Interview with Andrew W.K.: Mr. Spontaneity

This experience has pushed you to do more in other areas as well. In 2006, you started a lecture series?

Yeah, 2006 was the first one at NYU. They were the first people to invite me formally to do the lecture. I imagined it was going to be for a music class or a music business class and that I was going to talk about very literal experiences in the music industry or entertainment business. But they clarified, very early that this was a completely open forum where I could talk about whatever the hell I wanted. Like, that’s sort of what they called it. I was really excited and blown away by that. That they would invite me to just say, whatever. The freedom of that, what seemed at first like it could be kind of a specific, maybe even boring experience can actually be a totally wide open free-for-all of just pure performance. Who knows what’s going to happen, it’s just you and the stage.

The whole idea was that these people are going to be in a room together, including me. What’s going to happen? What’s it going to feel like? What are we going to do? What are we going to talk about? So I just didn’t prepare and left everything to be completely spontaneous and it just went from there. I feel like it’s helped my ability to perform in general a great deal. That’s how I knew it was the right thing to do, it was so terrifying. I love that feeling of when you just expose the most vulnerable side of yourself. Exposing them to yourself is the most intense thing, but through performance you can expose it to the world and ideally help people expose themselves to themselves. Somehow through that process of destroying the ego, you also enrich it or you’re able to use it in a more productive way. The ego is great, it can drive and compel and it creates a very helpful template to experience the world and a sense of yourself. It’s also very fun to cut it down and rebuild it and examine it and just do away with it at times because it feels very exciting.

Well, sure. You just got married; you should know that your ego is not going to be the only one.

Yes, that’s a very good example, cause it’s true. Before I got married all my relationships fit into me. I was the umbrella to everybody; my friends, girlfriends, family, but getting married certainly helps snap everything into perspective in that you’re not the only one that exists. Even if you are, you’d certainly like to believe that this person you married also exists, not just as a figment of your imagination but has a real mind too that is equal or just as important or more important to you than yours. I had never really felt that before, certainly about my family, but couldn’t conceive of it as much until I was married. Love is to me is where all that you want for that person is that you just want them to be running through a field smiling and laughing. Where nothing gives you greater joy that for that other person to be in a pure state of joy. That’s been made really clear to me through marriage.

I’ve seen a couple of promo shots where there’s basically a faceless Andrew W.K. Does that have anything to do with this sense of ego-loss?

The funny thing, by nature of it being blank is that you can read into it whatever you want. I wanted the focus to be on the two album covers, I figured there’s already two faces; it’s kind of unusual to have the same person’s face more than once on a cover. It’s already there twice and to have it there three times just didn’t feel right. The choice was made to take away the extra face. The third face wasn’t necessary.

[But] that’s a very valid and equally worthwhile interpretation. That’s what’s so fun about [art]. When the answer is not evident the imagination is activated to fill in the blanks. That’s how we get through the world. It’s a process of illumination, but if we do away with all the darkness, we wouldn’t need to use all our faculties to explore.

Tell me a little something about the Mother Of Mankind side of this record. Where did these tracks come from?

Those have been around actually before 1999 when the songs began being created up until very recently.

So, essentially material you didn’t choose to use on previous releases?

Yeah, all kinds of stuff. A lot of them were being saved for later albums. For example ‘I’m A Vagabond’ is being released as a 7” single. That song will be on my next album, but it was recorded In 2005 [or] 2006. We’ve had that surplus on all the albums, where we’ve been saving songs. The original writing sessions for, what became I Get Wet and The Wolf were going on in ’98, ’99 and 2000. There’s quite a few songs on here from that era as well like ‘High Five,’ ‘I’ve Got No Fear,’ ‘Big Party,’ ‘Becoming Bad,’ ‘Kicks and Bricks,’ ‘AWK.’

Some of these appeared on very early EPs I released in different versions, and then some appeared as bonus tracks on different releases such as Close Calls With Brick Walls, Asia or other Japanese releases. Then there’s some stuff that has never been heard by anybody that’s really, really new or just recently finished.

Then there’s some stuff that isn’t finished at all. The majority, not all of it, but a good portion of this music I never imagined anyone would hear; if not ever, at least not in this state. That was, again, what you brought up about this ego idea. That was a very scary and painful idea of exposure. This is material I would play for someone who came over the studio who wanted to hear what I had laying around. It had never been decided how it was going to be released and how it was going to be presented. So it was a really intense for me to have it all on here. But I went along with it, and I agreed that it was a good plan, because we were going to include a lot of bonus tracks on the re-release of Close Calls With Brick Walls, anyway. So, if we’re going to be getting out this album, which for me is an older album now, let’s get out all this other old material once and for all. So, there’s a nice sense of closure, even if I feel my pants are around my ankles.

Well, that same feeling of exposure you also got with the 55 Cadillac album I would imagine?

Oh yeah, well that was sort of the ultimate, ‘cause there’s not even any overdubbing or anything in there. That was the most I could do in terms in recording at that point. I guess you could go further by just like breathing on an album or saying illicit things and recording it, but at the same time actually trying to play involves this effort and risk that just breathing doesn’t involve. So, it’s showing people what I’m able to do, and that was pretty humiliating too. If I’m doing overdubs and tons of production I can just fix it and get it however I want, no matter how hard it is to play. Playing everything live like that, and I had no idea what I was going to play next and it was just kind terrifying. You can’t spell awkward without ‘AWK.’

That’s good.

There’s some real power in that feeling, and it’s not an accident that I go there.

Is this coming out on Universal or is this coming out through your own label?

This is coming out now through the label we have set up in London. I had started this label—it was called Skyscraper Music Maker before.

Yeah, that’s what I’m understanding is what it’s called.

Yeah, well it’s not called that anymore. I did set this up, and it was very exciting because this was the first time I was gonna have this kind of control in years. I mean to put out anything that I could ever want to, anytime. That is just like a drug. I admit, I just couldn’t help that sense of freedom, I said ‘here we go, I’m gonna do that piano album ‘cause this is my chance, I’m finally, completely free.’ The brief story is that immediately after its release was announced, different people who I’ve worked with over the years brought up the fact that what we had thought was a loophole to release the material in this way wasn’t as clear as we had thought. Or wasn’t as loophole-like as we had hoped. Fortunately everything is fine and, due to new negotiation the name has been changed basically just due to credit.

There’s a lot I can’t say but, what I can say is that all that’s changed is the name of the label. The people who want to get credit are getting credit in this roundabout way that they want to get credit so people don’t think it’s my thing.

Why have a record label at this point when you can just release stuff on your own?

Exactly, I mean that’s sort of what was the idea before but because of decisions I willingly made, a long time ago, I do take responsibility, I have contractual restrictions or obligations or arrangements that allow me to do what I’m doing now. So I’m grateful for that, it’s certainly a step forward, I think. Just being able to put out music, I’m glad for that. It should be very much understood that I am grateful for all the people for all the people I work with and do things the way we’ve done them and no one is to blame for me being in the situation that I’m in but this is the best that we’re able to do. This is how it was meant to be, is how I like to think of it.

This Destroy, Build, Destroy Show. How much of it was influenced by mid-‘90s Nickelodeon shows like Guts or Legends of the Hidden Temple? I watched the show and you know, that’s sort of my age bracket—I’m a couple years younger than you are—but when I see your show, I immediately think of those shows.

Well, yeah. I spent a lot of time watching those shows, all kinds of shows from that era, and [I] was just a very big fan of competitive live action game shows that involved fantasy-type situations. Either the prizes or the challenges themselves or the scale of the environment. Destroy Build Destroy is a very pure effort to amplify those basic desires that I think all people have to see things explode, to take risks, to push oneself to the limit, both physically and mentally and be rewarded again.

So a lot of the basic elements of that type of competitive, live action, physical game show is really at the heart of it, but it’s been completely overdriven by having these 500-foot fireballs, which I have never seen on any other TV show. That one key element is so unprecedented that it pushes the whole experience into overdrive. The episodes coming up next month, actually are just taking that times ten because we’re getting WWE wrestlers in the show, and we have monster trucks on top of the explosions and the bazookas and the tanks and everything else.

I really think that it’s the ultimate fantasy for perhaps, what many people think would be a young boy, but there’s also an even amount of girls of the show too and they actually seem more hale and hearty for a lot of the more hearty than the guys do. The funny part is, on the show, is the guys have elected the girls to take the most challenging risks. Whenever it comes down to ‘Okay team, each person votes to have one player to participate in this one very difficult challenge.’ And they say, ‘Okay, we pick Crystal,’ or ‘We pick Cynthia.’

The show is amazing and at the same time, it actually deals with these same ideas that we’re talking about. In terms of the competitive drive that comes with one type of ego and then the kind of soul-crushing loss that is experienced on the show, affects the ego in a different way. When someone has their vehicle blown up at the end of the show, the losing team has to let go of six hours of hard labor under the sun, welding together this machine and then competing with it in very grueling exercises. To see all that work going away, even for us filming the show, all this stuff, these man hours, all the things we could be doing with this time and money and here’s what we’re doing.

All it exists as just light and sound on the screen for a brief amount of time. It’s a really wild experience. We’re destroying, we’re rebuilding and we’re destroying and that’s a good way to go through life. Everything that is created is something that was destroyed. Even if you’re making a sandwich you destroy the wheat to make the bread and you destroy the bread when you slice it and you destroy the tomato when it’s sliced and put on there and the milk has been destroyed in the cheese etcetera. And the animal was destroyed and then you create the sandwich and it helps create you and then you destroy it when it becomes shit. [Laughs] But then that creates something else when you use it as fertilizer. We’re dealing with the primal forces of life on this show.

Absolutely, it seems more realistic than like, climbing the Agrocrag or something like that.

Well, thank you. It is pretty intense.

Between all the roles that you have, which one is the most fun? It seems like a lot of what you do, besides for the positive aspects that we’ve been talking about, a lot of it looks just looks like a hell of a lot of fun. Which one do you enjoy most?

It’s all incredible fun, I really think of all of it as one thing that Andrew W.K. needs to be Andrew W.K. All the stuff comes with it and it seems like a very seamless integration for me, maybe because it seems like this thing that you do. Otherwise, I guess it would be really overwhelming.

I see it all out in front of me, it’s not really in my head, it’s just laid out, and I just go through it. The joy, the sense of wonder, the sense of disbelief that I experience on a daily basis is the greatest drug in the world. I just can’t believe that I get to do this stuff. What comes out of that is a drive to just do it the best I can. To take these opportunities that somehow I’ve gotten and really do my best for anybody else who would ever want that opportunity for themselves or for me as a younger person who would have dreamed of having that opportunity. That idea of staying true to what you dreamed of as a young person is very powerful to me. I think if you can be fortunate enough to make the decision to pursue those dreams and not give up on them at any cost. Life will bend to your will, I think. Those dreams which you have as a child, which are oftentimes said by many to be the most naïve or silly, but at the same time they are often the most pure and the most true to themselves that have just emerged from the blackness. Why not pursue it and do it a great respect?

You had mentioned that you do have a forthcoming album, I believe you had talked in the past that you are working on a book and you’ll be on the Warped Tour this year?

Yes, Warped Tour is very exciting. This will be my first nationwide tour with a full band since… Wow


Maybe even 2004 or ’05. This is a huge deal for me and the whole band and we’re just so excited. That will be leading up to a new album at some point as soon as possible, as well. The book is something I have been working on for a while now and I have faith that it will happen at the right time and I’m very excited about it.

Andrew W.K. performs at Santos Party House on Feb. 23. Close Calls With Brick Walls / Mother Of Mankind is available March 9.