Andrew W.K., let’s all just agree from the off, is awesome. Not awesome in the sense you might use to describe a sleep you’ve just had or a cupcake you ate or a gif of a baby falling off a tricycle, but in the actual dictionary-definition sense of ‘Being extremely impressive, or likely to inspire awe.’ To be clear: Andrew W.K. started learning classical piano at four years old, wrote one of the greatest party albums ever at 21, and has since become a motivational speaker and written two years’-worth of advice columns in Japan that were collated into a book called I Will Change Your Life. He owns a nightclub that is widely considered to be one of the best in New York city. He recorded one of the most moving love songs of the last decade. He (partly) inspired the title of this website. He is awesome in a way that shames 90% of uses of the word.
Also: he wants to help everyone have a better life, and party harder. He genuinely believes that partying, and living with joy in your heart, are key to a good quality of life – which is something I totally agree with. So I asked to talk to him about that, and I’m glad I did, because talking to him was amazing. He was polite and thoughtful, and answered every one of my questions, however stupid, with an incredibly eloquent mini-dissertation on his philosophy. I’ll be running it in two parts: come back on Wednesday for the next one. For bonus sensory overload, I suggest reading this one while listening to The Wolf.
[Bonus lesson: I didn’t get this interview through any contacts I’ve made through working on a magazine or having been a writer for years. I got it because I wrote Andrew W.K.’s public email address an email saying, uh, much of the above, and that I hoped he’d talk to me about some of his philosophy. Sometimes, things are easier than you expect they’ll be.]
Andrew, you wrote “Party Hard” and “It’s Time To Party” over a decade ago, and just recently you wrote an incredibly well thought-out defense of partying in the Village Voice. Have you really had this party-philosophy for all that time, or is it something you’re constantly working on?
I’ve definitely developed methods of trying to explain it, thanks to people asking me. To me it seemed very inherent – in fact, that was one of the things that drew me to this idea of very pure fun was that everybody would understand it, that there was no explanation necessary. But it seems that despite – or perhaps because of the simplicity involved, some people were more skeptical or doubtful or even more confused. And that requires me to find ways to explain something, no matter how simple it may seem to me or other people. I’ve figured out more about it myself thanks to people inquiring. For me…I think young people always struggle with very bad feelings for a while, I know I did, and I was looking for very direct and potent methods of cheering myself up. And that whole mindset, this idea of partying and celebration of good feelings, devoting yourself to that as a lifestyle, a cause or a mission, just made sense to me.
Part of what really worked about it was just how one-dimensional it was – just the idea that you should spend time with things that make you feel better, on projects, and fill your mind with cheerful energy. And despite that, some people are…I don’t know if they’re puzzled by it, they just haven’t realised that you can pursue those things in good faith. That somehow, you’re sacrificing some sense of either intelligence – people think it’s stupid – or that it’s not a noble pursuit, that you should be devoting your time to things that they deem more worthy of energy. But, in my experience at least, I was very unsuccessful at doing almost anything else if I was in a bad mood. So the most important thing to me was getting in a state of mind where I could function, and then I could do whatever it was. But I wasn’t much use to anybody, especially myself, when I was feeling depressed, you know.
Just to be clear: by partying, do you mean getting drunk and dancing, or just doing things that make you happy more generally?
It includes those things.
It doesn’t really go beyond or fall short of any definition. It’s very open. So really, it can be drinking and dancing for someone, it can be entirely different for someone else. If you’re saying what’s the main mindset, I think then the mindset is just…having a mindset at all. Partying to me is almost like a game of thinking – the framework of this party state of mind is just stepping back one degree in perspective so that you can consider your thoughts, consider your state of mind and the world and your place in it from a bit of an abstract distance. And with that distance and that perspective, have a greater appreciation for it. Sort of like an awareness in general that…you’re most likely not going to live forever, I would say definitely not, but who knows how technology will advance in these coming years and what options it will give us – but a respect and admiration for the fragility of, of everything. For the temporary conditions that we’re in, for better or worse. And think about the urgency that creates. And I think that lays a foundation on which you can build. It’s very easy to get caught up in thoughts and feelings and situations that distract us from very simple truths. In fact, it could be that almost all of our pursuits in day to day life take us further from the core experience which, by its very nature is a very happy, positive experience. Trying to regain some awareness of just the basic miracle of being alive is a great place to start.
That is an amazing answer. So, with that in mind, are there things you still struggle with? Things you have to work on?
I have to work on everything, like everybody else. Or maybe not – I always feel like everyone has the same feelings as me, but then I meet some people that don’t ever seem to feel too angry, or don’t feel too sad. They’re like real angels, these people. I used to really envy people like that – I still admire them tremendously, and beginning to spend time with people like that has been really very joyful. But…I’m not sure it’s possible for me to learn to do that, I think some people are just born like that. The first feeling I always had waking up in the morning wasn’t a good feeling, it was a feeling of sort of…dread, and being overwhelmed by life, and being scared of everything, just angry and depressed. All those negative feelings, I’ve felt and continued to feel, I just try to deal with them in different ways and use them in different ways. I think in fact, a lot of the feelings that most people define as negative are some of the most motivating feelings, but sometimes not for the best. You can be pushed and driven by anger, competition, petty jealousy, by low-level feelings – and if you use them like a fuel, to burn and rid yourself of them that way, that’s fantastic. But if they consume you and become your mainstay, then they burn you up. It’s a constant battle, but there’s a lot of energy to be extracted from all those feelings. So…I’ve made peace with them. Sometimes I have to summon up those feelings, because that will make me dance harder on stage, bang my head harder…and in that sense, I don’t think they’re good or bad, they’re just feelings. We can’t really define them as good or bad – they’re just these surges of energy, and I really mean physical energy, and we can harness them however we want. Sometimes feeling too good isn’t really that great of a thing – that’s the game that you play with things like drugs or anything that gives you an immediate good feeling – it’s like, why would you bother doing anything if you can just do this and feel on top of the world effortlessly? Every feeling has its place, and it’s about trying to make the best of them.
Photo by Anna Bursztynowicz