Recently, I had a short and very sweet chat with Andrew W.K., a multifaceted rocker and band most famous for their well-known song and video “Party Hard.” After many years, they are embarking on a tour to celebrate overcoming all the hurdles they endured and the tenth anniversary of the release of the album I Get Wet. Catch them somewhere along the way, as it sounds like they’re more energetic and powered up than ever before.
What have you been up to for the past five years?
Well I’ve played with my full band here and there, but I’ve spent the majority of that time learning how to perform in other ways – as a solo musician, as a lecturer/public speaker, and as a TV host/personality. The good thing about all these different modes of performing is that they’ve educated me and empowered me with more skills to add to my performance as the frontman for my band. That’s been very satisfying. Even though there have been challenges, restrictions and legal/business issues, I’ve always embraced these restrictions and challenges and tried to keep learning and building on my skills.
I’ve also recorded several albums – a solo piano one and another album released exclusively in Japan (with a bunch of bonus tracks). I’ve tried to keep offering that feeling and that energy to the people that want it. And now I’m going on tour again and working on a brand new album, a rock n’ roll album. It’s the first brand new one since probably 2006.
What sparked the idea for the tenth anniversary tour of I Get Wet in the first place?
Well, there definitely were some difficulties in the past, and I take personal responsibility for all of them. A lot of the agreements I made with certain folks on my business team in the early years – different contracts I signed when Andrew W.K. first began – had long-lasting repercussions that I didn’t understand. Fortunately, around 2009, we started on a very earnest effort to really get all of those kinds of issues/problems solved, and that allowed us to do what we’re about to do. Sometimes getting through the dips in the road bring you back to another peak – we’re reaching another high point on this roller coaster.
It’s only so poignant and meaningful that it happens to coincide with the tenth anniversary of my first full-length album. So it’s one of those moments when life does make sense. All those disparate pieces and strange elements have come together in a very harmonious way, and it really does seem like destiny that this was always how it was meant to be. The challenges and low points were all part of some grand master plan that you don’t necessarily have control of. You just have to be humble and work through it.
Would you make any changes to the past if you could?
No, I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened over the last ten years because it’s allowed us to do what we’re about to do. And this tour already is the biggest response we’ve gotten since we began. We’re still on the upswing here; we’re still building. The fact that many people care about it at all is an incredible feeling.
What shows are you looking forward to along the tour? Are you looking forward to playing South by Southwest (SXSW)?
Well SXSW is actually one of the shows we’ve done pretty consistently. We’ve played there every year for the last five years, so we’ve been to Austin a lot more than we’ve been to other towns. I love Austin and SXSW. My full band and I played the entire SXSW in 2010, right before we went to do the Warped Tour. For me, it’s more exciting to play in San Francisco, where I haven’t played since 2005.
How do you think you guys have changed musically over the past ten years?
Well as musicians, we’ve continued to play at festivals and other people’s shows, but it’s been like seven years since we’ve done a traditional worldwide tour of our own. Through it all, however, we’ve stayed active, so we are well oiled, and we’re better than we’ve ever been. All I’ve learned from all that I’ve done can be applied (to my performance). I have more energy, more stamina, and more excitement. Any insights, lessons, education, skills that you gain get used to create excitement, joy and pure energy.
It’s always about improving and in our culture, it seems like you always can keep improving to get to that place, that feeling.. no matter how old you really get. I mean, it’s tricky in sports. You can improve and improve, but at some point, your body just doesn’t work the same way. But when it comes to creative work, it doesn’t really matter how old you get as long as you can continue to try to get to that place of pure emotion, pure feeling, pure excitement, and pure sensation. And that’s my goal: to get to that place. Andrew W.K. has never been about me personally telling a story or expressing my own feelings. It’s more about trying to make a feeling, to conjure up that feeling of excitement.
You’ve been very active on Twitter, posting many aphorisms. How do you feel about the power of technology?
Well I love the computer – always have. I think it’s an incredibly powerful tool and instrument unto itself. Most of all, it’s an extension of the human spirit. I’m a real believer in that. At the same time, I have a lot of respect for people who view the computer and digital technology as being evil; I know what they mean. I just don’t feel that personally because it’s brought me so much excitement. The ability to communicate and connect with so many around the world at once, in a relatively instantaneous manner, is the destiny of humankind; that’s the whole idea we’ve been working towards. We can be closer to each other and ourselves through it. The computer is a refined, high-end version of humanity, itself.
Where do you get your inspiration for these aphorisms?
My inspiration comes from that feeling. There are many things in life – songs/music that other people have made; books you’ve read; time spent with friends and family; a moment walking down the road or eating at a certain restaurant. You’re always searching for the best moments in life, which aren’t necessarily the happiest, but they are the most meaningful and the most powerful. They are the moments when you really felt something intense – or maybe something unfamiliar. These are the moments you can’t deny that you are alive in that moment. That’s my inspiration. Everything I can possibly use to get to that point of raw feeling.
Tell me about an amazing artist or song that you heard recently.
The last thing I listened to really intensely – besides whatever stuff comes and goes of my own work – was an amazing song called “Cincinnati Riot Two.” It’s an amazing rap/hip-hop mixtape that came out of Ohio. Ohio has a great rap scene, with Machine Gun Kelly and many others. It’s a really intense town. I grew up in Michigan so I’ go to Ohio quite a bit. This song is a half-hour long with probably like 20 to 30 rappers/performers, one after another, taking their own verse. It was so exciting. I had never heard a rap song that was so long. And it never got boring at all – it was completely engaging. I kept thinking, “Oh, there’s no way the next rapper is gonna be as exciting as this one,” but each rapper had their own dialogue, their own style. The consistency and the level of energy and enthusiasm was amazing. It was one of the greatest songs I’ve heard in my life.
Can you give us some background on the artistic side of the bloody nose shot on the cover of I Get Wet?
Certainly. That was an amazing photo shoot. The photograph was taken by Roe Ethridge, a photographer who works in both the fine arts and the commercial realm. I met him very early on – maybe a year after I moved to New York – because he was working with Fischerspooner. When I saw his photograph that he took for them, I said, “Holy smokes!” because it was so professional, so good. I have always wanted things to be the best they can be – or what I think is the best. I want everything to look fancy, not lo-fi, messed up, or damaged. Everyone has their own taste, and it’s hard to know where that taste comes from. I like the way movie posters look and the way movies look – how everything is so theatrical, well-lit, and dramatic, like a painting. Roe’s photos look like that. He was the nicest and most generous guy. He did a photo shoot with me using these large format cameras. We did a bunch of photos before I came up with exactly what Andrew W.K. should look like. By the time I’d realized I wanted to do a photo with a bloody nose, we’d gotten to the end of the film and there were only two shots left. We took one photo up close and one farther away with me smiling, and that was it! We didn’t know how it was gonna turn out until quite a bit later, but we loved the first one. It was incredible to me how easily it could’ve not worked out. And it’s nice to be able to appreciate this work more and more as the years go by – it seems to get better and better. I don’t think of it as a photo of me necessarily – it’s just a painting, and I happen to be one of the tools to make that painting.