"Weird Al" Yankovic Talks "Alpocalypse", TMZ, Lady Gaga, Movies, and More
Mon, 20 Jun 2011 06:24:49
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The end isn't near; it's just Alpocalypse now…
"Weird Al" Yankovic's latest collection of unique, undeniable, and uproarious tunes is, in many ways, his funniest yet. Yankovic examines America's obsession with "celebrity", TMZ, Lady Gaga, and never-ending junk email with a big smile across his face. In the process, his hilarious quips will put a smile on any and all listeners' mugs. Yankovic manages to make timeless and topical jokes on Alpocalypse that stand alongside his sharpest songs, and that's his true genius. Gaga is even bound to chuckle as soon as she hears it.
Most importantly, Yankovic encourages us all to lighten up a little and laugh about all of the crap we take so seriously. The world could use a lot more of that.
"Weird Al" Yankovic spoke to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about Alpocalypse, why it's easy to parody Lady Gaga, partying "In the C.I.A.", directing, and his favorite movies.
Did you approach Alpocalypse with one complete vision or did it come together song by song in the studio?
There never is an overall vision. I never do a concept album. It's just a random collection of songs. If anything, I try to make the songs sound as different as possible. I like having a really eclectic collection of songs that sound jarringly dissimilar when you hear them all together [Laughs]. There's no Alpocalyptic thread of any kind. It just a bunch of stuff that I thought was funny.
Do song ideas arise at any time or do you set aside time to write?
It's hard for me to set aside time to write because I never know when that idea is going to strike. If it's an idea that comes to me out of the blue, I make sure to keep it in my computer notebook, and I tend to get my best and certainly strangest ideas in the middle of the night at two or three in the morning when my brainwaves are working at a different frequency [Laughs]. I'll get my best ideas right before I go to sleep. A lot of times, if I'm writing something, I'll keep my notebook or computer right by the bed because I'll start drifting off to sleep and I'll get an idea that I have to write down. If I waited until morning, it'd obviously be gone. There are some nights where I'm very productive and I keep waking up every ten minutes. I'll turn on the computer and my wife will be like, "Really? Again?"
What's the story behind "Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me"?
One of my friends has been sending me chain letters, obvious hoaxes, little humorous pieces, garbage, and other spam for years. I didn't have the heart to tell this person that it was really annoying [Laughs]. Instead, I wrote the song in hopes that this individual gets the message.
"TMZ" is quite vivid as well. Was that personally inspired too?
That was a fun one to write. As a person living in L.A., I've had my run-ins with TMZ. To be fair, they've always been pretty nice to me so I don't have an axe to grind with them. The song more so pokes fun at our obsession with meaningless celebrity culture. The whole thing seems so ridiculous to me, but it's such a big part of our world apparently!
Did you ever imagine that there would be entity like TMZ when you first started?
TMZ is the direction our culture is going. It's indicative of a much bigger bump in the zeitgeist. It's certainly nothing new. We've been obsessed with celebrity culture for generations, but it seems to be reaching a fever point now.
Is it a challenge to write songs that'll be funny a decade from now?
Obviously, I have that in mind because I don't want my material to become dated quickly, which is one of the reasons I try not to do political humor and any really topical things. I have to keep in mind that if I record a song, it's something that I'm going to be performing on stage for years. It's something that people will have as part of their music collection for the rest of their lives, so it's got to be somewhat timeless. So when people come up to me and ask, "How come you're not doing a parody of Rebecca Black?" or "How come you're not doing anything with Weinergate?", I don't think that people are going to be making a lot of Weinergate jokes three years from now [Laughs]. You have to keep that in mind.
It's a balancing act because you want to be topical and timely and at the same time you don't want it to wear out its welcome quickly.
What aspects of Lady Gaga seemed most funny for "Perform This Way"?
The whole point was poking fun at her bigger-than-life persona. I wanted to do a song that wasn't putting Lady Gaga down. I wanted to find as much humor as I could in her being and her entity. At the same time, I was trying to dissect her psyche a little bit and make whatever jokes I could about the vision of herself that she was putting out there. She's a good person to lampoon because I've always said, 'It's hard to parody an act that's somewhat generic". She's anything but generic. She's got such great visual style, flare, and idiosyncrasies. She's very easy to caricature.
Do the lyrics go through numerous drafts to nail the comic beats?
They do. The longest process is before I even start writing the lyrics. Once I've got an idea or concept for a song, I will spend as long as I can just writing down random words, thoughts, phrases, gags, and anything even remotely connected or related to my initial idea. Then, once I've got dozens and dozens of pages of these random thoughts, I go through the list and pick out things that I think might work well in the context of a song or favorite joke. I try to thread things together in a song structure. Once I've got that, I work with rhyming couplets. It's a bit of puzzle, but most of the work happens before I literally start writing the song. I rat pack my ideas and have a lot of background material to work with.
Did you know you wanted to do "Party in the C.I.A." the second you heard "Party in the U.S.A.?"
That's one of those songs where once it became a huge hit, I thought, "This might be good for me to make fun of". I was looking at variations on a theme. I make lists of possible song concepts, and 99% of them are pretty bad, but for the one that works, I'm like, "Aha, that's it!" When I came up with "Party in the C.I.A.", I thought it was the right tone because the Miley Cyrus song is your typical bubblegum track. It's fluffy and bright. It's a good summer song, but it's certainly not dark and twisted like mine is now. It was a good way to invert the tone and make this happy carefree song a bit more dark. Do you adopt a different mindset to direct music videos?
It's certainly a different job. Writing a song takes as long as you need it to. It's a solitary process. There's a certain amount of pressure, but working on a video set is a different kind of pressure. You're basically the general of an army, and everybody's looking to you to tell them what to do. I'm trying to make things run as quickly and as efficiently as possible. At the same time, I have to make sure I'm getting what I need. It's something I enjoy doing. So much of the creative process actually happens on the set. As you're directing, it's important to be the one calling the shots. It's a different kind of pressure.
What are some of your favorite movies?
A lot of the comedies I like would be the Zucker Brothers movies like Airplane! and Top Secret!. I like a lot of early Woody Allen stuff. I'm also a big Steven Spielberg and George Lucas fan. I'm a big fan of comedies in general, but I like other genres as well. If I had to make a list of my top favorite films, 80 to 85 percent would be comedies.
What's your favorite "Weird Al" Yankovic song?