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Interview with 'Weird Al' Yankovic - Parody Artist and Star Wars Super-Fan

TheForce.net's Chris Knight got a chance to conduct an interview with one of the greatest minds of our time. He gave it up to talk with "Weird Al" Yankovic, which was considered by some to be a very wise decision. In this exclusive interview to TFN, Al reveals his plans for his next album, his thoughts on Attack of the Clones and much more. Special thanks for the interview and all pictures are used with permission from Al's Official Site. Read on!

TFN: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, Al.

My pleasure.

TFN: And also, congratulations on your recent marriage!

Why, thank you!

TFN: How’s Harvey the Wonder Hamster doing these days?

He's recovering from a recent liposuction, but other than that, doing very well, thanks.

TFN: You’re known throughout the world as the “prince of parody”, but many people don’t know that much else about you. For starters, where are you from originally? How long have you been into music?

I grew up in L.A. - in fact, my name spelled backwards is L.A. Isn't that just fascinating? And I've been into music since I was very young. I'm gonna say... embryo.

TFN: In case anyone’s wondering, are you related to the late polka sensation Frank Yankovic?

No, Frankie and I were friends for many years, but no relation. And no matter how many times I denied it, people just insisted that we must be related somehow. Sometimes after explaining to a reporter for the third time that Frankie wasn't my dad, I would read the article, and it would say, "There's obviously a rift in the Yankovic family - Al won't even admit that Frankie's his father!" In fact, when Frankie passed away a few years ago, I remember NBC news said something like, "Frankie's gone now...but his spirit lives on in the music of his son, 'Weird Al' Yankovic!"

I was very sad when Frankie passed away. What made it even more jarring was the way I found out. Early one morning, I got woken up by a phone call from some woman I knew on the east coast. She said, "Oh, Al, I'm so sorry to hear your dad died." That gave me quite a jolt. (My real dad, thankfully, is still alive and well.)

TFN: Wasn’t it on the Dr. Demento’s show that your career began taking off?

Anybody that wants to learn about the excruciating details of my life story can do so by surfing over to www.WeirdAl.com... But the short version is, I was a teenage geek fan of the Dr. Demento show, and I sent in a few unsolicited tapes of me singing funny songs while playing the accordion, and he played them, and I got a cult following, and I got a record deal, and I sold a bunch of albums, and now I'm being interviewed by TheForce.net.

TFN: Did you ever think that your parody music would become the cottage industry it has?

Not in the beginning. I was happy just to have my songs being played on the Demento show. It was a cool hobby. I was still going to school at the time, getting a degree in architecture, which is how I thought I was REALLY going to make a living.

TFN: How long have you and the band been together? Those guys are really an incredible group of performers.

Yes, they're all amazing musicians, and they don't get nearly enough credit for their talent. My drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz has been with me since September 14, 1980. That's the night that we performed "Another One Rides The Bus" for the first time ever on the Dr. Demento Show. Steve Jay (bass) and Jim West (guitar) jumped on board about two years later. So we've been a band longer than a lot of our fans have been alive!

TFN: What else can you tell us about yourself that we might not know?

Uh... I have a third nipple. It's on my pancreas.

TFN: The questions that most of our readers will have are about a song on your most recent album, “Running With Scissors”: How did “The Saga Begins” come about?

I always try to have the lead-off single from my albums be a parody of some major pop culture event, and since I had a sneaking suspicion that people just MIGHT be interested in a new Star Wars movie, I decided to plan the release of my album around the release of The Phantom Menace... and cross my fingers. I wanted my album to come out as soon as possible after the release date of the movie, because I didn't want the humor to be too dated - timing is very important in the parody biz.

TFN: When did you start work on the song?

Hmm... I think I was working on the song as early as December of 1998. That's about when we contacted Don McLean about using American Pie. I had that concept from very early on.

TFN: How did you research for it? Your song came out a few weeks after Episode I, and by then you’d nailed *everything*, including the pronunciation of “Coruscant”. Did you visit TheForce.net or any other Star Wars websites for Episode I info when you were writing the song?

The song was entirely based on Internet "rumors." I gathered all the leaked info I could about the movie from all the various Star Wars websites (TheForce.net was particularly helpful), and was able to piece together the basic plot of the movie. We had planned to release my "Running With Scissors" album the month after "Phantom Menace" came out. But because of the lead time involved in recording, mixing, pressing, and physically getting an album out in the stores, I had to write "The Saga Begins" about two months before the movie came out. The folks at Lucasfilm have always been very friendly towards me, but they politely declined my requests for an advance screening or a peek at the script. Thankfully, the storyline according to the Internet followed the filmed storyline pretty accurately. Just for safety's sake, we didn't do the final mix on "The Saga Begins" until after I had seen the movie (I paid to go to the $500-a-ticket charity screening, so I could see the film a couple days before the rest of the world). I remember I changed a couple lines after seeing the movie - very minor tweaks. Like "He's probably gonna marry her someday" was originally "I HEAR he's gonna marry her someday," because according to an Internet rumor, in one scene Anakin tells the Queen to her face that he's going to marry her (which, as it turns out, wasn't in the final cut - but everybody knows how the storyline is going to go anyway, right?)

TFN: So is it safe to say that you’re something of a “spoiler junkie”?

Well, I'd rather not know the whole plot of a movie before I see it, but sometimes - for the sake of all humanity - I have to make that ultimate sacrifice.

TFN: What was it like to shoot the “Saga Begins” video?

It was a two-day shoot. The day on the soundstage was the fun day - My band and I performed the song in a makeshift Tatooine bar with an enthusiastic audience made up of friends, relatives and minimally-paid extras who we had decked out in Star Wars-inspired makeup and wardrobe. It was kind of my version of "Star Wars Unplugged." The other shoot day was pretty miserable - we were in the middle of the desert. It was something like 110 degrees in the shade. We literally had crew people passing out.

TFN: Was it filmed before or after Episode I came out?

I forget the exact dates, but I think we shot the video right after the movie came out. And obviously, before my album came out.

TFN: Where were the desert scenes filmed?

The Mojave Desert. Just outside of Baker, California. They have these great dunes there, where apparently a lot of filming is done. The problem with working with sand dunes is - you get one take to get it right, unless you want an extra set of footprints in your shot.

TFN: At the end of the video there’s multiple “clones” of you in Obi-Wan garb. Is there any special significance about that?

Well, it's supposed to be a reference to the clone army in the Phantom Menace, and perhaps even a foreshadowing of the next movie...

TFN: Did you contact Don McLean about doing a parody of “American Pie”? What was his reaction?

Don couldn't have been nicer. Apparently, Don's kids are fans of mine, and after "Running With Scissors" came out, he heard "The Saga Begins" around the house so much that he started screwing up the words to "American Pie" when he sang it on stage! I've always been a fan of Don's, and it was a real honor to be able to record the 2nd funniest version of "American Pie" ever (right behind Madonna).

TFN: And George Lucas, was he approached? Were you ever told about his reaction?

Yes, I certainly wouldn't have done the parody without Mr. Lucas's blessing. I had a feeling that he would like it, since he gave his thumbs-up to my song "Yoda" back in the 80's, but it was a little nerve-wracking all the same, because I had the song in the can, and an album release date set, and tour dates scheduled... so what if he DIDN'T like it? Well, thankfully, he did - the official word from Lucasfilm was "You should have seen the smile on George's face (when he heard the song for the first time)." I love those guys.

TFN: You’ve done one other Star Wars-inspired parody so far: “Yoda” on the “Dare To Be Stupid” album, a send-up of “Lola” by The Kinks. And you and the band have something called the “Yoda Chant” you perform during concerts. For the benefit of anyone reading this who hasn’t witnessed the spectacle, could you describe what that is? Where did the “Yoda Chant” come from?

It's kinda hard to describe. It's sort of a breakdown section in the middle of the song... it starts out as an authentic East Indian chant... "da din din da da din din da..." - kind of a tabla thing - and then it devolves into just silliness with things like "pa pa oo mow mow" and "la la la, nice lady!" It's long and complex and has its own choreography, which oddly enough, a number of fans have memorized.

TFN: Are there any new projects you can talk about? You’re quite a multimedia guy: you’ve done television, movies, Pokemon… what else can we expect from Al?

There are a few new projects in the works, some of which are pretty exciting - but I can't talk about them quite yet. I've spent most of this year getting settled into my new place and trying to get rid of a lot of my old stuff. I hate to throw anything away, so up until very recently I still had the shirts I wore in high school. Some of those shirts are kinda cool and retro now, but I'm a little bigger now than I was in 9th grade, so we donated them - several hundred! - to various charities. Let's see, other than that... I just directed the new Ben Folds video, which I'm very happy with - MTV2's playing it a lot. I've always been a big fan of Ben's, and it was really great working with him - we've gotten to be pretty good friends.

TFN: And maybe a new album (looking hopeful)…?

Well, I've been dragging my heels a little, but I have started writing a few songs for my next album. I'd like to get in the studio sometime around the end of the year to record my originals (the songs on the album that aren't parodies) and have the album come out sometime next year. It's impossible to predict exactly when, because, like I said, I like to wait for that next big pop culture event.

TFN: Might there be an Episode II or III parody we can look forward to?

I kinda doubt it. I like to space my Star Wars parodies about 20 years apart.

TFN: What did you think of the "Attack Of The Clones" title?

Is that the name of the new Backstreet Boys album? I think it's very appropriate.

TFN: Will “UHF” ever be released on DVD? It’s a very funny movie.

Thanks. After all this time, I finally started having serious talks with MGM (the company that owns the rights to "UHF") about releasing the DVD. Right now the plan is to release it early next summer, and we'd like to make it a special Collector's Edition with all the bells and whistles.

TFN: You’ve had one of the most consistently successful careers in music history: you’ve an amazing talent for adapting to changing music trends.

Thank you! Yeah, it's a little ironic - in a genre where most of the artists are one-hit wonders, I've been able to hang around longer than most "serious" acts. I pride myself in being a very talented leech. I suppose I should get in a plug for the "'Weird Al' Yankovic - LIVE!" DVD. That's the DVD that contains the music video for "The Saga Begins." There's also a commentary for the video on the audio track where you can hear me yammering away about production problems and other trivial garbage.

TFN: One last question: what does “27” mean exactly?

I thought it was fairly obvious, but if you need me to explain it... it's the cube root of 19,683.

TFN: Thanks for letting us talk with you, Al! Congratulations on all your success, and TheForce.net wishes you and yours all the best!

Thanks! Keep in touch, now! Don't be a stranger! Goodbye goodbye goodbye!

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