Andrew W.K. is like a man-sized Ecstasy tablet. Dressed in his customary white clothes and crowned with a shaggy mop of permanently wet hair, the singer is an avatar of positivity and good times. His music takes the over-the-top excess of hair metal and Jim Steinem productions and boosts them to operatic extremes. Not even Diamond Dave could extol the virtues of partying as hard as Andrew W.K. can.
And yet the monochromatic rocker is a walking contradiction. He’s a party animal who doesn’t drink. Despite making music that sounds incredibly simplistic, he has a background in formal music training and came out of the avant-garde underground. He’s utterly sincere, even though his whole bit feels like some kind of put-on.
Phoenix New Times got a chance to talk to the party rock guru before his upcoming appearance in the Valley. We discussed noise rock, positivity, and how he feels about a certain urban legend that keeps following him around.
Your shows have always been super-positive and energetic. Considering how shitty a year 2017 has been, have you noticed an extra feeling of catharsis in the shows you’ve done so far? In these darker times, do audiences respond more to what you’re trying to put out there?
It seems to me that whether it’s a national level or an individual level, it’s almost always the best of times and the worst of times. Throughout my own life, as soon as something is going great, it feels like something else goes seriously amiss. There’s this unfortunate balance between things being really bad and other things being really good. How to maneuver through this extreme contrast and dynamic, through the very beautiful and very ugly parts of life, to be able to manage them with as much dignity and resilience and control as possible – that’s just the human experience.
I’m just happy to be able to focus so much of my time and energy on what is meant to be a cathartic, freeing, joyful experience. It is meant to be an empowering experience so we can go back to the world, to our lives, with a renewed sense of optimism and inner power that allows us to handle the challenges we face inside ourselves and that are all around us. It’s hard to face those things with a deficit of joy.
I recently read the 33 1/3 book about I Get Wet. It talks a lot about your experiences in the noise community and how you got to know folks like Wolf Eyes. I was wondering if that scene had an influence on your work?
So much of noise music is about bludgeoning the listener with this all-encompassing sound, and it feels like your work has a similar effect. But instead of power electronics, you’re hammering at listeners with sincerity and Meat Loaf. Is that an intentional effect you try to achieve while composing work?
There wasn’t a lot of deliberate design in how and why I record the way I do. I’m just trying to do this work to try and get this feeling across. I’m just using as many layers of instruments as I can – it’s always about, “How can I create this physical rush?” What will do it?
I keep working until I get that physical energy. It’s all encompassing – it’s emotional, it’s mental, your body, your mind. Feeling those chills, being moved – that’s what I’m trying to do with the type of music I make. It’s maximalist rock music, I guess you could call it.
It’s interesting that you talk about your music in terms of physical rushes. I’m bipolar, and the thing that really draws me to your music is how much it sounds the way a manic episode feels. It really gives that feeling of what it feels like to be firing on all cylinders when you’re on an up cycle.
I relate to that. That’s definitely something that I’m trying to go for.
Something I’ve always been curious about is how you feel about the “cult of Andrew W.K.” This persistent urban legend that there’s multiple versions of you running around and pretending to be you, that you yourself might be a fictional construct that a group is maintaining for whatever reason.
How do you feel about that? Is it something that amuses you, or do you find all these stories to be kind of unsettling?
I really think these stories happened because it’s easy to look like me. It’s easy to wear the clothes and have that hair. It probably started because people would come to the shows and to the events dressed up like me and someone else thought it was me. Most of these things start – these kinds of rumors, these confusions, they start as simple, logical, easily explainable experiences that get distorted and exaggerated.
This idea that I don’t exist … I really don’t know what to think of it. There are times where I’ve gotten really angry about it, where I’ve been really frustrated by it, and there are times where I just wish I could control what other people think of me. But there’s nothing I can do to control what other people think. There are other times where I think I can control that perception if I work really hard, but then I see other performers have similar accusations that there are multiple versions of them too …
It’s just this archetypal myth that people go through with all sorts of people. But it does seem to be specifically about music figures. I’ve never heard anyone say there’s more than one Michael Jordan. But with Paul McCartney and Avril Lavigne or Taylor Swift or me – I don’t know why that is. Nobody says, “Oh, there’s more than one Bradley Cooper.”
That’s totally true. I can’t think of another industry or profession where these kind of stories are so prevalent.
It’s odd too because musicians, more than an actor, are presenting themselves as themselves. They’re not assuming different characters in a formal, traditional way like an actor does. They are understood as this is who they are and they’re being themselves and they’re performing as that. I guess some writers will use pen names and there’s sometimes mysteries, like with Shakespeare or Francis Bacon. But there’s this need to pick apart certain musical performers for whatever reason.
Andrew W.K. is performing on Sunday, October 1, at Crescent Ballroom.