Since his emergence with debut ‘Get Wet’ at the start of the millennium, Andrew W.K.’s name has come to be synonymous with joy, enthusiasm and, of course, partying.
Such is W.K.’s overriding commitment to the concept of ‘partying’ that he has almost transcended music, like a party Jesus ascending to a higher realm of speaking tours, book deals, mental health support accolades and podcasting. The last record he released that could be properly described as an Andrew W.K. record was way back in 2006 (‘Close Calls With Brick Walls’), and so you could be forgiven for assuming he had elected the Scroobius Pip path of becoming a ‘figure in musis’, rather than a mere musician.
But now the forces he calls ‘the party gods’ have led W.K. back to the mortal realm of music with ‘You’re Not Alone’. It’s a record that’s as dedicated to partying as ‘Get Wet’ and the other recordings he made as an energised youngster, but its content is informed by his a mature and considered definition of exactly what ‘partying’ entails.
For 2018’s Andrew W.K. to party is to embrace life to the maximum degree, to take your insecurities and dark thoughts and mould them into something life-affirming with the help of ‘the party gods’. Talking to him is not unlike talking to a preacher, or possibly even a cult leader… an individual hellbent on using every ounce of their charisma to help people see the world as they do. But for him that religion, that world outlook, is based around that intangible desire to celebrate our shared humanity and build a more party world.
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Over the past years you've become a published author, Oxford Union lecturer, respected mental health authority and a cartoon (in Adult Swim’s Uncle Grandpa). In many ways the Andrew W.K. of 2018 is much more than a musician. Were you always sure you’d release another album?
I was sure that I wanted to but didn’t necessarily know if it would ever happen! I had accepted the possibility that it may be beyond my control. Even a great deal of the activities you just listed there were the result of me relinquishing control to a destiny that brought about those sorts of opportunities. I didn’t dream that many of those things would happen, so turning over my own ambitions to follow a more mysterious path has allowed all these things to unfold.
It’s been, at its worst, distressing and frightening and, at its best, completely surprising and delightful… but always interesting and meaningful.
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I felt obligated to follow this path wherever it led me...
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What brought you back?
Finding time to record and getting a record deal! It was just really practical issues. I’d been working on the album for many, many years, so it wasn’t as though there was any intentional delay. It was all quite chaotic and disorganised and there was no conscious plan to do anything, which is probably why so much time passed.
When you’re partying very hard in a number of different directions or in an unlimited, explosive variety of methods, time can kind of go into a vortex! But all of a sudden there was an opportunity and it was time. Before that I would try to carve away time and then some incredible offer would come in to do something I never even dreamt of doing and it would be very hard to say no!
I felt obligated to follow this path wherever it led me, even when it led me in a direction against my own rational, logical view of life for myself. It’s been very fulfilling and I’m thankful and don’t take for granted at all that it finally led to an album.
Just how old are some of these songs?
The oldest song is ‘Break The Curse’ which I started writing 2005. Then before I knew it It was 2016 and someone said ‘Oh it’s the tenth anniversary of Close Calls With Brick Walls’. I just about fell out of my chair! It was completely disturbing, because in my mind it had just been a couple of years ago. All this stuff feels very close to me, very recent. In fact it feels like I’m still in the midst of it, not like it’s happened already and I’m now in the future. I feel like it’s all one solid block of partying.
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Music has some inhuman, even superhuman power to compel us to do certain things...
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When you party hard you live fast I imagine?
Yeah, but so fast that time doesn’t even move! Maybe that’s what you mean - that it’s like… in outer space, you know? Huge amounts of time are going by on earth, but out in space it could be like two minutes. It does feel like that.
There was a great story lately that you offered to pay the speeding fine of a perpetrator that was listening to the lead single ‘Music Is Worth Living For’. What is the worst crime is that you’d help someone out with, providing they had done it while listening to your music?
Probably stuff related to certain… substances. Or maybe certain intimate physical acts which may still be taboo, if not outright illegal in certain areas. I don’t know that I’ve helped anyone out literally in those ways. But it’s just like with the speeding incident - music has some inhuman, even superhuman power to compel us to do certain things, it takes over to some extent.
I have been in that situation many times, so I could really relate to what Luke (the guy caught speeding) experienced. Again it’s kind of like that time that’s gone by, you know? I’ve been accelerating with my foot on the gas of life for the last almost 20 years largely unbeknownst to me. I’ve just been hurtling down this path of destiny due to the power of the endeavour itself!
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What else besides music is worth living for?
To have a mission or purpose that either presents itself to you or that you are bound up in manifesting. To have this quest that is beyond your own self-interest, if you can be as lofty as thinking you’re contributing something to the world at large…
I don’t know if I ever really thought about it like that. I feel like I’m a servant to this thing itself - the music, but mainly the feeling that the music makes, that all the stuff I do makes. Even you and I talking now, when someone reads this interview I hope the same feeling comes out of this piece, this life force feeling.
It’s a kind of optimism, but not a cloudy emotional impression, a real physical shock to your system that tells us that there is more going on than we can ever appreciate! And it’s pointing towards beauty and goodness and some kind of benevolence. Serving that is worth living for.
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It’s a kind of penetrating power that you’re trying to articulate and express...
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Reading your very eloquent response to being named Person of the Year by the American Association of Suicidology, I was struck by the same uplifting feeling that your music inspires. Would you say that your songs are more than just the tracks recorded for your albums?
That’s very kind of you to say! That’s the way I like to look at it. That’s what keeps me from feeling overwhelmed, like I’m spreading myself too thin in too many different directions. It’s one direction that is forward and upward and kind of omnidirectional. It’s a kind of penetrating power that you’re trying to articulate and express, and the beauty of humanity is that you we do have all these incredible means of expression we can use to shape and form this elusive and rather mysterious quality.
I didn’t invent music, I didn’t invent talking or writing, but I’m very thankful that I get to use these things to give form and texture to it so it can be encountered, even if it can just be encountered by me!
It's a beautiful painting of you and your microphone that adorns the cover. It's far less close up than the pictures of you on previous records, was that to show off the gains you've been making?
That’s a great observation! I mean, there were a number of reasons to make it more zoomed out that before. One was so that I could inhabit this beautiful environment that was created in the painting, but also, though there have been musical releases where you could see my full white outfit from head to toe, we never really stated as bluntly as we could of.
So on this album cover there’s a stillness - a static tension that I noticed is quite contradictory to the intensity of the music, which is quite dense and has a lot of energy. This is a still energy and I realised that all my album covers are like that - very still moments, like a mugshot or something quiet. Yeah, I wanted to zoom out on that.
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What made you start putting a microphone in your trousers?
The microphone in the pants evolved out of needing a quick and accessible place to put the it when I play keyboard. I had seen other people do it over the years and thought ‘Aw, that’s such a great way to do it’, because I never wanted to use a mic stand at the front of the stage, I wanted to be able to have a handheld mic and run around! I can’t get it in my pocket easily but I could always pull my pants out and jam it in there so it was right there ready to go.
Now it’s just become muscle memory. I never even really thought about what it meant or how it looked. You’re following these impulses that are beyond or beneath your mind’s understanding, so there are many ways to interpret it but I don’t usually think that far ahead. Obviously people could consider that there’s a sexual aspect to it, but there is is then it’s deep in my subconscious.
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I think the party gods themselves are the best planners of my destiny...
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By the end of your career do you reckon you’ll have managed to use the word 'party' more than the Beatles used the word 'love'?
That’s a tall order, but I’m going for it.
Which is better?
Are you a good party planner?
Planning is something I’ve struggled with! I think the party gods themselves are the best planners of my destiny and parties in general, and the more we can turn ourselves over to their plan and do their bidding the better, as no one can plan a party better than the party gods themselves. They give the orders and assignments and tasks. I’m just here to fulfil their demands.
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Andrew W.K.’s new album ‘You’re Not Alone’ is out now.
Words: Josh Gray
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