Andrew W.K. wears a lot of different hats, and almost all of them are for partying. The songwriter/producer/club owner/motivational speaker/ game show has been encouraging the party for 10 years now, kicking out fun rock anthems along the way. Now on tour in support of the 10th anniversary of his debut LP, I Get Wet, Consequence of Sound had a chance to chat with W.K. about his legal issues, hard-partying persona, popularity in Japan, and his interest in improvised piano.
It’s the 10th anniversary of your debut full length, I Get Wet. On the tour, is the idea to play the album from A to Z, or simply play all the material from the album regardless of sequence?
We don’t have that many songs on the album, so we won’t be able to play A to Z, but we can play A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L. A to L. There’s 12 songs, and we will play them in that order, album order, front to back, the I Get Wet album in its entirety, which we have never done before. It’s been a really interesting experience.
Are you only going to be playing music from that era and before, or are you going to play other stuff too?
Yes, we will [play other material]. We will. Because it’s just too much fun not to play. Wait, no sorry. It’s not fun to not play the other stuff. It’s too much fun to resist playing the other music as well. We’ll play all of I Get Wet in album order, and then we’ll play songs from all the other albums. It’s a full-blown show.
This is your first headlining tour in seven years, right?
Well we’ve been touring, but it’s the first full band headlining world tour in, jeez, I mean, for some countries, even longer than seven years. Fortunately, the band and I have found ways to keep active whether it’s doing the entire Warped Tour or doing special tours; but, as far as a world-wide tour, this is the first one in a long time. And that’s fully my fault. I take responsibility. I made some very poor…well not poor…business decisions, but personal and business decisions that had fine print and requirements that I didn’t fully understand. But the good thing is that they’ve all been resolved, and now look at us–we are bigger, back, and better than ever.
How does it feel to be back on the road?
I’ve never enjoyed playing concerts more. I think when you don’t get to do something you love, and then you get to do it again, your appreciation, and gratitude, and your general understanding of the entire experience really goes through the roof. I think it’s the best shows that I’ve ever played. I feel stronger and better than ever. And I think the band that I have been privileged to play with, has never been sounding better or playing better either. There’s just more energy and dance moves than ever before, more headbanging than I’ve ever done.
Are you going to hurt yourself? Are you going to have to take insurance out for this tour?
Well, we have a lot of insurance, but I have a lot of guardian angels as well.
Nice. When you play live, have you ever included the rare material you’ve done, like the J-Pop songs you covered back in 2008?
That’s a great question. I’ve played some of the Japanese specific songs in Japan, but most folks outside of Japan aren’t familiar with those songs or that material. I’m amazed and very excited that you are.
I was kind of surprised how much you’ve done just in Japan. You’ve released a lot of things solely in Japan. In fact, what was it? I’m blanking on the album name. But, you just released one album that was only available on vinyl in the US that finally came out in 2010 on CD. But it was available for years…
Correct! You’re absolutely right. The album is called Close Calls With Brick Walls. The really easy explanation as to why we’ve done so much stuff there versus the rest of the globe: it’s because in that contract I signed, that was left out. It was almost a mistake on behalf of my handlers that they didn’t even notice it. But it allowed us to keep active and keep releasing music. Fortunately, once we resolved all these issues around 2009…working on those issues since 2005 when I was brought in. The beauty of it is, now that album is released the entire worldwide, Close Calls With Brick Walls. And it comes with a bonus disc, Mother of Mankind. You get 39 songs between those two discs. It was my way of making up, hopefully, for the delay there.
Wow. That’s a great gift for somebody, especially for a long-time fan.
Thank you, sir.
Many people who know you only know you as the party rockin’ dude, so they might be surprised to learn as a child you were actually trained in classical and jazz piano. When did you shift your focus? Was it just the teenage years and punk rock?
Well, definitely, I was very lucky and still am. Just very, very, very fortunate. I’ve been humbled by my good fortune throughout my entire life. Starting with my parents, they introduced me and almost forced me to learn piano at a very young age, and that gave me that foundation and appreciation, an understanding of music that sent me on this destined path. And, also, I get to blame them whenever they wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life. I say, “Well, hey, you shouldn’t have taught me music if you didn’t want me to do it.”
And, yeah, as I got older I found out about rock music and other instruments, like electric guitar and drums, and met all kinds of amazing people. I’ve had a lot of amazing mentors that introduced the world to me and blew my mind basically. And then I got hooked. I got completely addicted to that feeling of having your mind blown, and that’s what basically led to the invention of Andrew W.K., and started this whole adventure. I moved to New York City, signed up with some people, and they made my dreams come true for a very fair trade.
Do you think it was the success as Andrew W.K. that allowed you to do things like 55 Cadillac which was you improvising on piano?
Well, for sure. That album was many things. One, it was the first album that we ever released where it wasn’t carefully recorded, or carefully assembled and worked over. I mean, most of the albums take at least a year, if not two years, to record. It’s just a very slow process overdubbing all those tracks. This album was recorded in two hours. I had my hands tied legally during that time. It is possible, though, to play piano with your hands tied, just not very well (laughs). Here, on the piano there, it’s my best playing, just making up stuff as I go along.
But it was also a very embarrassing album to have people hear, because I didn’t think (and don’t think) it’s that good. I actually just heard it the other day. There are some parts in there that I think are really great, but I had to put out an album because of a contract, and it was sort of a middle finger to some of the people I had been working with…but that was all a bunch of drama. Fortunately, we are all friends again.
That’s kind of sad that you did it only as a middle finger, because I think it’s kind of interesting, the whole concept of you playing improvisational piano.
I was playing on the piano only using my middle finger…
Are you serious? (laughing)
As you can hear. Well, it’s quite limited, the abilities on display there.
With 55 Cadillac and your working with avant-garde musicians like To Live and Shave in LA and the Calder String Quartet, would you consider those interactions a way for you to stay connected with your classical and jazz roots?
It’s just a way for me to stay connected to my own soul…which has not been easy. I also like to do things that feel good to me, and getting to play with To Live and Shave in LA has been one of the great dreams and privileges of my life. When I was thirteen, I heard the first To Live and Shave album, and it literally destroyed my brain. I knew from that point on it was going to be, somehow, a part of my life.
That’s how life is supposed to work. You get such strong feelings from certain things. It could be a person, it could be a book, it could be a painting, it could be a song, it could be a place; it could be any experience. You get a lot of different feelings, but there’s that certain feeling that goes beyond liking something, and goes beyond enjoying something that is really your future giving you a little sneak preview of what is going to unfold for you. That’s something that I’ve gotten to experience more than most people have a right to. It’s also so satisfying and so fulfilling that it allows me to, hopefully, give back a lot of energy to the world, give that to people that can then make their dreams come true the way that I’ve gotten to.