Andrew W.K. Breaks Out of His Shell

by James A. Cosby

12 September 2017

Andrew W.K. talks about making life choices, his "life-force", the yearning to connect with fellow humans, the church, and some of the early rock gods.
 

Andrew W.K. really loves to party. Party until he pukes. Party until you and I puke. Party every day. Party all-night-long. You name it.

Andrew is, of course, also an acclaimed pop-metal, singer/songwriter/musician with several successful albums in the early and mid-aughts that embraced the genre with an absurd an infectious sense of fun and energy. His approach to everything is way over the top, yet he always manages to make it work. Andrew has also released a surprisingly well-done album of “spontaneous solo piano improvisations” (he is a classically-trained pianist), made an album of J-pop covers, published a book of advice, was a regular advice columnist for the Village Voice, is a touring motivational speaker, has hosted children’s TV shows, and has been a regular on Fox News program Red Eye. On Fox, Andrew has lent an entertaining perspective, but also, and rare for modern TV, an apolitical or perhaps nonpartisan perspective.

Andrew grew up with both parents in a free-thinking and sometimes weird college town, Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his dad is a well-regarded law professor. Andrew is something like a renaissance party-dude if there is such a thing. Unlike so many pop stars, however, with Andrew, there is actually a whole lot there, there.

When PopMatters caught up with Andrew, he was in Wisconsin putting the final touches on the vocals for a new song. Andrew’s ‘The Party Never Dies’ Tour starts this Saturday, 16 September in Cleveland. He further discussed an impending album release that will be his first “official” studio album in ten years. However good this album will be, it seems fair to say that Andrew did not hold back and the album will not be boring. This interviewer mostly, and smartly, stood out of the way as Andrew freely talked about making life choices, his “life-force”, the yearning to connect with fellow humans, the church, and some of the early rock gods.

* * *

Do you have an album set to be released? I know you are about to go on tour, but I couldn’t find any release dates or if that was specifically scheduled or not?

Believe it or not, I’m actually literally just finishing the ending vocals on the song just now, just before ... it was supposed to be done many months ago. We’re still finishing it. I’m very thankful to the team. My label and my management team, the engineers, the mastering guy, everyone’s been patient and accommodating and really stood behind me. They’ve gone above and beyond the act of going above and beyond. It can reach the level of absurdity, and we may be getting close to that.

At some point, you have to release the album. We don’t have a release date yet but this coming tour in the fall is to set-up the eventual release of the album, but it won’t be coming out during the tour. Hopefully, we will announce the release date in the next few months. It’s all going to happen when it is supposed to happen.

You’ve obviously done a lot of different stuff so, I guess, does that impact how you decide to do, for example, a piano instrumental [album]? Do you just kind of go with what your gut is telling you, like “OK, I need to do this right now,” and just do it?

Yeah, ideally, ideally there’s that. But there are layers of instinct, or perhaps levels of instinct. And for me it might be I want to sleep all day. And then there’s a deeper instinct that’s, “No, it would be better to get up and do something productive, and at least contribute to people around you in some way,” and then there’s a deeper instinct that says maybe I should do something really challenging, and then there’s an even deeper instinct that says, “You should contradict those other instincts,” so it can be, for me—it’s been quite difficult to know quite which one of those levels of instinct to follow, and it is not always clear which one is above the other or the deeper one, the proper one. It’s not lost on me [that] the longer I’ve gotten to work in this field or this industry, the more thankful I am, and the less I take it for granted. I really want to do a good job; I really want to try to get across this elusive feeling, this life-force, energized feeling to other people—and to myself.

Right. You’ve got a lot to say. In a good way.

Yeah, I haven’t talked a lot I’ve been kind of isolated. That’s the nature of recording, I guess, a lot of this work you kind of hole up. So, Yeah, this is like a therapy session for me being able to talk to you.

Right. [laughs] That’s funny. OK, I guess I’ll come back to the “life force” thing. I want to make sure I ask you about the new music and the tour.

Sure, sure.

So on the tour, are there going to be new songs?

Yeah, I’m very excited about that, it’s a big part of the tour. I’ve never been that keen on playing new music where people wouldn’t have a chance to hear it yet. As a concert-goer myself, I’d say about 90%  of the time I like to know all of the material. I like to be familiar with the band or the artist I’m going to see, the performer. Because I love that feeling of singing along, I love, love knowing what the next note is and what the drum fill is. I mean that. But I also appreciate and understand that there have been moments when I have gone to see a concert and some new song played and it really struck me and then I went out and sought out that new song and it became my favorite song of that group or something. I see both sides of it.

For the new album, can you describe the style, or maybe the influences, or the attitude of it?

It’s really, I’m trying ... I have not talked about it at all. This is the first interview I’ve done with anyone about this album. I’ve got to learn how to talk about it. I don’t even know if I understand it myself enough to talk about it.

I can say this: during these last ten years, a type of confusion set in with me, and maybe other people have felt it too, I don’t think these things are unique to me. I think it’s probably versions of the human experience that everyone goes through in some way or another and, this desire to connect to other people become stronger and stronger within me, almost like a compulsion. Almost like I was going to lose my mind. I was going to lose it! If I couldn’t find a way to relate to someone else ... I wanted to make music just, as always, every album is the same: me trying to generate this sonic enthusiasm, this, this ... it’s the feeling of being moved, really. It’s emotion without specific designation on the spectrum of happy or sad.

You know, it’s like there’s those times in life, and I don’t know if they happened, if they happened too frequently I don’t know if we could function because they’re quite overwhelming because it seems like it’s always there underneath all of the other experiences, this awareness of pure raw feeling. Care. If you want to call it love. Some people would call it a spiritual kind of feeling or even God. Some people call it reality, some people call it this life force feeling, it’s this indescribable yet inescapable and omnipresent awareness that something is going on and were in the midst of it. I guess its existence, really, and I guess struggling about, “Is this good or is it not?,” whether it’s in a movie or a dramatic spring event. Through some triumphs, overcoming or relating on a personal level through life, a moment of loss, a great achievement. There are times when we are put in direct contact with that substance. That emotional power. And you couldn’t describe it as “I was happy,” because you could have been crying and you couldn’t describe it as “I was sad,” even if you were crying because you were moved and in that moment of being moved it seems that every question, every bit of doubt is for a moment clarified, not answered, but sort of, those questions and confusions drop away to reveal a type of light, a type of hope, a type of truth, really.

It’s difficult to define but you can feel it, and you can experience it, and that’s better than understanding it in your mind intellectually. You feel it in your body. And music is humankind’s great gift that absolutely does that. I’ve done before and, you know, when I was making it, it was hard for me to imagine anyone liking it at all, in a kind of liberating way, I kind of just assumed no one would like this, but at the same time I desperately want people to like it, but to feel like I’m trying to feel so I know I’m not alone in sharing about this feeling.

So, everything you’ve been talking about—you talk about the “life force” and “energized feeling.” One question I really wanted to run by you is, you know this whole idea of partying as a philosophy, and you’re talking about this life force. So I’m a rock history guy, and I really think that one of the most overlooked parts of rock’s origins is, not only the church influence but specifically the Pentecostal church. A lot of the founders—there is a Sister Rosetta Tharpe, but then also Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard. All of these people were really wild, and they were all raised Pentecostal ...

I didn’t know that.

Ya. And I was just wondering what you thought of that? I know for you “partying” means a lot more than just “partying,” you know?

It means a lot, and it means very little. It has everything and nothing in it, which is the perfect space for working creatively, for me at least, but I love what you are saying, and I completely relate to it because some of the most powerful early musical experiences that I had involved going to church, which was a very rare event in my family. My dad was raised going to church from time-to-time, and I don’t think he rebelled against it, it didn’t interest him in a way, it was almost like he forgot about it and he would remember there were these things about going to church that were exciting, and he would say, “Okay, we’re going to go to midnight mass!,” and that was just his, just the whole idea of us as kids going anywhere at midnight was a pretty big deal.

That was several hours after bedtime and then the idea of going out to an event. Not just staying up late but leaving the house and going to this church at midnight that’s packed with people and then to hear music. I mean I was just completely enthralled by the pipe organ and the big groups of people singing and then everybody singing. I didn’t know these songs, I didn’t know these hymns, I didn’t know how to follow along, but the feeling of everyone coming together and the synchronizing around this elevated state, especially at midnight. I’m sure many people went as a tradition or a sense of obligation but my dad was compelled to go, and I was just, that changed me ... hearing that music in that setting and, the chills, just these, I get chills just talking about it and remembering it.

How old were you?

You know: five, six, seven, eight? And then I would try to go on my own sometimes. Especially when I moved to New York. There’s some of the most beautiful churches in the country, around the northeast, in general, because it’s so old there.

Right.

And so I went to an amazing church in Washington, D.C. with my dad, I went to one in Boston, St. Patrick’s—there’s a whole bunch in New York, and you just hope you can get in there, I mean you can check on schedules. It’s easier than ever to follow schedules, and you might see an organ recital. And it was very, I felt like, “This makes sense to me.” So much of the aesthetic, a lot of the framework of the religious traditions were hard to grasp, and they’re still hard to grasp. And to a degree, they’re meant to be challenging so that they engage your thought process, ideally, in my opinion.

Ideally, you want to be thinking about these concepts rigorously, almost tirelessly. But the music was something I didn’t have to think about at all. I understood that was the sound of humanity reaching out towards understanding, towards an ultimate truth, and that music is the sound—that’s truth. And what you’re saying now, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, those were huge, inspiring figures for me being a keyboard player first and foremost, I experienced quite a lot of pushback, I guess, from my peers, that piano wasn’t that cool of an instrument. For starters, it’s kind of cumbersome so you couldn’t just carry it around as easily as the guitar, or even as drums, the keyboard, the electronic keyboard obviously helps a lot, and I’ve been really passionate about that the whole time as well. But to see these icons, these early inventors of rock music and high energy, American music in general, coming from the piano was really helpful, and I’m obviously, we’re all indebted to their early contributions, and me especially.

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