“Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Tacky,” featuring Jack Black and Margaret Cho.
At 52, accordionist and pop music parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic is still cranking out the fake hits to the delight of tween boys everywhere. The latest is “Tacky,” a take on Pharrell’s “Happy” — and seven more videos are coming.
Yankovic sat down for an “Ask Me Anything” interview with the Web site Reddit yesterday to talk songwriting, squeeze boxes and his trademark curls. Some highlights:
The video was done in one shot. “While it looks like there MIGHT have been an edit somewhere, I absolutely guarantee you, that was all done in ONE CONTINUOUS SHOT,” Yankovic, a fan of capital letters, wrote. “That was a bit of a challenge for me, because I start the video on a 5th floor fire escape, and I reappear on street level wearing completely different clothes. That means – for EVERY TAKE – as soon as the camera was off me I had to run down 5 flights of stairs WHILE CHANGING MY CLOTHES so I could be on camera again at the end. Definitely got my workout THAT day!”
Without childhood accordion lessons, Al wouldn’t be weird. “I probably wouldn’t have a music career right now,” Yankovic wrote of early support from radio personality Barry Hansen, a.k.a. Dr. Demento. “The reason Dr. Demento played my material on the radio when I was a teenager wasn’t because it was so GOOD, it was because it was such a novelty hearing a kid rocking the accordion. Dr. D. probably wouldn’t have given my tape a second listen if I had been playing acoustic guitar.”
He writes original songs, too. “ There were a number of original songs on my first few albums that weren’t in any particular style or modeled after any particular artist – off the top of my head, let’s say ‘Midnight Star’ or ‘Nature Trail To Hell,'” Yankovic wrote. “But that was many years ago and I like to think I’ve become a better songwriter since then. I guess ‘Hardware Store’ would fall in that category as well – that was ORIGINALLY going to be in somebody else’s style, but then I scrapped that idea and made it a pure original.”
And it can be tough writing parody music. “I’ve been doing it for so long I like to think that I’ve gotten better at it. The synapses in my brain are hard-wired that way now. The challenge for me is in finding new ways to be funny (i.e. not repeating myself too much), as well as finding ways to differentiate myself from the millions of other people now doing parody videos on YouTube.”
His polka parodies are a legal nightmare. “I’ll choose a song for the medley if I think it will sound particularly funny as a polka, or if there is an opportunity in the lyrics for me to add sound effects or some other kind of gag,” Yankovic wrote. “Once I have a dozen or so songs approved, I’ll just play those songs on the accordion and find a comfortable key for me to sing them in, and then see which order seems to flow the best. … Sorry to say, I’m not sure if there will be another recorded polka medley after the one on the new album. They are a lot of work to put together (mostly for my manager, who has to deal with stacks of paperwork each time).”
Though some musicians take legal action, some admire his work. “One of my favorite reactions was from Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits,” Yankovic wrote. “I did a parody of ‘Money For Nothing’ in my movie UHF, and when I asked him for permission, he said, ‘Well, yeah… but you have to let me play GUITAR on it!!’ So…. he did!”
Record deals are for suckers. “I haven’t made any real plans beyond the release of my current album, but since everybody’s asking… I’ll probably just be releasing singles (possibly EPs) going forward,” Yankovic wrote. “I really don’t think the album format is the most efficient or intelligent way for me to distribute my music anymore. I highly doubt that I would sign with another label. I guess I might be open to a distribution deal, but… we’ll see. Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t want to have my releases on any kind of a schedule – that would be too much pressure, and it might actually start to feel like a JOB!”
The hair won’t change. “I keep my curls tight through sheer will power.”