‘We were born out of the UK, the party started there’ - Andrew W.K. chats about life, music and more
- Credit: Courtesy of Chuff Media
We caught up with party king Andrew W.K. ahead of his headline show at The Waterfront in Norwich on April 18.
This is the core question – which encompasses all the others: Who is Andrew WK? My questions won't take you to what we can find on Wikipedia – you are a prolific man, a musician, artist, writer and motivational speaker. But for me the answer and the core of who you want to be is in your lyrics, for instance those of ''Ever Again'' - which is one of my personal favourites from the new album.
They say that nobody changes
But I'm living proof that they do
Because I found the answer
And you can find the answer, too
I'll admit there were times I was terrified
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I honestly thought I wouldn't survive
But I learned a lot from my trip to the dark side
And from here on out I'll keep my light alive
What is the dark side for you, and what is the light that you try to keep alive?
Thank you for your insightful and thoughtful question and for wanting to dive in so deeply.
My songs are at the same time a way for me to be forthright and open with my own experiences but it's also a fantasy and a daydream of sorts when it comes to hopes and aspirations.
A part of me feels I have changed and another part feels I have not and would like to change more. I sometimes feel I have found the answer, or the answer of all answers and my calling and direction, and sometimes I feel I don't have any answers and will never get them.
Most of the time, my songs don't reflect a truth about myself that I have already experienced but what I am anticipating with hope – an aspirational reality that I am attempting to reach, and through the song – instead of thinking of how I already feel, I am thinking about the way I wish I felt, or hope that I'll feel someday.
After a point I realized I don't have the answers. I am singing about, I imagine I would be alright if I did have them. Now at the same time, talking in a more general sense, the idea of changing – I had a band member who used to think this is impossible, the core of the person remains always unchangeable. And I agree with him to an extent, that our shortcomings or flaws are part of our intrinsic nature, but I actually think that can change.
The character flaws that a person accumulates through life are piled on top of that inherent goodness that we have when we are born, and the loss of innocence and corruption of experience are not the true nature of the person. These are the false aspects of the person's nature.
A cynic would say that it doesn't make a difference but for me there is another point that says we don't have to struggle every day to do good - the goodness is there waiting to be unleashed. It's just obscured and held back through all our character flaws, weakness, confusion – the destruction and misguided thoughts and actions that stand in the way of who we really are – that is the darkness.
All you are really doing is changing into yourself – and you are born as yourself. Life gives us an opportunity to not only be but understand who we are through our experience of changing into it – back into it.
You are earning the right to be yourself through the trials and tribulations of experience. In my lyrics I also confront the cynic within myself and go deeper within myself. And I think through these illustrations that art gives us –music, lyrics, stories – we develop a skill to become who we are, to become self-actualized. And it's the hardest thing anyone can ever do and not everyone gets to do it in one lifetime. All our labours are part of becoming worthy of the extraordinary labour of having been born.
On your twitter you write 'music makes me feel alive'. You have songs with titles such as 'music is worth living for'. There is this main theme throughout your work, of music almost as a messianic force, as salvation. Is your music, your creative process, how you get to know yourself, how you become yourself, who you are meant to be, to the fullest?
It is one of the ways one can interact with music. What it has done for me is it has provided me with something undeniable that even at my most sceptical and negative attitude I cannot destroy or doubt. It is invincible and it shows me that it is a perfect phenomenon.
What makes music what it is for me is coming from a place of real truth. It shows me there is some undeniable goodness as it connects us. And once you have that, accepted that, you can build your sense of purpose around that thing because it is that strong. Something immortal and divine.
And once you have a divine presence in your life everything else can be against you/ in disarray, lost in confusion but you still have that pinpoint of clarity to focus on that will lead you and guide you.
So for me, the only way that I can survive is to have that sense of purpose and something to completely commit myself to. That forces me to be more than I am and gives me a reason to continue when I feel there is every reason to stop.
And the beauty of music is that anyone can experience it – people don't need a lengthy process/education to feel how music feels. I think that's why it is maybe the salvation of humanity, because it is within everyone's reach, it is angelic in its capacity to reach out and communicate that feeling, that power, to humanity.
There's been a hiatus in your musical production. It took you quite a while to release a new album since Gundam Rock/55 Cadillac and your exclusive Japanese releases of singles and EPs. What made you take this break from music, which you love so much, and concentrate on other activities? How have these fed into your work?
Well, I didn't really know I was taking a break. I never really decided to stop. I was talking before about my sense of purpose. I turned myself over so much to these forces that the controlled even mundane aspects of my lifestyle, such as scheduling, planning and opportunities – what I am going to do next.
I am not ambitious in the traditional sense other than to follow the path shown to me that took me into these other directions that I had very little experience with.
All the while I was playing music and performing and making music with others/for other people and I didn't even realize that, for example, ten years had passed since I had recorded my last album and was quite surprised when I did.
But I also admit that I had great personal struggles where I consciously went against what I knew was good and right and turned myself over to my worst side rather than the path of goodness – the dark aspects of my nature. A place that was very confusing and dark.
Motivational speaking seems to feed into your music, for example 'In your darkest moments' where you tell the listener that there is something wrong with life and that they should celebrate this fact, and this is what partying is all about…
Absolutely. Motivational speaking – I never imagined I would do that, but I did a vast amount of lectures over the past 13 years and writing for me is the same effort as music.
Trying to reach a place of undeniable power and harness that power. Take that feeling and use it as raw, energetic fuel.
Writing, talking, communicating can really work at the way of digging through confusion to reach some point of understanding. It certainly has influenced all other aspects of my work because I am trying as best as I can to get at the heart of the matter, of life, the heart of all things as far as such a thing is possible.
Another theme prevailing in your songs and work is that of partying. You speak of total freedom, and the devil that is on your side – like a rebel archetype.
It is about celebrating opposites, polarities in life. Too often we think in dichotomies – only the good, the light, or the dark, one side or the other. One direction or the other.
But the only way for us to really appreciate anything is because there is another side to contrast against it, and this is a basic aspect of human life that I am trying to portray – how we can liberate ourselves from struggle, from going only towards one or the other instead of the richness that comes from the totality.
Your work is millennial in the sense that it gained prominence in 2000 with 'Party Hard' and 'Girls Own Juice'. Would you say that today's millennials are your audience? Do you feel connected to this audience and what would you like to pass on to them, or bring back from the past if you could?
These are good questions. I don't know if I have ever felt connected to any particular age group, including my own age group more than any other.
I often relate and connect to people who are not my peers more deeply and easily than people who are my same age. Or there are times when I can't relate to anybody.
I address others on a person by person basis. I don't really understand age as segments of the population. I don't think anyone is benefitting from adhering too strictly to an inner sense of time or age.
Ideally I want to be completely liberated, detached from the phenomenon of time. I reach out to each member of my audience regardless of generation/age as one human being to another.
Who are your biggest influences and heroes in music and life?
My heroes were always the people I am surrounded with. My immediate family, my mum, dad, brother, my wife, my band, the people that I spend the most time with. These are the people I admire most, I am most grateful for – and I am realizing more and more that all our dreams, aspirations, goals, are just an excuse to be with people, even though we don't realize that at the time.
For instance if my whole band had to end tomorrow, I would realize the most valuable aspect of the entire effort wasn't something we necessarily got, earned or achieved, it would be the time I got to spend with these remarkable people. The influence they had on my character – even the negatives.
I think that is true for all of us, that we can look far beyond idols to emulate/aspire to be like.
When I was in high school I was most interested in the other students of my class – the bands that they had, I guess 'cause I had access to them. These were people that were right there. So why would I be fascinated by someone on TV or lived in another country or dead for 500 years? I couldn't deny the intensity of having an idol that was sitting on the other side of the room.
When did you first identify as a musician?
I started playing piano when I was about four, so I don't really remember a time when I was not playing music.
At the same time I never identified a moment when I said I am a musician, I still don't feel like that. I always see myself as simply a person and what I do as a part of me.
How would you describe your work to somebody who is a newcomer to your musical world? How does the new album fit into the AWK body of work? Is it an entirely new direction or another chapter in a story?
It is high intensity, high energy, joyous, triumphant, raucous, rock music. You party with it.
The new album is a step up the mountain. A place of pure party power. And I really really hope that everything that I'm doing for this cause is somehow getting me further up that mountain. Getting this vision closer to manifestation.
Sometimes something will pull me down the mountain, into the cave, or a cabin, but I will always try and climb up. I have to believe in order to do this, and climb back up.
I have to be telling myself I am climbing the mountain and I am using every resource I have to climb this mountain better and more efficiently and with even greater purpose. I may never reach my destination but this album is another attempt of getting to that place of pure, euphoric feeling.
You have a very strong relationship with the UK audience and fanbase. You have a strong bond with the UK as a writer as well as a musician, which you built through your monthly column for Front magazine. In what way is the UK special to you? Why do you think there is this particularly strong bond between you and fans in this country?
Well, I wish I could understand it in a more tangible sense, because then I could come up with some approach or technique or formula that could make the same reaction happen everywhere in the word!
What I may point out, which some people may not be aware of is that the first album in the whole AWK adventure did begin in the UK and we released there before anywhere else in the world.
The first AWK concert ever was in London. We were born out of the UK, the party started there so I'm always thankful for that. I always follow my instincts and creative impulses and I am very grateful that we did launch everything from the UK.
Where do you see your journey taking you from here musically? What are you keen to explore in the next few years?
I have no idea. We will play as many songs as we can over the next year, hopefully next two years and go on with the party.
What should we expect of the upcoming show?
The people that I'm playing with right now – we are at the highest level we've ever been as a band. And that's because of them. That's because of the band members.
I am extraordinarily lucky, to have these people as my band now. And everyone who has ever been in my band has been incredible. They have all contributed to get us to now. After 20 years of party I'd hope you practice and get better.
So my expectation is that we will all go beyond our means, giving everything we have to the show.
The final words are yours…I want you to close this interview any way you want, your own message.
I just want to say, thank you for partying! And thank you for the conversation and for spreading the word!