Blast from the past : early 2002
This was one of the first interviews with Andrew WK.
Interview by Alexander Laurence
One of the most exciting acts to hit Europe last year was the American phenomenon ANDREW W.K. Andrew Wilkes-Krier was born in Los Angeles, California and was raised in Michigan. He learned classical piano at an early age and ended up playing in metal bands in Detroit. After high school he moved to New York City where he became a solo artist. Andrew did some solo shows (including a few at Starbucks) with a CD player, keyboard, and microphone. During this time, he released two EPs on Bulb Records: Girls Own Juice and Party Til You Puke.
David Grohl of the Foo Fighters took notice and asked Andrew W.K. to open a few shows for his band. The response to his one-man show was insane. This was the beginning of a what promises to be an in-the-spotlight career.
Assembling a band to back him up, Andrew relocated to Florida to begin recording. He soon after released the single "Party Hard" and it went quickly to #14 in the UK charts and brought some sincerity back to rock.
He then released his first full length album, I Get Wet (produced by Rick Rubin) with its already notorious bloody-nose cover. The album is jam-packed with crowd-pleasing heavy metal anthems.
His first tour in America is now underway with some massive PR to match. His most recent appearances have garnered him a reputation of being an unpredictable interview who takes no bullshit. The initials W.K. have additionally been said to stand for White Killer, Wild Kid, Want Kicks, and Woman Kum, to list a few.
I saw him play one of the first nights in Hollywood. It was exciting and slamming. I got to talk to him while relaxing in the Island Records offices in Hollywood. Next door there was a casting call for girls needed to attend a party. As we were doing the interview, groups of aspiring models and actors walked by our door.
Andrew is tall with long, rockstar hair. He is very polite and called me "sir" throughout our conversation. He is very articulate and certain of what he wants. He often stood up to do air guitar to emphasize a point whenever he go excited.
His current tour began in mid-March and will continue through May. On April 13th, he will be appearing on Saturday Night Live. By then, most will know who he is. His music and energy are a breath of fresh air. Andrew W. K. is for real.
AL: How are you feeling today?
AWK: Very good. Thank you, Sir. How are you feeling?
AL: Good. What is an average day like for you?
AWK: The average day does not exist. I Wake up. That's the only consistent thing. Or sometimes I don't wake up and never go to sleep. Yes. There is nothing average about any one of these days. I wouldn't want to have it any other way. It's full of adventure and excitement and surprises and amazing things.
AL: Do you have a morning routine? Do you have a coffee?
AWK: I try to create a routine within chaos but it's hard because chaos doesn't care about routine. That's the thing. Routine might care about chaos but chaos doesn't care at all about routine. Chaos says "I can do whatever I want whenever I want, so screw you Routine." Whenever I make some plans chaos rears its ugly head. I try to get some meals in and some exercise if I can. I try to get the work done. I try to enjoy every moment of the day.
AL: When you were living in New York City and were a bubblegum machine salesman, you read a book about positive thinking. Can you tell me what impact this book has had on you?
AWK: I only read one book and I didn't finish it. It was a book about being a salesman. It didn't have a big impact on my life, but it had some cool ideas in it. It reiterated some ideas that I already came to believe were true. One thing it said was you are not supposed to be intimidated by the world. There is no reason to be.
I am all the time, but I try not to be. There is not one book that had an influence over me. Let me make that point first. The world is intimidating but I am trying to face it.
AL: You studied piano from an early age. Was there always this idea to do music and form a band?
AWK: Yes, sir. Did you play music when you were young?
AL: Yeah. I started playing an out of tune electric guitar when I was ten years old. I had a desire to play and make some noise.
AWK: That was very similar to my experiences. I didn't know how to tune it either.
Playing piano since an early age made music something ingrained in me before I could even think about it. To have music be fundamental as reading, writing, or speaking just made music a thing. It wasn't like "Check out this record! I want to play music!" Music was always there.
AL: It was a language that you related to before you could even articulate why you liked it?
AWK: Yeah, it was just there. As I got older it was never really a question that I would have music going on. That was what I did. I played music every day. I never got into music because it was something that was always there. When I started playing piano, which is such a musical instrument, it allowed me to learn how to play many other instruments and appreciate things. I am not great at playing any of these instruments in terms of how good other people are. I am good enough to play my own songs and that is all I needed to do. I would love to get better. I admire people who can play well.
The songs on "I Get Wet" are good. But I am not satisfied yet so I continue.
AL: Some of us first heard about you when you did a karaoke version of your music and put out a few EPs. Then you opened for Foo Fighters?
AWK: I hate to call it Karaoke, but you can call it whatever you want. That's fine. That's a good way to describe it, I know.
AL: You didn't have a band at the time?
AWK: I was very frustrated because I didn't have a band. I was just playing shows. That's how I look at it. I had a keyboard. I tried to play as many parts on tape or on CD. I would play along on keyboards or guitar and sing or run around. I would just try to do something. I was furious that I didn't have a band. This music isn't meant to be played by one person.
I said to myself that I've got to play any show any time anywhere, and that's how I'll get a band. So I stopped saying "No" to anything. By playing shows by myself that's how I finally got a band together.
AL: Were you living in New York City when you released the first EPs?
AWK: Yes. I was living in Brooklyn in complete and total isolation. That was fine and that was good. I don't really live anywhere right now. I don't have a lot of stuff. I live wherever I am. I have been on tour and traveling for a year straight now. I love it. The band was half-formed in New York. Three members live in Florida. I never really moved there because I didn't have any furniture to move.
AL: Who is in the band?
AWK: Jimmy Coup, Payne, and Sergeant Frank on guitar. Donald Tardy on drums. And Gregg on bass. We have a few different keyboard players who play with us. The first guy to join was Donald or "D. T." as we call him. I wrote him a letter. I didn't expect to hear from him. He called me back and wanted to do it. I was excited at that point. I was ready to go and rejuvenated.
Jimmy was another old friend. I hadn't seen him in years. We tracked him down. I said "I have a CD." He listened to it and said "I'm in." The other three guys I hadn't even met let alone auditioned. I just thought these people are in. I asked Donald who knew them "Are these guys nice people?" Okay they're in. I knew we could do it. I spent so much time doing this these people have to be great people who just want to do this.
AL: You have three guitars on-stage in your band. That's a big sound. The record sounds like one hundred guitars playing.
AWK: The live band is trying to get to that same level we achieved on the record. The record was made by starting with nothing and stacking one thing at a time. There were no live band recordings. It was made one track at a time. When you start running out of tracks you start packing it in. We started out using Cakewalk because that was all we could afford at the time. Then we used Pro Tools.
Fifty years ago they would have killed to get the drum sound that we got on this record. Why would I want to use a drum sound from fifty years ago? You know what I mean? I just want to use the best things we have now to get the music to be as huge and slammingly loud and big as possible. There are no rules. There's nothing not cool. There are no worries as to what's cool or what's right. There's no hiding and letting walls going up. I want my world to be like BAM get away BAM no walls! Wow! Look how wide it is?
AL: Is that what you are going through on-stage? You are giving it 100% and conducting the band, getting people involved who might usually stand in the back. Are you breaking down the walls on-stage?
AWK: Yeah! I am doing my dances and trying to sing my songs. I am not conducting anything. Donald is running the show up there. He knows what he is doing. I am just playing the drum fills because they are so fucking good. How can I resist? I played this (taps the CD) so many thousands of times, that not to do that would be holding back. If we were listening to this CD right now I would be fucking drumming like a madman. While giving everything I have just shy of failure on those notes (starts singing). That takes all I have pretty much to start with. There is no persona. I want people to have fun. I am having so much fun. I want the audience to feel really good about themselves. That is hard to do. It's hard to feel good about yourself. I want them to look at me on the stage and not feel like I am up on a stage. I want them to say "I want to be up there and I should be" and then they start dancing. I want them to say "That guy doesn't think he is better than me. In fact he's just like me. We are friends."
AL: Last night at the Whisky A-Go-Go some guy jumped on stage and you gave him a bear hug. It was funny.
AWK: Yeah. He thwarted my end dance and got caught up in the PA grating. The metal grill came off and I got cut on it but it's okay because we are all friends. It's for us and it's for them. When I sing about "we" it's about "us": everybody in that room and everybody in the world who believes in something.
AL: People expect blood because you are giving it your all.
AWK: Yes, sir.
AL: You are not holding anything back. Do you have an infinite supply of the infinite?
AWK: That's a great way to put it. I have an infinite supply of the infinite. Exactly. There are no uncharted horizons. There are no unmapped territories in the future. There is no one to tell me what I want to do or think, or what we think, is old, or bad, or wrong. Get out! Pass! Even better I am going to work hard to bring that person along. I am going to say "listen for one second and I am going to work hard to bring you and your bad attitude along with us to where we are going." That's the new frontier. The old frontier was "Bah! Okay, fine. Fuck you! You're over."
Now we have so much strength and potential, that even that guy who doesn't want to be included will be like ARRGGHHH COME ON. I will drag him in. I am very serious about having fun.
AL: Is your work ironic in any way?
AWK: Ironic? You tell me what is ironic about it? In a world of so much pessimism okay, even confusion, doubt, there is so much we have already seen that we can't believe that something someone is doing can be genuine! They have to tone it down and hold it in and say it was just a joke. When you say something is just a joke it absolves you of all responsibility of being wrong.
I worked really hard on this record. If someone says "that's sucks." Then I say "Oh yeah, no big deal, I didn't really work on it that hard anyway." It's just a joke. Fuck that! I am giving it all I have and being completely one hundred thousand percent committed to something. It's like I am committed to smiling. My duty is not to get angry with people for doubting it. I have to explain and prove to them that this is not too good to be true.
AL: Last night at The Whisky during the show I was looking at people and they were looking back at me. We were both smiling at each other because we were having a good time. Most times I go to shows people ignore each other and you never talk to anyone outside your friends or people you come with.
AWK: What you have just said is one of my biggest dreams come true that no one has ever said to me. I have been talking about that for years now. The best thing in the world that I want to create is an environment that you look over to someone that you don't know and you smile because you feel that they are your friend.
AL: So far the shows in the big cities have gone well. Do you think that you are going to be well received in Middle America?
AWK: Who knows? We will get it there and will see what happens. My responsibility is to make them like it. It's not their fault if they don't like it. Look how many decisions you have to make about every fucking moment of every day about what you think about things? And then you are judged accordingly. No wonder people distance themselves from making decisions or feeling excited about something. It's a challenge to feel excited about something because someone is so quick to take your money, or to make you feel like you are wrong, or tell you how you are because you like those things. Oh what do you like? I like this. Oh you are that type of person. No, I'm me. It's so quick to rush to judgment.
The fact is that the world is an open playing field and a source of riches that we should all enjoy as much as possible. We shouldn't give anyone a hard time. We should let everyone be free. We should just be close to things that we feel inside and that is something no one can tell you is wrong.
AL: Is that why you wear white clothes all the time? People can just think of you as a blank canvas to project whatever feelings?
AWK: Yeah. It's simple. It's just me. You don't have to think about it. You know who I am now, and it's done. Actually it's because I wanted to show up well on a black stage. That's how it started. I wore jeans and a T-shirt. Then I wore lighter ones. Good, I don't have to think about that anymore. I didn't have to think about whether I should pull out the leather pants and the rubber shirt for that night. That's fantastic. One less thing to worry about. It gets in the way of what I want to do which is make people feel good.
AL: What should people expect on this tour or any shows this summer?
AWK: People should come in and relax and take a deep breath. Shake your arms and tap your feet a little bit. Do a little jig. Then get ready to have fun. The music will not let you down.
AL: Do you believe in higher intelligence or spirituality?
AWK: I believe in many things. I believe that something is going on that I don't understand and I don't want to understand. I want it to be mysterious, huge, and bigger than me. I would like to think that there is something looking down saying "Good, good." I think that everyone goes to the same place. And maybe you go to somewhere else after that. It's going to be exciting to see what happens. Everyone is welcome.
AL: What about relationships? Are you married?
AWK: No. I will be someday. It's something that I look forward to because I want to have kids. That is why I would want to get married. It will be great. I will be a good father. I will give them a lot of attention. I will strict, reasonable and fair. I will play a lot.
AL: What do your parents think about what you are doing?
AWK: My mom has probably never been happier in her whole life. She is happy knowing that I am okay. My dad is the same. My dad didn't know what to think at first. My mom knew all along. They have been supportive all the way. My mom has been selfless, giving, and strong. My dad is a teacher. My mom decided long ago that she was going to be the world's greatest mom and she achieved that for me long ago. I have a younger brother who is a great golfer. He is just starting college later this year.
AL: Are you going to do a new record right away?
AWK: Yeah. I am going to start the next record either in July or September.
AL: What is it going to be like?
AWK: One word. More. All the songs are ready. I just have to record them. I have enough material for the next two albums so it's just a matter of picking and choosing. I am going to do everything I can to make it sound big and huge. Just do it. What you feel inside is real. Just feel it. When you go on a roller coaster or go over a bump, you feel something. That is the world communicating something to you. Don't lose those feelings. Hold on to all what you can because that is what makes life worth living. The world is really out there but we all have the power to make it whatever we want it to be. We control ourselves. Humans have that ability.