Andrew W.K. is very recognizable in all white, sometimes with blood smearing his mug and T-shirt. He looks like a santero, and though he seems all obviously “party hard,” he’s actually as mysterious as one of these religious men of the saints. A conspiracy theory even circulated on the never-quite-factual web that the current Andrew W.K. is actually a replacement Andrew W.K. — two men under one title.
We may never know who he really is, but what is clear is that this Andrew W.K. seems to take every interesting and bizarre opportunity that comes his way. He recently won the world record for “Longest Drum Session in a Retail Store” and has also sung the word “party” more times than anyone else in one song. His Party Tips gained him a Must-Follow On Twitter award from MTV. It is through the lens of those Party Tips that W.K. expresses larger thoughts and sometimes just simple things, like “Girls can be bros.” There’s also his partnership with Playtex, its “Fresh and Sexy” wipes, and a starring role in the Eternal Descent: Heavy Metal Heroes videogame. W.K. is on the slow climb to the top of the world.
He just returned from Europe, singing Ramones songs with Marky Ramone and his band, and is currently acting as the opening DJ for Black Sabbath on its North American tour that launches tomorrow. He says his job is to “amplify that energy that already exists.” He, and you, will “rock out.”
We spoke with W.K. about performing with noise collective To Live and Shave in L.A., whether he’s actually a brony (a man who loves My Little Pony), and his tweets on the George Zimmerman verdict.
New Times: You are the opening DJ for Black Sabbath?
Andrew W.K.: That is correct. Just to be asked to do any kind of tour is always exciting. But when it’s arguably the greatest heavy metal band, the inventors of a whole sensation when it comes to rock music, to have them ask you to be involved in anything, to even acknowledge me in any way, is just shocking and a little baffling — in a good way. It’s this dream that I get to travel around the country with Black Sabbath playing all my favorite heavy metal songs before they take the stage. It’s surreal. No one is more shocked and confused, in a good way, than I am.
You also played with To Live and Shave in L.A. with Rat Bastard, who is a local musical hero of sorts. What, personally, is the best thing about performing in a more experimental or noise group?
Rat Bastard and the other founding vocalist of the band, Tom Smith, they just had a very huge impact on me as a young person, in terms of blowing my mind, finding different ways to get to that place of excitement. That physical excitement, that emotional release, the sense that anything was possible, that the world was a very big and fascinating and strange place. I never really thought of it and still don’t think of it as “this is noise or experimental” so much as how many different ways can we find to get to this intense place while we have a chance.
Rat Bastard is a genius. He figured out exactly how he could get to that place of excitement and joy and is very good at bringing people along with him. I was one of the folks fortunate enough to go along for the ride. I think he’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.
You also are trained pianist…
Yeah, I had traditional piano lessons growing up, and that was what introduced me to music in general. I love melody and rhythm, and it’s all one big thing. It’s all one big thing called being alive. You just want to fill that time, or I want to fill that time, with as much good feeling as possible or as much intensity.
I think that’s what I want in life. Intensity; it’s not passive. These kinds of music, these kinds of people, these kinds of endeavors, they’re not there to soothe you. I don’t want to be soothed by them or by cultural experiences. I can be soothed by a glass of warm milk or soothed by an electric blanket, but when it comes to going out into the world and hearing a sound or seeing a picture or encountering a person, I want it to be stimulating. A great melody can be stimulating no matter what instrument it’s played on or what style it’s in. They’re all just different paths to the same destination, which is a lot of physical and emotional feeling.
You recently tweeted about the Zimmerman verdict [GEORGE ZIMMERMAN = NOT PARTY] and [PARTY TIP: Just because someone doesn’t get locked up by a judge or jury doesn’t mean their soul isn’t in prison]. What effect do you think the verdict will have on society?
I don’t know what the long-term effects will be. It’s a very emotional time right now. Feelings are running very high. I was thinking about it today, just how this will play out over the long term. But I don’t think it will be forgotten. I think it ignited a lot of important discussions. I’m just baffled by the whole thing too. It’s a very strange case. I mean, there’s nobody that knows what really happened on either side. But the fact that this kid is dead, and this guy is getting off without any kind of consequences — Is life is ruined either way. I tweeted something about that. Justice has its own way of filtering down, even if it doesn’t come from a formal system like the court. He knows what happened, and that’s the most we can do.
Were you a brony [men who like My Little Pony] before the My Little Pony convention?
The bronys introduced me to the culture, before, during, and after the event. That’s why I got invited. People kept telling me about bronies, the philosophies of positivity behind it, especially this one pony named Pinkie Pie, who many folks kept telling me was the pony version of me, or I was the human version of this pony. I was very fascinated by that. And completely interested in how against the grain and unusual the entire [thing is].
It’s always fascinating to me when groups of people get angry at other groups of people for liking stuff. I was very moved by the courage of, oftentimes, adult men who were passionate about something that was not designed for or geared toward them. Every time you subvert those expectations, it’s exciting and inspiring. I wanted to be amidst that courage, individuality, and these unique people who come together as a group, a herd.
In a New York Magazine article about Santos Party House [a Manhattan venue he co-owns], you said: “It sounds funny, but personally I don’t really like to party. What I like to do is create the party.” Do you feel like you like to control that intensity level as opposed to be controlled by it?
It just seemed like something I could offer. When I was really, really young, going back to junior high school and even elementary school, when we had events at the school, I always enjoyed being the DJ and selecting songs or helping with the lights and the production elements. Everyone has their own skills or what appeals to them. I really like backstage, what was going on, facilitating all this excitement, for myself as well as for everybody.
Some people, all they want to do is stand in the middle of the room and dance, and someone else is really good at building a dance floor for that person. It all counts as partying. I love partying, and I consider partying as participating in the party in any regard; it’s all valid, and it’s all necessary. We need everyone to contribute. The person who built the stage is just as important as the person who watches what’s happening on it.
You’re clearly very talented at Twitter. Do you have any tips for aspiring musicians on how to master this form of social media?
Well, thank you very much for saying that. It’s an extension and continuation of sort of the ideas we’ve been talking about. For me, it works very well, because of all the sites I’ve found, Twitter is the one that is really most like a party on the computer. It’s so instantaneous. I guess a chat room can be similar, video chatting, things like that.
I like the idea that the computer itself is an extension of the human spirit at its best. It’s the ability to interact with people, that I can have this party with people around the world that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to physically see all at once. It’s truly impossible. But here’s this amazing device that allows us to interact in this way. To me, it really worked. Twitter is a party. And I can say things about a party that will hopefully always cheer me up but also give someone else that burst of energy.
That being said, I really understand that for some people, some musicians, it doesn’t make as much sense, or it doesn’t fit with their style. I’ve learned that too. Since my whole theme is partying and partying is based on interactions, togetherness, being in this room, cyber room, where people are just hanging out. It’s just been like best thing that’s ever happened. I really prefer it. Facebook is great, but this one is so pure and so simple. It’s sort of created its own aesthetic. The hashtag phenomenon, the texture of tweeting is very unique unto itself and, I think, people are still understanding how mind-blowing and dominating the flavor of language is.
Where do you come up with party tips? You’re on the toilet and you think of a party tip?
Toilet-based inspiration comes a lot. You hope you can remember it. You have a piece of toilet paper to write it down on. Sometimes it’s something that I thought of a long time ago. I now keep a list, either in my phone, or written down somewhere, so I can stockpile them. Because I have those moments too where I can’t think of anything.
Sometimes the party tip or the tweet that I thought would be the greatest and people would really respond to, people didn’t really like that much at all. One of the most popular party tips I ever posted, all it said was “breasts.” Of course, it sort of does the work for you. But people really bonded to that. So it’s interesting too. Always a learning experience, always humbling; just when I think I’ve got this figured out, it’s always changing. It’s very organic for me, and I hope it is for other folks too. I think it’s very important for me to stay entertained with what I’m doing as anyone who considers themselves an audience member.
You were going to be a cultural ambassador to Bahrain; what happened there?
I will give you the concise version. It’s still a bit of a mysterious and baffling experience. Much like most of my experiences have been over the years. They keep getting more and more strange.
Never would I have ever dreamed that I’d be in this situation. The U.S. State Department, the embassy there in Bahrain, had been working on doing cultural exchanges. Not so much with famous or music people but just representatives that they considered interesting and maybe slightly unpredictable, but positive representations of American culture. I was just really thrilled to be thought of as that by anyone in the government.
And we started talking about doing this trip. It wasn’t going to play a concert; it was actually to go and walk around the town and just share with young people a positive display of the American spirit. And that was just really moving to me, and I took it very seriously.
We were planning it for a year with a State Department representative. We were building the itinerary, booking the flights, going through many levels of clearance. Background checks, etc. Then about a week before I would have gone, around Thanksgiving, once I put it on my website that I was going to go — I asked, of course, if it was OK to tell people that I was doing this. And they said, that’s whole point, to engage people in this cultural journey. But once I put it on the website, it became a bigger topic than I think any of us expected. A very positive topic. People were pleased that someone “like me” was going as apposed to an academic or someone less intense. Either way, it blew up, and I think the excitement around it, even though it was positive, some of higher-ups in the State Department saw a photo of me with a bloody nose, which is now like my logo at this point, and they said, this person is not fit to go.
I think it was a very simple case of them not being involved, and then, all of a sudden, took an interest and canceled the whole trip. Once they canceled it, it blew up into an even bigger story, and I was on MSNBC, who were very supportive. There was no one that I met that wasn’t supportive of this idea. It was disappointing to me. It wasn’t Bahrain that said we don’t want this guy to come over; it was my own government, that had asked me to do it. So it was very confusing. I think we did achieve largely what we would have, or maybe more so, in terms of engaging people in conversations about the Middle East and culture in general.