INTERVIEW: Andrew W.K.’s Introspective Approach to Party Music

Andrew W.K. photo courtesy of Cortney Armitage

Andrew W.K. is known and loved as the King of Partying. His social media feeds are filled with positive messages, like this one from Twitter: “PARTY TIP: Staying positive doesn’t mean you don’t feel sad or scared sometimes, it just means you keep going anyway.”

He’s written advice columns for The Village Voice (NYC), Front Magazine (UK), and Rockin’ On (Japan). He also hosted a motivational show on MTV called, “Your Friend, Andrew W.K.”. He reaches out to fans via social media and answers questions about topics ranging from combating depression (see above) to cheering on the Pittsburgh Penguins, an NHL team who’s turned his hit song “Party Hard” into its goal celebration song (“There’s no bird partier than a penguin. And there’s no sport partier than hockey.”)

Andrew W.K. and his band have been touring nonstop since March, supporting You’re Not Alone, his first studio album in nearly a decade. You’re Not Alone contains 13 songs and three powerful spoken word messages, each around a minute long, aimed at reaching out to those who may be struggling, often in silence. As a result, the album comes across as a cross between a house party and motivational kick in the pants. The live show is energetic, hard-rocking, and encompasses the entire audience. Plus, how many rock stars do you know who have guitars shaped like a taco and a slice of pizza?

Seattle fans will be swept up into that vortex of awesomeness on Saturday, September 8th, when the tour stops at The Showbox at the Market (1426 1st Ave, Seattle 98101).

Andrew W.K. called from the road for a brief chat and shared a deeper, more thoughtful side of himself and his creative process, and his ongoing quest to conquer each day.

NWMS: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MUSIC?

AWK: It was the most obvious thing and also the least obvious thing for me to do, personally. I had started taking piano lessons and immersing myself in the world of music at around age four. From that time on, it became the largest part and the most consistent part of my day to day life.

Strangely enough, it never even occurred to me, until I was around 19 years old, to even consider the possibility of doing it as a “career.” I had my mind set on being a visual artist or a scientist or a fashion designer, which is why I moved to New York City. All these many different ideas, but never specifically, music, perhaps because it had been such an integral part of my life.

I never imagined a version of my life where I would be constantly be playing music, recording music, making music, playing with bands. It was almost like once you learned to tie your shoes, it’s just part of life. You don’t necessarily think, “I should become a professional shoe tie-er because I tie my shoes every day and I’ve been able to tie my shoes for so many years.” It (music) was just part of what it was to be alive, and I always imagined that your career had to be a dream that you had that was removed from what you already knew, like a lofty ambition that was a bit alien and distant and that you would pursue and reach out towards.

I suppose it was because all my dreams of that variety (visual arts, etc.), those ambitions, they all fell apart. They didn’t work out. They revealed themselves to be, I suppose, the wrong dreams, time and time again. It was quite painful and brutal and disappointing. And then, in a series of revelations, I accepted that maybe the thing I was meant to do was the thing that I’d always been doing all along. That was the closest to me and the truest to me.

I didn’t think that that disbelief and doubt in myself, and I considered music to be part of my true self. I didn’t believe that that could count for a career, that you could just do what you are and what you love and have that be enough. And then, it all reversed, and I realized it was the only thing that I could do and the only thing I should do or had a hope of achieving any success in because it seemed like my destiny. But, it was all very puzzling at first because I thought your destiny was a much more dramatic type of realization. This was so close to home and familiar. It didn’t have that dreamlike quality. It was almost a bit of a letdown feeling when I accepted that I was supposed to do this music thing because it wasn’t new and exciting. It was what I had always been all along. Certainly, being a front man to a rock and roll band and singing and taking on the structure that became the Andrew W.K. presentation; that was new and challenging, and so I was stimulated by that, and it was very out of my element from anything I’d done with music before. I actually feel like it’s been now, 20 years in, that I’ve finally figured out how to do it at a basic level. It’s taken this long to have the ability to fulfill what I think I’m supposed to present. I’m still trying to understand it myself (laughs).

NWMS: YOU TOOK A VERY LONG JOURNEY OF DISCOVERING OTHER THINGS BEFORE YOU REALIZED THAT MUSIC IS AT THE HEART OF IT ALL. THE MUSIC YOU WRITE IS NOT ONLY UPLIFTING BUT VERY PERSONAL. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU DO DELIBERATELY OR IS THIS HOW THE CREATIVE PROCESS COMES OUT FOR YOU?

AWK: Well, first and foremost, music, for me, is aspirational. The thing that I’ve found, going back to my earliest experiences at the piano and with my piano teachers, and recording music for the first time, was the overwhelmingly powerful effect that music had on my spirit, my body, my mind, my emotions, and then a part of me that I can’t even define. It was all a positive encounter. It changed the way that I felt about being alive and not just in terms of a mood or a series of thoughts or ideas but from the inside out and the outside in. Music made the world around me look different, look better. It made me feel better about being in the world. It was so profound, I think that I figured this was something for me. This was my fuel. Music was the food of the gods that allowed me to attempt to become a human being and go throughout the world and pursue what I was most interested in pursuing. I could always count on music to give me the spirit to go out and try to become a fashion designer or try to finish that painting I wanted to finish or any number of other things; to try to have the courage just to face the day, despite feelings of despair and frustration and even malevolence and animosity. And so, music for me was a source of undeniable good, absolute good; a physical goodness – a goodness of such complete power that I could count on it like a being, like an entity. I could devote myself to that. But again, it didn’t occur to me until later that I could devote myself entirely to that feeling, and I could use music to do it.

When it came time to make the music that I thought Andrew W.K. should make, I wanted it to be very literally about that feeling, to have the music not only make you feel like that but have the words talk about that. Since I was someone who used music to feel different, to feel like a better version of myself, the songs were only personal in the sense that they were me imagining what it would feel like to feel better. What would it feel like to feel awesome? What would the music sound like if I was actually a really powerful, strong, and happy person?  What would be the music that a superhero would make, like the greatest person in the world that felt the greatest that anyone had felt, if I had figured everything out, how would that music sound? What would be the soundtrack for the greatest feeling that you’ve ever felt? That’s really where it comes from, all the work, even doing this interview now, I’m trying to get to that feeling. But first and foremost, for myself. And I don’t know even if there’s a selfish or self-centeredness or a self-involved aspect to that therapeutic relationship with it. I don’t think I would be able to muster up the energy or the motivation or the drive or the will to do any of this work if it wasn’t, first and foremost, to make me feel better about being alive.

NWMS: YOU SHARE YOURSELF WITH SO MANY PEOPLE, THROUGH MUSIC AND THROUGH YOUR COLUMNS, INCLUDING THE ONE YOU WROTE FOR THE VILLAGE VOICE. YOU TACKLED SOME PRETTY SENSITIVE ISSUES AND TOUCH PEOPLE IN WAYS YOU MAY NOT EVEN REALIZE. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH YOUR MUSIC AND WRITING HELPS OTHERS?

AWK: I’m a very flawed person, I suppose, like any human is, although I wouldn’t dare speak for others in that regard. My challenges are my own, to some extent, but as you said, we’re able to relate to one another. There’s something, even if the music was more impersonal than it is, because it is, in the range of songwriting, when it comes to lyrics and things, the parts that are personal are often quite obscure, and even I don’t really recognize them because the lyrics always come last for me when I’m writing. First is always melodies and chord changes and then there’s sort of a big inhale and exhale that, “okay, now I’ve gotta find words here.” I usually just try to sing about the feeling of that music. What does this chord change feel like? What is this triumphant feeling? Sometimes it’s even less conscious than that, for better or worse.

But, there is something confessional about that, and there is something about the human spirit that really benefits from, in an undeniable way, about getting what is inside, out, and taking what is outside and putting it into you. The entertainment experience, or the audience-performer relationships, is an incredible, form-wise and amplified version that inside-outside exchange. At the same time, I’m pulling things from outside of me into me and processing them in some sense and putting it back out in the form of music or a piece of writing or whatever my utterance, my communication, my expression.

It’s a mysterious process, and I think that’s probably one of the most entertaining parts about it for the entertainer themselves. They have to be entertained by the process, too. They have to be surprised and confused. I know about as much as anyone else, in terms of what’s gonna happen next in life or even in a song as it’s being written. I don’t hold all the secrets, and I think that’s what I enjoyed or found most meaningful or even moving about my interaction with what we can call an audience, is the feeling that we are in it together.  The reason they are resonating with this is because they’re looking for the same thing I’m looking for. They’re in touch with the same thing that I’m wanting to be in touch with, and we’re on a team, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, marching towards this possibly unattainable but very idealistic feeling. To know that you’re not alone in that effort and in fact, that maybe it’s even the most common thread going down through human history is this hunger, this appetite, this ceaseless, tireless, need to connect with something and find that connection anywhere you can. I think we’re connecting to this ineffable feeling, this indescribable feeling that can only be understood by being felt.

NWMS: YOUR SHOW ROLLS INTO SEATTLE IN SEPTEMBER. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT PERFORMING HERE?

AWK: We’re really excited about playing this show. This will probably be the last show we play this year in Seattle. Seattle’s been really a consistently great place for us. We’re always excited to come back. It has a unique feeling, of course, as the city is known to have. It has a very special atmosphere, and I think it’s very conducive to the sensation we’re trying to muster up through this party power.

Andrew W.K. photo courtesy of Elise Cerino

Andrew W.K. and his full band perform at The ShowBox on Saturday, September 8th. Purchase tickets HERE

In the meantime, keep up with Andrew W.K. on social media:

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Su Ring

Su has worked in and around the music scene since the tender age of 19, when she formed her first heavy metal band on the Jersey Shore. Since then, she's hosted a radio show, worked at several major record labels in New York City, written for a now-defunct rock periodical, and self-published a novel set amid the 80s metal music scene in the Big Apple. She spends her time now singing anthems, hosting a hockey podcast, and producing segments for a daytime TV talk show. And enjoying rock and heavy metal shows, of course.