"Weird Al" Yankovic dares to be honest about Straight Outta Lynwood and his songwriting process, while Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin takes B-Sides on a ride with his new album, The Glass Passenger

Weird Al

"Longevity" is not a word we usually associate with novelty artists, but "Weird Al" Yankovic has trumped his Dr. Demento peers by releasing twelve albums and capturing three Grammys since 1980. In advance of his August 8 performance at the Family Arena in St. Charles, B-Sides spoke with Yankovic, who proved that he is serious about making funny music.

B-Sides: Straight Outta Lynwood is more hip-hop oriented than your previous work. Are you ever stifled by the limitation of only being able to parody what's popular?

"Weird Al" Yankovic: I think it's just part of my job description. Parodies are a reflection of what happens to be popular in modern pop music. I'm constrained by whatever happens to be the current trend and the current genre of choice among the general population, but I don't feel stifled in any way by it.

Do you have preferences in what you parody?

I don't always parody my favorite style of music. My choice of parody material isn't based on what I personally like as much as what's popular. Having said that, I tend to pick songs I actually like, because I know I have to live with them for a very long period of time. But it's really about what's a crossover hit instead of what's on my personal iPod.

Have you ever thought you had a great parody idea but by the time you got around to it, the song was too dated to put out?

Well, I think of the album as kind of a time capsule, so it's not always filled with the most current songs that are out there. When I put out Poodle Hat, "eBay," the Backstreet Boys parody, was a few years old — and that was quite dated when the album came out. But I'm glad I put it out, because it's a huge fan favorite and it gets a good reaction in the live set. If it's a good idea, it doesn't matter if it's the freshest idea.

At the beginning of your career, your songs were more accordion-based, even the parodies. Were you less concerned with getting your parodies to sound like the originals, sonically?

Well, my first album was recorded so quickly that we didn't have the luxury of painstakingly recreating the original production. And now that we have that luxury, I find that it's something I like to do. I like to suck people in so that if they hear my parody on the radio they think they're actually hearing the original song and suddenly they realize something went horribly wrong.

Yeah, I remember when "Amish Paradise" was out, every time the intro came on I'd have to wait until the first words came in to know which song I was listening to.

Exactly! I guess there's a certain charm to those recordings that feature the accordion so prominently, and there are certain people that actually prefer that over the painstaking recreation of the original production. I'm obviously leaning more towards getting the sounds to emulate the original.

Have you ever been tempted to just buy the karaoke version of the song and just change the words and record over the bad MIDI pre-recorded version?

Not really. I mean, we've always just done things from scratch. Not only would that be not as good as what my band can do, but we might have to pay master rights for the karaoke company!

So when do you decide that it's time for the world to have another "Weird Al" record?

I wait until people are running wild in the streets, screaming and gnashing their teeth and crying "Where's the new 'Weird Al' record?!"

I see, I see. But seriously, when do you decide that it's time for a new record?

[Chuckles] Whenever I get around to it.
— Ryan Wasoba

7:30 p.m. Friday, August 8. Family Arena, 2002 Arena Parkway, St. Charles. $23.75 to $48.75. 636-896-4200.

The Piano Man
Jack's Mannequin loves the Lou so much, the band is headlining a show at the Pageant a little over a month after it performed at the Vans Warped Tour here in town. During that July mid-afternoon set, vocalist/pianist/songwriter Andrew McMahon and company mostly performed songs from their 2005 debut, Everything in Transit. But fans in attendance were especially lucky, because they were able to hear two new songs from The Glass Passenger, JM's eagerly awaited — and long-in-the-making — second album, which is due September 30.

That pair of tunes is indicative of Passenger's expansive direction. "Swim" is a slower, uplifting piano ballad — think a lazy, hazy day twirling on a swing set — on which McMahon croons, "I'm not giving in." The brisker "Suicide Blonde" has a muscular, fuller-band sound with echoes of '70s glam swagger and jaunty Britpop bounce. The rest of the hook-happy Passenger floats by on lushly orchestrated atmospheres, with an emphasis on the shadier side of sunny California pop (Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac) and classic rock kingpins (Tom Petty, the Who). First single "The Resolution" even resembles the thoughtful melodicism of vintage Crowded House. A notorious perfectionist, McMahon spoke to B-Sides on a recent afternoon from the LA offices of his label, Sire Records.

B-Sides: The album's release date was pushed back a few times. Was it due to resequencing? Is "Suicide Blonde" or "Swim" the single?

Andrew McMahon: Neither. "The Resolution" is. I sort of had gotten to the point with that, it's like...this record's done. I have no perspective on it anymore. I've got vertigo as far as this record's concerned. [Laughs] We've worked on it for so long, it's just kind of like...it's time to just let it go. The vibe on "The Resolution" was huge, the radio dudes are all fired up. We're just going to go out and play the record and hope people dig it.

Passenger is so lush and orchestrated. What is the biggest challenge you think you're going to face translating the songs live?

That's how I felt on the last record, too, I was like, How am I going to do this? And we just did it. It's funny, the way instruments take up space in a big room versus the way they take up space in your speakers. It's so different...I tend to find, we just go out there and dress it up as a four-man arrangement. It ends up actually sounding just as big, but we just translate things in certain different ways. I'll probably have a couple more keyboards out with me, and I'll probably play some extra stuff on keyboards. Other than that, I'm hoping we just go in there and go practice them, and they sound rad and we just go play them.

Is there anything on the record you wanted to add but didn't get a chance to, or couldn't?

There is, and there will eternally be. I've just come to accept it, because I've tortured these people [at the label] over here so much over the release of this thing. I always wanted to do this super-disco string idea in the chorus of "American Love." Like "Billie Jean" or something, really big string glissandos or something real silly and over the top. Some ideas you just let slide by, and that was one of them. Maybe I'll never forgive myself, but it's sounding OK to me right now, so I'll deal.
— Annie Zaleski

8 p.m. Sunday, August 10. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard. $22. 314-726-6161.

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