Everyone’s favourite pop parody pioneer “Weird Al” Yankovic is coming back Down Under.
Having just conquered over 100 cities in North America and Europe, the reigning monarch of musical merriment has expanded his Mandatory World Tour to include Australia as well as this year’s Falls Music & Arts Festival.
“Weird Al” is the biggest-selling comedy recording artist in history. In a career spanning nearly four decades, he has won four Grammy Awards (with 15 nominations) and countless accolades for his parodies.
I had a chat with the witty wordsmith himself about all things parody and performance…
Firstly, where are you while you’re reading this? What are you wearing? What are you eating? What are you thinking?
In a chair, downstairs in my house. Clothes. Nothing currently. Is the whole interview going to be like this?
I saw on your social media pages that a lot of people were dressing up as you for Halloween. Compliment or insult? haha
Compliment, of course – I’m honored!
Who did you dress up as for Halloween this year?
Current-day Weird Al.
Career wise, what came first – the music, the comedy or the accordion? And why?
The accordion – because my parents decided when I was very young (six) that it would behoove me to take accordion lessons.
When did you first start making parodies of popular songs?
I was probably around 8 when I first started doing it for fun, but I got my first airplay when I was 15 and had my first single released when I was 19.
Do you remember the first spoof you recorded? What was it?
I recorded some pretty horrible things in my bedroom when I was a teenager – I’ve conveniently forgotten what they were, exactly. But the first parody that actually made it onto vinyl was my Knack parody “My Bologna.”
What makes a song or an artist “parody worthy” for you? What do you look for?
It helps if a song has a memorable musical or lyrical hook, but basically I’m just looking for a really popular song, and hoping that I can come up with a clever enough idea for it.
What is the songwriting process for you?
Well, writing my parody songs and writing my original songs involve two very different processes. Both would be hard to articulate and probably take too long to describe– but suffice it to say that it requires a whole lot more time and effort than you’d probably think to make such ridiculous music!
Which artists have been the most accommodating?
I’ve gotten really nice comments and glowing reviews from a number of artists, but I guess I would say Mark Knopfler – he insisted on playing the guitar part himself when I did my parody of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing.”
Are there any songs/artists you’d never make a spoof of? Reasons?
There are no artists that I consider too “sacred” to parody. If I haven’t done a popular artist yet, it’s only because the timing wasn’t right, or I haven’t been able to come up with a clever enough idea yet!
You’ve won 4 Grammys so far. Are awards important to you?
Well, sure, everybody likes validation. I try not to be shallow about it, but it always feels good to get a pat on the back from your peers.
Is it really as fun as it looks making your music videos? Can you tell us about making any specific ones? (Any behind the scenes stuff?)
It IS fun making the music videos, but of course one has to be very focused because they’re also very expensive to make, and the clock is always ticking… so, it’s not like it’s a non-stop party on the set! I think the most actual fun I’ve ever had making a music video was when I shot “Tacky” – that was a one-single-shot video, and it featured a bunch of my funny friends like Jack Black, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal, Margaret Cho and Aisha Tyler. It only took a couple hours to shoot, and it was enormously fun – everybody involved was so professional and so hilarious. The video starts with me wearing a horribly tacky outfit, and at the end I’m wearing a completely different one – which means (since the entire video is one single take) that every time the camera rolled, after I was out of frame, I would have to run down five flights of stairs while changing my clothes so that I could reappear again two minutes later!
Mandatory Fun is your 14th album. Tell us about it.
It came out last year, and to my utter amazement, it debuted on the U.S. Billboard album chart at #1, which is the first time a comedy album has ever done that in history. Mandatory Fun contains parodies of Pharrell, Lorde, Robin Thicke, Imagine Dragons and Iggy Azalea, as well as my usual crazy pastiches and the requisite polka medley.
You are coming back to Australia, first, to play Falls Festival. What are you most looking forward to spending summer Down Under at a music festival?
I’m really looking forward to the crowds – festival shows are always a blast to do. As much as I love playing theatres, there’s something amazing about the energy that you feel coming back at you from an audience when you’re doing a big outdoor show.
What do you like about Australia? Have you picked up any phrases or inspiration over the years?
Australia is one of my all-time favorite continents! This is the fourth time that I’ve toured Down Under, and every time I come for a visit I have the time of my life. The people, the places – everything is amazing – I always look forward to my Oz shows. My favorite Australian phrase, which I hear all the time when I’m there, is “Hey, Al, come back here, you didn’t pay for that!” Ha ha, those Australians!
You are playing The Palais Theatre in St Kilda, Melbourne again too. My last memory of you there, was in 2011 and you were wearing a leopard-print leotard and sitting on the lap of an embarrassed female fan. What can we expect this time around?
This time, I think I’m going to sit on the lap of a DIFFERENT female fan.
Tell us about your awesome band.
I’ve had the same band since the early ‘80s, and I’m very lucky to have them – they’re really cool guys, as well as some of the greatest musicians in the world: Jim “Kimo” West on guitar, Steve Jay on bass, Ruben Valtierra on keyboards, and Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz on drums.
What are your favourite songs to perform live?
It’s hard to pick, but I enjoy playing all the fan favorites – “Yoda,” “Fat,” “Smells Like Nirvana,” “White & Nerdy,” “Amish Paradise”… I’ve literally played some of these songs over a thousand times on stage, but it never gets old for me because the audience still goes nuts every time!
And lastly, how do you keep your hair so good?
I comb it on occasion. Sometimes I wash it.
“WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES:
Saturday 2 January
Encore Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 3 January
Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Tuesday 5 January
Wednesday 6 January
Isaac Royal Theatre, Christchurch
Friday 8 January
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
For more info, head to www.weirdal.com.