Interview: Andrew W.K.

AWK and Tom

Truth be told, we were more than a little bit excited (and nervous) when Andrew W.K. accepted our interview request. Not only are we huge fans of his music, but his positive outlook and energy have always served as inspiration. Before his March 9 show at Body English, our very own Tom Monahan sat down with the man himself to talk about the I Get Wet anniversary tour, Pitchfork giving the record a score of 0.6/10 when it was first released, not letting your soul get pushed through a cheese grater, and more.

How has this I Get Wet anniversary tour been going? Have the shows been pretty packed?

It’s been the best response and the most excitement that we’ve ever had for any tour. For anything we’ve ever done, really. That was a bit of a shock and a surprise. I couldn’t be more pleased. I think it’s a new beginning and also a continuation of a long end. I’ve been having a blast, that’s for sure. One thing that’s good is that the longer I’ve done this, Andrew W.K., the more I’ve enjoyed it. I’m thankful for that because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to continue to do it. To be able to have so much fun, to find so much joy in this endeavor, just takes it over the top. And I’ve never appreciated things more. Even things just like being here, being on the bus, being in a hotel room, moving your bags from one place to another, getting on a different stage, hanging around with my best friends. I’ve spent more time with this band, this team, this crew, than with any people in my life besides my mom, dad and brother. It’s a real blessing to appreciate it more and find new meaning in it and to have it continue to be vibrant and relevant to me as an individual. Because if I’m not entertained, how can I entertain other people? So I’m thankful, I’m humbled and I’m very motivated.

This is your first headlining tour in quite a while isn’t it?

It is, in terms of us headlining and it being our own show, not a festival tour. We did Warped Tour the summer before last. We’ve played one-off shows and I’ve done a lot of solo shows. We went to Australia and did some special variety show tours. But for a proper Andrew W.K. world tour, depending on where you are, it’s been 8 or 9 years. We’re going to be playing in places on this tour that we’ve never played before, so for them it’s been an eternity! I don’t even exist to them until we play. Again, that’s why it’s so exciting. I think we’ve built something together with all the people who have found some value and some pleasure in what I’m offering here. We built this together, but it still just feels like the beginning.

What prompted the idea of this tour?

I have no idea. When engaged in work every day, I don’t oftentimes think back. I mean, I do when it allows me to be grateful. I try never to forget where I came from and how this all began, and stay close to that, only so much as it allows me to appreciate and respect what’s going on. I don’t want to ever lose a sense of what prompted all of this. But also you’re just sort of engaged in the work at hand, and the moment there. So I hadn’t even really thought about anniversaries or decades or anything like that until one of my managers brought up the fact that this March is 10 years since I Get Wet came out in the U.S. It came out a year earlier in some other countries, but in the U.S. it came out in March 2002. So we took note and we thought we should do something, but we didn’t really have a clear idea. And at that time, we also had some limitations on what we could do. The good thing was that this coincided with the resolution of a bunch of business and personal issues that I had been going through. So the fact that these great events dovetailed, the anniversary, 10 years of partying and this new sense of purpose and resolution to some basically legal contractual issues, it made this the perfect time to celebrate. There are those moments when you don’t have a choice. It’s so obvious what you’re supposed to do that you just do it. And really, the effort doesn’t go into coming up with an idea, it just comes down to executing it.

Let’s talk about the legacy of I Get Wet. When it came out, a lot of reviews were positive, but some sites didn’t respond well to it. Pitchfork gave it a 0.6. But when they did their list of The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s, it was #144. Why do you think some people’s opinion of the record has changed over the years?

Maybe when they do albums of the century it will be #142! I’d like #139 or #138! I hope it doesn’t drop down to #193. That would be humiliating. It could be even worse than that, I could not be on the list at all! From my own experience, there’s been not just music, but all kinds of stuff that I didn’t like the first time I experienced it. For example, whiskey. It tasted terrible. It made me choke practically. It was like inhaling fumes or toxic chemicals or something. But over time, I was able to appreciate it, and through living more years, I’ve developed capacities that allowed me to appreciate it more. It wasn’t like I just tasted it so much that I learned to like it, I changed as an individual. I became bigger, and when you become bigger you can consume and handle more. So I can understand that approach. I don’t know how people feel about that album. All I want is for people to find some kind of value in it, in any way. And I’ll do all I can to create as much value or potential value as I can. Even beyond the music.

There’s been a lot of diversity on the shows you’ve played. You’ve played Warped Tour, Ozzfest, The Gathering of the Juggalos, about 10 years ago you played Vegas with New Found Glory and Piebald, and later you played the Huntridge with The Bronx. Do you actively seek that kind of diversity in your shows?

That doesn’t seem that diverse to me. It’s all under that umbrella of rock music. But then, I don’t want to be too diverse. I want what I’m trying to deliver to be very clear and succinct. There are many ways to deliver it. But as long as what we’re trying to manifest is consistent, then yes, I’ll use any way I can to manifest it. I’m very single minded in what we want to come about here, which is the physical expression of joy, ego death and energized enthusiasm that carries you far beyond the initial experience and gives you some kind of power or electricity that you can apply to your own true will.

How did you get involved with TV shows like Your Friend, Andrew W.K. and Destroy Build Destroy?

That’s another mode of doing this, of getting this out there. And it’s fun for me. I enjoy it. I love the atmosphere of TV. You’re working with this incredible, oftentimes huge team of people. For example, Destroy Build Destroy had a 100-person crew making that show every day. I’m looking around and I’m thinking “there are 100 people here, most of them grown adults, and we’re spending our time, energy, and money to blow stuff up. Really just to create lights and sound emanating out of a box. Could it be more fantastic and absurd? This is as good as life gets.” So I want to be in that state where I look around and think “I can’t believe I get to do this each week.” This is satisfying the dreams of a 4 year old, 5 year old 6 year old, 7 year old, 8 year old version of me. As well as the 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 year old version, and on and on. 20 and 21, skip those years. I even have some years in advance that I’ve satisfied. There’s some quote and I wish I remember who said it, but they said “the most noble pursuit is to make the dreams of your childhood come true as an adult.” And it’s true. As an adult, you have more power and ability to make dreams come true, but you don’t want to then cast off the interests, passions or dreams that you had as a child. Which is extraordinarily difficult to do. There are a lot of forces out there, some malevolent and some just sort of clueless, if not kind-natured, that encourage you to give up on those feelings. To eliminate those kind of dreams and to separate yourself from that kind of joy and passion. And I think the whole fight is to stay very close to that joy and to stay, not only connected to it, but to manifest it, to realize it. To do right by that version of yourself that still exists. There’s a great movie called The Kid with Bruce Willis that’s all about that. You can never ever ever ever give up. Winston Churchill said it very well.

It’s easy to give up on those dreams.

It’s easy in a way. But in the long run, it’s not so easy, because you’re slowly pushing your soul through a cheese grater, basically. You might get a great set of nachos out of it, but is that really worth destroying your own soul? The idea of selling your soul, that is the whole point. You should sell your soul to yourself to make your dream come true. To not sell it, is to let it die. It has a lot of value. And it’s worth trading, it’s worth sacrificing.

What prompted you to do The Japan Covers and the Gundam Rock album?

I had heard a lot of those songs over the years spending time in Japan. I was very interested, like a lot of folks, in Japanese culture and music before I ever got to go there. It was really a dream and a destiny come true to actually get to spend time over there and participate in it directly. But it was also Universal Music who showed me other options in Japan. And the Sunrise company who owned Gundam [a Japanese anime series], eventually approached me about doing a special rock album dedicated to their anniversary. It was the most challenging, yet rewarding recording experience that we ever had. I wanted to be very true to those original arrangements and do right by that music. I didn’t want to change it really at all, beyond making the words in English. I tried to learn all those horn, string, drum and piano parts. And I encourage anyone interested in this Gundam Rock album or The Japan Covers, to listen to the originals as well. Because you don’t fix what ain’t broke, you just polish it up.

You’ve done a lot of work with Nardwuar. I think he’s fantastic. He’s one of the best interviewers I’ve ever seen.

Absolutely. He’s right up there with Howard Stern, Barbara Walters and Larry King. He’s someone who has mastered the art and craft of that type of interaction. And beyond that, he’s an incredible musician and performer himself.

Is that what prompted you to do the A Wild Pear split with his band The Evaporators?

It was just destiny. It wasn’t even a choice. Sometimes in life, you encounter something for the first time and your reaction is so strong. What I think that is, a lot of times, is your destiny previewing what’s about to happen. It’s like “you’re going to end up doing something with this guy.” You don’t know that yet, but it’s just so intense that it goes beyond “oh yeah this is cool.” It’s a gut reaction where you know that you were meant to encounter this. It’s part of your life story, your road, your path. I had that feeling about him the first time I ever saw him or heard about him. And then the dream came true. The first time I got to be interviewed by him was a very pure example of a dream come true. I thought about that day and fantasized about it 6 years earlier. And then to become friends with him for real and work with him and make music with him and be around him, he’s a master, no one else is like him. He’s a completely self-actualized individual. Anyone, or at least me, is attracted to that kind of confidence, that kind of singularity. And he’s doing what he wants to do. And it’s very healthy to be around people who are doing what they would want to do with all their life.

What kind of music are you listening to right now?

Music is like food to me at this point. It’s hard for me to separate it out from everyday life. It’s all in my head. I’ve traditionally not listened to music a lot, because once I hear it, I don’t really need to listen to it again. If you like it, it’s part of you. If you keep listening to it, then it’s more of a celebration. From your own experience, if you have a song that you love, it’s part of you forever and you can conjure it up just by thinking about it, whether it’s the guitar tone, or the intro, or the way it sounds or just that melody in its purest form. That’s how I feel about music.

So how long is this tour, and what are your plans for afterwards?

The tour initially was going to be quite brief, but the response was so tremendous that we’ve kept extending it and extending it. I’ll be on tour until June. Come June I will go back to New York and continue recording the new album and get that done and put it out as fast as we can, without rushing it of course. And then go back out on the road all over again.

You’ve been to Vegas a few times over the years, have you been able to see much of the city?

We’ve walked all over this area and The Strip, but I’ve never been to the old Vegas area. That’s Fremont Street right? This is one of the cities I would consider living in. It’s incredible. There’s no other place like it, it’s completely over the top.

You could do a Celine Dion-style residency.

Absolutely! I love the hotels. You’ve got the best hotels in the world, essentially. When I first came here I was a little overwhelmed. That was probably 10 years ago. It was just so intense. I’d never been to Las Vegas and I was freaked out by the whole craziness. Everyone was friendly, but just wild. And I liked it, but I was also just intimidated. But each time I go, I like it more. The last couple times I’ve come here, I’ve got to hang out with people like you guys who live here and that kind of gives me a whole new appreciation and ability to see outside of the casinos. This is a real city beyond that.

Anything else you’d like to add?

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Interview by Tom Monahan
Transcribed by Ashleigh Thompson
Andrew WK / Tom Monahan photo by Steven Matview

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