Michael Winslow will forever be identified with his role in all seven Police Academy movies as Larvell Jones, the guy who could make funny noises with his mouth. Regardless of your opinion of the films' quality, it's hard to deny that Winslow's dazzling vocal techniques stole every scene they were in. Now making stand-up appearances and taking occasional acting roles, Winslow just self-released his first CD, an ambitious concept album called Noise-A-Tivity, on which his versatile voice provides every sound. A concert film, Michael Winslow Live, is in the works, and he continues to field offers from companies specializing in the recording and manipulation of sound. Winslow recently spoke to The Onion about Police Academy, his recording career, and his probable influence on such beatboxing rap legends as The Fat Boys, Rahzel, and Biz Markie.
The Onion: What's going on right now?
Michael Winslow: Well, I'm about to release my first CD. It's got a lot of music in itmusic and comedybut it's all created with my voice. There's a lot of techno, a lot of hip hop, dance, metal, and reggae music in it.
O: What's the framing device?
MW: It's called Noise-A-Tivity, and it's all human-produced, with a minimum of 36 tracks of voices and beats layered on top.
O: I saw that you worked with Rahzel [doing a Star Wars-themed vocal duel on the Sci-Fi Channel]. Are you friends?
MW: We had just met for the first time on the Sci-Fi Channel.
O: It certainly seems like he would be a kindred spirit.
MW: Yeah, I love the fact that he's learning the sounds I've already done. It's interesting.
O: What do you think of his music?
MW: Um, I've only heard the "All I Know" single. I understand his new album is out.
O: Yeah, it's really good.
MW: Is it all voice, or is it musical instruments and voice?
O: Well, I think there are samples and instruments worked in, but with him, I think he consciously makes it really difficult for you to discern what's him and what's a sample and what's real. I figure, when in doubt, figure it's him.
MW: Well, that's the reason I decided to go in the opposite direction. I wanted the album to be 100% voice-created to see what the end result would be. I've been doing beatbox stuff for years; I guess all the other rappers and beatboxers out there saw Police Academy and decided, "Hey, that's what [I] want to do!" I guess I am the originator of the beatbox sound. The Fat Boys and all those other people came after me, so technically, I was the creator.
O: Beatboxing seems to be coming back as a genre.
MW: Yeah, I'm glad to hear all that stuff from Rahzel and The Fat Boys and Biz Markie, all those people. Like that old phrase from the movie All That Jazz: Everything old is new again. It works out for me, though everybody forgets Bobby McFerrin.
O: Have you done a lot of guest spots on other people's CDs?
MW: Um, I have done some things before, but it's so obscure now that it's kind of pointless. I am going to be collaborating with other artists. On the new CD, MaxAmillion helps me out with a couple of songs. You remember him; he did the song "Hey, Fat Boy" and the reggae version of "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye. He helped me write two of the songs on the CD. If you go back to www.michaelwinslow.com, you can listen to a couple of the tracks. The stuff is pretty strange. If you have a slightly warped sense of humor, you'll love it. Everyone that's heard it, especially kids, loves this stuff. I have collaborated with musicians overseas as well as here, and I have done songs where I've put voices with regular instruments, but my main thing was that I wanted this CD to be all voices. I wanted to see how far I could go. Even listening to it, I can already think of stuff I can do with remixes.
O: How is it comedy?
MW: Well, between each musical track is a storyline. There are characters that interact in it, and it spans multiple galaxies. There's a lot of time travel in there, intergalactic travel, and there's a war going on and aliens trying to escape and live here on earth. Because this is the place to be; with all of our problems, this is still the place to live. You'll love the little alien guy. They do so many things to this poor little thing; they abuse this poor little alien so bad. All these people are chasing him, and we decide to protect him. You'll find out. In fact, you'll see him on the web site; his name is Blixxx-A-Blaxxx. You'll see him dancing around. We're rebuilding the web site to where we can be a webcasting system.
O: How much do people approach you to do special effects?
MW: A lot. It's been quite interesting; that's why I decided to break off on my own. People have been hounding me to do computer sound effects, and I've talked to a couple of people who are in the business of Foley effects for studios. I've spoken to just about everybody, and I'm going to have to make a move pretty soon, whether to go with somebody or do it myself. The MP3 site will be operational in maybe two or three weeks. It's the way to go. I decided to webcast because every time I look at network television, I start scratching the scabs on my head from ignorance of what the heck's going on. Like, "Why isn't there anything new?"
O: It's pretty homogenous.
MW: Yeah, well, I'm afraid we're going to have to break the rules in an organized manneragain.
O: Could you do a car revving its engine?
MW: Sure. [Imitates the sound of a car revving its engine.]
O: How do you feel about being known for the Police Academy movies?
MW: Uh, I have no problem with it. It's been fine for me. It's been a great vehicle. A lot of folks get bent out of shape about being known for something, but it's better to have the door open a little bit as opposed to slammed in your face completely. There are some folks who don't appreciate what they have, whereas I'm glad for the opportunity; I got to make a lot of good friends and go to a lot of different countries around the world because of it. Our markets are bigger overseas than they are here, especially in Germany, Austria, New Zealand, and the Far East.
O: Well, those movies were all successful, weren't they?
MW: Oh, yeah. Very much so.
O: There's this sort of weeding-out process throughout the course of the series, where Steve Guttenberg left after four, Bubba Smith left after six, and the only people in all of them were you, David Graf, and George Gaynes, right?
MW: That's correct.
O: Did you have a special bond with them because you stuck through for all seven?
MW: Um, yeah. I appreciate being able to know the people that I've gotten to know. I just saw David Graf on JAG last night. He was just in an episode of JAG, so he's still around.
O: What's David Graf like?
MW: Um... A lot like his character Tackleberry. He's very exact, very efficient, very disciplined, but a real great guy. He's very meticulous, very thorough, and he's great.
O: It must have been a little surreal after a while, participating in that institution for so long.
MW: Absolutely. And it was weird being in Moscow [for 1994's Police Academy: Mission To Moscow], I'll tell you. There are some crazy people running around there, but you know what? Russian folks have been great. I learned a lot up there. Every country I go, I learn a lot of stuff. I learned a lot about the Ukraine up there, and how impressionable the Russian people are.
O: How do you mean?
MW: The American people have this picture of them as being very stoic and very coldhearted, which is not true. Russian folks are just as impressionable as the American people are.
O: What's the worst experience you ever had doing a Police Academy movie?
MW: [Long pause.] I'm trying to think of a worst experience, and I can't really think of one. A blessing and a curse was being in Moscow during that revolution, during the big firefight that they had. The Russian Parliament building got blown up, and all those people were in it, and we couldn't leave the country.
O: Did you feel like, "Oh, God, I'm going to die here because I'm in a Police Academy movie?"
MW: Not because of a Police Academy movie, but because of the martial law. There were some very specific dangers that were associated with that, the least of which was automatic-weapons fire and tracer bullets flying in the air, because we were just four miles from the epicenter of that craziness. Lucky for us, they were shooting at CNN; the CNN building was right next door, so they deflected a lot of stuff [aimed] at Americans. But then, they were dumb enough to build a building next door.
O: But you must have thought, "Wow, this Police Academy movie is going to get me killed."
MW: Well, for a fleeting moment that crossed my mind, but at the same time, it turned out to be a great experience.
O: Could you do a machine gun for me?
MW: Uh, not on the phone. It never comes out right.
O: How about a siren?
MW: [Imitates a siren.]
O: It's interesting; there's something about it. You get a warmer sound...
MW: That's the point. That's exactly the point. That's the reason why I had to do this first CD as all human voice.
O: I mean, obviously you're a professional, and you've been doing it for 20 years, so I guess it goes without saying that you're good at it. But that sounded exactly like a siren.
MW: Well, the problem I'm having is that I'm always looking for better. It's like the musician who tries to play the note that was never there. I'm looking for the note that you can never find. It'll always be a work in progress.
O: When is Michael Winslow Live coming out?
MW: We're talking with the production company about that now; I went in partnership with a production company to do this. It may go straight to pay-per-view and we may do a limited theatrical release. I don't know exactly what we're going to do with it, because we've thought about this whole Blair Witch thing, with a grass-roots thing as opposed to going through a major studio and having them say, [imitates the South Park character Mr. Mackey] "Uh, we don't know, hm-kay? We're not sure we want to do that." [Imitates the South Park character Cartman.] "Oh, yeah? Well, I'll kick you in the nuts!" [Laughs.]
O: Well, Blair Witch really proves that you can use the web as a powerful promotional tool.
MW: That's what we're giving really serious thought to doing. I may put portions of it up as an MP2 file so people can play it on anything. But then again, I'm already going to be doing an MP3 and webcasting. We'll probably put some of the programs on for free at first, and then have subscribers. Or, because of some of the broad bandwidth of some of the new phone systems, we may just stream it to everybody. We're probably going to have to webcast everything, so you'll be seeing some of the very sick television programs that I'm going to be putting out on our site.
O: Did you ever think there'd be a Michael Winslow action figure?
MW: No, not at all. I didn't at all. And I don't think Warners did it justice, though I've enjoyed working with them.
O: Yeah, I've got one right here, and he's got this megaphone that he can't really hold very well.
MW: Well, not to worry. We will be putting better things out soon. We'll be putting out Silly Slammers, where you whack 'em and they make noises, and other strange things like that.
O: What were your experiences on the Police Academy TV series?
MW: Uh, quite odd, because to me it wasn't really the same. We didn't have all the cast members, though working with Matt Borlenghi [star of Police Academy: The Series] was cool. It was okay. I don't feel like I got the opportunity to really do my best work, but I'm addressing that with my own products.
O: What sort of stuff do you do at live shows?
MW: It's like a mini-version of the feature film; there's a lot of music and theatrics, like a one-man Broadway thing. We're always pushing the envelope and testing new things.
O: Did you really do The Gong Show?
MW: [embarrassed] Yeah, I did. My mom's got the trophy, and I pray that Jay Leno never finds that damn tape.
O: Well, they probably rerun it periodically on cable.
MW: I'm sure they do, and I'm sure Leno will be picking on me about it eventually. I'm gonna try to destroy all the copies.
O: But you won a trophy.
MW: Yeah, I did. My mom's got it.
O: But is it that embarrassing to have done The Gong Show? I mean, you won.
MW: I don't even remember what the heck I did.