Weird Al sets the record straight on Alpocalypse and ATP Festival
Since emerging onto the music scene in 1983, “Weird Al Yankovic” has built a franchise on parodying hit songs better than anyone else, earning him three Grammy awards throughout a career spanning three decades. His 1983 self-titled debut album helped establish him as comedian and musician just as the young and burgeoning MTV network was introducing itself to America, along with Yankovic’s parodied videos of Michael Jackson, Joan Jett and Madonna. Yankovic would go on to release several more albums throughout the eighties while achieving a status that no other novelty musician had attained before him: that of being taken as a serious musician with a unique sense of humor. His career continued into the 1990’s and where one-sided feuds with rappers Coolio and Eminem generated headlines that only fueled Yankovic’s album sales even more. On his new album, Alpocalypse, Yankovic takes on a new generation of pop stars with parodies of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and The White Stripes among many others.
SanDiego.com was fortunate enough to talk with Yankovic from his home in Los Angeles and discussed the production that went into Alpocalypse and his recent experience performing in Europe for the first time in his career.
Did you plan on releasing Alpocalypse around the same time of the rapture, or was that an afterthought?
“Weird Al” Yankovic: I wanted to release it a good year before the actual Mayan Apocalypse. I certainly wouldn’t have released it after that, if that were the case.
Did you find any comedic value in the rapture that was supposed to take place on May 21, 2011?
WA: I looked at that May 21st Apocalypse as just the advertising buzz for my album basically. And I wanted to thank everyone for playing along with that.
How long have you been working on the songs that are on Alpocalypse?
WA: I’ve been working on the album off and on for quite some time. It’s been nearly five years since my last album. I won’t say that I’ve been working on it continuously since then. I think the first thing I recorded for this was in 2008, and I’ve been recording a little bit at a time whenever I get enough ideas. But it’s been a fairly long process, obviously I don’t rush these things out and I only put it out when I feel like I’ve got a really good collection of songs and something topical as a lead single. I take quite a bit longer these days than I did in the eighties when I was cranking an album out every year.
Five years has been the longest you’ve taken in between albums; what’s the reason behind that?
WA: Yeah it’s the longest between albums, and that’s not something that I tried to do. I would love to be able to put out albums a little bit more rapidly than that, but every album that I put out I try to make it the best thing that I’ve ever done. And that gets harder and harder as time goes by. It’s just a lot of self-imposed pressure and it’s hard for me to fulfill my own expectations every time so I have to just wait until I feel like the time is right.
How long is the gestation process when you’ve decided to parody a specific song?
WA: Sometimes I can crank it out fairly quickly. The first song we did for this album, “Whatever You Like” I came up with the idea, got permission, wrote it and recorded it, mixed it and got it to iTunes all within a period of less than two weeks; which is pretty quick. I just wanted to see if I could do that. That was sort of an experiment because I was just kind of getting my feet wet with the whole digital distribution thing. At some point that may completely replace physical media so I just wanted to see how much that would help me in terms of being able to get things out quickly. Certainly in terms of that it was very successful. So that was an example of me doing something fairly quickly. Also the Lady Gaga song I wrote fairly quickly, just because we wanted to get an answer right away so I could lock in a release date. But if I don’t have that kind of pressure I can spend several weeks slowly gathering ideas and crafting lyrics for a song. It really kind of depends on the situation. Certainly there are fans that would love to have copies of every little homemade demo that I’ve ever done, but I don’t think that’s intended for mass market.
Are you going to release Alpocalypse on vinyl?
WA: You know what, I’ve been hearing a lot of fans saying that they would love to have a vinyl copy of that, and I finally twisted my manager’s arm into twisting my record labels arm so I can’t confirm it and I have not announced it officially, but they are going to try their darndest to get a vinyl version of the album out. It will not be available on release day, however, but we’re thinking it will probably be available at some point. I love the artwork so it’d be nice to have that on a 12 x 12 piece of cardboard.
Did you really get Ray Manzarek from The Doors to play keyboards on the album?
WA: That’s correct yeah. He’s just on one song, I did a song called, “Craigslist” which is intended to sound like The Doors. As soon as I came up with the concept for the song I thought, ‘Well wouldn’t it be cool to get Ray Manzarek to play keyboards on this.’ And I approached him and he immediately agreed to it. This was before I even wrote the lyrics. It was basically just like, ‘I want to write a song about Craigslist in the style of The Doors’ and Ray was onboard, he’s got a great sense of humor.
Will the public ever see another incarnation of Uncle Muscles again?
WA: That’s totally up to Tim and Eric. I’m a big fan of theirs and anytime they want me on set I’m happy to do it.
Did you make a cameo in their movie?
WA: The Billion Dollar Movie. No, I was wondering if they were going to give me a call for that, but nope. I’ll be first in line to see it, but I was not involved in the making of it.
What exactly is the deal with Uncle Muscles; does he have laryngitis or something?
WA: They never really gave me a backstory on him. I showed up one day and brought a bunch of bad shirts that were in my collection, and they picked out the too-tight silk faux Buffalo Bill kind of shirt; this horrible red vinyl thing. I don’t remember if they actually gave me any direction, but I was this creepy public access talent show host. So I just kind of had this low gravelly creepy voice. They really didn’t do anything else to make me look any different than I normally do so I wanted to make my voice a little different.
How was your experience performing at the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival in England?
WA: Yeah, that was amazing. It was great; I was very much looking forward to that. It’s an extremely hip collection of bands, and I was very honored to be a part of it. My one regret is I was so sick during that show and my voice was completely shot. I was so looking forward to it and I really wanted to really kill it. I think I might have actually had strep throat or something very close to that during the performance. So I was not hitting any high notes and it was not one of my better performances. But the audience was fantastic and the whole festival was amazing, and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it.
Were you aware of Godspeed You Black Emperor before they invited you to be a part of the festival?
WA: I was aware, but I got more into them once I found out that they had booked me. I got to watch them perform and it was an amazing show. I think they’re fantastic and obviously I'm extremely appreciative of the fact that they handpicked me for the festival. Just going to the festival was huge for me, but what that meant to me was even more important, because the fact that they booked me for the festival meant that I could come to Europe and perform for the first time. I’ve never in my whole entire career, played anywhere in Europe. So as soon as Godspeed booked me, we were able to get a London show, an Amsterdam show and put together a few other U.K. gigs, and do my first ever tour of Europe, and it was totally because of Godspeed.
Does Weird Al Yankovic have a message for the children?
"Weird Al" Yankovic: I like to think that my music is empowering. For all those weird nerds out there in the world, I just want to say: It gets better.
- Venue: Del Mar Fairgrounds, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
- Dates: June 15