Why did you decide to make the move from writing parodies to writing children's
Yankovic: It's not a move in the sense that I'm giving up the music.
It's something else that I found that I really enjoy doing. I was approached a
few years ago by an editor at Harper Collins, Anne Hobbe, who was a fan of my
music, and said that she thought that the wordplay in my lyrics would appeal to
kids. And she noted that I seemed to have a strong connection with the younger
people in my fan base and she thought I would be fairly adept at children's
literature, and it so happens that was something I'd always secretly harbored a
desire to do. I've always been a huge fan of Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and
I also thought that I would have, perhaps, some talent in that area.
I didn't agree immediately. I had to put that offer
aside because I was in the middle of a tour, and I was working on some other
projects. But a year and a half later, I finally e-mailed the editor back and
said, "I would love to do a children's book and here are some ideas."
She responded to the idea of When I Grow
Up, which is my first book. So I wrote that. She paired me with Wes Hargis,
who is the wonderful illustrator. And the book went on to become a New York
Times bestseller. And fans reacted very positively, which is very encouraging,
and now I'm doing book number two.
LifeinLA: I notice there's definitely a rhythm to your
writing. Is it very similar to writing a song, or is it different?
Yankovic: It's very similar, for me, to writing a song. It's
the same kind of skill set. I pick a sort of rhythm for the text and that
becomes a template. So I have to make sure the lyrics or the words fall into a
good flow, a good pattern, because you have to visualize parents reading these
books to their kids. It has to flow freely off the tongue. And the same way, of
course, for music. It's just I'm writing the books without any music being
attached. It's just as important the words and the lines have a certain rhythm
how much do you work with the illustrator beforehand on what the story is going
Yankovic: I don't work directly with Wes Hargis. Basically I
finish the text and hand it over to Wes. Then Wes would work directly with
Harper Collins on the art. But, you know, I'm kept in the loop of anything for
the layout and revisions. But, uh, I don't have anything really to add to the
process besides what the editor is already doing.
was looking at the last spread of the book and it has the Wright Brothers,
Martin Luther King, all these books all over, did you get to put in anything
that was in Billy's room, stuff from your childhood, or was that mostly all the
Yankovic: That was all Wes's doing. You know, he referenced a
lot of things Billy had talked about and imagined, or perhaps not imagined. I
didn't really give him any notes whatsoever. He did all that based on the text
and based on his own imagination.
there lots of children in your life that you decided to write this for?
Yankovic: Well, there's my daughter. She's 10 years old, and
she's who I've dedicated both of my books to, so certainly her. And you know,
I've got a lot of young fans and my daughter's got a lot of friends. And I'm
also in touch with my inner child. But my daughter is my primary influence.
I think she has the first book memorized. I was doing
an audio book-- Well, I did one for both books. But I remember she'd be hanging
around while I was recording it and editing it, and it's sort of a repetitious
process, so she heard the audio tracks over and over and over, and I think at
one point she could recite the tracks by memory.
kind of things did you do as a kid besides play accordion? Were you like Billy?
How much of the book did you pull from your own childhood?
Yankovic: In terms of the new book-- In the trailer I joke
about how it's not autobiographical, but maybe just this much autobiographical in that I was always a kid that was a
little off-center and yes, weird perhaps. And I did have a pretty wild
imagination, but I didn't have Billy's confidence.
Billy's a very outgoing positive kind of kid. Billy's
more the kid I wish I could have been.
the main character is Billy. Do you think you might do any books about a girl
Yankovic: I haven't really given any thought whatsoever about
my next children's book. I would like to continue. But I really have no idea
what's going to happen next. I love the character of Billy. I'm not sure if I
want to continue that and make it more of a franchise, or if I want to go off
in a different direction and do something else. That remains to be seen, but I
definitely would like to do something.
you said that you already did an audio book and I saw the trailer that was up
on the Harper Collins Web site. Is there going to be a video that goes along
Yankovic: No. It's just a pure reading of the book. It's just
five or six minutes long, so it's hard to even call that an audio book. No, the
first book had an app that went along with it, which is quite nice. I was told
that they might not be doing it this time around just because it's almost
prohibitively expensive to do. It's just one of those things.
I notice the books are not by "Weird" Al, but just by Al Yankovic.
Why did you drop the "Weird"?
Yankovic: Well, I didn't drop the Weird, per se. I'm still
Weird Al Yankovic for my concert tours and my records and for anything where
I'm in front of a microphone or a camera, but I've always just gone by Al
Yankovic when I'm a writer or a director or a producer. And I figured, even
when I'm writing children's books, I'm a writer.
so this is not a sign of a departure from writing music, but you're just adding
Yankovic: Exactly. Right after this book tour, I'm heading on
the road with my band and continuing the Alpocalypse
tour and we're halfway done with the next album, so I'm certainly not giving up
my music, by choice anyway.
changes in music marketing and such affecting your career? I know there are
some songs you had to release only online. Any changes in marketing that's affecting
Yankovic: When I said that I didn't mean to be ominous about
it. I just meant that I can't take my career for granted. Any rock or show-business
career can be done at any minute. And I can't assume that I can do what I do
indefinitely. I've had a really good run and had a lot of luck so far. I'm
thankful every day I get to do this for a living. I didn't want to assume that
this could go on forever.
But the industry is changing, and there's a lot of
things to be wary of and a lot of people in the industry are scared, because
it's harder to make a living-- particularly in the recording industry. I do
very well on the road and my merchandise is selling, but it's tough for a lot of
artists based on record sales because by and large, people aren't buying
obviously, you seem to have a lot of fun at all your concerts and on your
tours. And it sounds like you're enjoying writing books. Do you have fun in all
Yankovic: I do. I mean, it's hard work, of course, but
everything I do is a dream for me. I've always loved comedy. I've always loved
music. I've been fortunate that I've always been able to make a living doing
exactly the thing that I love, which is sort of the theme of my first
children's book. But, yeah, every day I just feel blessed because I just can't
imagine anything I'd rather be doing than what I'm doing.
did some research, and I read that you have a degree in architecture.
Yankovic: I do.
Are you glad you got that? Have you used that at all?
Yankovic: Well, going to college for four years was definitely
a growing experience for me. And if I hadn't gone to college, I probably
wouldn't have been on the campus radio station and started being Weird Al and
developing characters and playing funny music. Getting the architecture degree
in the overall arc of my life wasn't that important, but going to college and
having that experience was pretty impactful and had an effect on my life.
going on tour in a few days. Are you going to be selling the books along with
the other stuff on tour, along with music and T-shirts and such?
Yankovic: You know, I think, not a hundred percent for sure,
but I think we're selling the children's books and the coffee table book I've
got up at the merch. table. I'm not absolutely sure of that, but I think we've
been discussing that.
If you don't decide to join
Al on any of his tours throughout California, you can pick up his books on
amazon.com and other local bookstores