Roland Users Group
There are few artists in the world who’ve had songs and albums at the top of the Billboard charts over a span of three decades. Among those elite few is perhaps the most famous parodist in pop music history, “Weird Al” Yankovic. Since the beginning of MTV in the ‘80s, Al has been there with his hilarious and spot-on parodies of popular songs. Those songs along with a polka-laden library of original songs have gained him legions of die-hard fans around the world. An accordion player first and foremost, Al uses Roland’s FR-7 V-Accordion, and more recently he got his hands on the FR-2, which he used during a surprise appearance with the Presidents of the United States of America. We caught up with him recently, and here’s what he had to say:
Congratulations on your success with your latest album, “Straight Outta Lynwood.” I love the video for “White and Nerdy!”
Thank you very much!
I’ve read that accordion was your first instrument when you were a kid. Is that how you got into playing polkas?
Yeah, because when you take accordion lessons, oddly enough they don’t teach you Led Zeppelin songs. [laughter] They basically teach you polka music and a little bit of classical music. So I learned a lot of polka music early on. In fact, I was told by my friends that everything I played sounded like a polka. If I played along with Beatles songs or Rolling Stones songs that I heard on the radio, it would still sound to most people like I was playing polka music, and they thought that was funny. So I learned early on that there was humor to be gleaned from the juxtaposition of rock music and polka.
Let’s talk about the FR-7 V-Accordion. What do you like about it?
There are a lot of options that you don’t have with a regular accordion. You can record directly and digitally—you don’t have to work with analog mics, which is nice—it saves setup in the studio. There are just a lot of different sounds you can get out of it. It’s very versatile.
There are actually about 30 different accordion sounds onboard. Any particular ones you’re into?
The French accordion sound is pretty cool. And some of the woodwind sounds are nice, and the string sounds are very nice. Oddly enough, it does a pretty nice accordion sound too. [laughter] And there are a lot of different parameters that I’ll investigate for my next polka medley in the studio.
I know with V-Accordions there are different sounds you can use in the left hand. Have you used that feature?
Yes. You can program the bass buttons for one instrument, and the chord buttons for one instrument, and the keys for yet another instrument, so there are a lot of different variations you can do. It’s great, especially—for instance, if you were a solo accordion act, you could get a whole lot of really cool sounds out of it and basically be a one-man band.
What appeals to you the most about the V-Accordion, versus an acoustic accordion?
I really like the idea that it is a direct connection. The accordion is a hard instrument to mic, because if you put an acoustic microphone next to an accordion—especially the left hand—the bellows are always moving. So it’s kind of hard to get an even sound, because the mic is always going to be closer and then further away from the sound source. Internal microphones are also always a problem, because you still get the sound of the bellows. So just the simple fact that there’s a digital solution out there where you get a clean accordion sound is very appealing to me.
Now you’ve got our latest V-Accordion, the FR-2. How are you liking it?
The FR-2 is the best of all worlds in terms of its size and weight. I’ve already used it in the studio for a recording session with an artist named Sarah Taylor. And, it’s small and lightweight enough that I can rock out with it on stage and not get a hernia or collapse in exhaustion.
So no living with a hernia for you then, right?
Let me ask a more general question about your music. From a production standpoint, how do you get your parodies to sound so close to the original song?
Generally I just deflect that question and say that I work with really talented people. I’ve had the same band since the early ‘80s, and the same recording engineer since the early ‘80s, and I just got really lucky. They’re all incredible musicians and great guys, and I trust them to do their job, and I do my job, and we come to the studio with that kind of mindset and attention to detail, and we just give it our best shot.
What’s coming next for you?
I assume a new album is somewhere on the horizon. I have no ideas and no plan, but I would assume that at some point in 2008, I’ll be back in the studio. We’ll also be going out on tour again this summer.
To keep up with “Weird Al” Yankovic, visit his website at www.weirdal.com.