Andrew W.K.: Appreciating lipstick

photo / fredcamino Creative Commons license graphic Andrew W.K. performing at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood 
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Before speaking with Andrew W.K. I knew one definitive fact about him: The guy likes to party. With such songs as “Party Hard,” “Party ‘Til You Puke,” and “We Want Fun,” Andrew has established himself as a unique voice in rock ’n’ roll. But in the past few years he’s extended what it means to be Andrew W.K. by going on tours and speaking on the beauty of partying and pure love. Most interviews only last 20 to 30 minutes, but Andrew talked with me for an hour and a half about everything from the meaning of life to the joys of wearing lipstick. He even gave me my very own personalized motivational speech. Don’t miss his show at Emo’s on July 4, and check out his production skills on Reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry’s new album, which hits stores August 19.

That Other Paper What is the worst question you’ve ever been asked in an interview?

Andrew W.K. I don’t know – I’ve probably blocked it out. Actually, the questions over the last couple of years have just been getting better and better. I always thought that interview questions were good no matter what the question was, and that it was really up to the interviewee to come up with novel answers. I always understood the idea of people getting a little angry at interview questions, but I thought it was a little perverse, because why would they be doing the interview then? And this whole idea that it’s all up to the interviewer to make a good interview didn’t gel with my vibe. So I really get into doing interviews and have grown to love it very, very much.

TOP Yeah. I’ve interviewed a decent amount of people and you definitely seem like the most excited person to actually do the interview.

AWK Well, I used to think stuff like, “Hey, Bob Dylan doesn’t do any interviews. Is he cool because he doesn’t do them, and I am doing them so I’m not cool?” And then I thought, “Wait a minute – I have nothing to do with Bob Dylan.” He’s totally got his own thing going on and maybe part of the whole Andrew W.K vibe is doing a lot of interviews and being really nice and easy about it.

TOP When people think of Andrew W.K. they think “party.” Is this something you want to ring true of you your entire life? Do you think there will ever be a time when you don’t want to party?

AWK I can’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t want to be associated with people having fun. That’s just the greatest pleasure and the greatest honor. I never dreamed I would be in a situation where I could participate with people on that level of a celebration, but doing so has been a great pleasure for me and brought me a lot of joy. And the idea of it being a party – that idea is so wide open. It really is just about being happy to be alive. To me, the whole idea about going to a party – whether it’s a frat party or a night club party, a disco party, a little kids birthday party, a poker party, any kind of get together, really – that’s essentially saying, “There’s times when we labor, there’s time when we reflect, there’s times when we rest, there’s times when we do all different sorts of activities. But when we decide to celebrate, we are taking stock of our lives and choosing to be grateful and enjoy them for that moment. And in some ways that might be the most fundamental aspect of being human: the ability to celebrate.

TOP Most people don’t know that you’re a classically trained pianist. Do you still enjoy listening to classical music? And how do you feel that classical music has affected your heavy metal rock/fun persona?

photo / tew Creative Commons license graphic Guest lecturing in Ann Arbor, Michigan 

AWK I never thought of my piano lessons as classical piano lessons. But it was more very fundamental musical education. It started with me at a young age where my first experience with music came from a place of just pure music. Just melody and rhythm. There was no lyrics and no meaning being expressed beyond melody. And it was this idea that music could create this feeling in me and in other people without even having words was really exciting to me. Getting into music just through melody allowed me to appreciate all kinds of music, whether I particularly liked the singer, or the lyrics, or the style or image of the band. If there was something musical in there that I could appreciate whether it was the tempo, rhythm, groove, melody, or chords, then I usually could appreciate it. And I think that gave me a really great foundation for how to approach this feeling of excitement that I wanted to get across for my music.

TOP You started your career in your early 20s. And in a few years you’ll be turning 30. How will the 30-year-old Andrew W.K. differ from the 20-year-old Andrew W.K.? What does getting older mean to you?

AWK I’ve just been thinking about that. I remember when I was 10 years old I was trying to imagine what I would be like when I was 20, and I could kind of picture it. But I never could have imagined that I would end up doing exactly what I’m doing. I was watching this movie Mr. Deeds with Adam Sandler and at the end you may recall he’s talking about saving the Blake Industries and he’s asking all the different shareholders to remember back what they wanted to be when they were younger and to judge themselves based on that idea now. And that was an interesting question, and I had never thought about that. Would I at 10 years old then be happy with where I’m at now? I think I would just be completely psyched. And from 20 to 30, everything that’s happened to me has just been a miracle. A lot of other people had a hand in making it all possible, so it really has been a party in that way. At 20 I felt pretty at odds with the world – I felt really threatened and overwhelmed, but I could tell that there was something exciting for me to do. Some of the other things are that I’ve made decisions in that past three years or so that I would never have made when I was 20. Whether it’s wearing lipstick or any kind of odd thing where at 20 years old I would have thought it was stupid. And now I’ve worn lipstick many times and it’s really been a lot of fun.

TOP So you feel like you’ve grown up a bit.

AWK I have. I’ve grown up and I’ve been able to start really appreciating lipstick.

TOP I’ve noticed that people really seem to enjoy getting on your shoulders during concerts. How did this come about?

AWK That’s happened many times and I don’t remember the first time it happened. I mean, I definitely lifted up the first person. I don’t think anyone ever thought to get on my shoulders before I invited them, because I was inviting people up on stage here and there, and then that became a tradition where I didn’t even have to invite people. There’s something really exciting about seeing someone high up, and I’m normally used to seeing it in the crowd. Like someone in the audience on someone’s shoulders. So I thought it would have a neat effect.

TOP You co-own a dance/party club in New York. Tell me about that and what it means to have a place where you can always go to party?

AWK It’s called Santos Party house and it’s in Manhattan. And I will say without bragging it is a really big deal for a new venue. Because Manhattan to me is the most exciting place in the entire world. And that’s one case where I will pick a favorite. It’s two floors. There’s a downstairs dance club and an upstairs dance club that also doubles as a live music venue.

TOP The past few years you’ve begun giving lectures about partying and pure fun and love. Do you find any similarities between public speaking and music? Did you follow any sort of template or structure when you began speaking in public?

AWK I definitely see similarities between the two because they’re both performance. What inspired me about doing lectures was the time I spent talking with people like you in interviews and also to people after the shows. It was another exchange of energy, very much like singing. And I would think about Bob Dylan again, you know, “Maybe he wouldn’t do this, maybe he wouldn’t even talk to his fans very much. Maybe he would say that his songs were all that he has to say.” And I thought, “Well, wait a minute – I’m not Bob Dylan. I have nothing to do with Bob Dylan. His thing is only his own and no one could be him. And my thing is totally my own.” Even though I thought that people might think it was cheesy or maybe even I thought it would be cheesy or “not cool,” that was part of the risk that felt really fun.

TOP I’m an aspiring writer, director, and stand-up comedian. It’s a tough career path to take and there are times when I feel really discouraged. I’m giving you a minute and I want you to give me the most motivational pep talk you can muster.

photo / That Other Paper Creative Commons license graphic Hanging out at SXSW 2007 

AWK Definitely. Are you ready?

TOP Keep in mind, I’m probably going to be referring to this for inspiration for many, many years, and if I do end up succeeding I’ll most likely give you a lot of the credit. Go ahead.

AWK That’s amazing. Thank you for asking, and I’m ready to go.

TOP Go for it.

AWK Okay. Remember what you asked when you started?

TOP It’s a tough career path.

AWK Would you call that a belief? Would you call that a definitive fact?

TOP No. Wait… yes. I don’t know.

AWK Well, to me it sounded like you were making definitive statements that were not the kind that sounded particularly good. They sounded kind of scary. “It’s hard. It’s tough.” And then you followed it up with another statement that it was particularly hard for you. So those beliefs, being the first thing that come to your mind, I can imagine it would be very tough. This is my advice, and I can’t stress it enough. And I’ll start by saying that it may sound crazy, but that’s how you know it’s good advice. Think about an old person saying, “I wish I had taken more risks.” What they’re doing is they’re looking back and they’re realizing how absurd all of life was and how it’s almost over and how it flew by and they’re at this stage now that old people get to where they can laugh at anything because they realize right now that everything is completely silly. So they look back and they say, “Why did I get so freaked out about that? I wish I had just gone for it because the consequences were so silly.” With most of these things we want to do, what’s the worst that could happen? Once we look back and we can see it just becomes so evident. So those aren’t even things that I would call regrets, it’s this understanding that we seem to have gained later in life that we should just be way more balls-out. So whenever you find yourself thinking “This is hard. This business is tough. The odds of making it are really low,” any time you find yourself making those kind of definitive statements, change it with, “This business is really easy, especially for me. This is something that I just glide through.”

TOP Okay.

AWK And maybe your next thought is that’s completely stupid and ridiculous. I don’t feel that way at all. And you say again, “No, I do feel it’s getting easier every day, and I’m starting to reinterpret all of reality to see that there’s not outside forces working against me. There’s not outside circumstances. It’s all in my head.” If you were really hungry and someone set a big plate of spaghetti in front of you and said that you have to eat it, you should say, “What are you talking about? It’s my absolute pleasure to eat it. You can’t stop me from eating it.” They’d say, “Isn’t it hard for you, eating all that food?” And you’d say, “Hard? It’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s like breathing.” So if you’re doing what you really want to do, what you’re meant to do, then you can’t help but succeed. It just automatically happens, it all gets easier, and it’s just believing that you can do it. And it’s not being egotistical or self-centered. In fact, it’s breaking down your ego because you don’t have to build up these ideas anymore about what you’re capable of and what you can’t do. You just do it and enjoy.

TOP That’s pretty awesome, man.

AWK One more thing about definitive statements like we were talking about before. “Money is bad,” “New York is a dirty city” – those type of statements. It’s a really great awareness exercise to try to notice when other people say those things, when we read those things and most of all when we, ourselves, say them or think them. What I’ve been working on for the past few years, and it’s been really fun, is to take all those and put them into the past tense. What it does, with negative things especially, is saying something like, “I’m bad at playing guitar,” changes into, “Well, I haven’t been good at playing guitar.” And all the sudden there’s the possibility of getting better. I’ve had things happen where I didn’t really want to do something, it might have been some schedule or appointment. I didn’t want to do it, but I gave my word and I said I was going to do it, but I was dreading it. Then all of the sudden it gets cancelled, and I might even get pissed like, “Oh, fuck – they cancelled it.” But deep down inside now I think, “I cancelled it. I made that happen.”

TOP Because you didn’t want to do it.

AWK Yeah. And they picked up on it. Or they didn’t even pick up on it, they are me. They exist in my head, too.

photo / Claire L. Evans Creative Commons license graphic Lecturing in Portland, Oregon 


Ramin's picture

Best interview ever.

Boobie Miles's picture

What an interview. Hilarious and insightful. Nice job Bradley and Andrew W.K. By the way, the show at Emo’s was bad ass!

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Isabell's picture

Oh, pity that this interview is so short, i could read it, and read it all over again . . Andrew W.K., not only great singer, and musitian, but also the greatest speaker ever.! ( btw: sorry for my english. )