Interview with Weird Al Yankovic: almost 30 years in the music business

The music industry has been flipped on it’s head since Weird Al Yankovic’s hey day. MTV helped to make him a household name in the 80s thanks to videos like “Eat It,” “Like a Surgeon” and “I Lost on Jeopardy.”

Those were the days when an album’s release came with an almost palpable thrill as CDs and cassettes appeared in stacks at record store registers. Each time a new album came out mammoth tour buses and 18 wheelers filled with amps and instruments criss-crossed the country to spread the word of an artist’s latest endeavors.

These days, however, concerts are king and sometimes it seems like new albums are released merely as excuses to hit the road.    

“Even hit albums barely break even,” Yankovic says. “I think most recording artists make most of their money these days from touring and merchandise, not from actual album sales. It used to be the exact opposite, 20 or 30 years ago.”

MTV no longer focuses on broadcasting music videos and record labels are dropping artists left and right. Yet Yankovic stands. People pay to see him in concert and they buy his albums. He also still puts a lot of effort into making funny videos to compliment his song parodies. He just makes them for YouTube now, instead of MTV.

In the following interview, Yankovic talks about some of the ups and downs he’s seen over the last 30 years in the music business in advance of his May 12 appearance at Bergen PAC.

Q: Have you ever considered doing a serious album, meaning one that’s not satirical?

A: I have no desire to do that. I think there’s enough people in the world already that do un-funny music and that’s not the way that my brain works. I would prefer to do stuff that’s a little warped and I think that’s what people expect of me. That’s fine because that’s what I want to put out there.

Q: Next year will be the 30th anniversary of your first album. Will there be a 30-year anniversary edition?

A: Nothing in the works, that I can think of. Gosh, I would love to completely re-record that whole first album, but I try to avoid my George Lucas impulses to re-do my early works. It’s better for me to just let that stuff live in its own era and just come to terms with the fact that it was quickly and poorly recorded and let people have the memories of it as it was.

Q: On your albums, there are typically parodies and satirical originals. Do you enjoy doing one more than the other?

A: I can’t say that I do, really. They’re both fun for me to do, and they both satisfy different parts of my creative impulse. The original songs because I created the music as well, but the parodies are a whole different kind of brain puzzle and certainly they are very popular. They’re both fun and satisfying and I love doing both. I can’t really choose one over the other. They’re both sides of the same coin.

Q: For some reason, the idea of what’s cool often gets in the way of enjoying music. People want to like music that’s cool, and they try to figure out which music is cool by reading music journalists who take themselves too seriously. You remove all of that with what you do.

A: I think it’s pretty apparent because when you remove the cool veneer and just look at the lyrics and look at the song without any of the production and you put it to a polka beat, you kind of realize how ridiculous a lot of these songs are.

Q: And also, you free your audience members from this kind of pretentiousness, too. For instance, someone who goes to your show is going to hear songs by The Doors and Taylor Swift in the same show.

A: Right, and I try to keep my material as eclectic as possible, so I think that’s one of the reasons that my shows have such multi-generational appeal. There’s pretty much something for everybody.

Q: Back in the day, you had a lot of hit videos on MTV. Now MTV basically does everything but videos, how has that affected you?

A: Well it’s just moved over to the Internet. The nice thing is, now you don’t have to wait for a video to come up in rotation, it’s video on demand. If you want to watch a music video, you Google it, you search for it on YouTube and there you go. You don’t have to wait around. I think, maybe that’s also part of why everybody’s attention span has been getting shorter and shorter. like pop culture’s feeding on itself a little bit. But overall, I think it’s healthy. It’s nice that the people now have a choice and artists have an outlet. Basically, everybody can have their video on YouTube and if somebody else wants to see it, they can. It’s just a click away.

Q: Do you make videos differently now for YouTube than you how would make them for MTV?

A: I don’t even really consider MTV now. I know that it’s going to be online. But that doesn’t really affect how I make a video. I always try to do as good of a video as I can and make it with as much quality as I can. It’s just a different outlet, a different portal.

Q: I saw a video of you on YouTube with Steven Tyler and Alice Cooper. You’re singing “Come Together.” How did that happen, how did you guys end up in the same bar?

A: I’ve known Alice for a long time. We keep in touch and he does these little charity benefit concerts, and I was going to be in Hawaii anyway over the holidays. He said, “I’m doing this benefit show at this restaurant in Maui on New Years’ Eve and would love to have you come and perform.” And I said, “That would be great.” I didn’t know that Steven Tyler was going to be there. At the end, they wanted everybody to come up and sing “Come Together,” so we all did and it was a very surrealistic moment for me. I grew up on Alice Cooper and Aerosmith and to be on stage with those guys and rockin’ out — I couldn’t have even dreamed something like that when I was 14 years old. It was insane.

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
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