Interview with Weird Al Yankovic: King Of The Nerds

Do you ever worry about writing a parody that people won’t get? I’m thinking in terms of some of the more obscure style parodies, like the Sparks one on Straight Outta Lynwood.

Well, for the originals, they need to be funny whether or not you know what the influence is. Every now and then I’ll pick a fairly obscure group to do my parody of, and those songs aren’t based on popularity, they’re just my own personal way of paying homage to a favorite group, whether people are familiar with that group or not. It’s sort of a little musical exercise I do—I pretend I’m one of my favorite musical artists and then I write a song in their style, although perhaps a little more demented than they would have done it.

That was actually my next question, about the idea of parody as tribute. You’ve worked in so many different styles at this point. Is there any that stands out to you when it comes to the originals?

There are a couple styles that were a little daunting because I was such a big fan of the artist, plus it was hard to encapsulate their style in a single song and do it well. When I did my Frank Zappa pastiche, ‘Genius In France,’ I literally spent several months of my life working on that song because I wanted to do Frank justice. It was a very hard song to write, it was very hard to arrange, it was hard to record, it was hard to mix. It was just a really difficult song. Not that I lacked any in the first place, but it gave me a newfound admiration for Mr. Zappa’s skills. Same with Brian Wilson. I did ‘Pancreas’ on the new album, which was very intricate and was a difficult thing to pull off, but I’m proud of the result.

That’s another thing. As the studio process has changed and you’ve become more self-reliant, do you go in to record with a picture in your mind, or is it just whatever comes out?

Well, I always go in with a picture in my mind, but from album to album, I spend a bit more time, I get a bit more obsessive and a bit more compulsive, I put a bit more attention to detail. Every time I put an album out, I try to make it the best thing I’ve ever done—I try to top what I did before—so it’s a lot of self-imposed pressure. Whereas the first album I recorded as quickly as I could because I was freaked out the studio was costing so much, nowadays with ProTools certainly, I can get as anal as I want to be and still worry about getting things right, which is a dangerous thing in my case. I really need to be dragged away from a project sometimes and need someone to say, ‘Okay Al, it’s done! It’s good enough! It’s not going to get any better.’

Does it ever get weird for you, explaining your songwriting process to people? You’ve been doing it for so long now and often times with comedy it’s really hard to break it down on an analytical level.

Yeah. People ask where the ideas come from or try to get me to explain the creative process, and it’s such a difficult thing to really explain. Where do any ideas come from? I can tell what kind of things inspire me or lead me to come up with certain ideas, but mostly you just think of ’em (laughs), and do your best with that.

In terms of the live show—carrying over the ideas from your videos to the stage, with the video monitors and the costume changes and all that, how has it grown over the years?

I’ve always been sort of theatrical since the mid-’80s, but every tour we add a little more, and it always seems to get bigger and better. It’s still full of costume changes and film clips. We upgraded our video equipment this time, there’s a big widescreen with big projectors, and we’ve got this media server which (laughs) is actually giving us a lot of problems currently, but hopefully we’ll have the bugs worked out by the time we play Jersey. There’s a lot of production that goes into it. It’s first and foremost a high-energy rock and roll show with a really top notch band, and I think we do that quite well, but on top of that is the costumes and the videos, and that makes for a very entertaining show.

One last question and this might be a bit off-subject, but The Aquarian is based right outside of NYC, and NYC has had this whole debate lately about traffic and having people pay a toll at certain times to drive through midtown Manhattan. One suggestion recently brought up by a city councilperson was having increased use of Segways as a means of easing road congestion, and I just wanted to get your thoughts on the matter, given your experience with the Segway.

(Laughs) Wow. Interesting thought. They’re quite pricey, I don’t know if they’d be able to sell them in bulk.

It’s midtown, everyone’s an accountant! They can afford it.

Well, I guess that’s one way to do it. Initially selling the Segways, that was their world view (laughs), that was how they thought people were going to be getting around places like Manhattan. It’s a possibility, I assume. I feel weird talking about Segways because they haven’t been very helpful to me. (laughs) I thought maybe because I was preaching them in a Top 10 song and I was using my Segways on ‘The Tonight Show’ and all over the place, that they would be able to maybe—I thought in my heart of hearts that they would give me a Segway, or maybe a deal on a Segway, or maybe five percent off on a Segway, but they wouldn’t even loan me a Segway for ‘The Tonight Show,’ because, in their words, they ‘didn’t want their product associated with anything white and nerdy,’ if you can believe that. A little too late for that, I’m afraid! (Laughs)

Straight Outta Lynwood is available now. Weird Al Yankovic hits PNC Bank Arts Center on Aug. 12. Check out for more info.
Photo Credit: Michael Blackwell