Catching Up with Andrew W.K.
By Noah Michelson
The cover of Andrew W.K.'s 2001 debut album, I Get Wet, shows the singer with his nose gushing blood all over the front of his shirt. Based on the image, you'd expect his music and his temperament to be, well, scary? But Andrew W.K. is all about having a good time (many of his song titles include the word "party" in them -- "Party Hard," "Party Party Party," "It's Time To Party"). The rocker and his full band returned to the stage for the first time in five years on Tuesday night in New York City and he's getting ready to release a double album -- including Close Calls With Brick Walls which was previously only available in Asia and Mother of Mankind, a disc of rare tracks and B-sides -- on March 23 before he heads out on the Warped Tour later this summer.
We caught up with Andrew to chat about returning to the stage, his relationship with the queer community, his love for Kathy Griffin, and the key to throwing a killer party.
Out: What was your relationship to music like when you were growing up?
Andrew W.K.: My parents started me on piano lessons around age 4 and a half and I had enough exposure to music to understand that I liked it but I had no idea that I'd end up liking it as much as I did. I've never thought about it like this before but the first orgasmic experience I ever had was watching these piano teachers play songs for us or watching advanced pianists. Seeing them work, I got these waves of joy, these goose bumps, and I didn't know what this feeling was, I'd never felt that way before. Now, I've felt that way many times since, which seems actually to be the whole point of life -- to seek out moments to feel that way as often as possible -- and music has always been a surefire way for me to get that rush.
Tell me a little about the double album that's coming out.
The new album is two CDs, both packaged in their own separate jewel case. I still really like jewel cases because they are portable in a way that -- of course, MP3s are portable, but -- I can still find almost a CD player anywhere in the world, whether it's in a car or somewhere across the globe, and we've got 39 songs on here, between both of those discs. [Close Calls With Brick Walls] is an old album, but it's never been released in the U.S. or the rest of the world, only in Asia, so it's great to finally make it available and I figured, why not throw in some bonus tracks on the second disc, [Mother of Mankind].
Your upcoming show is the first show you've done with a full band in five years. What has changed since then and what can fans expect from it?
It's great to be touring again. I'll be going on the entire Warped Tour this summer. That's our first headlining nationwide tour in six years, really. So, now, to be coming back'a lot of it is the same. It's a lot of the same guys in my band, a lot of the same organization, the people I work with, but I've certainly -- and we've all had so much life experience since then -' it's silly to say it will be the same. But as far as what people can expect, they're going to expect us giving our heart and soul for the sake of the party, for the sake of the celebration that's going to happen in that room, that night. Whether it's outdoors or indoors, it's an enclosed experience. We want to bring everyone in and then blow 'em [claps hands] out with celebration. Well, not necessarily that [motions to hands] but, you know, just like open 'em up.
Why did you decide to become a partner in Santos Party House and how does owning a club fulfill you in different ways from being a musician?
That's a great question. Santos Party House is a concert hall and nightclub, two floors, 8,000 square feet, downtown Manhattan, New York City, on Lafayette [Street], right below Canal [Street], and about, wow, at this point almost six years ago, three friends of mine approached me and said, "We want to start our own club." And actually, some of these friends go back to when I first moved to New York. One of them is a DJ and artist. The other one is an architect, the other one has been a manager and a bartender and worked in clubs for his whole life and we wanted to combine all of our experience, especially the experience I had traveling around and seeing all these different venues and going to different clubs. If we could make our own, and I really mean make our own from scratch, what will it be? And, any time you have an opportunity to open a business in New York City, it's very intense, but a nightclub is especially intense. Especially [because] we didn't take over someone's old space, we built this brand new. There had never been a club in this space. And to do that, as you're aware, in downtown Manhattan, was just an odyssey. It was the most adverse challenge that I had ever experienced and it was like going to college and business school and art school, all rolled up into one. Now it's open and the greatest feeling about it is it's like giving back to the city that's given me so much. And it's a huge team of investors and partners and of course, the three friends that I started it with. But, it's the city that makes it possible because if the city didn't come it wouldn't stay open. So, it's just an incredible feeling to give back to New York and to provide a place for bands to play, for people to go and dance just like I was able to enjoy when I first came here.
When I told people that you were coming in for the interview, a lot of them were really surprised. I got a lot of, 'Oh, isn't that the bloody, party guy?"
So, I'm wondering what your relationship is to queer culture and the queer community? How are you involved -- if you are?
I always prayed and hoped that when I got going in entertainment, that when my name was out there, it would be accepted by everybody. And, I grew up a fan of all different kinds of music, but especially very heavy music -- very loud and aggressive music. But, when I decided to do Andrew WK, I kind of figured that there would be certain things that I liked that wouldn't like me back. Even certain things that I came from, like, heavy metal, where I wouldn't necessarily be accepted by the heavy metal scene. And, as I continued on, I was always surprised to be accepted by scenes I didn't expect. Like, the punk scene. Why would they embrace me? The heavy metal scene, why would they embrace us? And somehow, I think, eventually, the sense of goodwill gets out even more than the sound of the music, or the style, or how I even look. I think there's an obvious sense of goodwill and joy in what we're doing and I think that gets through people and they can see past the style or the genre and things like that. With the gay community I would like to think it's the same thing: maybe people were intimidated by me. I notice that a lot of times people thought I didn't like gays. I never said anything like that. But I think that maybe the way I looked or the way I carried myself -- it didn't seem like I'd be gentle or something. But I love gays as much as anybody else. Especially living in New York. That was a big part of my inspiration to move here -- here's a place where everybody is allowed to be. Well, not even allowed to be -- allowed to thrive. This is a place where everybody can come and anything that goes against the traditions of culture that excludes people or culture that says who's right and who's wrong or who's better and who's worse -- I don't want to have anything to do with that. I want to be a part of the culture that blows everybody's mind and I've noticed that gay sexuality in general has a real ability to blow people away and that's, like, what I want. I want my mind to be blown and I want everybody else's minds to be blown and gays are good at blowing minds and'other things, I'm sure. [Laughs.]