Andrew Talks Piano, Deliberate Practice, and How to Be Happier

Long Live The Party: Andrew W.K. | Live Hard | By Joel Snape

So this is part two of Live Hard’s chat with Andrew W.K.: if you want a bit of context, you can read part one here. Otherwise, I’d advise cranking up Gundam Rock or one of Andrew’s piano battles and settling in for some interesting thoughts on learning new things, Andrew’s favourite party song, and how to be happier.

LH: On a different tack, something that not everyone knows is that you’re amazing at piano, which you’ve been playing for years. Can I ask what you think of the whole 10,000 hour theory?

A.W.K.: Well, I’m all right at piano, and I appreciate the compliment, but I’ve met people who are so much better at piano than me – and at other instruments – that I might as well not even know how to play. It’s just one of those things I spent a certain amount of time with, and not only have certain people spent more time on it than me, they’ve spent more concentrated, focused time on it. My piano teacher, that I took lessons with most recently – this sounds like an exaggeration, that it shouldn’t be possible, but he really can pretty much take any sheet music, extremely challenging music like Rachmaninov or Liszt, sit down and play it like you and I would open a book and read the English language. I asked him about that and he said ‘Well, pretty much anyone can do this, it just takes an amount of time dedicated to it, much like learning to read a new language.’ I do think that there is something about that, that the human brain will figure out how to learn what it thinks you need it to do. Finding the 10,000 hours, maybe having the patience to dedicate to those hours – maybe that’s the talent, having the will to subject yourself to that level of intense practice.

I would probably agree with that. Conversely, what do you think of the idea of ‘flow’ – that actually being in a relaxed state where you’re having fun is the most optimal way to learn?

Probably both come into it. It’s probably both. I would imagine that the very rigorous 10,000 hours style learning facilitates one’s ability to get into that happy-go-lucky, open-minded ‘flow’ type of learning. It seems like they’d work hand in hand. Once you have the tools to learn, then you can enter that state – for example, if you’re an athlete, you can get in that zone where you’re playing basketball with this sort of intuition and second-natured ease that someone who can barely dribble would never be able to attain. Maybe in those moments where you’re using all these skills, all these tools and resources that you’ve developed from very rigorous practice, that’s when you can find breakthroughs into other levels of ability.

Speaking of breakthroughs, an album I only heard for the first time recently was the Japan Covers, which is a bit of a departure for you. How did that come about?

Well, I was very fortunate to have a lot of great experiences in Japan, even before my first album came out. I was very lucky to visit Japan, specifically Tokyo and Kyoto with my dad, who was invited to teach over there for a couple of months. And he was over there for those months, my brother, my mom and I joined him for two weeks, and those two weeks just had a huge impact on me. One: just getting to travel to another land entirely, going overseas was huge. It seemed like it was a precursor to prime me for more Japan adventures. And once the album came out people, and I got this exciting opportunity to do Japanese songs in English. Armand, the main guy I still work with at Universal Japan was incredibly devoted but also creative, and has presented me with all kinds of ideas that I would have never thought of or had the confidence to do. And he said ‘Why don’t you do an album of all these classic Japanese pop and rock songs?’ The most challenging part was translating them into English with a translator, and retaining not just the meaning, but the phrasing and the rhythm and the rhymes, and learning the songs. And every time I do a cover song it’s challenging, because there’s a feeling like – does this really need to be re-done? If it’s a great song, that version can be so definitive that it feels almost pointless and disrespectful to do it again. But if the song’s so great there’s a joy in just playing the music, in singing the song. So I tried to stay true to the spirit of it, the style and the tone and the arrangements. So yeah, that was very exciting to be able to have that experience. Have you heard the Gundam album?

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Photo by Carl Welti

This news item was posted on: September 03, 2014