Andrew W.K. Lives for that Major-Key Feeling | Everup | By Michael Woodsmall
The King of Partying. The Great Unwashed Rockstar. Andrew W.K. They’re all one and the same. Not merely personas that Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier embodies, but qualities he works at to exude—”works at” being key.
Raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Andrew got his start in classical music, trained on the piano. And it was in those early years that Andrew W.K. was born. However, he was not born as a stage presence. Instead, he was first born as a way for an elementary school teacher to differentiate him from two other Andrews in his class. But the name stuck. As did the training.
Although there were glimpses of his musical genius (or madness) in those early years as he transitioned from piano to jazz keyboard, it wasn’t until he moved to New York City that you really began to see Andrew W.K. mature from childhood nickname to the full-grown representation we know today. From Party Till You Puke to I Get Wet, Andrew W.K embraced this new identity as well as the excitement it invoked. But he soon wanted more. His training had taught him to know more. And he wanted to share those lessons, not only about music but the moods it inspired, with everyone around him.
For him, life became about more than the music—life became about life. And for both Andrew (the kid from Michigan) and Andrew W.K. (the rockstar from New York City), life is all about that major-key feeling.
I want to begin by contextualizing where you are right now in your life and, more specifically, your pursuits—from advice-giving through shows in Japan and on MTV as well as your column from Village Voice among other outlets to cultural commentary as a talking head on Red Eye and Daily Show and ReasonTV. How do you perceive your public persona and what, in turn, is your personal focus at the moment?
Andrew W.K.: They’re one and the same, ideally—what I’m engaged in on a professional level is ideally synonymous with what I’m engaged with on a personal level. I’m very fortunate to have been able to make my work go hand in hand with living my life—it’s all part of the great labor of development. And that is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned in terms of this particular path or mission or project or whatever you want to call: working on your life and working on your job: they’re not mutually exclusive—they’re the same thing. I used to think that working really hard on a project was sort of separate from having “a life”. People would tell me that I needed to “get out more”, “get a life”, and “not just work on stuff so much”. But I think if you can make living your life into your work, that’s the greatest work of all.
Like many people, of course there were times when I had a day job. But even the most torturous and soul-sucking day jobs I had were part of a kind of transcendent movement towards insight. With all my free time or work time, I would essentially pursue this one thing: this certain feeling of essential energy that made life feel good. I initially got that feeling (and still do get it very strongly) from music. It started as a way to make myself feel better in the face of a lot of bad feelings. I then realized that feeling was telling me something about the nature of life in general. It was offering a kind of vitality that affirms the goodness in life—it was amplifying the good things and making them even better. I just wanted to somehow figure a way to dedicate my whole life to that particular feeling. I wanted my entire reason for existing to be about conjuring up that feeling, amplifying it, and spreading it around; to focus on that and to make it my job as much as my destiny. Over time, especially once I moved to New York City, I went all-in and said, “there has to be a way to make a profession out of ‘excitement.’” And that remains a mission I am on to this day. To realize and experience the incredible and irrepressible beauty of being alive. And I hope that is a mission that includes more than just myself.
Will you talk about that turning point when you decided to go “all-in”? What were the first steps in following that revelation, and how did they get you to where you are now?
Andrew W.K.: Well, as I said, it started with music when I was very young, with those first piano lessons at age five, when I was first exposed to melodies and rhythms in a formal way. There were many other moments in life, going back as long as I can remember, that were fun times, happy times, exciting times, energizing times, inspiring times, all times that felt really good, but they always seemed somewhat fleeting, like an accident or fluke that I couldn’t necessarily count on or find my way back to again. But with music, that was the first time I realized there was something truly reliable that I could count on every single time to get me to that good feeling. It was more than a good mood or a happy emotion, it was an all encompassing glimpse of something truly real—you felt it on every level—in your head, in your heart, in your body, in your soul. It made life make sense. It made me feel like I was supposed to be alive—like life was supposed to happen because the feeling was so good, it justified all of the hard parts about life. It made life seem like it was more than worth living. It made life seem like it was a miracle—like having this incredible chance to exist. And it gave me a perspective that I had never had before. To be able to count on that feeling and access it through music every single time with out fail—that was life changing. That was the first time I think I fully realized I was alive. Music is the sound of the feeling of being alive. Music is what being alive sounds like.
By the time I was 18, I wasn’t really sure how to turn that into an all-consuming, all-encompassing devotion. But I wanted to. For the most part, it had remained something I kept personally to myself and counted on when I wanted to feel better. But then there started to be this sense that I could do more with it, and when I moved to New York I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, I just could tell that I was supposed to do something big, something that took everything I had to give—a mission I could put all my skills and energy into, anything I had to offer, into one all-encompassing pursuit, and that it would be a big enough adventure to include the entire world. As much clarity as there was in that hope, I didn’t know how I was going to do something like that, or even exactly what it would to consist of. I just felt that if I could be the best version of myself and somehow have that “count” as a job or a mission, that’s what I should do—make being the best person I could be into one giant professional mission. And the only way I could imagine starting this mission and fueling this adventure: music.
Now, I had always liked angry, minor-key music, like heavy metal and death metal, and other more dissonant sounding music—but from the very beginning of my own childhood musical experiences with piano, I was inherently drawn to that euphoric and glorious feeling found in unabashedly major key melodies. And what was really tortuous for me was trying to match the intensity and energetic power I loved about minor key metal with the joyful excitement I felt personally connected to in my major key piano playing. That was a moment in which I realized that you could love a style of music that someone else was making, but that didn’t meant you had to let your love of it directly inform your own work. I had so many things that I liked about other music, and so many things I felt passionate about, but it suddenly felt very clear that I wasn’t supposed to make more of the things that were already out there. It seemed like there was something I was meant to do specifically—and that it might not even necessarily match up with my own interests or particular taste at that time—I was supposed to do something that transcended myself, that went beyond me and at the same time was deeply a part of me—like a calling that I maybe I didn’t even know I was being called to. It was a feeling of obligation—to fulfill a need that I didn’t necessarily come up with myself, that wasn’t the result of my own tastes or interests or experiences at a particular moment—but something I was meant to do that was beyond all f that. This might be something outside of yourself or something that you’re connected with so internally that you hadn’t even discovered it yet. And what really was the turning point was this decision to commit to this cheerful and joyous major-key sound—this kind of particular feeling in music, and that it would it be possible to make my own life the equivalent of that sound—make an entire world out of it that I could inhabit, invoke, and promote—a way of looking at the world that had the same qualities as that major-key feeling.