You can say a lot of things about Andrew W.K., and back in 2002 a lot of people did.
Boy bands were dying and rock was finally making a comeback. Bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, and Interpol were breaking through to the mainstream, teaching the indie rock kids how to swagger in tight pants and sharp leather shoes. The rubber of Pitchfork’s reign as career-maker was just beginning to hit the road, with new bands left and right getting in on the action (remember The Vines?). Pitchfork’s 2002 review of I Get Wet, written by none other than the site’s founder, Ryan Schreiber, registered a microscopic 0.6 (to be fair, 10 years later the reissue score was upgraded to 8.6 and garnered a Best New Reissue tag). Hipsters weren’t quite ready to drop the irony act long enough to appreciate the unbridled sincerity of Andrew W.K.
In the intervening decade, though, AWK’s been all over the place. He made an album of J-Pop songs. He opened one of the coolest rock clubs in New York. He made a truly surreal appearance on Fox News’s Red Eye. He became a Playtex pitchman. He set the world record for consecutive hours spent drumming. Black Sabbath asked him to be their tour DJ this summer. The list goes on and on. So, yes, you can absolutely say a lot of things about Andrew W.K.’s music and his now-fascinating career trajectory, but at the end of the day you can’t say he doesn’t love his fans.
THE MAN LIVES FOR HIS FANS
The reason our editor, Jon Kjarsgaard, asked me to conduct this interview was because he once saw a small framed note in my apartment. It was a note to me from Andrew W.K.
Some of my friends had attended Ozzfest in 2003 with the express goal of hanging out with AWK after the show, but I couldn’t make it. I was in the sleepy tourist town of Boone, NC earning a useless humanities degree from Appalachian State University. I had to study for some silly test that night and wasn’t able to make the two-hour trek down the mountain.
My friends ended up hanging out in the parking lot, waiting near the end of the line of folks who were getting AKW to sign copies of I Get Wet and advise them on the finer points of partying. My friends kept letting others skip past them until they were the last ones remaining, looking AWK right in the eye with no one else in line. The show had almost entirely wrapped up on the other side of the chain-link fence behind them. One thing led to another and then AWK was at a Steak ‘N Shake with them and a fan he had met the last time he came through the area. Afterward my buddies ended up on the tour bus with AWK and his band just hangin’ out. I wasn’t there. I had a test the next day. One of the lamest decisions I’ve ever made.
Andrew W.K., after spending all afternoon writing people little notes overflowing with positivity tailored as personally as possible to their lives, did the same for me — a dude who wasn’t even there. It was this little note, framed on my mantle, that Jon spotted at my apartment last year and remembered when the interview opportunity arose. When I mentioned the experience to Andrew on the phone, he remembered it clearly. It had been his first time at a Steak ‘N Shake, and yes he still has, somewhere, the picture of a slice of pie drawn for him by my friend.
When you tell people you’re interviewing Andrew W.K., almost everyone has a question they want him to answer. Based on what people recently related to me, Andrew W.K. will never have to suffer boring interview-pap along the lines of “Where do your ideas come from?”. Andrew W.K. is the sort of guy of whom people ask “What’s your favorite beer?” not because they expect him to answer with a brand, but because he’s going to find a way to push his party agenda into the answer somehow. Andrew W.K.’s answer to this question, by the way, is: “I generally like whichever beer has the highest alcohol content.” After a moment of introspection he follows with, “I never really had a beer that I didn’t like. My favorite beer is beer.”
PARTY IN THE PARK
More than a few Madisonians, when I mentioned the pending interview, brought up the WSUM Party in the Park show Andrew W.K. played at James Madison Park almost a full a decade ago. When asked about it he said:
“I’ll always remember that show because it was cold and rainy. We’ve played a lot of shows in the rain and when you say whatever’s gonna happen’s gonna happen, it gets amazing. We’ve never on our own cancelled an outdoors show because of the rain and there was no cover at that show, so you just do what you’re gonna do. If you’re gonna get shocked you’re gonna get shocked, and if shit’s gonna break then shit’s gonna break, but you gotta just try and we managed to play the whole show. It was hard to play the keyboard because it was so wet. My fingers were very stiff from the cold temperatures. A lot of shows blur together, but it’s nice to have very distinct memories of certain shows, and I remember that one very, very, very clearly.”
A showman to the last, I tell ya.
You might not have expected to find a quote from Nietzsche in here, but I couldn’t help but hear AWK say those words and not imagine him taking the Friedrich’s maxim “Live your life as a work of art” and the medium we’re looking at is just the vast yet finite act of partying.
HOW WILL THIS SHOW BE DIFFERENT?
I had some questions about the structure of the show that AWK will be bringing to the Majestic this Sunday night, and I discovered that it will be a pretty stripped down affair. “It’s gonna be me, my keyboard, and some microphones,” he says. Whether you like I Get Wet or The Wolf or anything that came after, never fear because he tells me that he will be be playing songs from all his albums.
“I love playing with my band, but these solo shows have their own special intensity and I’m really excited to do it for the first time in Wisconsin. I’d like to call upon all the good folks of Madison who come to the show that night to sing and dance and prance as well, and we can all be performers at a show like this because it will be very intimate and cheerful. I’d like for everyone to feel like they’re part of the band. Everyone will be my band for the night. There will be a lot of revelry that night and good cheer hopefully.”
“I DON’T HAVE MANY INTERESTS BEYOND PARTYING”
Reading his Twitter, you get the distinct possibility that in a way this whole thing could be a put on. Where does the Party end and the real W.K. begin? Not that I was probing to reveal cracks in his story, but if I had been I would likely have found none. He was, despite the strangeness of how he answered questions, completely sincere all the time. When I asked about his current artistic influences he claimed both Natural Ground (wooded areas used to bother him, but now he’s fascinated by them), hoops (“basketball playing, and players, and games”), and last year’s Hobbit movie. He ended with this clarification, though, which says a lot about the man as an artist:
“I don’t really have many interests beyond what I do. I didn’t really realize that until the last couple of years. People would ask Well what do you do for fun? or What are your hobbies? Do you like playing golf? Do you watch a certain TV series frequently? And I just realized I don’t have any interests beyond partying. There’s a lot included in partying, a lot that goes into it. It’s very one-dimensional but it’s a big dimension.”
I came away from this with the understanding that Andrew W.K. really and truly is All Party, All the Time. He’s made partying into a living philosophy, and in fact he’s toured the world as a motivational speaker. Maybe you even saw him at the UW when he came through a few years back and ran around the stage with audience members sitting on his shoulders.
When Andrew W.K. breathes in, he’s partying. When he’s taking a shower, he’s partying. When he’s on stage, though, he’s partying absolutely the most because we’re all there partying with him. Don’t be a fool like I was and miss a chance to see Andrew W.K. live. Trust me, you’d regret not being there.