When we found out Andrew W.K. was going to be in town to provide lead vocals for Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg at The Independent, we knew we couldn’t miss it. Thirty-five essential Ramones tracks played back to back, in a balls-out set fronted by none other than the “king of party” himself. What do you ask the man who has managed to turn his passion for partying into a profession? How can we contend, let alone breakthrough to someone as notoriously enigmatic as Andrew W.K? Will we make it out of this interview alive, are we worthy enough to?
Walking into The Independent pre-show I knew I’d likely have my work cut out for me, but felt confident and excited nonetheless. Ironically to my surprise, our main subject displayed quite the opposite sentiment. Upon meeting the self-proposed party animal, I immediately was taken aback by his subdued nature, and his incognito garb even more so. Wearing a pull over sweatshirt, hood up with the bill of his trucker hat peeking out the front, he remained bundled and timid throughout our interview, hiding behind his reflective, blue tinted sunglasses with his hands in his front pocket.
He slowly got comfortable with the idea of having a conversational interview, and he elaborated on some intimate details (some of which I never could’ve anticipated). Far from the over the top personality I expected, Andrew W.K. instead surprised me with an in depth dialogue more appropriate for a slumber party than the “full-scale rager” persona I anticipated.
Showbams: I know growing up you studied classical and jazz piano and were in a ton of bands before releasing your solo EP in 2000. How do you feel like this type of training musically influenced your current sound and direction as an artist?
Andrew W.K.: That’s a great question, you know it really is and thank you so much for having me as your guest. I really do just feel, the importance that was put on music at all in my younger years is the only reason I am standing here with you and having this talk. If my parents didn’t know everything about music or have the most encyclopedic knowledge of classical, modern music, rock, pop amongst many other genres…you know God love em.’ But, the point is that they set me up with this idea that music counted and that it was something important and worthwhile. I’m just thankful every day. Every day that I get to do what I have been doing with Marky here, it’s mind blowing. There’s no way that I would be able to do this if when I was born my parents didn’t have this idea. They’re not even the greatest music fans in the world or anything; they just understand that music counted. It mattered, it mattered a lot, as much as math, science, reading, or anything else, the idea to have music in your soul. They never thought that I would make a career out of it, neither did I. But, it was like reading, learning how to read or learning how to spell, add numbers up, etc. Learning how to do music, that’s a fundamental skill and that’s why I’m able to be partying here today.
Showbams: After years of playing in groups, what made you want to branch out as a solo act?
AWK: I started as a solo act actually. It was very hard to find band members when I first began. A lot of folks didn’t I guess, like the music I was doing, you know with all due respect to them. Also I didn’t have a lot of resources to offer them. I always liked the idea of being able to play by yourself as well as play with other people. I tried to generate the skills as a solo musician and also appreciate the power that comes from playing with people other than yourself.
Showbams: Your first full-length album I Get Wet was released on Island Records in 2001 to enormous critical acclaim. Not only because it featured so many giant party rock anthems, but also due to the jarring and unforgettable cover art. What was the inspiration behind choosing that photo of yourself?
AWK: I don’t know. I felt very strongly about that photo for reasons that I’m still trying to understand myself. Sometimes your instincts go beyond your very own experience; they go beyond your consciousness. You’re compelled by forces beyond yourself and that was one of those moments. I just felt very passionate about that photo, that no one else had ever used a bloody nose photo in that way as their thing. For whatever reason, that was meant to be my thing. I’m happy, I’m still entertained by my own experiences. A bloody nose, it’s painful but it can also be joyful and it can also be just kind of nothing. A lot of people get bloody noses just because of dry air or high altitude.
Showbams: The material on that album, being so incredibly diverse from the top 40 artists of that era, were you surprised at the amount of commercial success it received?
AWK: Yes, I was very surprised and also at the same time no because again there was a sort of holy guardian angel…I’ve always just felt kind of pulled along a path, kind of like if you had sled dogs dragging you across the tundra of nothingness, you know that’s a very formidable and frightening landscape to be in. But when you have a powerful pack leader, like a strong hound or whatever, you trust in them. You hand yourself over to them and that’s a great feeling as well. To be able to know what you have to offer as well as to lay down that offering at the feet of a great beast like these hounds that would pull someone to safety. That’s how I feel about my life. I’m not in control of it and I hand myself over to this destiny.
Showbams: Over ten years later, I still hear tracks off of this album in the most random situations and places. What are the weirdest places or products you can think of that have wanted to use your material as a soundtrack?
AWK: Not too many weird places, they’ve been mostly in my opinion very normal and places that I had hoped the song’s would be appreciated and dreamed of them being used. I’m very thankful for anyone that’s ever used any of these songs to energize whatever they have to offer or energize their audience, energize viewers, energize people. I’m someone who also has been energized by it. I didn’t make this, you know what I mean? I’m a fan as well. Monsters University, that was the last big movie that used one of our songs, I can’t believe it myself. When that movie comes on or I see those trailers, I’m just amazed. I get to be in that proximity with John Goodman and Billy Crystal, for real.
Showbams: While on tour promoting your second album Wolf, you broke your foot then proceeded to finish the remainder of those dates in a wheelchair. Have you ever had any other major “party fouls” since that happen while on tour?
AWK: I’ve had some other injuries, but nothing that bad yeah. I may have been hit by flying objects and things at shows. In Australia last year I had a really bad injury and I’ve been hit by some bottles and things like that. But, it’s never really that bad. For people that are really injured, what they’re able to deal with, I’m always inspired by them. Soldiers, of course and their frame of mind to carry on through much more severe injuries let alone athletes and things like that.
Showbams: Your various full lengths and EP’s have catapulted your celebrity to an international status. You’re especially popular overseas where you released a few albums distinctly in Japan, Japan Covers and Gundam Rock. Both revolve highly around the county’s pop culture, music and anime. What about Japanese culture developed your interest in creating these pieces?
AWK: I was very lucky to go to Japan when I was a lot younger. My dad, he’s a law professor at The University of Michigan and he was invited to be a professor in Japan in Kyoto. So we got to go with him when I was thirteen and my brother was like nine-ten years old, it was really great. We had a lot of fun memories from that time and I fell in love with Japan actually before that. I was always just appreciative of the enthusiasm they approach cultural concepts with and creativity in general. There’s a spirit of amplification in a lot of the Japanese people. They are able to identify something that they enjoy and amplify that many times over. If you’re a fan of culture and of entertainment, then you gotta be hip on Japan. You’ve got to keep up with what’s going on there, because if you like something go to Japan. It’ll be amplified ten times over!
Showbams: Speaking of Japanese culture, can you elaborate on your part or interest in cosplay. Especially, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Would you consider yourself a “bronie”?
AWK: I would like to consider myself a “bronie,” but only with all due respect to every “bronie” that’s been there before me and has dedicated so much time and energy to this passion. This phenomenon, this is very unique and that’s what attracted me to it, the unique space that this occupies. I always liked My Little Pony was the thing. I just really liked the ponies, the way they looked…
Showbams: …the way they smelled.
AWK: They smelled like, you know, fresh fruit plastic or something. It’s hard to pin down exactly what appeals to people about this particular beast. But, a pony is small, it’s approachable. If it were to kick you with its hoof, it’s not as bad as a moose or something. I mean God forbid an elk, I mean that’s pretty formidable. You could die from that! But a pony, with all their strength, it’s a smaller more docile creature. You can cradle its head, try to pet its jaw, things like that. That always appealed to me, I didn’t have a lot of strength to try to fight a full-grown horse, you know a pony is just easier to engage with. As an older person in the scene and by that I mean someone who remembers the earlier series, I was physically attracted to some of the pony characters that were portrayed in the earlier animations. There was just something very endearing about them that made you want to wrap yourself around them and have them wrap around you. It was kind of beyond sexual in a way. It was just very pure affection. I wish everyone to have that kind of feeling about anything. If you can find affection in the world at all, that’s better than not finding it. That makes people feel better about being alive. It’s hard enough just to exist, so why not have some affection while you do it?
Showbams: Outside of your music, you’re a man of many hats. You’re a motivational speaker, television host, producer, nightclub owner, record label manager and even an international party ambassador. Whatever happened with that last role, can you elaborate?
AWK: Yeah, and you’ve been so fantastic. I’m too tired actually after that last answer to say anything about anything anymore.
You know when you get invited to go out into the world and do anything, you try to do your best! I mean you try to find some kind of inspiration or some kind of cause to put behind yourself. Even if the cause is your own point of view, or the cause is yourself, or the cause is just not being dead. You want to have something to propel you, to inspire you. Partying was my cause, I don’t really know what else to say.
And I am sorry, you’ve done great. You’re so great, that and I really mean this and I wasn’t going to say it and I hope that you have the confidence to hear this and not take it as an insult and not take it the wrong way…you don’t even need questions. You know what I mean, you could start with one question and just have a conversation. You’re on that level and anyone would be lucky to talk with you about anything, let alone record it for an interview. I really mean that and I thought twice about saying it and then I just said it because I thought that maybe somewhere deep down inside you, it could be with something.
Showbams: Thank you, that’s your motivational speaker coming out in you right there. Would you want to answer one more question, are you okay with that?
AWK: Of course, anything you want. I’m sorry about that maybe I shouldn’t have…you’re just doing really good and I’ve interviewed people as well and I get very, VERY…a lot more than you. Most people that have interviewed me, I get very scared. Very, very scared and all I’m thinking about leading up to the interview is, “I hope they cancel the interview.” I’m just completely terrified of everything.
Showbams: Am I scary? I’m not scary…
AWK: It’s pretty scary for me, but I’ve learned you know, just you do it anyways.
Showbams: Well, what you have going on right now, why we’re here and talking is because you’re on tour with Marky Ramone. You’ve been keeping yourself really busy beyond this with lectures, breaking world records and touring with the whole Blitzerkrieg thing. How does it feel first off to hold a world record for drumming for twenty-four hours?
AWK: It’s sort of a false record really. It was drumming for twenty four hours in a retail store, which I think has already been broken since then. The real point was to just put me in a situation where I had to drum for a long time. Setting a world record, that’s in the realm of a different kind of athlete. I’m not a professional drummer, I’m not very good at drumming. I’m certainly not a record holder in the traditional sense. If you look up Guinness Book record holders, again these are professionals that identify records that haven’t been broken and they go and break them. That’s a level of dedication, of concentration, of focus, of physical endurance and of declaration. When you declare yourself a Guinness Book record holder, that’s very different from what I was doing. All I was doing was trying to appease MTV, VH1, CMT — they said, “This was the O Music Awards, you’ve been invited, you’ve been nominated as a Twitter award contestant, would you like to drum for twenty four hours?” I said, “of course, I’ll try my best.” It was very hard, but I had great drummers with me. At the same time I feel pretty confident, with all do respect to endurance people out there and record holders and real athletes, because I‘m not an athlete, I will give everything I have. If they want to call me out, I will give everything I have to try to do my best at one of those events. I’ll probably fail and you know what, it’ll be very humiliating.
Showbams: Before this current tour, were you and Marky friends? How did this even all come about?
AWK: A friend of ours named Steve Lewis, whom is a legend in his own right. He really is, he’s a king of the nighttime world in New York City, especially Manhattan. He was involved with Studio 54, he was involved with The Limelight, have you ever heard of club Limelight? This is the legendary, New York City nightlife…I mean you know Max’s, Kansas City I mean we’re going way back. Marky was friends with him from that era. Now I myself, I wasn’t even born until 1979 so it took me a while to get into that era, but once I did I learned as well about Steve Lewis and he was actually very instrumental in helping my friends and I open our own club in New York City called Santos Party House. This is a downtown club here in Manhattan, in the Chinatown area. So if you go onto Canal St. and LaFayette, go down two blocks there is Santos Party House. First brand new club that’s ever been open in Lower Manhattan in twenty years. I mean, brand new club and that’s how hard they make it!
Showbams: Were you a big Ramones fan growing up? Is it a little nerve wracking playing such legendary material? How has the crowd response been?
AWK: Absolutely and yes. It’s extremely, extremely stressful. I’d say %99.93331 of the crowd’s been fantastic.
Showbams: Beyond finishing up the tour and your solo dates that you’ve got booked, you’re finishing up a “Party Bible”. Can you tell us a little more about it?
AWK: It’s going to be a book about having some fun.
Showbams: Do you have any advice for us from said book?
AWK: Yeah, try not to die.
Showbams: Fair enough.