*Feature originally ran on 9/13/17.
When he’s not focusing on his music, Andrew W.K. works with the spoken word as a motivational speaker. This may be a bit of a surprise to people who only know him as the metal madman synonymous with partying hard, but the Michigan-raised musician is a living example of a book not to be judged by its cover.
The TrunkSpace chat with Andrew W.K. is a perfect example of this. We could have talked the entire time about his new tour and forthcoming album, but instead we pressed forward, beyond the surface subjects to delve deeper – so deep that we were no longer conducting an interview, but having a conversation. Two people existing in the same space, embracing the time of our individual overlap.
We spoke about life. We spoke of humanity’s collective journey. We spoke about the “joy zone,” a place we could all serve to visit more often. And through it all, Andrew’s vivacity and passion for the topics discussed became as breathable as the air itself, entering our lungs and exhaling back into the universe as positive energy hell bent on partying.
Consider us motivated!
TrunkSpace: Over the years, your promo images project you to be an intense, intimidating guy, and yet every interview we’ve read or watched with you, you are the absolute opposite of that. Do you feel like people perceive you in a way that you are not?
Andrew W.K.: I don’t know. You’d have to as them, I guess. Sometimes I meet people who say I’m taller than they thought I was or that they thought I would be more rough. I like contrast. That’s probably the main aesthetic that surrounds my personal approach to this. Contrast.
TrunkSpace: You have always seemed to have a strong awareness of personal brand and how you present yourself to the masses. How important has that been to your music and your career in general?
Andrew W.K.: Well, I feel like I’m a representative. I feel like I’m on a mission. I have a quest. I’ve been fortunate enough to be entrusted, in a very small but nonetheless significant or meaningful way, with the opportunity that I’ve been given. That opportunity is meant to achieve joy for myself, but more importantly, others as well. My joy is in creating their joy. If no one else was there, I would still enjoy it, but it’s more rewarding and the end goal is to try to conjure up, amplify, and hit this joy zone point. I have a set of tools and resources to work with to get to that place and since I’m a representative of that joy feeling, ultimately I feel like it’s important that if someone is out there looking for that joy feeling, that they are as aware as possible that they could potentially find access to that joy zone through me, through my humble offerings.
I’ve thought of it a lot of different ways, but it seems like the best way to describe it is like a casino in Las Vegas. Each casino is trying to draw people in and one of them uses really, really extravagant neon lights and another one uses a giant, waving cowboy, and another one uses an Egyptian theme with a giant black glass pyramid and a recreation of the Sphinx. They all have something to offer but at the end of the day, it’s a similar experience, which I guess is to win money. That’s not how it goes most of the time as we are well aware. Talk about contrast and ups and downs! That’s why I like Las Vegas so much, it’s really a land of contrast. This complete void, abyss, desert, then all of a sudden this oasis of extremely dense intensity. Extreme darkness and then extreme light all concentrated in this one electrical blowout. This idea of winning money or severe loss. It’s pain and joy, up and down.
Anyway, each one is saying, “Hey, come in here, you can get what you’re looking for in here!” Again, there’s a subversive, slightly sinister quality when it involves that kind of money but they still have something to offer and they’re trying to get you there. Well, I have something to offer, which actually does still involve some of the same things. There’s commerce involved in what I’m doing. I’m trying to make a living and all that, but really, I’m trying to say, “Hey, I’m working on an access point to that joy zone too.” Some people might get it through pizza, some people might get it through going to the movies, so there’s all these ways to try to get to that joy zone to try to validate the human experience as being a worthwhile experience, that being alive is a good thing. “Here is what I have to offer that’s meant to confirm that.” As a representative of that, I am trying to be, not necessarily the loudest or most extravagant or flamboyant or even ostentatious, but I am trying to be able to be located.
TrunkSpace: If the joy zone was a television, Andrew W.K. would be one channel on that television?
Andrew W.K.: Yes. Definitely. Channel 13.
TrunkSpace: It seems like as a country, as a world, we are in a very weird place politically and socially. Do you think people are looking for escapism, looking for that joy zone, more now than even 10 years ago?
Andrew W.K.: I could see why someone might think that. Perhaps it would be correct. But I imagine that 10 years earlier and 10 years from now, the same thing would still apply. We’re always looking for the joy zone. This is the human experience. There’s always going to be strife and struggle. There will always be what seemed like better times in the past and a better time in the future just out of reach. The point is to let the challenges that face us not pull us down, but bring the best out of us and sometimes, yeah, like you’re saying, tapping into that joy zone isn’t the escape, it’s the fuel that helps us rise to a higher level and not succumb to our worst potentials. We always need that. Humanity is always on the precipice, it’s part of its defining characteristic. I don’t know why. It seems inescapable. Maybe it’s our cross to bear, our punishment. Maybe it’s the test we have to pass, or maybe that’s just the nature of reality is that it’s always going to take everything we have, it’s always going to be extraordinarily intense, and just accepting that is the only way to temper that intensity. But, wishing or pining or lamenting the challenges is certainly not going to solve them, it’s only going to make it seem more overwhelming. We are worthy of rising to face these problems on a global scale, on a national scale, on a communal scale, or a community scale, and most of all, on a personal scale. If all of us, and myself first and foremost as I’m speaking for myself, if we did the best we could about us, about your own self, turn inward and not in a head-in-the-sand way. It’s very overwhelming to try to imagine saving the world. “What’s the one thing that I could do better about me? Could I be more patient? Could I be more thoughtful? Could I be quicker to correct my own shortcomings than to point my finger at someone else’s shortcomings? What am I messing up?”
If we did that, that would go a long way to addressing a lot of these very vast and overwhelming expansive global problems, I think.
TrunkSpace: We spoke to Henry Rollins some years ago and we were discussing a similar subject and he said, “If everybody just put in a thimble of water, eventually we’d get an ocean.”
Andrew W.K.: There you go.
TrunkSpace: Sometimes people take on too much responsibility as opposed to just taking on what they’re capable of.
Andrew W.K.: Yeah, and that’s why it can feel so overwhelming and maybe it’s meant to. It is crushing, but when it gets so crushing, then you have no choice but just focus on, “Okay, I’m going to take a breath. Now I’m going to let that breath out. Now I’m going to put one foot forward. Now I’m going to put the other foot forward.”
You can break life down into a very manageable sense of being and realize that’s all you can do anyway.
TrunkSpace: What’s so fascinating about music, particularly in a live setting, is that you get all of these people under one roof who perhaps in any other circumstance wouldn’t find common ground, but here they all are entering the joy zone with Andrew W.K. together. That’s powerful.
Andrew W.K.: Yeah, it’s beautiful, it really is. I know exactly what you’re talking about and that’s probably one of the absolute greatest things about getting to do this. And it’s not just to be part of creating that, but just to be in the presence of it. It’s where all the other stuff is just let go. It’s like when all the other stuff is just stripped away or dropped for a moment, all that’s left is the truth, which is that we’re all human beings and we’re here.
TrunkSpace: And in this day and age, we’re losing our sense of community, but in a club or venue, all seeing the same band or artist, that really is a community, even if it is for a short period of time.
Andrew W.K.: Yeah, sure. I agree. It’s very uplifting, it’s very fulfilling, and as a younger person, I was really excited for my own concert experiences or seeing shows specifically by the fact that I was seeing people around me, kids in school, that I knew didn’t like me, that were kind of mean to me for very, in my opinion, very superficial reasons. It was about how my hair was or what clothes I wore or what music I listened to or didn’t listen to… sorta that I wasn’t doing things right. But that moment, none of that existed and when I realized that there were moments when all that fell away and that whatever was left, that’s who those people really were and that’s who I really was. It wasn’t all this decoration on top of this true self, it was what was there when all the decoration, when all that was stripped away, that there was something that couldn’t even really be defined, it could only be experienced and that that was in every person. Even the people who weren’t in that venue at that time. I got so excited about that idea of specifically being able to have a good experience even with your enemy and that they counted too, they were a human too whether they liked it or not.
TrunkSpace: In terms of just the music side of what you do, there’s so much passion in your voice talking about it both from the live performance perspective and in the creation of it. What kept you away from the full band experience for so long and what brought you back?
Andrew W.K.: Well, partying. Partying took me away and partying brought me back. I guess that’s sort of like what Homer Simpson said about beer, but it also works for just partying in general. I mean, life in general. Life took me away, life brought me back. It wasn’t a lot of decision making formally, for better or worse. There wasn’t a choice. Also, it should be said out of respect for my band members that we never stopped playing. We were playing festivals, we were playing one offs, we were very active. I was touring in all different kinds of capacities as well, so there was no shortage of activity. But I guess for me or for this operation, there does have to be at some point, some kind of formal declarative effort that we’re going to do this or we’ll just continue on doing whatever. I’m very fortunate and very lucky, and don’t take it for granted at all, there were so many opportunities that I didn’t need to plan out anything, something would just happen. Oftentimes, the things that would happen or the opportunities that would be offered to me, were more exciting or interesting than an opportunity I would even dream up to pursue.
The last time I tried, for example, to record a new album, which I’ve been trying to do, really. It wasn’t for lack of trying, I’ve been trying to record a new album for the last, well, for this whole time, the last 10 years. It takes a very long time for me to record primarily just because I record alone and it’s more of assembling… building a house by yourself or something. It takes months versus a couple weeks or so. This last one actually took a year and the last time we tried to plan it out, it was in 2013 and that had been after many other attempts at clearing out the time and each time, something really exciting came up that I didn’t feel like I could miss. In 2013, I remember being on tour, specifically, I was on a solo tour, and I said, “Okay, when this tour is done, that’s it, I’m going to carve out the next three months. Even if we can’t get the whole album done, at least it’ll be underway, it’ll officially be happening.”
I have had these songs and parts floating around and in various stages of completion for years, since 2005 or 2006. I remember this moment, it was in San Antonio, Texas I believe, and I got a call from my manager. He said, “Well, I guess we won’t be able to record the album for those three months.” I said, “Why? What are you talking about? We made an agreement, a promise to ourselves that we were going to turn down any offer.” He said, “Well, you just got offered an opening heavy metal DJ slot for the Black Sabbath North American tour.”
There would never have been a part of my mind that would dare to dream up that kind of opportunity and say, “Hey, go tell Black Sabbath that I want to be their DJ.” When something like that came up, I couldn’t resist. I felt like I had to do that kind of thing. Anyway but there’s always been a destiny feeling to this work that I’ve tried to embrace where you just follow the omens or you follow that deepest instinct and it would be nice to say we planned it all out this way but it sort of feels like it’s planning us. That’s how I feel.
TrunkSpace: A lot of times people want to define a musician’s legacy by his or her songs, their hits, their mainstream success. What do you want your legacy to be when all is said and done?
Andrew W.K.: Just party. My main goal beyond the feeling I’m trying to give someone, if there’s a way that I’m going to be marked down in the index of life or music, I just want my name and partying to be synonymous. That’s my goal. Party hard, whatever, the bloody nosed guy. To exist at all is almost impossible. If I can pull that off in some kind of a blurry outline of a filthy guy in white clothes with stringy hair and a bloody nose singing about partying, that’s more than enough. That would be a tremendous achievement, if I could actually bring that into a long lasting standing. That’s the goal.
Andrew W.K.’s “The Party Never Dies” tour kicks off tomorrow in Atlanta, GA.