- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2016

It’s no joke: “Weird Al” Yankovic will release no more albums.

After producing 2014’s “Mandatory Fun” — the final record of his contract with RCA Records — the master song parodist has said goodbye to traditional forms of music distribution.

“I think the best way for me to move forward would be to just release things digitally as soon as I come up with them, and that’ll keep me a little bit more current and contemporary,” Mr. Yankovic told The Washington Times. “I think I’m going to be utilizing a singles format or possibly an EP format moving forward.”

On Sunday, Mr. Yankovic and his backup band — with whom he has played since the early 1980s — will set up shop at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia, as part of the final leg of the “Mandatory Fun” tour, which has made 200 worldwide stops to date.

“We’re in the last month of it,” he said. “We’re getting close to the end.”

Like other musicians in the digital age, Mr. Yankovic, 56, has had to adjust his content delivery and fan interactions in order to remain not just relevant but profitable. To hype “Mandatory Fun,” he released a video online each day for a week before the CD arrived in stores.

It sold 104,000 copies that week, giving Mr. Yankovic the first No. 1 album of his 40-year career — and becoming the first comedy album to debut at the top of the Billboard 200.

The hardworking accordionist, who grew up and lives in Los Angeles, said the recording industry has “changed in a dramatic way in the last decade or two.” He pointed out how all aspiring musicians craved a record contract when he was starting his career, but today that notion is as antiquated as delivering music via a thin plastic disk.

“It’s hard for me to be a futurist and predict [how] music is going to be enjoyed and distributed 10, 15 years from now, which is one of the reasons that I didn’t want to [sign another] record contract,” Mr. Yankovic said. “The important thing is just to keep an open mind and [not] hold onto to old business models or be stuck in your ways.”

He tells aspiring musicians who seek his counsel to just get out there and do it: Start out small, develop a local following, and make full use of the internet.

“I didn’t have YouTube as a tool when I was starting out, and that’s how a lot of people get discovered now,” he said of the website, which helped drive exposure and sales of “Mandatory Fun.”

“If you get yourself out there, and if your stuff is good, chances are people will find it,” he said. “Failure is part of the whole process. You just have to get out there and do it until you get better.”

“Mandatory Fun” contains parodies of tunes by Iggy Azalea (“Handy”), Lorde (“Foil”), Pharrell Williams (“Tacky”), as well as Mr. Yankovic’s patented polka medley of contemporary songs. Perhaps its most spirited song is “Word Crimes,” a send-up of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” in which Mr. Yankovic takes on the persona of an overzealous grammarian.

Some corners of the copy editing industry took issue with Mr. Yankovic’s lyrics, such as “You should know when it’s ‘less’ or it’s ‘fewer’ / like people who were never raised in a sewer.”

“I’m certainly not belittling anybody,” he said. “As with all my material, I’m taking on a character of somebody who is a little bit more severe than my actual personality. I’m not as prescriptivist as the person I’m playing in the song even though I have those grammar-correcting tendencies myself.”

Mr. Yankovic, who was his high school class’ valedictorian before he studied at California Polytechnic State University, emphasizes that English is “always evolving, and it shouldn’t be so rigid.”

“Writing a song like that was fun for me because I got to put in as many of my grammar pet peeves as I could in three and a half minutes.”

In between nearly every song in his live shows, Mr. Yankovic and his band change costumes as videos play of him in various films and his “celebrity interviews,” in which he pretends to converse with funny footage of an unwitting personality. Two of his most famous montages show him “interviewing” rapper Eminem and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, whose barely intelligible British mumble draws a confused look from Mr. Yankovic.

“It’s obviously better when you have somebody that’s a bit more inarticulate and somebody that’s already having a tough time doing an interview,” he says, “and then you can have fun making them infinitely sillier-sounding.”

In the 1990s, when Mr. Yankovic was first considered a mainstream artist despite being a parodist, performers such as Nirvana considered they had “made it” when he would parody their hits. And while the law allows Mr. Yankovic to create parodies without requiring the permission of the songs’ artists or writers, he is known for seeking their blessings notwithstanding.

Almost always, he has said, the musicians are honored. Only Prince consistently denied the nod to parody his work. A line in “Word Crimes,” written long before the Minnesota native’s death in April of a drug overdose, gives a slight nudge at the late singer: “You should never write words using numbers / unless you’re 7 or your name is Prince.”

Last month in a People magazine interview, Mr. Yankovic said he harbored a “fantasy that [Prince would] come out with a new song, I’d have a great idea, he’d finally say yes, and it would erase decades of weirdness between us. But that’s obviously not going to be the case.”

When the “Mandatory Fun” tour closes out at Radio City Music Hall in New York City this month, Mr. Yankovic will turn his attention to writing music and, perhaps, films. He starred in 1989’s “UHF,” which he co-wrote with and was directed by his longtime manager, Jay Levey. The film was buried amid the bounty of the “Sequel Summer,” but it later found a second life on home video.

While in the nation’s capital, Mr. Yankovic says his “sightseeing” will likely entail solely the Wolf Trap’s backstage area. “The nice thing about going to D.C. is usually backstage there is a nice deli tray with an assortment of cheeses and vegetables,” he said wryly. “I’ve been to D.C. many times, and I have seen the sights. Chances are, during this visit I’m not going to see a whole lot more than backstage.”

• Eric Althoff can be reached at twt@washingtontimes.com.

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