April 17, 2018 Interview – Andrew W.K.
Rocker Andrew W.K. is a jack of a seemingly endless list of trades: a musician, first and foremost, who has authored a book and multiple advice columns. He is a motivational speaker who guest lectures at such prestigious institutions as Yale and Carnegie Mellon Universities. He has been featured on late night TV, on radio, and in the pages of Time Magazine and Rolling Stone. In short, Andrew W.K. is a one-man phenom who transcends musical boundaries to spread his message across any medium that will have him!
His musical journey began back in 2001 with his smash debut, I Get Wet, which featured a little ditty that you may have heard before called “Party Hard.” That party has continued throughout the years, bringing fans albums that have ranged from 2003’s The Wolf to 2009’s 55 Cadillac. With nearly a decade gone by since the release of a new, original full-length offering from Mr. W.K., 2018’s You’re Not Alone is seemingly exactly what the doctor has ordered.
Fresh from South By Southwest in Texas, the superbly busy, intelligent, and insightful Andrew W.K. recently sat down to talk about the new album, this crazy journey that is life, and what partying means to him. Oh yeah, and toboggan-sledding!
CrypticRock.com – Obviously, you are a musician, but you’ve also written a book, authored advice columns, done motivational speaking engagements, guest lecturing, TV, film, radio, and been referred to as one of “Rock-n-Roll’s great philosophers.” So, let us start off with an easy one: What haven’t you done?
Andrew W.K. – Most other things! The list would be very long but would include such things as rock-climbing, toboggan-sledding. Woah! There’s a lot of them coming to mind that I guess I have done. I’ve never made my own sushi, I’ve never studied Forensic Biology. I’ve never driven a police car! I’ve never seen the inside of the United Nations building where they have those big meetings, and about ten-billion other things that I haven’t done.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) So, as far as your actual career and things you have done, what have been some highs and lows throughout your truly impressive and diverse ride?
Andrew W.K. – For me, from my perspective, the whole thing has been a high, because it’s such a privilege to get to work on this type of endeavor. It really is! Even in my most frustrated and torturous times, it’s still not lost on me that this is just an incredible dream-gift that I’m getting to even have these kinds of problems. Really, what’s the best thing about all of the work – better than the traveling, better than the challenges and comforts and rewards, better than the adulation and recognition – even better, and this is saying the most, even better than the feelings I get from the music itself, right up there, the thing that’s the most valuable is the time that I get to spend with the people that I’m doing this with.
That’s something that’s only really struck me in the last few weeks, that’s why I say it now I suppose. For so much of this, I’ve been almost doing this for 20 years now and, in the beginning, there was so much attention spent on the drive and the ambition and the goals and trying to do the very best we could, as it still is to this day. I also didn’t really know the people I was working with really that well because we had just started. It’s not like we grew up together or anything like that: these were new people to me. Even the newest people that I work with now, I still have these same feelings for. I’m working with, some of the people in my band, for example, I’ve been working with since the very first day. Some of them are relatively new and have only been in the group for a year or so, but what’s really become clear to me is that’s the gift. If all of this ended tomorrow, the best part and the most meaningful – maybe even the only meaningful part for me – is that I got to spend this really intensive time with these really amazing people.
I never really understood what people meant when they said, “All that really matters is family, nothing is more important than family.” I mean, I understood what they meant, I just didn’t feel that way. Of course, I have very strong feelings for my mom and dad and my brother, and our extended family members, but I never thought that counted more than every other thing in life and you should put everything beneath that. I would see people who lived their lives based on what I said – ‘nothing matters more than family’ – but all they did was spend time with their family and they had a job that they didn’t really care that much about, which is not a criticism. They had their priorities and I just couldn’t relate to that; because I had, you know, all I wanted to do was get out of the house and go and pursue these passions I had and have these experiences. Now I really, finally think I can understand what people mean where it’s going through those experiences with these other people, it’s sharing those passions with these other people; it’s being on this adventure with these other people. So even if the adventure is this quest to reach some kind of pinnacle, it was that you got to reach that pinnacle with these other people. Then, even if you don’t reach that pinnacle point of achievement, you realize that the achievement was that you got to spend this meaningful time engaged in something deep and challenging with the other people.
That’s something that now I feel almost embarrassed that it took me this long to see that so clearly. What I’ve really noticed is, we’ve just completed this run of shows at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. It’s a challenging environment and the infrastructure is somewhat convoluted – that’s just the nature of that, everyone is aware of that and it’s not necessarily a shortcoming. There’s just a lot going on, it’s difficult to navigate in some ways, but even in the most intense moments – in the confusion and even in the despair that I felt due to frustration with technical problems and things like that – I could not stay in that mood and be around my band at the same time. Meaning as soon as I looked at my band or was loading gear with them or just in each other’s presence, my mood shifted and became better; I became a better version of myself. I felt better, I was a better-quality person. That’s why I’m realizing this is really magical, this is what this is! It’s a bit still hard for me to explain, because I’m still processing it.
CrypticRock.com – Well, that is how it should be! When you surround yourself with good people, it makes everything more worthwhile.
Andrew W.K. – No, you’re right: it makes everything better! It’s true! I don’t know why, I had to experience it from the inside. I think I understood that concept, but I hadn’t felt that in an undeniable way. If someone could explain that to me, I’d go, ‘Oh yeah, I guess I see what you mean!’ But it took me a long time to even get comfortable with other people, even my own family. It’s taken me this long, almost 40 years, to be able to face other people, even the people that I trust the most. I think it’s also been, I hadn’t been able to be open up enough to receive that support and the presence that these people offer.
They’re just, each person in my band, each person in my core team is completely astounding. I really can say that! There’s been times that I couldn’t have said that or I wouldn’t have believed that; I would believe that they were doing the best that they can. Now I really can say that these are extraordinary individuals and remarkable people, and one of the most remarkable things about them is their willingness to be around me, to do this with me. That’s what’s really striking me: these people can do anything and yet with all the opportunities that they have, and all the abilities they have, they’re devoting their life, precious hours of their life, to being with me on this adventure. It’s incredibly powerful!
CrypticRock.com – It is very self-affirming when you are surrounded by good, talented, and supportive people. So, let’s talk about the new album, You’re Not Alone, which arrived on March 2nd. Clearly, the album is rather inspirational and motivational. It’s been seven years since you released a full-length album, yes?
Andrew W.K. – Depending on how you look at it. There was a lot of releases, but there wasn’t a full, studio-made Rock album for, yeah, a good handful of years.
CrypticRock.com – Was there ever a moment’s hesitation or a feeling of having to shake off some rust when you returned to the studio for this album?
Andrew W.K. – Well, I guess that’s why it was so easy for time to have passed by, because I never really stopped recording; I never officially took a break. I didn’t even realize that that much time had passed since I had released an album because I had been recording this other stuff: I was producing other people’s music and recording for other projects and other records. It was a very active time, which is why it flew by so quick. I was partying so hard and time flies when you party hard!
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) What inspired you lyrically this time around?
Andrew W.K. – Well, the lyrics just, I was really trying to make music – in terms of the literal music, chord changes and the melodies and the rhythms – that is strong enough to stand on its own, and then I’d try to write words that described the feeling in that music. That’s usually how it comes for me; not only do the words come last, but they’re coming from the song itself. It’s self-referential in that way, I suppose: it’s music about music a lot of the time, even if it doesn’t sound like it explicitly. I mean, there are songs that are explicitly about that like “Music Is Worth Living For,” but even a song like “Give Up On You,” I was writing that thinking about music; thinking about songs and the power that your favorite songs have to always be with you, to always stand by you, and have this kind of unconditional, superhuman love that you can count on. So, I am going for this certain feeling: I try to get there with the music and then I use the words to get even further towards that feeling.
CrypticRock.com – Kind of as a joke, although it would be fitting: did you ever consider naming the album The Power of Positive Partying?
Andrew W.K. – Well, certainly that’s a phrase that I have used. Obviously, it’s a reference to, I guess it’s a book, The Power of Positive Thinking. It’s an older book. I think people have said that phrase to me, ‘The power of positive partying,’ and I have a song on there called “The Power of Partying.” Actually, none of the albums have the word ‘partying’ or ‘party’ in the title, and I just continued that – not consciously. I’ve noticed that once this album came out, it also didn’t have the word ‘party’ in the title. So, I think that people expect that it’s going to but, if they look, they’ll see that they never have ‘party’ in the title. It’s still a great title, one way or the other!
CrypticRock.com – Well, you have permission to steal the idea! So, do tell, what does ‘partying’, hard or otherwise, mean to you these days?
Andrew W.K. – Well, it’s celebratory intoxication and there’s many ways to get intoxicated! Not saying that, the best way is to be high only on life – as someone who’s been intoxicated through all kinds of ways and found all of them to be interesting in some form or another.
You’re trying to get deeper into the heart of the matter, which is the fact that we exist and that really is the most incredible thing of all; so incredible that we can’t really comprehend it, so you have to extend or manipulate or even distort your comprehension with the hopes that you can take in more of this realization that you’re alive at all. Really, once you realize the grandeur of that reality, that fact that you exist – which is the most unlikely thing really that could possibly occur – you can’t help but celebrate it; it really also feels like the most respectful thing to do.
Even if we aren’t convinced that being alive is even that great of a thing – maybe it would have been better not to have been born – there’s something very noble and dignified about accepting your destiny, that you were born and the best thing you can do is to make the best of it. That starts via complete thoughts of embracing it and worshipping it, essentially; worshipping your own chance to exist. Ideally, we don’t just want to look at what we consider the high points of life as being the only moments worth celebrating; we want to consider the entire moment of existence, the whole moment of being alive at all – the whole strand of time, however long it ends up being.
CrypticRock.com – To go back to the album, interspersed throughout, there are quite a few motivational, Spoken Word pieces. What inspired the inclusion of this material?
Andrew W.K. – Yeah, there’s three, they are relatively short; three short, motivational speaking tracks. That really was actually the idea of a woman I work with at my management team, named Karen Glauber. She’s someone who I met right at the beginning of this whole adventure, back in 2001 or 2002, and she’s been very, very, very supportive and engaged throughout. She’s never offered an idea, she’s never spoken up with some kind of particular idea, so I took it very seriously when she did. She’s very experienced and she really believes in what this effort is all about. I never would have thought to include motivational speeches on this album, or really any album. I thought maybe someday of doing a lecture and recording it; recording the audio or putting out some kind of me reading my writing or something like that as an audio book. She said she thought that it should be on the album, very short tracks in between a few songs, and that it would help just further drive home this whole feeling I’m trying to create.
Even though I was very scared of doing it, very doubtful because I was so exposed – it’s just my voice naked and alone with nothing, nothing there, not even any reverb or effects on my voice let alone music – just this barren voice; such a stark contrast compared to how the music is. I realized, even though I was scared, it was the right thing to do; that instinct dove in immediately, ‘Yep, this is the right thing to do!’ Even though I put it off ‘til the last second, I eventually did muster up the courage to record them very, very quickly.
What I really like about it, in the end, is that even though I can see how they can make some people uncomfortable – people don’t like hearing any words like that – it’s definitely not beating around the bush. This album is saying something, and you can’t get any more literal or direct than actually just saying it; all the songs are saying it, all the music is saying it, and here I am saying it. I like that it’s this almost desperate effort to get this feeling across one way or another; sometimes just being blunt about it is the most effective.
CrypticRock.com – On first listen, it is a little jarring because it is not the usual or the norm. However, it works, and it creates an intimacy: it feels like you are sitting in the room listening to your own album with the listener.
Andrew W.K. – That’s awesome! That’s exactly what I hoped it would feel like!
CrypticRock.com – It definitely does, and then it feels like you are adding a personal commentary to their viewing experience.
Andrew W.K. – You know, it definitely has an intimacy to it; it’s a jarring intimacy so I guess that’s why it can be very intense. It’s also, what I’m saying in those three tracks, that’s what I was saying to myself during the making of the album, during these last years, during my own ups and downs. Those are my own mantras or the internal pep-talk that I would find myself going back to. It just kind of naturally came out when I was trying to think of what I should say on this album. That’s what I was thinking about the most: about this being a test, about this being a journey, and that this feeling of intensity and pain even is just the feeling of being a human being. The things I was saying to myself like, ‘Come on, Andrew, you can do it!’ The whole album is really like a pep-talk to myself, first and foremost.
CrypticRock.com – Okay, so let’s end with this: what do you hope fans take away from You’re Not Alone?
Andrew W.K. – I hope – and this is the same hope that I’ve always had – that they get a very strong feeling. I don’t mean a mood or an idea, or really even an emotion; a physical, body feeling. A feeling that contains emotions and moods and thoughts, but is so transcendent and powerful that you feel it first in your body, in your skin, in your stomach, in your face, in your feet. It’s the feeling of raw energy, like the feeling of being alive; like the feeling of the life force, like the feeling of whatever it is that gives us the energy to go out into the world and face it. That’s the feeling that I want them to have, and a huge, unadulterated, pure dose of that feeling! I’d really like if they can harness that feeling or come back to it, rely on it time and time again.
It doesn’t really give you the answers to anything, but somehow just getting a huge wave of that powerful feeling it puts everything in perspective in a way. You’ll see those problems that are really up-close, right in your face that are swarming you, and maybe it will help push them back a little bit, give them some distance. Maybe those fears, those concerns, and those worries are just made to seem a little less urgent; maybe they’re still there even, but they’re just a little less threatening, because you have this incredible power on your side that’s telling you that even if it doesn’t feel like it, everything is somehow okay. This feeling is the proof. Even if your mind says, ‘No, it’s not okay, it’s not okay, it’s not okay!’ There’s a feeling in your soul, in your heart, in your body that will tell you it is okay, because if it wasn’t okay you wouldn’t have those feelings. That’s what I hope people get!