The Many Sides Of Andrew W.K.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

It's the kind of conventional wisdom that every parent teaches their children, but the sort of lesson that needs to be periodically re-learned: don't judge a book by its cover. Or rather, in the case of Andrew W.K. (born Andrew Wilkes-Krier), “Don't judge an artist by the cover of his first record.” Of course, it's very hard not to make (groundless) assumptions based on the cover image of I Get Wet and the story behind that photo; when it came time to decide on album artwork for the record, in order to achieve the jarring photo of the singer with blood streaming down his face, Andrew W.K. smacked himself in the face with a brick and, when the volume of blood produced was insufficient for the purpose, he walked up the street from the photo studio to the local butcher shop and purchased some more to add. The story became legendary; the cover art caused a controversy in Europe because people assumed it was an endorsement of cocaine usage and people in North America got nervous that this burly, Harrison Bergeron-looking character meant business before the unceasing 'party hearty' sentiment of the album turned him into a caricature. The album was a success of course – and the songs on it continue to generate cash-flow as they remain a staple in advertisements, but no follow-up generated the same level of attention.  

Well, that's not exactly true.

True, Andrew W.K. has escaped the camera lens, but he's far from sitting fallow and the licensing dollars that I Get Wet and (to a slightly lesser degree) . Andrew W.K. is now the proud owner and founder of Skyscraper Music Maker – his own record label – and produces records for other musicians as well as  having financial interest in a music venue and nightclub in New York City. Not bad for an almost universally perceived party animal but, even better, in less than five minutes of conversation with Andrew W.K., it becomes apparent that the may very well be one of the best-schooled business minds in modern rock and, the further into conversation the singer immerses himself, the more respect he generates with a staggering facility for both creative and critical thought. In that way, Andrew W.K. proves to have a faculty possessed by few in the music business: he's smart enough to keep all of his business interests going with great savvy, but also (particularly given the hilarious derailing he gave Red Eye interviewer Greg Gutfeld recently on the Fox News Channel) to present the maniacal image of a unique and ravingly accessible musical personality.  

Bill Adams vs. Andrew Wilkes-Krier, aka Andrew WK

AWK: Hello?

BA: Hello, may I speak to Andrew please.

AWK: Speaking.

BA: Hey Andrew, it's Bill Adams calling.

AWK: [doing best impression of a Seventies game show announcer] Well, hello Bill Adams! How are you?

BA: [mimicking same voice] I'm great! Do you want to do the whole interview in these voices?

AWK: No, I think it's okay if we just go back to talking like we normally do.

BA: Oh, okay cool.

AWK: I did want to ask you about your name though, have you met other people with the name Bill Adams?

BA: Nope. In fact, it's probably one of the most common names I've never heard anyone else have.

AWK: That's amazing! It's not so much that I thought a lot of other people would have it, I just wanted to see if anybody did have it and, if they did, if they were your age or if they were older than you.

BA: I have my great grandfather's name. His name was William James Weaver and mine's William James Adams. Everybody called him Bill and everybody calls me Bill. My father's name is James William – what can I say? We're not real creative when it comes to names.

AWK: Oh, don't get me wrong, it's a great name – I was just asking. It's a striking name and what's really cool about it is that there's no way I could tell what kind of person 'Bill Adams' was going to be. I wouldn't have anything going in simply on the basis of a name except that it's a really intense name and a really great name that's easy to remember and really easy to say. However, once I've met that person, that name will forevermore be associated with that vibe and that personality; it's a name that's really ready to be empowered with your personality and it sounds like you don't have any problem with that.

BA: Oh yeah – I have great fun with it. It's been funny over the years because I'm fairly socially inept, I seldom meet many of the industry people I converse with; I'm just an email signature and a deep. Cigarette-hardened voice on the telephone. Every now and again though, I'll meet a few of them personally for one reason or another and the reaction is always the same: “Holy fuck you're young!” [laughing] So how are things?

AWK: I want to apologize for not calling you at nine. It was a mistake on my end and I appreciate your flexibility,

BA: Oh, it's no problem. I had another interview scheduled at ten but it only took about a half an hour….

AWK: Okay, well, I have until 12:08.

BA: Okay, fair enough, works for me. No worries on this morning by the way – if you had made it, you would have been only the second interview I've ever done to set such a time and keep it.

AWK: Yeah, I'm going to Europe in a few hours so I'm trying to squeeze these in before I leave.

BA: It's no trouble. I live with my girlfriend and she has two daughters that are five and seven so I'm up early most mornings anyway.

AWK: Oh really? Congratulations to you and to her.

BA: Thanks – I'm having great fun with it. It's funny too because just glancing at some of the projects you have upcoming, I have to wonder: Do you have kids?

AWK: Nope, not yet. I'm married and we plan to have kids, but we haven't made any plans for it yet. I'm looking forward to it.

BA: The only reason I ask is because I'm looking at the artwork for the split EP that you've done with Nardwuar and it's pretty incredible.

AWK: Thank you! It was done by a pretty incredible artist named Mitch Clem; he's actually a pretty legendary cartoon illustrator and developed his own comic book series. I actually did a special appearance with Nardwuar and The Evaporators and Mitch Clem did a pretty great illustration for the poster for the show too. He's got a really unique and readily recognizable style that I think is great – he's got a really, really cool style.

BA: I've seen little bits and pieces of his work, I could swear that he did an album cover for Rob from the Apples In Stereo when he did a kids' record too. Anyway, it was kind of funny too because I was glancing over a bunch of different web sites to see what else you have on the go, and you're incredibly busy! You've got a new album called '55 Cadillac coming out on Ecstatic Peace! in September, a new album called Damn The Mix Tape coming out on Skyscraper… how many new albums have you got forthcoming in 2009 man?

AWK: Well, there's those two and then it's possible that there will be one more before the end of the year; I'm working on a Japanese album project as well so there's a lot of recordings coming out and then I'm also recording and producing for other artists; both producing music for and with other groups for the Skyscraper Music Maker label that I started. It's been really exciting to have all of these different musical projects to work on; I've been making more music and recording more now than I ever have before in my life. They're all really different things, yet it's all able to get this really good feeling going inside me. I get this really good feeling in my stomach and that's how I know it's the right thing to do. It has really been an amazing time and there is a lot of music coming out – a lot of Andrew WK albums.

BA: Indeed and I apologize – I didn't know Skyscraper was your record label.

AWK: I just started it; the first release, Damn! The Mixtape which is a compilation album with stuff from all of the acts signed to the label, just came out recently and the limited number of copies we had pressed are already sold out; you can still get it in MP3 on amazon and iTunes. I really like that format: different artists, different sounds presented in an almost disposable way, but you can put a lot of work into it; it's very different from a regular album. I try to make Damn! The Mixtape like you're listening to the radio.

BA: That's cool, and actually you're not the first one to tell me something like that. There's another guy, Girl Talk, that does stuff like that.

AWK: Oh it's really amazing that you mention him! He's on the mixtape!

BA: Oh is he?

AWK: Yeah. He did a remix of a Bad Brilliance song.

BA: Aw cool!

AWK: He's a really good friend of Bad Brilliance and I met Gregg through that association and it's a really great honor to have him involved. He's coming from a headspace that incorporates a variety of different sounds and assembles something new from it.

BA: Yeah, it's always been kind of funny though because he works from a template. If you ask him, he'll tell you that he simply inserts different content into that established template and builds a new track, but there are similar forms involved every time. Is he now signed to Skyscraper as well? Or is he still allied with Illegal Art?

AWK: No, he's not signed to my label. [line beeps] Oh – can you hang on a second?

BA: Sure.

[two minutes lapse]

AWK: Alright, sorry about that.

BA: No problem. Anyway, and you also have this '55 Cadillac album and you're doing a piano tour?

AWK: Yeah – we're doing a solo tour in Canada in June, but I am planning on doing a tour around the September 8th release of '55 Cadillac which will have me out with a string quartet. We haven't actually announced that yet though so I'm not sure if that's what you're referring to.

BA: Well, I've seen a couple of press releases stating that you're doing a tour that involves piano, and then I saw on wikipedia that you have '55 Cadillac coming out this year – although it doesn't give the exact date. All of which basically states the obvious though, you're a very busy performer at the moment and it's going in a whole lot of different directions at once. Where does all this spring from? I mean, I also heard that you own a bar in New York now.

AWK: I just played there last night actually, it's a music venue, it holds about eight hundred people, it has two floors… It's both a night club and a live music venue and it's pretty much the biggest project I've ever been involved in, really. I am one of many joint owners and it's pretty incredible. As I say, I played there last night – I play there a lot, actually. As far as where it all stems from, in 2005, I made a decision to diversify. Before I put out I Get Wet in 2001, I had been doing a lot of different things and had a lot of different interests. I had all sorts of different things that I wanted to do, but I thought that, in life, you had to do just one thing and so I focused on doing Andrew WK music and making that album and it was amazing and opened up a series of opportunities, but led me and allowed me to have a whole new bunch of other things that let me spread out a little and do whatever I wanted to do instead of what I was supposed to do. I guess it's an intense thing but it has been worth the risk; you have to do what you feel is right and I followed my instincts and it has worked out so far. I guess I thought that if I ever looked back on my life, I wouldn't ever want to think that there was a time that I didn't go all out all the time and it just seemed like if I was going to be an old man one day looking back on this time, would I be able to say that I took enough risks? I wasn't sure about that so I started seeking out more risks and tried to do the opposite of what I had done before and contradict old impulses and go against dealings that I felt were holding me back. I just kept deliberately trying to put myself into awkward situations that would hopefully be uncomfortable enough that they would force me to grow. I think everyone does that at some point in their lives.

BA: I can understand that. I mean, you are in the public eye, why would you want to be perceived as a two-dimensional character? Do as many things as your imagination compels you to and, in that way, you become a creature unto yourself.

AWK: A lot of the times that I didn't do what I wanted to do, it was because I was wondering what it could mean, what people would think of it, if it would make sense with what I'm supposed to do with this idea that I had of myself. I just wanted to start breaking down this idea that I had of myself and what I was supposed to do and I guess I hoped that other people would think about that from their own perspective as a result. I don't know that it really involves other people until it becomes something that an individual chooses to do for themselves and, if you're taking other people into consideration as a performer, I just think that's incredible; I don't know how that could work. Ultimately, you are performing for yourself first and you have to make the show good for you because if you find it personally rewarding, other like-minded people will begin to gravitate toward it.

BA: I can understand that, realistically you have to live with yourself and, at the end of the day, you're a performer but you still have to live with what you're doing and, in order to do that, you have to serve that muse.

AWK: I suppose it's just what we all hope to do in following our instincts as they manifest into our destiny.

BA: That said, you've got three albums at least coming out this year, how far are you spreading? I mean, I've got my own image of Andrew W.K. in mind thanks to I Get Wet and the other releases I've heard since then, but what's the deal with '55 Cadillac?

AWK: Well, I had never released an album of just me playing piano before. I had put out some things before that involved just the piano or keyboard on very limited release levels, but it seemed like the right thing to do; I have this piano and I have this car, and they're both giant, black objects that you can sit at the helm of and have a really intense and moving experience. I decided to combine those two feelings and parts of my life into an album of spontaneous piano songs that I made up as I went along. I had gotten this amazing piano a few years ago and I just wanted to create something that felt like I was listening to someone play piano in a room. I've listened to the album a few times now since I finished it but, the first time I listened to it after it was recorded, it was like hearing someone play something for the first time; I had no idea and totally didn't remember what I had made up. At that point, part of me wondered if me sitting down at a piano and making up music without any idea other than what I feel count? I wanted to see if it did and I don't really know that it does other than the fact that it exists. It's pretty different from composing a song and labouring over the recording of the song itself and the lyrics. The idea for the album was that it could be a pure kind of composition – just to sit down and play music and allow whatever you play to be okay – that was the idea.

BA: And it's all instrumental?

AWK: It is instrumental, but there's one lyric at the end of the album, but people will have to check that out to hear it.

BA: Fair enough. And Ecstatic Peace is involved?

AWK: They're doing the vinyl version and Skyscraper is doing the CD version of the album. Thurston Moore runs Ecstatic Peace with a few other people and we have a few mutual friends so we eventually met. Not so long ago, he told me that if I ever wanted to make a solo piano album, he'd put it out so that's just what I did. He kept to his word which I feel is a great honor and I appreciate.

BA: Now, obviously there's a very different established perception of you than what I've learned today. Of course, the established perception of Andrew W.K. For most people is the image and story behind the photo on the cover of I Get Wet but there's obviously more to it than that.

AWK: Oh, there's always more with anything. With any person there's always more, with any experience, there's always more for better or worse and I'm no exception to that. As a performer, I have the opportunity to present a door behind which I'm standing but design that door in a way that appeals to a certain person or a group of people in many different ways but, either way, it's still up to any and all of those individuals to walk up to that door and take an interest in opening it compared to other doors. After that choice, then it's up to me to provide them with more after they walk through the door.

BA: That's a fantastic philosophy; I like that a lot. With that said though, you were saying that there might be another record out before year's end, what do you have in mind?

AWK: I'm going to record another Andrew W.K. album – I'm working on several, but one will come out before the others – and it will involve a lot of new experiences that are very exciting to me. I don't want to give anything away about it yet though.

BA: And what about these upcoming performances that you have?

AWK: Well, I'm going to be touring across Canada doing solo shows which should be interesting, but the show that's happening in Kitchener will be unique because it's going to be the only one I do with a band. It'll be the first full-band show that I've done in Canada in three or four years so it's a big deal for me and a big deal for my band and hopefully it'll be a big deal for the people that catch the show.

BA: And what can people expect to hear at the show?

AWK: People will hear songs from all the albums I've released – all three Andrew W.K. albums – and they'll also hear music that they've never heard us play before that hasn't been released yet.

BA: Okay, so what else shall we talk about? What else woul you like to see in this article?

AWK: Uhm, everything you've touched on is actually all that I would push and ask you to mention so I'm good. If that's good for you, that's good for me.

BA: That works out brilliantly for me and – look at that! – you've even got four minutes to spare. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to me, I know it was kind of hectic….

AWK: I appreciate you wanting to do it and wanting to help spread the word about what I'm trying to do.

BA: The pleasure is absolutely mine. Thanks very much.

AWK: Thank you. Have a great weekend!

BA: You too.

AWK: Alright, take good care.

BA: You too. Bye now.

AWK: Bye bye.


Andrew W.K. Online

Andrew W.K. myspace

Further Viewing:

Andrew W.K. on The Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld.


'55 Cadillac comes out on September 8, 2009 through Skyscraper Music Maker records .
A Wild Pear is out now on Nardwuar Records. Buy it here
Premium Collection is out now and available here on Amazon .

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