Interview: Weird Al Yankovic (2010)

weirdal(In 2010, Weird Al visited Austin to play the Fun Fun Fun Fest. It’s not often you get to interview a true cultural icon, but here’s a fragment of my Q&A with him for the Austin Chronicle.)


Richard Whittaker: When you visited Austin in May to screen your movie UHF, a lot of people were disappointed you didn’t sing.

Weird Al Yankovic: I just felt so terribly bad that they weren’t able to schedule an Austin show for our summer tour that when the opportunity to do Fun Fun Fun Fest came up, I jumped at it. We don’t normally do one-offs. We usually only do shows that are part of an extended tour, but this was something I really wanted to do.

RW: After Fun Fun Fun, you’ll be playing at All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare Before Christmas in England with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Is it that musicians have started recognizing you as cool, or they’re just more prepared to admit it?

WAY: I’m not sure how that came about, but I have noticed a shift in the last couple of years where all of a sudden I’m perhaps not as unhip as I used to be. I’ve played onstage with the Pixies. I’ve done all kinds of things that 10 years ago I wouldn’t have imagined myself being able to do. Certainly being handpicked by Godspeed You! Black Emperor was another feather in my indie cred hat. It’s been very flattering and gratifying to get this kind of response from people. I’m not sure what to attribute it to, but I’m very grateful that it’s happening.

AC: Even before this resurgence, you’ve had an incredibly durable career without ever being pinned down in one genre.

WAY: It’s extremely freeing to do what I do because I can be as eclectic as I want to be. In the course of my career, I’ve done everything from polka to gangsta rap. My band is comprised of extremely talented musicians, and they can do any genre I throw at them. It’s a lot of fun to bounce around and do all these different musical styles, and one of the reasons I think I’ve stayed somewhat relevant is that I’ve been able to shamelessly follow whatever trends occur in pop culture. I can’t be accused of selling out, because that’s kind of my job description.

RW: People probably don’t know that you keep a heavy touring schedule. How weird is the “Weird Al” road experience?

WAY: People expecting any kind of debauchery would be really disappointed. If you come on the band bus at any particular moment, it’ll probably be like four guys sitting around with their laptops. In fact, I tend to do as little as possible during the day, because early on in my touring career I’ve gotten laryngitis in the middle of a tour, and once you lose your voice, the only way to get it back is not speaking for a week at a time, which you can’t really do if you’re doing a show every night. So I take it very easy on the road, hang in the back of the bus, watch satellite TV, do e-mails. It’s not wild or glamorous living, but it’s enjoyable.

RW: Parodies and pop are two things with a shelf life, but you combine both. How do you pick a set list that you feel audiences will respond to?

WAY: One of my rules of parody writing is that they need to be funny even if you’re not familiar with the original material. The best example of that is when I did my parody of “American Pie” by Don McLean about the first Star Wars prequel, called “The Saga Begins.” My song was a big hit on Radio Disney, so all these young kids knew my song and didn’t know it was based on a song that came out in the early Seventies. What was even more comical about that was the year after my parody, Madonna did a cover that was also a big hit, and all these kids were saying, “How come Madonna is doing an unfunny version of a ‘Weird Al’ song?”

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