The LSC Lands ‘Weird Al’ Engineer
by Todd Wellington, staff reporter The Caledonian-Record
March 21, 2017
It’s not something many people can lay claim to.
And even though Lyndon State College’s newest professor of Music Business and Industry can… it still seems more than a bit out of place on a Thursday afternoon in the Burke Mountain Room.
“I’m ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s engineer,” said Professor Brian Warwick, 34, during a presentation on his work with Yankovic for which he won a Grammy award in 2014 for engineering the best comedy record of the year.
“He’s a genius,” said Warwick of his boss whose legendary parodies are as famous as the songs and artists they pay tribute to. “He’s a great guy and he works really, really hard.”
Warwick regales the LSC students assembled in front of him with stories of working with Yankovic and the ups and downs Yankovic goes through when getting an artist’s permission to parody one of their songs.
Most do so gladly, but some don’t… and some change their mind.
According to Warwick, James Blunt first agreed to let Yankovic cover his song “You’re Beautiful” as “You’re Pitiful” but later said ‘no.’ And Lady Gaga’s management vetoed a “Weird Al” parody of “Born This Way” as “Perform This Way.”
However, Lady Gaga later intervened after hearing it herself and gave her approval, said Warwick.
Yankovic is a huge Beatles fan, said Warwick, so he was deeply disappointed when the famously vegetarian Paul McCartney declined his request to cover “Live and Let Die” as “Chicken Pot Pie.”
“It’s because he’s a vegetarian,” said Warwick.
Warwick also displayed multi-track settings for some Yankovic songs on a screen as well as some Yankovic song diagrams, and he described life in the studio during 12 hour days with Yankovic as highly organized and pretty much all business.
“You get maybe a half hour for lunch,” said Warwick.
Warwick said he was doing so well in the music business that he initially turned down the opportunity to work closely with Yankovic. But a studio manager pressed him to reconsider and he later won a Grammy Award for his work on Yankovic’s Comedy Album of the year “Mandatory Fun.” It was also Yankovic’s first No. 1 Album in over thirty years of recording.
“I won the Grammy trophy with Weird Al and the first place I went with it was to that studio manager’s office and I put it on her table and I was like, “Yep, that’s because you said ‘do the session.’”
How he got the Northeast Kingdom is a lesson in serendipity.
Warwick was living the dream in the music business in Los Angeles when he and his wife Ashley decided to re-locate.
“Our priorities had changed,” said Warwick.
Finding The NEK
Warwick was born and raised in the Worcester, Mass. area. He went to Los Angeles after graduating from Berklee College of Music and found work as a sound engineer. He soon found himself working with major artists such as Ludacris, Adam Lambert, Flo Rida, Michael Buble and then years working for Yankovic. Warwick continues to work for Yankovic while teaching the students at LSC his craft.
He says his journey from living and working five minutes from the Hollywood strip to LSC was a wish for something more peaceful. He’d never been to the NEK and didn’t even know it existed when he saw the LSC job listing.
“I came back to visit my family at Christmas and my wife and I were like, ‘Hey let’s go drive up. Let’s take a look. We came up here and we were like, ‘Yeah, we dig it. We love it up here. It’s beautiful. It’s pretty. It’s a great environment. We just spent the last 12 years living in Los Angeles and we were done. We were done with that. We wanted a complete change of pace.”
He says he vividly remembers driving into Vermont and seeing the rolling hills and the landmark silos along Interstate 93 in St. Johnsbury.
“I was struck by the beauty,” said Warwick. “You know, you come up through Franconia Notch and this kind of whole environment that I had never been in before just kind of opened up to me. I was just like, ‘Whoa, this is different, this is stunning.’”
Then they happened to stop into the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center where he said he met a volunteer who talked at great length about the good life in the Northeast Kingdom and all it had to offer.
“We talked to somebody – A reverend in the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center – and we just started talking to him about the area and he kind of sold us on it a little bit… A sweet old guy who just kind of told us about the whole area.”
Then he really liked his interview at LSC because they made him feel wanted. Warwick said the faculty and students were very welcoming and seemed to really want him there more so than other colleges he had interviewed with.
“The rapport here was a lot more welcoming,” said Warwick. “They wanted my input. They wanted what I do in their program. It was very welcoming.”