Andrew W.K.

photograph by Ruvan

The image that Andrew W.K. fosters among the general public who glance once at his album covers (Andrew W.K. with menacing scowl; Andrew W.K. with blood streaming down his face) may consist of sophomoric adjectives: hard-partying, sleazy, tough-guy. But beneath the sweaty and grimy surface lurks a preternaturally articulate and well-grounded fellow who isn’t afraid to tackle the metaphysics of music, possibly because he studied classical piano since he was four. He is currently finishing up his third album and has a new concert DVD titled, Andrew W.K – Who Knows? LIVE 2000-2004. His passion for his work was obvious when I sat down at a bar with him. The other thing I found out: he really, really appreciates his fans.

What first drew you to music, and more specifically to the piano?
Well, when I first began music, I don’t know if I had the awareness to necessarily have the choice about taking part in it. I think it was something that was arranged and presented to me, and once I tried it I enjoyed it. Because of that introduction, it was there before I learned to read, it was part of this introduction to life skills. So while we learned how to ride a two-wheel bike and read and do math and write – the most basic fundamentals of human experience – there was also music. It became a very commonplace activity. I never felt like there was a moment when I really got into music or discovered music. I was starting to grapple with these ideas of choice. Like, “OK, I can practice piano or I can not. I don’t feel like practicing yet I still choose to do it. Well, why is that?” Obviously deeper down, I do want to do it despite this sense of reluctance. I almost feel like those early experiences with choice and preference and discipline in some ways really helped and in other ways engrained a relationship between practice and music that might not necessarily be so good. I’ve since then tried to distance myself from that mindset that I had when I was four, because that will just stay with you.

Why did you move to New York?
I had felt, as a lot of high school kids do, that I had mastered my surroundings – you know, this real sense of complete control and confidence that becomes almost boring. And you almost want to put yourself in harm’s way. It was just to look at my options. I had to identify what were the most absurd options, the most ludicrous, the most risky, which offered the most possible failure, and then go with those.

Why do you think you have such a strong connection with your fans?
I remember reading somewhere once that people respond passionately to people who are acting passionately. At the same time, when something is done with a certain abandon it inspires other people to react – without a need to qualify their feelings about it or to justify it. I feel very fortunate this music has been able to connect with anyone, let alone with people who have been excited about it enough to set aside doubt, to set aside needing to fit it in with who they are or who they identify themselves with. But to really take it on this gut instinct that it physically felt pleasurable – and that if it felt that good then it must fit somewhere. Music ultimately is just giving. It doesn’t ask anything of the person. It’s completely unconditional. The ideals of humanity are expressed through music, without lyrics, without performance. These are tones that react in people’s bodies, these frequencies somehow trigger certain emotions and there’s nothing else quite like music. We use language to try and talk about music, we use all kinds of comparisons to emotions, to experiences so we can equate with how we feel with music. But music is a phenomenon removed from the other experiences of life. We can never translate it and that’s why it exists. If we could do something just as good without it then we wouldn’t need it.

Are you recording now? When can we hear your new stuff?
Yeah, this is the third album. We’ve been working on it for the past two years and should complete it in April, and then I’ll release it. I don’t have a release date set. The man I’ve been working on the production with is a man named Don Fleming, and he and I are going to start this home stretch of recording and mixing next week so I am really looking forward to completing it.

How will the new album be different than your last?
I really want to think of an interesting and novel way to answer this question. Is it going to be different? After the first album came out, no one asked me if the first album was going to be different than the second album because it didn’t exist. So when people asked me, “How’s the second one going to be different?” My answers at the time were, “I’m not concerned so much with it being different or the same or changing or being consistent, I just want to make it good.” For this album – maybe it’s a refinement of sorts, it’s… I feel I have nothing to say about the album. And I hope that’s the case when it’s done too. I want to have people tell me about it and then I’ll form my opinion. I don’t want to form any opinions on this album. It takes too much energy and I’d rather put the energy into making it and then playing it. Because of what we were talking about earlier – the person getting to listen to the new album having heard the other ones, or having not heard them, their whole experience. That’s where the magic is. I’ll have already made it, I’ll have seen the whole thing happen and the discovery, the curiosity, the wonderment, the amazement or all the opposites of those, are the gut reactions that people have. I can’t have a gut reaction. It’s like a mirror trying to see itself. How does a mirror see itself unless you hold up another mirror to it? So the best that I can get is using these other people as a mirror. No, it wouldn’t even be like a mirror. How does something see itself when it is… it’s like you can’t use your own brain to think about your brain, you know what I mean? You can’t fix a wrench with the same wrench, yeah that’s it. Because a wrench can’t wrap around on itself, so me talking about it… I’m like the worst person to talk about it. So I think other people, the other, for me that has to be where it’s always at. It’s always before you, it’s always unknown, and it’s never contained.

– Kendra Macleod

Reeding by Lena, who has no idea this palm belongs to Andrew W.K.

1. Strong hearted and true-hearted. Very brave in the defense of those he loves.

2. A person of great concentration. Great enthusiasm for what he’s doing, which he will do, one-pointedly, long enough to get a crick in his neck (if not several.) Then he’ll forget all about that particular project for weeks and do something else with the same enthusiasm.

3. One true great love in his life, although there are any number of interesting flings before this arrives.

4. To make and to feel come far before thinking in his priorities.

5. He has great independence. He doesn’t give a damn what others think of him. But deep down, he’d really like to be accepted and even famous for his talents.

6. Exceptionally competent at everything except taking care of himself. He can take care of other people just fine, but will tend to ignore his own basic needs. For health reasons, this person really needs a wife, a mother or a keeper — somebody who cares enough to make sure he eats his vegetables and comes in out of the rain. He would be very good at doing this for someone else, he just won’t do it for himself.

7. Strong sexual nature with an attraction to exotic individuals and a disinclination to hold himself back from that which attracts him.

8. His creativity and independence will flower best if he receives periodic reassurance that those close to him still love him, even if he ignores them for weeks an end due to his concentrated focus. He would never dream of *asking* for such reassurance however.

9. Dominant in his creativity. He will have an image that he is pursuing and trying to create. He knows exactly how it should turn out and nothing else will do.