profile people, probably shouldn’t mention names, but it’s not happening in the near future. Hopefully down the line.

So you’re coming to Columbus this month. You’re known for incredible shows. You do the costumes and everything. This is the second run of the Mandatory World Tour—what can fans expect coming to your stop here in Columbus this time around?
It’s essentially the same show, and if you didn’t see it the first time around, it’s still the “Multi-Media Extravaganza!!!” Ton of costume changes and props, and there’s comedy bits on the big screen … we try to cram as much as we possibly can into a two hour show.

Last question, is there anything you’d like to do next? Is there one thing that really excites you going forward?
I’ve been given the opportunity to do so many great things; I just want to do more of it. I mean, I’ve done a failed TV series and a failed movie, and I’d love to do a popular TV series and a popular movie! That’d be a nice change! I’d like to continue recording songs and videos. A broadway musical, possibly down the line. It’s nice. Now that I fulfilled my record deal, I’m totally unencumbered and I can do virtually anything I want to do. It’s a nice place to be in my life.

“Intermittently Weird” Al plays The Palace on July 6, a fittingly grand venue to host pop music’s most notorious trickster.
For more, visit capa.com.

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Matthew Erman has been writing fiction for the better part of his 26 years. His work has been featured in; Vanderbilt University's The Nashville Review, Filigree Literary Journal, University of Miami's Mangrove Literary Journal, Pelorus Press, Cracked, 614 Magazine. Matthew has a high school diploma, no college debt and attended the 2012 Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop. He lives in sunny Columbus, Ohio.