I Get Wet, Also: An Exclusive Interview with America’s Next Big Thing
Sit back, close your eyes and try to envision a good-looking version of Motorhead’s Lemmy, reinvented as a Robbie Williams-style pop heartthrob. (Just go with it for a minute, will you?) Now open your eyes and gaze upon America’s newest singer/multi-instrumentalist sensation, Andrew W.K. A native of California, who grew up in Detroit, spent time living in New York City, and now resides in Florida, Andrew W.K. is hugely famous in England (where his debut, I Get Wet, prompted the NME to label him “The Saviour of Music” upon its UK release last year), but virtually unknown stateside. That’s about to change, as I Get Wet, a fist-pumping, ear splitting, highly contagious album crammed with enough hard rocking tunes to crack skulls wide open, just landed on our shores. Better ready your arsenal.
Comparable to an ABBA performance where the audience is smashing bottles and punching each other in the face, listening to I Get Wet will school you in all that Andrew W.K. holds dear: partying (“Party Hard”), women (“She Is Beautiful”), and his own insatiable lust for life (“I Get Wet”). From the Megadeth-inspired riffs launching “It’s Time to Party,” to the Iggy Pop brattiness of “Party ‘Til You Puke,” Andrew W.K. cranks out keyboard-driven anthems with death metal ferocity (Obituary drummer, Donald Tardy, is in fact a member of Andrew’s live band) and gets away clean before you can say “Slayer meets The Bay City Rollers.” Bluntly put, this guy is just about as original as anyone to arrive on the American music scene in the last 15 years. It’s enough to make you wonder what might be possible if Trent Reznor got his hands on a prescription for Prozac.
On the phone from England, where Andrew and his band are warming up for their imminent US tour, Andrew W.K. spoke with Ink 19 about his philosophy of life, why the release of his CD is the greatest thing to happen ever in the Universe, and what the word “party” really means to him. Party on Andrew!
I love your record. It rocks very hard and I love to rock hard. There’s sort of an advance buzz among people in the media over here, getting ready for the US release of I Get Wet. It must be very exciting for you.
Well, it’s very interesting because this has all been going on for awhile. Talking to as many people as I am, what people sometimes don’t understand is that the only reason that I’m even doing anything is that the people in the U.S. are supportive. Sometimes they ask, “Why do you think the rest of the world is so much more interested in you?” And I say, “Why do you think the rest of the world even knows about [me]?” It’s because the U.S. is where it all started. We’re doing a five-week tour starting on the twelfth (of March) or so, and that’s certainly going to be helping. It’s just a matter of time now. I’ve just been playing shows… but there’s so much to do…We’re just trying to do everything…
Since you are an American, what’s it been like to have the record break so huge overseas before it’s ever been released here?
It’s just exciting and wonderful. Things are going really well all over the world. As far as a plan, all there ever was was [the decision] that we would not say “no.” I didn’t want to say no; I wanted this record to be out. The plan was, by 2002, to have it out all over the free world. Now it’s out in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Indonesia, Japan is coming in a few weeks, Australia, South America, Brazil, Spain, and Italy are coming up. We set our release date in the U.S. a long time ago, but what we didn’t do is say [to any other region] “No, you have to wait until after the U.S. release date to release it there,” which sometimes is done. To do that would be silly.
The song, “It’s Time to Party” is used so cleverly on that Expedia travel commercial, where the parents are planning to go on a vacation without their teenage son, and then have a vision of him throwing a party while they’re gone and trashing the house. I bet most people have no idea the song wasn’t created for that commercial. How did that happen?
Actually, the Expedia Commercial uses a different version of “It’s Time to Party” [than what’s on the record]. But it’s really an amazing chain of how it happens, so many people are involved in the advertising world. The company hires the advertising company, the advertising company hires the music company, the music company hires people to find music, and those people found me. They said they wanted an exciting song to soundtrack this kid having a party at home. I gave them that [song] as well as a few others, and they chose that one. I like the way they used it because they show kids singing the song and it was just very exciting. It was such an honor because they really made that commercial around that song. They edited it to the parts of the song and they used the beginning sound effects that I made and really, really, really worked hard on that commercial. For such a short little thing, I thought it went really well and it was just fun, exciting, cool stuff.
Speaking of exciting stuff, I understand that you recruited your band from members of Florida’s death metal community, which explains a lot. How did that happen?
Actually, only one member [of my band] came straight from that scene [Obituary drummer, Donald Tardy]. To briefly try to cover a huge amount of ground that would normally take hours [takes a deep breath]…the world is like a ball of light, like the sun: explosive and round and just churning and burning. I see it as [makes exploding sound for emphasis] and within that you have nothing but opportunity and excitement and riches, as though someone has given you a bottomless treasure chest to open, saying, “Take whatever you want and enjoy it.” Or you could look at it like a big buffet of food that is just all yours to take. And you can say, “Wow, I’m a human being, there’s no one to tell me that anything I want to like, or be a part of, or experience is anything but exciting and real and mine. I like it for my reasons, because it makes me feel this way.” Once I believe in something and make it mine, no one can touch me or touch it or tell me any different. It’s mine and mine alone. Even if the person who brought it to me thinks differently, once I have it, it’s mine.
So, living in a world where everything is possible and everything is good and there’s no rules or limits to what can be a part of your world, it creates a very exciting place to live, especially when you have things like food and shelter and health and safety already taken care of. When that’s the case, even the bad days become icing on the cake as just another amazing human experience. Living in a world where all music and all people and all things are all just an unfathomably pleasurable experience lead me to become very dedicated and to say, “Wow, this is my favorite drummer. I want to write him a letter. I doubt he’ll ever answer but… expect the worst, hope for the best!” So, I wrote [Donald] a letter and said, “I know every drum beat from every one of your songs. I can’t say that about a lot of music, but I can say it about yours. I would be honored if you would just even listen to these songs and maybe you’d want to help me do this, and just play in [my live band].” He wrote back and said he’d love to, and I was blown away. That began the band. I had been playing for years on my own, frustrated out of my mind, having to play shows alone, but always with the mind set of “I will do whatever it takes.” I guarantee you that now, even if for some strange reason I still had not been able to put a band together, I’d still be doing this alone, somehow. But really I wouldn’t be talking to you, probably, if I didn’t have this amazing group of people helping me. It’s a big thing and there’s a lot of people involved.
As far as the live band goes, the second person came along, who was an old friend of a friend, and that was Jimmy Coup, he plays guitar. The other members [bassist Gregg Roberts, guitarists Erik Payne and Frank Werner] I had never even met, but I took them on blind faith that they would be good, because they were friends of Donald. I didn’t even audition them. Of course, they turned out to be some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and it’s no coincidence that they are now involved. It’s just really incredible and just gives you faith in human beings. [As if realizing how far off the track he’s gotten before he answered my question] The best way to answer a question sometimes is to just blindly ramble.
A friend of mine who writes for a lot of heavy metal publications was speaking to me about you, and his opinion was that you are some death metal guy from Florida that had this idea to do really pop-sounding music in this heavy style as some kind of opportunity to sell out, or as some kind of a joke. Do you get a lot of reactions like that, of people asking you if this is some kind of a joke?
In a world of such huge amounts of information, of such confusion, of such knowledge, of such cynicism — as well as optimism — of such doubt and fear, I am never surprised when someone doesn’t have the strength to take this leap of blind faith with me. I consider it my responsibility to work every day to make sure that, through patience and endurance and perseverance, the truth will out. This is nothing but one-hundred-thousand percent real hard work. I’m a piano player and what I was just trying to explain is that the world isn’t set up as, “Oh, I’m a death metal guy, and here’s what I’m doing on the side.” It doesn’t exist like that. The world is nothing but riches, a treasure chest. You have pearls; does that mean you can’t also have diamonds? Does that mean you can’t also have gold bullion? Does that mean you can’t also have stones and dirt? Does that mean you can’t also have all the other things that the world has to offer and take it all in and say, “Enough people have worked hard over the course of history to create options for me that I’m not going to limit myself?” I’m strong enough that I can live in a world where I don’t need to build up walls to protect myself, but in fact will crash down all walls, all boundaries, all rules and take it all in and make it all my own. Then I can like this music because it makes me feel like this, and I can like this music because it also makes me feel like this. All I’m looking for is that chemical rush that starts in my stomach and goes to my head and spreads throughout my body and causes me to have chills and tears in my eyes. I can find that in people and places, and all different things all over the world. I’m going to continue to search for things [that make me feel like this] and no one will stop me or stand in my way. I don’t expect people to understand this, but I consider my job to make sure that the truth will out, and I know it will over time.
I admire your enthusiasm.
I think this is one of the greatest things to ever happen on the face of the Earth. It’s not going to be an easy thing. Trails are being blazed here, not by me alone, but by the unconditional belief in and inclusion of every human on the face of the earth. That’s what we’re doing here; it’s the pursuit of absolute truth. There’s no games going on here. Because of that, the first thing people are going to do is take what’s big and exciting and say, “Well, it must be this.” Then they can put it down below them so they can walk away and say, “Next!” and think that they have it all figured out. It’s very satisfying, on one hand, to live in a world where you have everything figured out, where you know everything, where you can keep a half-cocked smirk on one side and an all-seeing eye on the other and say, “Try to stump me.” I don’t want to stump people or confuse people or make people feel anything but happy. The music is so unconditional, the music is so perfect, the music doesn’t have opinions. The music only wants people to be happy and to smile. There’s no wrong reason to smile. There’s no wrong reason to be happy. It doesn’t sit around and make qualifications or lists or guidelines under which people can be involved here. Everyone is invited unconditionally.
I try to gain inspiration and strength and live up to the music’s standards of what it expects of people, [which] is for people to be themselves. Even if someone likes to think it’s a joke, the music’s big enough to even accept that person. My job is to continue to work every day and do whatever I can — whatever it takes — to further the goal of this music, which is to make as many people on the face of the Earth feel good as possible.
I think it’s actually a human being’s true gift that we can create things [like music] of such beauty and size and magnitude and glory and with such divine inspiration and such tribute to human achievement. It’s something that should be celebrated. We should be honored and see it as a privilege to be in the midst of things that are so huge. I write all these songs on piano, and I’ve played piano since I was a little kid. That’s where music came from, for me. Music for me wasn’t an older brother saying, “Here’s what you listen to. It’s cool,” and it wasn’t like, “To meet girls you should be in a band.” It was just, here’s melody, and here’s how it makes you feel inside your body. There were no rules saying you can only like this kind of music and you can’t like that kind, or if you like this, then it really doesn’t make sense for you to like that. It was “What do you like? Why would anyone want to say no to that?” There’s all this possibility, and over time I would say, “Well, here’s the song that I like, and here’s this piano part I like. Now, why would I not want to make music that sounds like this? Why would I not want to take advantage of that? Life is huge and big and exciting, why would I not want to make music that instantly communicates that or pays tribute to it? Why would I not want to sing loud and scream instead of whisper? Why would I want to use a small drum sound when I could use a big drum sound?” There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of.
I don’t want to die and look back and say, “Man, what was I so afraid of? I really wish I’d done all those things.” I want to say that all the fears I have, I’m going to face. In this music, there’s no games going on except that these are the most exciting songs I could possibly write. There was no reason to make them small if I could make the BIG! [Coughs] You know what I mean?
Yeah, of course. And all that comes across, absolutely. It reminds me of the NME‘s cover story on you, that ran with the headline: “Andrew W.K.: Meet the Saviour of Music.” I thought, that’s a pretty tall order, does this guy think he’s up for it? It sounds like you are.
[His voice now audibly hoarse] Well, the only expectations I have are my own, you know what I mean? No one’s harder on me than me. Everything else under that, I can’t control. It’s actually a pretty good situation. I can live up to my own expectations…or die, I guess. I can set my own things and do what I can do, hope for the best and hope everything else follows suit. At the end of the day, the only person that can make me feel bad or feel good is me. And that’s the same with you or anybody else.
What’s the biggest misconception about Andrew W.K.?
There are no misconceptions. This cannot be misunderstood or misconceived. If someone is presented with something, and they say, “This is what I think…” How is that wrong? By its very nature, they are right, no matter what they think. Through my own efforts every day, of working and continuing, maybe they will think something different the next time [they hear my music], but there’s no such thing as a misconception here. It really is that big. This is so big, so much bigger than one person, so much bigger than me, it’s even hard for us to even imagine. I’ve been doing this my whole life and yet it’s still hard for me to imagine. This is the future, it’s all inclusive. It includes everybody. Someone might say “Well, that song’s called “Party ‘Til You Puke,” how does that include everything?” I’d say, because it’s direct and to the point and the gateway into the world. It’s a hand up, it’s an invitation, it’s a person reaching out, saying,”Come in. Welcome. Don’t be afraid.” Know what I mean? It’s really uncanny. It’s just exciting. It’s only a matter of time.
People seem to get really excited about the photograph on the cover of I Get Wet. How did that picture come to get snapped?
I had I met this photographer [Roe Etheridge] who was really cool, and is a good friend of mine now. I went to have some pictures taken with him and I had this whole idea. I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, but I didn’t tell him. Then, at the very end [of the shoot] I wanted to do it really quick and not have him even really be ready for it. The camera had been set up from other pictures — and I have since taken many pictures with him and they’re always good — but this one, this was the first thing I had ever done with him. Initially, I had this little piece of a cinder block, like a brick. I was able to get bloody noses very easily when I was younger, so I wanted to give myself a bloody nose, and then take a picture of it. But my nose didn’t bleed enough after I hit myself with the brick. I had to use this follow-up plan, which was [to take] this little water bottle full of pig’s blood that I’d gotten from the butcher shop. I just ended up using that because there was not enough blood from my nose after I hit myself. So, it turned out good. We took a few pictures and that one just seemed real cool, and that was it. There’s no message, other than what you see.
The first time I saw that picture I remember saying to your publicist, “He looks like he cleans up real good.”
Ahhh. Yes, it was just a fun thing. People often ask what the message is, but there is no message. You know what always used to frustrate me? When you see a really cool photograph, and you really like it, and you feel a certain way about it. Then I’d be told, “Here’s what this is really about and here’s the meaning and the message and the story behind it.” And I’d be thinking that I liked it just fine and now I don’t like it anymore, because I don’t like the whole story and message or political point behind it. Can’t it just stand on its own? That picture and all these songs just stand on their own as to what YOU want them to be.
Do you adhere to any particular spiritual philosophy?
I see that we’re pursuing the truth, unashamed, not guilty, unafraid, facing the fears that we have, to get to the truth. The truth is not necessarily spiritual or non-spiritual, happy or sad: it just is. By the very acceptance of that, you feel actually pretty good, you know what I mean? I want to live in a world that doesn’t need walls. I want to live in a world that is big and open and thrilling and huge and inspiring. I want things to be unknown and confusing, I don’t want to be able to wrap things up in two words or in a sentence. I don’t want to have the answer to everything and say, “Yeah, I know what that is; it’s this.” I just want things to be real and good and pure and exciting and blazing into the future. And believe me, trails are being blazed by me and by everybody — we’re all on an equal tier here. We want people to feel good rather than bad, to smile rather than frown. Day by day, I believe that will be achieved.
How did the act of partying become so integral to your songs?
The word “party,” to me, sums up everything we just talked about, almost better than any other thing. A party is feeling good about a situation, and the situation I’m thinking about here is a person being alive. You can have a party by yourself. In fact, the first song on the album (“It’s Time to Party”) is about having a party by yourself. A good party is where you feel good about yourself and good about what’s happening around you. There’s no word that includes more and is more exciting or happier, or more content than that word, to me. It’s inviting and inclusive and that’s what I want this to be. No one is turned away here and even the people that I don’t want to be like, are still invited. That’s what’s really incredible; it forces me to open up to a bigger place. The music only says yes.