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.
Well, that leads up to one of my next questions. I consider you somewhat of a renaissance man. You play and write music, you’re classically trained, you’ve written jingles for commercials, you’ve appeared on TV in a variety of roles, and you’re a producer. What was behind your decision to actually go and do the self-help and the motivational talks? With all respect, how did you manage to get people like Ivy Leaguers to take you seriously?
I don’t know, it still blows my mind that I was ever even let into Yale at all, on that campus, or Harvard, or any of these places. The fact that anybody wants to listen to anything I have to say, let alone 60 or 70 year old professors, was very intimidating and very nerve-wracking, especially since I never prepared for any of that, the lectures. I’m very interested in new-age self-help and self-help philosophy in general, and wanted to further that.
My managers encouraged it and gave me the idea to begin doing lectures as an extension of the same kind of feeling we’re trying to get across through all the work. You’re very flattering to me when you call me a “renaissance man,” but really, all I’m doing is just working in the entertainment industry, and there’s a lot of beautiful, different realms within that umbrella. But, a true renaissance man would probably be also good at math, able to fix a car, or at least fix a flat tire, or write good. You know, that kind of stuff. I use the best skills that I’ve developed within the limited, but very, very exciting, and in some ways, infinite, world of show business.
Do you continue to contribute to Rockin’ On with your advice columns, in Japan?
Yes, yes! I’ve been doing that–holy smokes. We have been doing the advice column in Rockin’ On magazine (which is probably the best international rock magazine in Japan), and it hadn’t even dawned on me now, it’s been since 2002. So, we are pretty much at 10 years there. Wow. I didn’t realize that. We did a book too. After the five year anniversary, we released a compilation book. So, maybe it’s time to do another book. There’s a lot of advice in there.
In addition to playing with others, you’ve also produced a few acts, including Wolf Eyes and Lee “Scratch” Perry. What was it like working with Perry? Are there more plans in the future for you to do more reggae?
Working with Lee “Scratch” Perry – I’ve had no more powerful and rewarding experience in my life. Being in his presence, let alone getting to facilitate his vision or serve him in any way has been one of the great privileges and honors in my life. And I don’t really like saying the word “honor,” but I just don’t know how else to say it. He is as advanced as a person can possibly be, as self-realized as an individual an artist can ever get. And the older that he’s gotten, the more advanced he’s gotten. He’s a true magician, and a true master. Just getting to even speak about him now is making my life more rich. If he would ever allow me to work with again, that would be great. Reggae music is one thing, and Lee “Scratch” Perry is a whole ‘nother.
Were you surprised with the Grammy nomination [Best Reggae Album, 2009]?
Oh, absolutely, but not entirely. He’s been nominated and had won Best Reggae Album before. But it certainly was exciting for me.
Let’s switch off of music for a second, if we can. How did you get involved with Destroy, Build, Destroy and do you have any plans to return to television?
Well…yeah. I want to do as much TV as possible. I love television, I love the atmosphere, especially creating it. Working with this incredible team of people to make something that doesn’t even really exist, much like music. It’s a moment in time; it’s experiential. You can build a house and then live in it, but when you build a TV show, or build a song, all you’re doing is putting sounds and lights up on a screen, or sound waves out of a speaker. You’re just trying to make someone feel some certain way.
That, to me, is like the future of humanity. We’ve already seen it happening with technology, and, of course, the computer, which I consider a very direct extension of the human spirit as it is. But you don’t even need to buy a physical object in terms of a CD, or a DVD, or VHS tape, or anything now to get this experience. It can be purely information traveling over different devices and different modes of delivering that. I consider it the greatest field or industry to work in because we’re not making stuff, we’re just making feelings.
Unless, of course you destroy them before you build them.
Well, that’s true. We do destroy a lot of stuff, and we’ve piled a lot of garbage and things into the landfill, but we always use our stuff as efficiently as possible and re-use it. On Destroy, Build, Destroy, whatever car we blew up, that was already a junked car. All that weaponry and all that TNT and all the destruction on there, at least it’s done for the sake of joy and entertainment and making young people feel excited, rather than trying to hurt someone or fight a war or something. I hope that in the future all weapons and all explosions will happen just in the movies and on TV.
With regards to the legal matters: you did an “Ask Andrew WK Anything” night. Is there any plan for you to do that again or was that just as a means for you to clear the air regarding your legal issues at the time?
I’m continually impressed with your preparation and research and knowledge with all this. Thank you, first of all. That was basically a press conference that I was encouraged to do by some of the folks that I had been working with. And that was during an extremely stressful time for me personally, and with Andrew W.K. And I think it ended up being a mistake to do that talk, and to try to answer the questions the way that I was advised to.
Of course, I’m not trying to blame anybody else. I’m not being controlled; I think for myself. But I do take advice, like anybody would, from people that I’ve worked with for a long time, and that was just a situation that we were trying to deal with: essentially, everything from little rumors and myths to full-blown accusations and lies. Over the years, I’ve tried many different ways of dealing with that, like anybody who has people accusing them of stuff. Sometimes ignoring it works, sometimes confronting it head on works, and sometimes trying to twist it back works, or doesn’t work. I’ve tried every which way. That was one of those ways. It did not work, so now I’m back into the ignoring it.
So, you would not want to ever entertain another night where you would just have people come up and ask you questions regarding stuff?
Well, we could definitely always ask me anything anyone would ever want, but I’m not gonna answer the way I did that night. Someone had told me that might be a good way to do it, but it only made things much, much worse. But I’ve learned. That’s the beautiful thing about life. That old saying “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,” not only that, it’s what doesn’t kill you teaches you something.
You worked on a film called Poltergeist years ago where the soundtrack had been lost, but recently I read that it had been found. Are there any plans to actually release that?
Actually, it wasn’t that soundtrack that was lost. I have been in possession of that recording the whole time. It was an album called You Are What You Eat that I had lost. But that did get re-found. I’ve done my best to save, and archive, and keep track of everything. It’s very stressful. I had the entire recording of the I Get Wet album documented on video, and then the video and all the tapes were stolen out of our van in New York City one night. It was just devastating. And, obviously, the gods did not want that to be seen or exist. Maybe somewhere out there someone watched those tapes, but I imagine they just wound up in the trash. And there’s other things that I’ve lost or misplaced over the years or have been erased that it’s so painful to think about. The only comfort I can find is to just have faith they weren’t meant to exist, and that the guardian angel did not want me to do that, or didn’t want people to hear it, or didn’t want it to be around anymore.
Other than that, I do have the Poltergeist recording and I’m amazed that you’re familiar with it. Have you seen that movie?
No, I haven’t.
Ok, maybe we should release that movie and the soundtrack. I really like the music a lot. I think it’s really cool. I would love to put it out. That’s a great idea.
Is the movie available to watch?
I know Aaron Dilloway has the movie. I don’t own…I may have a DVD copy of it. Aaron Dilloway’s a solo musician. He was also a founding member of the band Wolf Eyes. He was a kid I grew up with in Michigan and idolized, who was only so kind to take me under his wing, so to speak, and really mentor me, and introduce me to all kinds of stuff. He’s an incredible, incredible, incredible person. One of his many skills is that he’s an incredible archivist. Really, like a real archivist, like a librarian-level archivist. So, he has that movie and all kinds of other stuff. Some stuff he’ll show me when I go to his house that I don’t even remember making. It’s just incredible. I’m endlessly grateful to him in millions of ways, not least of which is his archiving skills.