The immediate response anybody has when first hearing Andrew W.K.'s name muttered is a visualization of the blood running from his nose and down his mouth. That is the image captured on the cover of "I Get Wet", his first album. It's an immediate and visceral response and one that's hard to ignore. But the Stanford, California native who grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan is a lot more than a wild party boy who likes bashing himself in the head with a blunt object. Andrew Wilkes-Krier is an articulate guy who loves playing music and all the trappings that come with it: partying, touring, and recording.
Through his 10-year career, he's had to endure the slings and arrows of lawsuits and mistaken identities. But he's managed to endure his first decade and to commemorate these first 10 years the singer has re-released the "I Get Wet" album. It is the same album that came out in November 2001 and announced his musical birth with songs like "Party Hard
" and "She Is Beautiful
." Nothing has been remixed or remastered on the anniversary edition but there is a second bonus disc containing early versions of the songs as well as several live performances.
If you're expecting the responses from some type of drug-addled lunatic, think again. Andrew W.K. dispels the notion once and forever that you can party hard and still retain brain cells the next morning.
UG: Long before you were Andrew W.K., did you take piano lessons so you might one day become a professional pianist?
Andrew W.K.: It was never real classical or jazz piano lessons so much. It was just traditional piano training that any young person would get. It was just basic lessons and there was never any plan to have me became a professional pianist or a jazz or classical pianist one way or another. Much like if you joined the band in elementary school or high school and learned the instrument - it's the reward unto itself whether or not you make a career out of it. So in that way it seemed maybe more comparable to learning how to ride a bike or something. It was just a basic life skill that can bring you joy for many years. It was from such an early age that most of those primary experiences just becomes part of your life whether or not you intend to use it in any way more than for your own joy and entertainment.
Piano did become the tool for your songwriting.
Yes, that's probably how I write most of the music. Whatever way it's written that's always a huge part of how it ends up sounding in the recording process and certainly in performing as well.
"I want to contribute something that maybe otherwise wouldn't exist and get this certain particular feeling across that I get from this music."
Laurie Anderson's "Oh, Superman" was an early influence on you. What was it about the song that moved you?
I think maybe just that I'd never heard anything like that before. Anytime you're encountering something new so at least for me and certainly a lot of folks you're looking for that mind blowing, mind bending and maybe even mind numbing kind of experience. It was something very alien and very exciting. To me you get hooked on that kind of feeling of newness; of uncertainty; of discomfort; and even of like fear and terror especially in entertainment. It's a safe haven to experience emotions like that and experiences like that are made real pleasurable when they're in the confines of something like culture or the arts or entertainment.
You experienced all of that when you first heard "Oh, Superman"?
With the Laurie Anderson song I had never heard a sampled voice repeated like that before. I had never heard a Vocorder used heavily like that. I mean I didn't even know what those words were. But it just was the sound of something completely fresh and very different. On top of all of that if you didn't have the sampled voices or the Vocorder or that particular production, it was also just a great melody and a great song.
How long after that was it when you started getting interested in the metal thing?
It was a similar time like sixth grade or seventh grade. There was a friend of mine named Brian who was always on the outlook again for something totally intense or new or crazy sounding. Any kind of encounter with - I don't know what to say - music or movies or books or anything. There's always that group of friends or people around and especially older kids who had access or life experiences who had been introduced to stuff that they could then tell us. One day Brian came to school and I don't remember where he had gotten it but I think some older kid had turned him onto it. But he came in with the Obituary "Cause of Death" album and he had the Autopsy "Mental Funeral" album and either the "Eaten Back to Life" or "Butchered at Birth" by Cannibal Corpse. Just the artwork and the liner notes especially on the Cannibal Corpse, here again was something entirely new and foreign. I had never encountered anything that looked like this or sounded like it or overall just felt like that. Again you just get really hooked on having your mind blown and your familiarity shattered. The energy and excitement in that music I feel it even more strongly today than I did back then.
By the time you got around to making the "I Get Wet" album did you think you wanted to make a record that sounded like Obituary or those types of bands?
Well no, not with the "I Get Wet" album but I had been in many bands before that where we played all kinds of music as intense as we could do it. Grindcore bands or more straightforward punk bands and hardcore kinds of bands. I played drums in a lot of those bands primarily.
Did that include groups like Lab Lobotomy, Pterodactyls, Kathode and the Portly Boys?
Kathode was the grindcore band. We were called Abhorrence before that but there was a band called Abhorrer that came out around the same time so we changed our name to Kathode. That was the band that was like the grindcore and more death metal band. The other ones were more kind of crazy bands just trying to make the craziest sounds that we could.
"I like playing these songs [from "I Get Wet"] now more than ever and that's something I didn't expect and I'm thankful for."
Even in your earliest bands you were experimenting and trying to push the limits?
It was always definitely geared towards intensity and excitement and high energy. Even if it was me just playing keyboard, it was trying to conjure up the most intense stuff we could. There wasn't a lot of storytelling going on in terms of lyrics and there wasn't a lot of expression of personal experiences. As much as it was trying to manifest some new experience. There's different things you can get out of entertainment and culture and some people want to get comfort or reassurance or soothing from it and that certainly counts and there's a place for it.
That's not what you wanted to find or create in your music.
I would look for that comforting feeling maybe from a warm blanket or from my mom or dad and friends and things like that. They would give me the comfort so that side of life was comfortable enough that you could go out and venture into very uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory.
You wanted to make listeners feel on edge with the music?
That was early on and years later I thought, "Maybe there's a way to capture all the excitement and energy of all these different things and different styles. Come up with some sort of different style that makes the most sense for me especially with the keyboard."
Was that difficult to take those elements and try and create something new?
It was quite not frustrating but challenging at first because I felt very torn with not playing that style real literally. But I also felt like I can't compete with these bands. Napalm Death will always have been the first band to do this and what's the point when they do it so well? I mean I enjoy doing it. If you enjoy running you might still go running even if you're not Carl Lewis or you're not gonna be on the Olympics or something 'cause you love running.
There were bands that simply did copy Napalm Death and that style.
I thought, "Well I want to contribute something that maybe otherwise wouldn't exist and get this certain particular feeling across that I get from this music." A lot of my friends or other people I met even though they would love this kind of intense music, they didn't always find that joyful kind of excitement in it. So I really wanted to make a music that would be as joyful as possible. I just figured, "Well, people that like real heavy music probably won't like it and that's fine. But there's got to be someone out there that also likes this feeling of happy excitement."
Those elements came together on the "I Get Wet" album, which you recently released with bonus tracks. What made you want to revisit that record?
It was the 10th anniversary and my manager and a lot of people I work with suggested doing some special release for the 10th anniversary. So I figured, "Why not?"
I'm guessing you went back and listened to the original album as a reference point?
No, we didn't. It's just the same exact recording; we didn't remaster it or anything. We created a bonus disc that had live recordings and stuff but we didn't go into the original at all.
How does "I Get Wet" stand up for you 10 years after you recorded it?
I mean I haven't listened to it. We play the songs and have played the songs consistently all the way through and one thing I've noticed is the longer we've been playing them the more I enjoy playing them. I've never really liked listening to the albums very much. It gets kind of - I don't know what the word is. It's just not something that I've ever been really drawn to do. I mean I wasn't there for the recording of it either so I don't have that kind of personal relationship with it. It's more of the live performance. I will say that as long as I've been doing it to enjoy playing a song you've played hundreds of times and enjoy it more was not something I was expecting. It's been really wonderful just in terms of my own experience and the band's experience of getting to do this. I've met a lot of other people who hate playing their earlier songs and almost grow to resent them and refuse to play them and especially the ones that their audience might like the most. It gets to be very painful I can imagine and perverted having to go through that kind of discomfort with something that brought you so much joy. But I like playing these songs now more than ever and that's something I didn't expect and I'm thankful for.
"Whatever way you can in your own life - whether it's music or not - take that tool and use it."
What did you mean when you said, "I wasn’t there for the recording" regarding the "I Get Wet" album?
Of course I've listened to the album but I haven't listened to it a lot. I recorded on the "Close Calls With Brick Walls" album and some of the stuff from "Mother Of Mankind" and that's like a more recent thing. It doesn't mean I'm not familiar with it; it's just the recording process was obviously something I wasn't there to do so I can't be hands - on with the memories of it either.
It's still a bit confusing when you say you weren't that hands-on with "I Get Wet". What does that mean?
I'm just saying I wasn't involved at that point in the whole Andrew W.K. adventure. I was aware of it fortunately but I wasn't working on it at that point.
Where did the impulse come from to smash yourself in the face with a brick for the cover of "I Get Wet"?
I think they wanted to have a very memorable cover. I consider it my at this point and I'm very happy it exists. I've heard different things about it myself. I think the main thing is it was just some kind of cover and I had never seen anything like that and wanted to pick it up and find out what it was. And I imagine other people did to. What I like about it is in terms of a shocking or intense kind of photo, it definitely delivers in that realm. But also who hasn't had some kind of a bloody nose at one point? It isn't necessarily a violent experience 'cause a bloody nose you can get from dry weather and there's no violence being inflicted as far as you can tell from the photo. So it kind of walks that line between very commonplace and almost boring or like a calm kind of look and then obviously there is a lot of blood. I think it turned out good and I'm certainly glad it was used on that album.
"It's Time to Party" is the opening track on "I Get Wet". Is is meant to say, "This is who I am and what I do"?
Yeah yeah yeah, I think it does say that. I mean it's the song we usually start our concerts with and it was the first song on that first release even though it wasn't the first single or anything. We just made a video for it now, which was exciting to make a video for the very first song. But I think that kind of started everything and kept it going now.
That was an important song for you.
That's the beauty of it. I'm speaking for a lot of people that are not and aren't here but I think everyone's pretty much on the same page that these are all techniques, methods, tools and means to an end. That song and all the songs on that first album or any of the albums, they all count if they get someone to that place of joy and get someone in that physical state of feeling good and powerful and exciting and energized.
Each song tries to take the listener to this place of Nirvana so to speak?
That's why whatever way you can in your own life - whether it's music or not - take that tool and use it and it reliably gets you to that point, that is a sacred thing to always hold onto. That first album changed my whole life and for that reason I cherish it and wanna protect it forever among all the other great adventures that have also brought us that kind of excitement.
"Party Hard" has become your sort of signature song. It is a big rock song with multiple harmonized guitar parts. In fact you used three guitar players on the "I Get Wet" album: Jimmy Coup, Erik Payne and Frank Werner. Where did that concept come from?
There was a lot of doubling and overdubbing but it's not a very guitar-centered sound even though there's a lot of guitar.
That is true.
The guitars are more used almost like a bass line and they're not actually playing very unusual chords or melodies and there's barely solos most of the time.
Why didn't you use the guitar more as a solo instrument?
So basically the guitars are playing what the left hand plays on the piano, be sort of chord movements that are largely single string or if it's a power chord it doesn't interfere with it. But at the same time there's lots of guitar there and that was always doubled many, many times over. So I figured live you'd have to have more than two because if you have two and one person's playing a lead then there's only one other guitar and it's not doubled anymore. So you have to have at least two to keep the rhythm doubled and now we have four guitars so we can double the lead and the rhythm parts.
"I want people to understand and especially seeing that this is Ultimate-Guitar - I know that I suck at guitar."
There really are no guitar solos on "I Get Wet".
The leads are just melody lines also. That's the thing and in a way it was always kind of embarrassing to have so many guitar players or even to say there was guitar in the music at all. And not have it be so much taking advantage of the skills that most guitar players have. I have so much respect for very good guitar players that I always felt like there would be kind of distrust...
... Or backlash?
Yeah, that this isn't guitar music. I completely agree and I just hope people can enjoy it too. Just like you can sing in one way or you can try and sing in a way that's very impressive and involves a lot of different techniques. But this is more about what it takes to get again to this feeling and if there's a different way to get there that we could offer.
You co-produced "I Get Wet" with John Fields who had worked with the Commodores and the Rembrandts. That music seems far afield from what you were doing so why did you think he would make a good producer?
From what I understand he had been working a lot with one of the guitar players in the group and he was recommended through that guitar player, Jimmy Coup. He was in the band until right before I came in in 2005 or so. I've met John since then and he's very, very nice and a very good musician himself as is evident. He's very good at recording. Most of the sound of the album though and the real technical side of the work done in the engineering and producing was done by Scott Humphrey who is the producer on the album.
Scott Humphrey had worked with Metallica and Motley Crue before doing the "I Get Wet" album.
Yeah, he was amazing. He was a big part of getting a big power chord guitar sound and that was basically his specialty.
On "Girls Own Love" you bring out the big vocal treatment with harmonies and gang vocals. Were you comfortable as a vocalist by the time you recorded this song?
I definitely feel comfortable now with singing in general. Singing live of course is different than the studio and recording but I feel like I'm getting there always. I'm getting better and that one is one of the most fun ones to perform because of the different kind of groove. It's just a nice tune for sure.
"Girls Own Love" almost has a kind of Sweet-meets-the-Raspberries thing going on.
Yeah, I love melodies and that's what always got me to that place of feeling physically euphoric. There's a mood and then there's your body actually feeling a certain way and triumphant melodies they have always worked for me.
"Ready to Die" was an interesting track because the music has this sort of joyful feel to it but the lyric is very dark.
Yeah, that song definitely works like that. I don't know exactly what the meaning was. When I sing it now it is a happy song, which is interesting because I don't think about the words that much. I don't really know what the point is. One person told me that for their side of the songwriting they were wanting it to be a pro-war song and I never thought like that. Like preparing soldiers for battle or something like that. That's the beautiful thing about songs - when you don't know what the person was thinking it's hard to assume and you just try to pick whatever feelings that get you.
The music and the lyric just become one thing.
I'm not proud of it but I just haven't thought that much about those words or I guess a lot of the lyrics in general. They seem just kind of second nature and it's easy for me to say because I've sung them so many times now. That's actually a good question 'cause that's a song I always just felt, "Oh, it's a happy song." I'll have to ask my manager about that.
Do you like the recording process in general?
I do like being in the studio, yeah. It can be a very solitary time of focus and concentration. There was a lot of people obviously working on "I Get Wet" so like all good things it's a group effort.
There's a great guitar riff in "She Is Beautiful" - did you play any guitars on "I Get Wet"?
No, I'm not a good guitar player at all. I'm terrible at most of these kinds of instruments. But at this point I feel I'm good enough to do what is required by the music and by the show and what I've obviously agreed to do. But it doesn't mean there's not room for improvement. It's one of those things that I really want the good players out there to understand that I am fully aware I don't have that kind of talent.
Working with three guitar players and sometimes four, you obviously love the guitar and what is represents in your music.
I have nothing but respect for the people who do and also work to develop it. It's just different things you can put your time into and I haven't done that yet. I want people to understand and especially seeing that this is Ultimate-Guitar - I know that I suck at guitar. And that before me it was never a focus back then either. So it's not something I'm claiming and it's really not something I'm proud of at all.
Did you ever want to be some kind of shred king?
Yeah, sure. Who wouldn't? There's a lot of things I would like to do like I'd be able to slam dunk a basketball. I really would. Think how awesome that would be to do that? There are people that are shorter than me that can and again it's from practice. I would like to be able to cook a good meal for myself and friends and family. That would be nice and again it takes time to learn how to put in a spice or seasoning and grill or even barbeque or something. These are again skills I have not learned. I guess again it just increases my appreciation and respect for the folks that do know how to do that whether it's guitar, cooking or slam dunking.
Talking about guitars, ESP recently made you your very own pizza guitar.
Yes, yes. This is a huge deal to me. As far as I'm aware it's the first ever guitar shaped like a piece of pizza supreme.
ESP make really good guitars.
Oh my gosh, it's fantastic. That's the thing a lot of people wondered about and sometimes the first question especially if they are guitar players is, "Is it a good guitar?" It's the best guitar I've ever had and I really mean that. How it's balanced and especially for playing live; you know how important that is. It's just flawless and the neck is so fast and the tone is so good. Now it's an unusual guitar in some ways and especially for ESP in that it doesn’t have a whammy bar. It's just got that one pickup so there's a simplicity to it. It's a bolt - on neck but in terms of how it plays it was like a dream and that's what really takes it over the top. You can make a crazy custom guitar in any shape you want but if it doesn't work very well then all you got really is like a cool sculpture. This is actually a fantastic instrument and I really think that's sort of the epitome of what ESP is. That amazing design coupled with as good as a guitar could ever be.
Do you play guitar live?
I play that guitar for a few seconds doing whatever I can before "She Is Beautiful." It's more just to show people the guitar. I don't think anyone's gonna be impressed so much with the playing but hopefully they're impressed with the cool design and the tone you know.
The bonus disc of the 10th anniversary rerelease of "I Get Wet" contains early versions of a lot of the songs that eventually ended up on the album. They sound surprisingly similar to the final versions and not a lot was changed.
Yeah, and one thing I asked about when we were assembling this package was going back to get these earlier recordings before the first album. I thought they sounded very similar. In fact the beginning of "Party Hard" sounded the same and of course the folks I work with confirmed that not only are they the same but that a lot of those early versions are just literally earlier versions of the same recording. So that if I understand it just more was added to what those were.
So some of those pre-"I Get Wet" tracks that appear on the anniversary release are the actual takes that were used on the final recording?
I think everything there except for maybe some of the vocals and things that are obvious are actually in the mix in the final version. I think it's pretty clear that some of that is exactly the same. Like the beginning of "She Is Beautiful" - is that on there.
That strange guitar sound? It is.
I think that's just the same exact recording.
And then remixed for the final record.
Yeah, I know they added a lot of overdubs. You can tell that. So really those are just earlier versions. It's like the framework of a house or something.
You followed "I Get Wet" with "The Wolf", which was a completely different album than the first one. The sound is much darker and you’re credited with playing a lot of the instruments yourself.
I know this from my own time as well that you're constantly trying to follow the advice of your handlers and the people that are backing you. And also still do what you want and keep your own integrity to some degree. So I think on that record there's times that people react very well to the idea of you doing something on your own and then there's times when people think it's cooler to be part of a group or something. I think on "The Wolf" album they wanted it to seem very much like, "This guy does have some kind of talent and can play music."
"It's the best guitar I've ever had and I really mean that."
Were you playing guitars and keyboards on "The Wolf"?
Between you and me that's not the case at all. There was all kinds of studio musicians and stuff but they wanted to make it seem a little bit more like, "This guy does have some skills." Because I don't even know if you remember and I've even dealt with this to this day, there's a lot of people because of the scenes of partying and having fun or just the focus of the particular presentation, a lot of people thought that Andrew W.K. was dumb or irresponsible or not thoughtful or whatever. Let alone having any musical skill. The music was derided as being very poor quality in terms of musical content whether it's the chord changes or the melodies or the productions of the recordings. I think that "The Wolf" album was supposed to be - I don't want to say showing off - trying to show people something else. But it's really not how it was done at all.
What about the "Close Calls With Brick Walls" album?
On the third album it was a very similar situation. There was a lot of pressure - I don't want to say it was unwanted pressure - and a lot of input and advice on how to present things and how to make people think about it. To me to be honest, it's all very distracting when you say, "Oh, it's all written by this guy and it's all recorded by this guy. He plays every instrument and he does this and he does that." Who really cares? I don't think it made that much of an impression on people either way. If they like the music, I've always said who cares how it was made?
In 2009 you really turned things around by recording the solo piano album "55 Cadillac." Which kind of brings us back to the first question about you becoming a professional piano player.
Again there was a lot of different cooks in the kitchen on what this piano thing should be. Fortunately the idea of it being very spontaneous and kind of made up on the spot was the way I ended up going. I think like you're saying this album was to try and connect that early story about the piano and how Andrew W.K. started with piano lessons and things like that. This was supposed to be kind of connecting the dots with me. The good thing is by that point I had learned enough about piano and had good help from amazing piano teachers. One of the teachers actually toured with us throughout 2006 and he is now and was also then the music director and one of the main keyboard players for Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Who is that?
His name is Derek Wieland and he toured with us for most of 2006 on the "Close Calls With Brick Walls" album and basically taught me how to play. I mean I knew enough from what I'd already been doing but I would consider him the only way I was able to do any of "55 Cadillac". Of course there was help with that on the spot as well. But he is an incredible piano player and someone who can literally play anything. To be around him and learn from him on that tour, I couldn't be doing the stuff I get to do now if it wasn't for him.
What are your plans at the moment?
Oh, the plans now are my band and I have more festival shows and one-off special concerts. I have some solo shows throughout the summer and going into early fall. Then the rest of fall and winter will be focused on a brand new Andrew W.K. album. I have to finish it without rushing but also keeping a sense of timeliness 'cause I want to have the band back on the road for as much time as possible next year. Then of course the "I Get Wet" anniversary edition comes out a week from tomorrow on August 28th. The band and I will be playing on Conan O'Brien's show that night. So we're very excited and very amazed this has gone on for over 10 years now and very, very, very grateful that we get to keep the torch going.
Ten years is a very long time in the music business.
That's one thing I think is so crucial these days. I'm one of the owners of a nightclub and concert hall here in New York City called Santos Party House and there are times we've had bands come in there and play - I'm not gonna name any names - where certain folks in the audience complained that it wasn't the original lineup or there was only one person from the same lineup as before. I say, "Well, I would think that would be even a bigger deal because these guys weren't even there when it started and the people that started it quit. So you should be thankful that these people who weren't even that responsible to decide that, 'No, it must keep going.'"I think that attitude should count for a lot as long as the spirit is still being delivered and the excitement is still there. Whoever it takes and whatever it takes to keep it going, I think that's a good thing. That's how we feel. We get to keep going and keep doing this thanks to the incredible group efforts of so many people that also believe in this power of positive partying.
The image you have presented of this party animal really is in stark contrast to the person who is doing this interview. You're obviously a very astute and bright person.
I managed to trick you with that too?
It takes someone truly brilliant to present an idea that is very simple.
That's a nice way to look at it. Thanks for your great questions and most of all the encouragement. This is about feeling good and thinking about being alive and life in general and all that goes with it. We'll do whatever it takes to get there and either way thanks for giving some of your time to me and this vision.
Alright. Have a great rest of your day.
Interview by Steven Rosen
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