I party hard on the phone with Andrew W.K!

I still have memories of getting a sneer of unenthusiastic hipster-disapproval from the local vinyl dispensary when I took Andrew W.K.'s I Get Wet to the counter many, many moons ago. His bearded gaze attempted to pierce its way into my soul, but it was all for naught, because my musical soul was protected by glorious party-armour. Andrew W.K.'s music is more important now than ever as people become increasingly passive, quiet and seemingly hopeless. His spirit and enthusiasm is a lethal antidote to the current of lazy, addictive apathy running through so much modern media. I was lucky enough to talk with this most inspiring, awesome dude before he played a solo show here in my beloved Victoria. Nicer and more gracious than I could have ever expected, the fascinating Andrew W.K. left a smile on my face that still seems to be stuck, a year and a half later.

(This took all kinds of effort to get organized as Andrew W.K. is far busier than myself.)

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Andrew W.K.: Blake, it’s Andrew, I’m so sorry.

Rags Music: It’s okay, no worries. No problem, I understand you’re a busy dude.

AWK: Well, yes. You’re very kind with your understanding.

RM: How’s the day going for ya?

AWK: It’s great! How’s your day?

RM: It’s alright, just taking my lunch break.

AWK: It’s 2:30 there, right?

RM: It is. Yes. I’ll just jump right into some questions.

WK: Alrighty. Of course.

RM: Anything you can hint to me about this big project that you’re working on that keeps rescheduling this interview?

AWK: Ummm, I’m trying to think what that may have been…

RM: I don’t know, I just know your assistant said you have a big project, and this kept getting rescheduled.

AWK: I was filming in Los Angeles so it may have been that. Unfortunately I can’t talk about that project specifically because it’s not, it’s not…

RM: Still in the creation phase?

AWK: No, no, it’s just that the company that’s in charge of it has control over how it is announced. It’s not my place to…but it’s exciting either way. It’s cool to keep it a secret. I can say that it was the most in-depth, scripted television type project I’ve ever been involved in. I’m appearing as Andrew WK, but, I’ve worked a lot in TV, filming, but never quite like this. Where it would take sometimes three or fours just to get one very short, two-minute scene. Working with real professional actors and comedians. It was actually a life-changing experience. I’m still in a bit of a daze from the whole process of it. The most amazing part, always, is the teamwork and working with these people who are at the top of their field. It’s just very inspiring. You learn a lot and you challenge yourself. But that feeling of working with all these people, full-grown adults, doing something that’s in many ways very patently absurd, by it’s very definition. I think a lot of entertainment is meant to be. It’s so incredible that this huge group of people and all this money is being spent, all this energy is being spent making something that’s just supposed to, hopefully delight someone and entertain somebody. There were days we started filming at 3 in the afternoon and didn’t stop until 9AM the next day and it’s real hardcore. That’s how it is sometimes making TV or movies, it’s really hardcore work.

RM: I look forward to whatever it may be.

AWK: Yes, hopefully over the next month or two it will be able to be announced. I wish I could just announce it right now but it’ll be worth the wait, I hope.

RM: Well, the shroud of secrecy always helps build the tension, right?

AWK: Yeah, that’s a good way of looking at it.

RM: You mentioned you’ve done a lot of work in TV and I know you do motivational speaking and obviously the music, how do you think you’re able to transfer so well between all these different mediums?

AWK: Well they are all entertainment. They all fall under the umbrella of show business one way or another. And they all involve Andrew WK doing what he does. That’s the beauty of it. I’ve definitely debated about the possibility of spreading oneself too thin or getting involved in too many projects at once. Or is it more effective just to do one very specific thing, it’s to each his own. I have an artist I really admire who I’ve been so fortunate to meet and talk to from time to time. His name is Lucas Samaras. He’s one of the great living 20th century and now 21st century artists in New York. He’s from Greece, but he’s considered an American artist I guess. Anyway, when I was with him he said every person, every human only has so much light, so much energy, so much power. And you could focus that energy most intensely and brightly on one spot, like a spotlight, but the wider you open up that spotlight the more diffused and you know, weak the light becomes because you’re spreading it over such a large surface. And that was a very disturbing idea for me because I, since I moved to New York have basically been living with this mantra of saying “Yes!” to more things than “No” and maybe saying yes to everything and having this space that the opportunities that come my way are meant to be. If I look back I wouldn’t change any of it. But there still is, there are moments where I fantasize almost about how cool it would be if I had just one responsibility and one thing to think about. ‘Cause it can just get, mentally, very stressful. But then I realized, this is what I said to Lucas, Mr. Samaras, I said “Well, what if you’re, what if the one thing I do is Andrew WK. and that this guy, this person, this Andrew WK thing is ABOUT an individual going on his adventure in Entertainment?” And in that way I think it all does fit together. And clearly, if it wasn’t meant for me to do I wouldn’t be able to do it and I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it. I have to entertain myself as well, for example, coming off that film experience I just did, I never would have planned or predicted that I’d be working in that way this years into my life but if someone had told me I would I would’ve just been amazed. “How did that happen? How did I get to that place?” So, it’s all a big blessing to me and any time I can apply what I’ve learned from a previous experience into a new thing and then learn form that and apply that in the future, that to me is all the confirmation I require to tell that it’s the thing. But a lot of people work way harder than me in this world but it seems like this is a, I don’t want to be pinned down into just one thing, I gotta stay, entertain myself.

RM: For sure, I guess if you’re not having fun then there’s no point.

AWK: Yeah I gotta try to do, I like doing new things. The beauty of this is Andrew WK has been designed in such a way or has worked out in such a way, where this guy can basically do anything and it kind of does make sense, like as long as it’s true to his to his spirit it works, you know?

RM: I can dig that. You’ve released albums in Japan, Japan exclusives, is there a reason those things don’t get released in North America?

AWK: Well uhh, I guess my feeling, I mean I didn’t intentionally want them to only come out there. The record company is based there. Universal Music, that’s who I work with in the US as well, released my first two albums and my publishing is with them, so of course it could come out here. It was more that One: the audience for these particular albums and the music that was on them was definitely located in Japan. It’s amazing to me how often I meet people who are familiar with those songs and those albums in the US, but they still are a very slim minority, which makes them very special actually. But I also figured in a very simple way that if people wanted to get these either through importing or MP3s it really isn’t that hard. So that’s what I thought. Like okay, the good thing is anybody who is a fun of something like Gundam, the Gundam franchise or J-Pop will definitely be able to track these down and that I’m happy. And they’re on my website, you can listen to them on andrewwk.com. But other than that it was just a project that was created by the Japanese label for the Japanese fans. I’m glad of the fact that you’re even aware of them, being outside of Japan, is awesome.

RM: I enjoy all your music so it’s always nice to dig up something different. I like that you do do different things.

AWK: Yeah, some very challenging and rewarding projects as well, especially the Gundam project. Just to learn those songs and faithfully perform and record all those arrangements, that’s the most complex project I’d ever been involved in, in terms of learning other peoples’ songs. You know when you learn other peoples’ songs you get better at music in general. All the challenge was worth it, big rewards.

RM: I gotta say, on the topic of you doing different things, that ‘Cadillac 55’ album is remarkable. I can’t stress how much I love that record.

AWK: That’s amazing to hear you say that. Thank you very much, it really does mean a great deal to me to hear you say that because that’s the album I feel most unsure about. And that was the whole point of it.

RM: I read in another interview that you wanted to capture the sound of a “free man playing piano”…

AWK: Yeah, someone who wasn’t even trying necessarily to play well. <laughs>

RM: It’s fantastic. There’s just so much depth and so much going on there, it’s a great record.

AWK: You’re very, very kind to say that and it does mean a lot to me. There’s been enough comments and feedback like that which makes me glad I did it. Even if there hadn’t been, I mean there was a few…That artist I mentioned, Lucas Samaras, the way I got to meet him was because he heard that album. You know he doesn’t really like Rock music, so part of me’s like “Gosh, that was the Gods’ way of getting me to meet this, you know, one of my idols.” The basic thing for me was to experience some kind of ego-death. Most of the time when I recorded I tried to make, do everything I can and spend as much time as it takes to make the best sounding and most impressive and exciting and powerful recorded release but I tried to do the exact opposite with that, which was to do it all live, one-take, take the best of whatever was there and put it out before I could figure out whether it was good or bad. Really try to contradict, go against the process I normally use when I’m recording. And it was scary and it felt really weird, but that was the point. That’s again why it means so much that you found some value in it.

RM: I’m glad you made it. You obviously play a lot of instruments and are a classically trained pianist, do you an instrument that you find suits you more than another one? That just feels right to play?

AWK: Piano is at that point because I’ve played it from such a young age, I mean I don’t really remember…I remember, I have very vague memories about my life, I imagine like most people, before the age of four. I was living in California where I was born and I do have memories…But then it’s hard to say: Is it a memory of a memory? Or is it a real memory? Or is it a memory from a photograph? Or a story that your parents told you? When we moved to Michigan I started taking piano lessons and that is sort of where, that’s like where I begin as a person, that I can think of. In a way it became so much a part of me that it’s like wearing clothes or learning how to walk or something. The way it feels to put your hands on the keyboard, I’ve just been, there’s been so many hours doing that. There’s probably been more time in my life has been spent with a piano than not.

RM: It feels like home I guess.

AWK: Yeah, exactly. It feels like home in a way that it feels like home to be in your own skin. But I will say that I really like a lot of other instruments a great, great deal and in many ways a lot lot more because I find they’re more expressive. Electric guitar for example, the emotion and the expression, the spirit that can be performed and wrung out of an electric guitar, the keyboard can’t come close. Even if you have a synthesizer with pitch bending and lots of filtering abilities, there’s an immediacy to what you can get out of an electric guitar that I still haven’t gotten over and I look forward to develop my skills on these other instruments I find…Like saxophone is extremely expressive. You know you can bend notes, you can’t bend notes like a “Wah wah wah”. I mean it’s such a tactile sound, you know what I mean?

RM: Yeah, there’s not really a way to recreate that.

AWK: Right, but other thing for example is the piano has so many strings you can play all kinds of notes at once and actually accompany yourself which is pretty difficult to do on a guitar. It can be done if you’re a really good classical guitarist. You can play a bassline and a melody, but piano is the most musical in terms of multiple voices. You can play a whole song. Versus say a flute, you can only make one note at a time and you can’t really play a full piece of music but on piano you can play a string quartet would play, by yourself.

RM: You released an EP in Japan in April or May and some of those songs were going to be on the new record, when are we due up for a new record?

AWK: I am working on it all this winter. One of the things we’ve mentioned before in terms of committing to so many activities is finding large blocks of time to do something like film or record an album. In the old days when I first started I didn’t have anything going on in my life at all so it was very easy to have two years really of open time. Maybe I had my day job or whatever but it gets very hard. I have to say “No.” and I have to cancel things and I have to hold off on other things so that we can just make that huge space. Still, it’s going to be very intense process trying to get this done in this time, but I’ll do my best and I think it’s possible. We already have a lot of things in the works. Still don’t know what the final songs will be, they might not be the songs from the EP. That EP was done, recorded for Japan because we were going to go over there to play a festival and some shows and then the earthquake happened and everything obviously got messed up. The album is the priority right now, the new album. 2012 is supposed to be the year for the new album. Lots of touring. It’s the ten year anniversary of I Get Wet, we wanna celebrate that and we wanna get band on the road for a long period of time all across the globe.

RM: Stemming from that, what’s your favourite part of touring and performing live?

AWK: Being with my band. They’re my best friends. The joy of being in the bus. Even in the airport, or wherever. That is a pure state of happiness for me, where I can say there’s no place I’d rather be in the world and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. That’s a great moment to have. It’s also great to be challenged and scared and going through intense things but it’s also nice to just have that reward of pure happiness. I get that from touring. The longer we’ve done it the more I’ve grown to love it appreciate it and how special the way it to spend your time…I never thought I’d become friends with my band. When we formed this band I hadn’t even met most of the band members. It’s a very long and bizarre and kind of strange story but it worked out that way where I thought “We’ll play shows and we’ll be on good terms and I’m sure I’ll get along with them.” but never imagined that they would be like my family. But I’ve spent more time with these people than anyone besides my mom and dad and brother.

RM: Thankfully it’s all that natural, eh? You’re playing solo shows up here, why now for this mini tour?

AWK: Because they asked! We have been playing either with my band or solo shows. I love doing solo shows in general. I actually started out before I had a band doing solo shows and had really wanted a band, and now I got a band and then I thought how exciting it would be to be up there and have the freedom to do whatever I wanted by myself again. So I like both styles of performing. Playing by myself has made me a better performer when I play with my band. It was more like a challenge, like could make the show worthwhile just by myself? Could I fill up that stage? Could I entertain people at that level without all the rest of the guys up there? It’s different, it’s like apples and oranges, but the beauty is it’s a party either way and that room comes to life with the energy of the people that have joined me and the sound of those songs. It’s just a spirit. I hadn’t really developed the solo show approach until 2006 when I went across Canada. I did a tour called the Highway Party Cruiser Tour which was me and Aleister X who’s actually coming to these shows as well. We set out to have an adventure in Canada where we would drive ourselves in a Cadillac that we rented. It was mostly the West Coast back then too. All we wanted to do was party or play a show, this solo kind of party show every night and then go on to the next town. Through that we figured out how to do it. Canada really was the testing grounds for this other type of performance so I’m very grateful to the support and open-mindedness of the rockers there. I mean there’s no country that rocks harder and appreciates the particular flavour that I bring than Canada. I’ve played more shows in Canada, spent more time in Canada than anywhere else besides the US. It’s a great pleasure. We get invited to do it and I can’t say no. We just came off a few other solo shows a month ago or two months ago and before that another bunch of shows. I go there all the time, it’s amazing. I’m always blown away, humbled and extraordinarily thankful for the ongoing support. I see a lot of familiar friends and there’s new people. When the demand is there and the energy is there you gotta go. It’s exciting because it keeps it building for when we come back with the band or we have a new album, it just keeps everything alive and relevant.

RM: I know a lot of people really excited you’re coming back, so that’s good.

AWK: I’m very excited because it’s actually been quite awhile since we played Victoria. I think the last time we played there might have been 2002 or 2003.

RM: That was actually the only Andrew WK show I’ve been to.

AWK: You were at that Victoria show?!

RM: I was. That was with Danko Jones, right?

AWK: Exactly. That’s amazing. I’ll never forget that night or that show because I had met some very good friends that have become lifelong friends that lived in Victoria and I guess just that part of Canada in general. Also, that night after the show there was a crazy street kid who tried to smash our bus windows. It’s like a very thrilling, exciting experience overall. It’s one of the places I haven’t come back. I’ve played a lot of these cities more than once but Victoria is one that’s certainly due for another visit.

RM: I’m excited. Can you leave us with some words of wisdom, some life advice that I can pass on to the readers?

AWK: There’s a lot of things to say, but, I’ll try to keep it relatable and straight-forward, which I’m sure everyone is already thinking about this kind of stuff anyway and this will just confirm it and encourage us both to keep our thoughts in this line, which is: To just allow what appeals to you and allow that which you find exciting, the stuff that you respond to, allow it to lead you through your life. No matter how scary or unlikely or crazy it may seem. Often times the crazier it seems that’s a good sign, I think.

RM: Get out of your comfort zone…?

AWK: Yeah, break out of your comfort zone. Being excited and inspired and passionate about something and following that passion is not about being comfortable, but it’s so fulfilling and so undeniable that it’s worth breaking out of those comfort moments. We all know that the reward after you’ve done that is so huge that you can’t really compare it. The point of life isn’t to be as comfortable as possible and reduce all responsibility or challenge, the point of life is to have basic comfort enough that you can venture out and still have a place to return to that’s safe. That’s the best thing to have, support from family and friends or even just yourself, or some foundation made so that you can go out and explore into the world and do the crazier stuff. Like you said, you and the readers, people our age, basically anyone under 50, anyone who’s still on the first half of their life, this is the time to take the biggest risks and do the craziest stuff. It really, really is. There is only one run-through as far as we can tell with this whole being alive thing and it’s designed so people can do big, great things if we set out to do them. It’s just that basic thing, if you have kind of opportunity or possibility entering into your life that’s scary or weird or unsettling, that’s a good feeling and the more that you can kind of chip away at your own conception of yourself and allow it to develop and grow and sometimes even just destroy yourself, just like 55 Cadillac, just do the exact opposite. Just humiliate yourself. Ego-death is really, really, really important I think. We have these ideas of who we are and what makes us who we are…what about going against those ideas? Then what happens? What are we left with? Maybe we realize it wasn’t a good thing, we go back. Usually we find our true self is much more subtle and malleable than this idea we have. “I’m the kind of person who does this. I’m the kind of person who does that.” So let it be full of possibility.

RM: I’ve enjoyed talking to you so much, man. Thank you.

AWK: Great questions, Blake and I’ve enjoyed it as well. I hope you understand, hope you can tell how much I appreciate the fact that you’re even aware – I’ve done interviews with people who don’t know or care at all about the person you’re interviewing, so it really does mean a lot to me.

RM: When I saw you were coming to town I had to jump at the opportunity to chat with you.

AWK: When this goes online, get it to me. I’ll probably see a Google alert or something, but send a link so I can tweet it and put it on our website. Thank you very much, Blake.

Check out the Martlet article here.

Check out everything Andrew W.K. related at his site here.