The Same Five Questions We Always Ask (PARTY EDITION): Andrew W.K.

Heavy metal rocker and motivational speaker (and my musical hero) Andrew W.K. talks about why he kicked himself in the face in pursuit of partying, why he chooses to perceive time as nonlinear, and gushes about how every day he spends with his wife is amazing. Awwww.

Mar 12, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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I think Andrew W.K. is a musical genius. I’ve always felt that his densely layered party anthems made my brain shut off, as if they existed on some higher plane of aural comprehension. In college, one of my music major composer pals would call me, play “Party Hard,” and we’d both just sit there on the phone, unable to talk because we were both literally rendered speechless by the audio assault.

Sometime later, I tried to get my non-composer friends interested by making up a list of would-be AWK songs with a mandatory “party” theme. Maybe it was an obvious pastime for an erstwhile raver kid such as myself. I love the idea of a party as much as I love the execution, and it pains me that I seem to have lost that list and only remember gems like “Me and My Party Car” and “Don’t Ruin The Party.” If I still had it, I’d have taken it to show Andrew W.K. in person.

Because he’s currently touring on the 10th anniversary of the release of his first major-label album, “I Get Wet,” I realize my love for the metal/pop rocker/motivational speaker goes a ways back. So imagine my delight that I got to spend a mild California late afternoon chilling on his tour bus while he searched in vain for something to drink besides room temperature Dr. Pepper and told me how he was sorry that Jane the mag is no longer in print. (“I think I did something with them one time too,” he said. Jane, can you confirm?)

Perched on big leather sofas in our yin-yang color-schemed clothes, we chatted about staying clean while wearing white, the glory of marital love, stockpiling ephedrine, and the dangers of the lecture circuit.

It seems like you’re having fun all the time. Is that true?

Yes. I’m certainly working toward having fun at all times. So even in moments when I’ve been vomiting for example, I don’t know that it’s been fun, but it’s been the result of working toward fun. Injuries aren’t necessarily fun, but all the efforts or discomforts or mood swings are all about trying to push toward fun at all times.

What’s the worst you’ve ever hurt yourself?

I hurt my knee really badly a couple of a years ago giving a lecture, which is the most embarrassing and ridiculous way to get hurt. On stage during the lecture, I thought I’d do some kind of dance move. It wasn’t necessary; it wasn’t like that was a big part of the lecture. I just thought it would be fun.

I guess it’s a pretty typical injury -- when your foot is planted and you spin your knee without moving your foot -- and I just collapsed. People thought it was all part of the show. I was able to finish the lecture, although I was in excruciating pain.

I broke my nose on stage three times from head banging and hitting someone or something. One time I actually hit my own knee. I kicked my own face by accident. I was trying to do a really high kick because I saw one of my friends in the audience who I hadn’t seen in years. I had to showboat and kicked just a bit too high.

“I Get Wet” came out when I was in college, and I was friends with a lot of composition students. Some of my music major pals believed that you make the most perfectly constructed pop music.

Wow. That’s really flattering. Thank you. Tell them “Thank you,” and tell them to keep telling everyone else that. I make the songs the best I can.

Your music is very densely layered.

There’s a lot of recording, yes. I’m glad they like that, because a lot of people don’t. They want to hear a very pure single instrument, which I understand. There’s great music out there like that.

But when it came to what I was supposed to do, I felt very strongly -- I guess it goes back to the first time I heard about how recording works or got a four-track recorder or went to a studio. It just seemed like you should record as much as you can on there! For every song we’d work on with this style of music, it just seemed to make it better. 

I understand the stripped down approach, the live approach. But that’s what you sit and do at the piano in your house, or you play with some friends and acoustic guitars. That’s not a recording. For this -- and this is all with respect to every other musician doing it their own way -- I don’t want to capture a moment. I want to make a moment and build it from scratch and construct it out of nothing. I don’t want to capture a sound in a room with people doing something. I want to fabricate it. I want for it to be not organic in that way.



Who’s on your celebs to make out with list?

The only person I want to make out with that I can actually do it with is [my wife] Cherie Lily.

How long have you been married?

Well, I have a very good sense of memory but not a very good sense of timeline. We got married once at city hall on New Year’s Eve because my business manager said, “Oh, get married now before the end of the year.”

I thought, Oh, ok, and I thought that was gonna be really fun. I had friends who had gone to city hall to get married, and living in Manhattan especially, that’s an experience all unto itself. Some people went like we did -- we just wore casual clothes -- but some people wore tuxedos and had their whole family there and did the rice throwing. It was like a movie. Everything’s like a movie in New York.

So that was awesome, and then we had a more traditional wedding in October. Because [the first ceremony] was on New Year’s Eve, it’s always been confusing to me whether it was 2007 or 2008.

Well how long have you been together?

Since around 2005.

So a long time.

Yeah, I guess so. But it still feels brand new, which is amazing and one of the best things about it. It feels completely fresh. It was very clear, very early on, even before I was able to formalize it, that this person occupies a space that is elemental and primal in your existence. She’s not a girlfriend or a wife. She’s Cherie. I had never quite experienced it in that way before, but the great thing is that if you’re lucky, you don’t get tired of that person. They’re a joy to behold. 

I have a husband like that so --

Hey, congratulations! So you understand.

Yeah, totally. We knew three days into our relationship.

And you hear stories where people found that feeling over a long period of time, but for me -- It's so immediate that you’re almost in a state of disbelief. It’s too good to be true. That’s what it always seemed like, and that’s the best way I can describe it. It still seems like that. I think, This really is how it’s going to be? She’s really this amazing? It’s just a privilege. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Does she get to tour with you?

Oh yeah, that’s how we met. She joined my band as a singer and dancer, and then we got married two or three years after that. Or four years? It’s really embarrassing; I gotta ask her again.

I couldn’t remember the order of the months until about three years ago.

An eight-month gap between ceremonies might throw anyone off.

No, I mean I couldn’t remember the order of the months, like on a calendar. I’m not proud of that. It’s some type of wiring in my brain. I have a very good memory in terms of detail and retaining information, but I couldn’t necessarily tell you when something happened or whether it was before or after something else.  It’s odd, but I actually like it. It creates a nice whirlpool effect. Instead of time being linear, it’s more of a spiral or something.

Do you know right from left?

Oh yeah yeah. It’s not a dyslexic thing. I don’t know that it’s a learning disability in a traditional or classically defined way. I think it’s a choice of how to perceive time. But maybe an unconscious choice.

What’s the closest you’ve ever come to being arrested? Or have you been?

No, never been arrested. The closest time I can think of -- the only time I was in a police car; I guess this was around 7 or 8 years old -- I was playing with a group of girls in my neighborhood. We’d usually play in the forest and build forts or just make up games that could get very complicated and fantastic.

One of the games I made up was -- and I didn’t tell anyone it was a game -- was what I called “getting lost,” and I’d pretend to get lost in the woods. I had them convinced that we were completely lost. Even at some point, I was so swept up in their reaction to it that I really did want to get lost and tried to get us lost, but could never completely lose my sense of direction.

In the end, we flagged down a jogger, having walked what felt like two miles from home by then. The jogger flagged down a police car, and we told the officer we were lost. I was lying to the cops, which was probably the scariest part of the whole thing for me. The cop took us back to our respective homes. I think I told my parents immediately that I wasn’t lost, and I don’t remember them being mad about it.

Do you have anything gross in your pockets right now?

No, I think I already threw it out. I picked up a Kleenex in the hallway of the bus here earlier; it wasn’t mine. I just thought it was a napkin. And then I realized it was squishy, like there was mucus in it, which was gross enough. And then I realized that it wasn’t mucus. It was a substance with a very similar consistency. I threw it away, so now I guess the most disgusting thing in my pockets is my body.

Is it hard to keep stuff in your pockets since you wear all white? Are you worried about getting dirty?

No, no. The clothes are pretty filthy at this point. I embrace that. If you’re gonna wear white, you gotta be ready for it. I always wonder about Tom Wolfe, the writer [who also wears all white, all the time]. Does he really stay that clean all the time? What I love about these clothes is that they’re very durable and very replaceable. But if you have a custom-tailored, Savile Row, three-piece white suit, it’s gonna get a bit stressful.

That’s why I really admire people who put that type of energy into what they wear or how they present themselves -- because it takes lots of work. It occupies a big part of your brain. Then, worse case scenario, it can turn into the clothes wearing you. You always want to make sure that you’re wearing the clothes, that you’re in charge.

And why white?

Well, I hadn’t seen anyone wear this particular outfit consistently, and it seemed like there was an opening there.

Most people wear black on stage for whatever reason, and you can never see them -- or you can’t seem them very well -- and I figured if I’m going to be doing all of these moves, I want to show up against that stage. Stages are usually very dark and black so you can see the lights. I want to be the light, you know? 

So wanting to be the light -- does that go along with your positive message and vibe?

I suppose so, yeah. I hadn’t thought about it, but yeah.

What pills do you take every day?

No pills every day. I had some green tea pills that I’d been taking. I used to take vitamins every day a lot more consistently, but then I noticed that when I didn’t feel any differently. For me it wasn’t fun. I like the prescription drugs. I think those can be really amazing.

To me, you seem like a guy who would take trucker pills.

Oh, ephedrine? Well, that’s all illegal now. I actually had a really bad experience, I think from jetlag or something, just really really really really dead tired, like falling asleep as you’re walking, where it’s almost dangerous. And I took one of the ephedrine tablets -- this was years ago when they were still legal -- and we bought a lot when we heard it was gonna be banned, we bought up as many as we could, and I still have some after all these years.

I wasn’t really feeling anything, so I took another one, and then holy smokes. If you’ve ever had that time of comedown or that type of panic -- it's like a panic attack. It’s like being in hell. You can’t catch your breath. You cannot rest. It’s not a pleasant feeling at all. It really makes you think twice about ever doing anything that would ever potentially make you feel like that again.

But, for those that really get into that, it’s almost worth it. You try to find some joy even in the horrible comedown.