When I Get Wet landed in record stores in the fall of 2001, listeners didn’t know what hit them. A buzzsaw of head-banging intensity, shouted vocals and hyperactive power chords, the debut of singer-songwriter Andrew W.K. felt like the sound of the craziest party ever. But because W.K. kept his lyrical themes so simple – song titles included “It’s Time to Party,” “Party Hard” and “Don’t Stop Living in the Red” – it almost seemed as if a conceptual artist had devised a brilliant parody of the rock-till-you-drop lifestyle.
Far from it, however.
In the last two decades, the 38-year-old musician, born Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier, has been nothing but honest about his need to find spiritual release through anthem-ready arena rock. Yet his mission isn’t confined to just music. He’s also spent time writing an advice column for The Village Voice, answering reader questions that touched on depression, relationships, grieving and discovering one’s purpose. These were serious inquiries, and W.K. answered them with touching candor, speaking openly about his own depression and being an ally to his readers. (He often closed his responses with “Your friend, Andrew W.K.”) At the same time, he’s done motivational speaking tours and even tried starting his own political party. (“Could we make a political party that put partying first and politics last?” the musician said at the time. “I thought it was time to try.”)
Amidst all that, though, W.K. has faced his share of setbacks. Alongside lifelong battles with, as he describes it, “feeling really bad,” he was embroiled in years of legal issues that kept him from putting out new music. (When the disputes ended, he celebrated with the release of 2009’s 55 Cadillac, an album of piano instrumentals.) And now he’s back with You’re Not Alone, which finds him tapping back into the super-charged rock euphoria of I Get Wet, albeit from a wiser, more enlightened perspective. The songs still shake the walls, but he’s moved away from just partying to speaking more overtly about how music (and partying) can help us feel alive.
And for W.K., that’s not a metaphor: As he tells MEL during a lengthy interview, music is the power source that’s sustained him during his darkest moments.
It’s not just his fans who have responded to his soul-saving rock ’n’ roll either. Last month, the American Association of Suicidology named the musician its Person of the Year. The organization’s head, Julie Cerel, explained, “Andrew’s message resonates with the field of suicide prevention in that he encourages people to use their capabilities to create a life worth living.” W.K. acknowledged the award in a heartfelt statement that read, in part, “My story is a familiar one: from a young age, I felt consistently uneasy in the world, and thus began an ongoing search for something to quell the sense of wrongness inside of me. I was lucky enough to discover a life’s work which not only transmuted my darker tendencies into something brighter and more deserving of my energy, but also allowed me to amplify and share that quest with others.”
Not that the darkness has completely left him. Early on in our interview, he admits that the negative voices he often hears were affecting his ability to answer questions about his music and his ambitions. Nonetheless, he’s thoughtful and inspiring company, unafraid to dissect the parts of himself that make him anxious.
What follows then is a frank discussion of depression, self-doubt and the ways in which music can help people – especially the artist making it. But our chat wasn’t all about mental health and staring into the abyss: W.K. also sounds off on why he’s always wearing white; whether he considers himself the Tony Robbins of rock; and why every song he writes is a love song.