Humorous artists are easily slipped into the Second Class slot. This is due to faulty educational systems which equate First Class with "serious art." If one looks carefully at history, the role of the fool, the satirist and the class clown is staggering. Just look at Aeschylus, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Ernie Kovacs, Spike Jones, Frank Zappa, Andy Rooney, Huey, Dewey and Louie - not to mention Andy Kaufman, Gracie Allen and Jay Ward (the naughty guy who created Bullwinkle the Moose). Without the imagination of Monty Python and SCTV, many of us would feel alone in the absurdity of life. It's like a club, and I think Weird Al Yankovic has become an officer, a champion and a weird gentleman in good standing.
I waited patiently outside the double density studio doors of Santa Monica Sound Recorders until the final strains of "Lola" faded. Of course I guessed that it wasn't really "Lola," but it sure sounded like the real thing. I opened the door, introduced myself, and asked Al if I could just melt into the background while he worked on his new album, Dare to Be Stupid. "Melt away," he said invitingly.
As the dense Kinks sound enveloped me I heard Ray "Weird Al" Davies sing, "I know Darth Vader's really got you annoyed, but remember if you kill him then you'll be unemployed." In "Yoda," Weird Al has penetrated to the heart of the Star Wars phenomenon and carried the banner of parody into the '80s. And the music is real cool. With support from musicians like guitarist Jim West, bassist Steve Jay and drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, "Like a Surgeon" rings true to Madonna and "I Want a New Duck" is a funhouse reflection of Huey Lewis.
As Al and engineer Tony Papa hunched over the group faders and studied music sheets for a re-mix of "Yoda," producer Rick Derringer explained the intricacies of recreating the Kinks sound. "We wanted that dry sound so we recorded with absolutely no echo," he said, "But the original is still a little drier - we finally realized that it was those '70s studios. The rooms were dead - all goboed and carpeted." He enthusiastically related how he and Al scrutinize the music before creating musical Frankensteins.
"Were the bubbles loud enough?' Al inquired.
Bonzai: Who in their right mind would sign a record deal with Weird Al Yankovic?
Al: Rock 'n! Roll Records, a division of Scotti Brothers, affiliated with Epic, CBS.
Bonzai: Are there really any Scotti brothers?
Al: Yes, there certainly are. Tony and Ben are the two main guys, but there are other Scotti's cropping up from time to time. Tad Dowd is the president of Rock 'n' Roll Records. He's the cheerleader of the whole company and gets very excited about things. It was mostly through Tad that I got signed. It's a relatively new company and now they have a gold record and their first Grammy.
Bonzai: I used to listen to you long ago on the Dr. Demento radio show - didn't you record in your bathroom at the time?
Al: Actually I recorded in my bedroom first and then when I went to college I recorded in the bathroom across the hall from the college radio station. It sounded pretty nice in there - the tiled walls gave a nice warm reverb. I didn't have the time or the money to use a recording studio, so we ran lines from the 2-track in the radio station down the hall to the bathroom at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Bonzai: Did you ever imagine that someday you would be catapulted into the hall of fame?
Al: I had no idea. I went through all four years of college and actually got a degree in architecture-which you can see I'm using every day. I really had no idea; it's always been a hobby.
Bonzai: Well, you still seem to be enjoying yourself.
Al: Oh yeah, but I still feel unemployed. It's like I don't really have a job - it's all so much fun. It's like a hobby, but luckily, I'm making a living at it.
Bonzai: Would you consider this third album a continuation of your style, an evolution?
Al: It's pretty much of a continuation. I was for the most part very pleased with the second album. For each album were taking a little more time to make sure that the production is correct. We're digging that much deeper into the original recordings and taking more time with the arrangements. We recorded ninety percent of the first album before we even had a glimpse of a record deal, so we worked fast and did most of the tunes in one or two takes.
Bonzai: In listening to you work with Rick today, I realize how much goes into parodying the music as well as the lyrics. "Yoda" is a remarkable simulation of that "Lola" sound...
Al: We always think it's a good idea to suck people in first - make 'em think they're listening to the original song and when they're off guard, then you got them.
Bonzai: "Yoda" is the only oldie - why did you choose to record it for the album?
Al: I wrote it five years ago but we just recently got permission to do it. We approached Ray Davies before the first and second albums, but for some reason, out of the blue, he decided to give us permission for the third album. We also contacted Lucasfilm and got their sanctions. We didn't want to do anything that would get their legal department upset.
Bonzai: Do they have to hear the finished version to give approval?
Al: No, they just have to approve the final lyrics, but we send them copies of the finished product anyhow. We want to stay on their good side; we're very appreciative, and we want to maintain a good relationship.
Bonzai: Well, the parody couldn't exist without the previous success. It's great that people like Michael Jackson aren't taking themselves too seriously. So, you're on a roll now, with a bit more power than you had in the past...
Al: Yeah, it seems that way. Ever since all last year we've had very good luck dealing with people. When I first started out, it was very difficult for people to return phone calls. They just didn't want to deal with a guy named Weird Al. They really didn't know what I was all about.
Bonzai: Could you point out some of the highlights on the album?
Al: Well, we have a polka medley called "Hooked on Polkas," a straight cover version of "George of the Jungle," a few parodies, and some originals. "Slime Creatures from Outer Space" is a danceable tribute to '50s era, grade-B science fiction movies. There's "Cable TV" and "This is the Life," a single that was released as the theme song for the movie Johnny Dangerously. There is also a really sick Elvis kind of '50s ballad called "One More Minute" and a Devo-esque anthem called "Dare to Be Stupid." I did a polka version of Devo's "Jocko Homo" on the last album and they seemed to appreciate it, so I think they'll find some humor in this song.
Bonzai: Why is the accordion thought of as such a silly instrument? It's your first love, isn't it?
Al: Yeah, it's still my main instrument, although I have been playing some synthesizer in the show for about a year. I'm still getting used to not playing buttons with my left hand. The accordion is my main axe and I don't really know why it's thought of as a silly instrument. I guess it's tainted with that "Lady of Spain" image and people think that's all you can play on it.
Bonzai: So you feel that ifs an instrument that has much more to offer?
Al: I think the accordion will completely take over the music industry before long. Synthesizers and electric guitars are going to be passe and accordion bands are going to spring up all over. I'm happy to be at the forefront of the movement.
Bonzai: Why is sex so messy?
Al: I've often wondered about that myself. I've heard that it's pretty messy and I imagine that it would be.
Bonzai: In your childhood, which musicians had the biggest impact on your imagination?
Al: Oh, people like Spike Jones, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman, Ray Stevens - people I was introduced to through the Dr. Demento show. These were great people that I didn't get to hear in their prime. All of a sudden I was hearing great things that were recorded 30 or 40 years ago. I thought it was wonderful because there wasn't anything like that on the radio at the time. I felt that it would be great if there were more things like this. Radio was really getting homogenized for a while and it's great that Dr. Demento has spiced it up.
Bonzai: What is your favorite way of making love?
Al: Did you ask Les Paul this question?
Bonzai: No, I try to adapt to the victim, er, interviewee...
Al: I think making love with my head in a vat of yogurt would be the ultimate experience.
Bonzai: What do you appreciate in an engineer?
Al: Engineer Bill was always my favorite. He would say "red light, green light" and help regulate my milk drinking. That was a very appreciable quality.
Bonzai: So you still look for that in modern recording engineers?
Al: Yes, I still enjoy playing "red light, green light" - it breaks up the sessions.
Bonzai: What movie would you most like to parody?
Al: Either The Wizard of Oz or Swedish Erotica #42.
Bonzai: Have you ever witnessed a miracle?
Al: Yes, it happened a couple of times while I was on the road last year. I'd stay in my hotel room all day and then I would go out for a couple of hours to have dinner. When I came back, the bed was magically made up and the trashcans were emptied. I can't explain it - it was just a miracle.
Bonzai: When, why, and how did you leave home?
Al: I left home about 11 o'clock this morning, got inside my Toyota and came here to the studio because it would have been difficult to record in my bedroom.
Bonzai: Is there anyone in the world you would like to meet?
Al: I would like to meet the guy who invented the ziplock baggie.
Banzai: Do you believe that people can levitate?
Al: It's really one of my recurring dreams. I lift my legs and float around about three feet off the ground. The scary thing is that once I woke up and I was actually doing it,
Bonzai: What is your strongest characteristic as a human being?
Al: Nice shoes.
Bonzai: -If you hadn't become a musician, what would you be?
Al: I would probably be a worthless hunk of slime with discolored teeth, drooling on my shirt and eating chili out of the gutter. No, I'd be less than human - I'd probably be a one-celled animal - an amoeba, or maybe a paramecium just translocating all around.
Bonzai: What was the last thing that you gambled on?
Al: Every day is a gamble. You put your key in the car and you don't know if it's going to blow up or not. Just sitting here so close to you with that pencil bouncing up and down - it might fly into the air and poke me in the eye...
Bonzai: But you're wearing those protective goggles.
Al: Well, I like to be prepared - I deal with a lot of people with pencils.
Banzai: What is the difference between animals and human beings?
Al: Humans wear nicer shoes. Animals are just pigs.
Bonzai: What is the most recent business trick you've learned?
Al: To be successful in business it's always a good idea to make lots and lots and lots of money.
Bonzai: Oft thought, but ne'r so well expressed. What makes a great producer?
Al: Someone who supervises a record that sells billions of copies. Rick Derringer - why, he's been just like a producer to me. Rick really has been wonderful - he's fun and easy to get along with. It's unique to find that combined with great experience.
Bonzai: What is the quality of the humans that gives you the most hope for our race?
Al: Any civilization that can come up with Wheat Thins is OK with me. This should be a take-home quiz. If we were on TV I could probably think of something really stupid.
Bonzai: Do you have any favorite new recording gadgets?
Al: Microphones are kinda cool...
Bonzai: When did you first notice that you were destined for the big time?
Al: When I opened my door one day to get the newspaper and there were thousands of teenage girls screaming "Weird Al! Weird Al! Weird Al!"
Banzai: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Al: Yes. Eat from the four basic food groups each day, don't trust naked bus drivers, and do this: (Al squeezes his nose between his index and middle finger).
Bonzai: Any advice for aspiring politicians?
Al: Skip the rest and just do this: (Al squeezes his nose again.)
Bonzai: How 'bout aspiring gynecologists?
Al: Practice makes perfect.
Bonzai: Are there any drugs that people should be warned about?
Al: Flintstones Vitamins - they'll tear your head right off.
Bonzai: What was the biggest mistake of your life?
Al: When I was a kid at the dinner table I was fooling around with the butterknife and I decided to cut my head clean off - boy, what a mistake.