From Scene: Northeast Ohio's Entertainment Weekly
July 25-41, 1996 Vol 27. Page 17.
"Weird Al" Yankovic works so hard for his fans, a concert tour is practically a vacation. "I basically went without sleep for the first six months of this year," Yankovic says. "I'm trying to sublimate my puritan work ethic for a couple of months and just enjoy myself."
The work ethic paid off. Yankovic's latest album, BAD HAIR DAY, has gone platinum in the U.S. and Canada. His new collection of comedy music videos was Billboard's number one best-seller for three weks straight this summer, his MTV and Canadian "MuchMusic" cable specials earned terrific ratings and most critics agreed that his opening sequence for SPY HARD was the highlight of the movie.
And after two months on tour, Yankovic isn't even road-fried yet. "I'm still actually enjoying this quite a bit," he says. "As me again in September or October."
Yankovic and his band will play at Nautica Stage this Saturday, July 27, as part of the Bad Hair tour, which has consistently sold out arenas of 2,000 to 4,000 seats and is drawing audiences of up to 20,000 at outdoor festivals. "We've played some places ub Wuscibsub where it looks like Woodstock. You can't see the end of the crows," he says with pride.
The tremendous fan response isn't so weird when you consider that BAD HAIR DAY, Yankovic's ninth new collection of origianl songs and parodies, is the best-selling release of his 16-year career.
The album's success is partly due to the smash single, "Amish Paradise", a parody of rapper Coolio's "Gansta's Paradise". The parody briefly outsold Coolio's version in parts of Canada.
Performing the piece in concert, Yankovic sports a full costume complete with beard, playing thpious but wild-eyed character with like like "Don't be vain and don't be whiny/Or else, my brother, I might have to get midevil on your heiney!
Actually, most of the lyrics give a pretty fair reflection of life among the Amish, but the video depicts some oddities like feeding pizza to chickens and some suggestive butter churning. That's comedy. "If I did a song with an accurate representation of their lifestyle, that would be called a documentary," he says.
Despite a few negative editorials, thousands of fans packed Hershey Park when Yankovic performed in the heart of Pennsylvania's Amish country at the beginning of the tour. He's now scheduled for an August concert in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the town depicted in the video.
Coolio is only the latest in a series of artists "honored" by the Weird Al treatment. Beginning with his self-titled first album in 1983, Yankovic has improved upon the work of chart-toppers like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Billy Ray Cyrus and Nirvana. Almost no one turns him down.
"I used to jump on a song as soon as it was on the chart and on its way up," says Yankovic. "I've gotten in trougble a few times doing that when the song didn't perform as well as I'd expected." In the case of "Smells Like Nirvana" in 1992, the original song, "Smells Like Teen Spirit." had been number one for several weeks before Yankovic attempted his version.
Some musical historians credit Yankovic with introducing the accordion to pop music. In fact, he was recently included on a compilation disc honoring the best of the accordion world. Yankovic's latest contribution, "The Alternative Polka," appears in the concert as a video composed of clips from popular videos that have been digitally compressed to fit the power polka meter.
Seeing Yankovic in concert is like seeing the best of rock and pop all together in one show, but with the added bonus of comedy.
But he does much more than add jokes to pop tunes. In the studio and onstage, Yankovic and his incredibly talented band recreate the sounds and styles of all the bands he uses as source material.
Drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz works with a vast but plain-sounding array of percussion instruments so he can adjust his sound to match any drum kit and reproduce sound effects. He also maintains an awesome web page, "The Bermuda Files," www.loop.com/~bermuda/index.htm where fans can see unpublished photos and track tour dates.
Note: This is now at http://www.weirdal.com
Guitarist Jim West can get any sound you'd need out of a couple of electric guitars and only occasionally electrocutes himself. Bass player Steve Jay also supplies a bass voice for some songs. The band's newest member, Ruben Valtierra, covers most of the keyboard work that Al used to do and then some.
"I work with one of the best bands in the world," says Yankovic, "and I'm very happy that they've hung with me for so long."
Yankovic works closely with his band and his recording engineer, Tony Papa, to build music for his parodies from scratch. "We try to figure out what kinds of instruments and what kind of effects and outboard gear that the original artists used and try to match it as much as we can," he explains. "It's kind of like pulling a song apart and excavating."
When writing original songs, which make up just over half of his repertoire, Yankovic looks to his favorite bands for stylistic inspiration. In some cases the influence is obvious, like the hevy dose of They Might Be Giants in "Everything You Know is Wrong." In other cases it's more subtle, like the general Seattle grunge and wailing sound of "Callin' in Sick".
In 1992, Yankovic began producing his own recordings and directing his own videos. Last year he directed two videos for comedian Jeff Foxworthy and may direct for some alternative bands after the Bad Hair tour finishes its run.
The King of Rock Comedy says he's had no desire to try writing anything serious. "I think there's enough people who do unfunny music," he adds with a laugh. "That would go against my grain pretty harshly."
Something else that goes against his grain is gratuitous filth. Yankovic
used to play mostly clubs and did just a few bits for the over-21 crowd, but
now he's completely family-safe. "It's just my natural style," he says. "I
don't use swear words in real life, and I'm generally a clean kind of guy.
It's just an extension of my own personality."