A couple of years ago, on an evening that I was regrettably absent from, a few friends of mine ended up partying with Andrew W.K. If you’re familiar with the 32-year-old rock star/celebrated hedonist/motivational speaker, you’ll know that this is a big deal. A very big deal. Because no-one parties quite like Andrew W.K. The man has made it his mission to party; it’s his religion. Why just live, when you can party?
Ever since the release of his debut album I Get Wet at the end of 2001, songs such as ‘Party Hard’, ‘It’s Time To Party’, ‘Fun Night’ and ‘Party Til You Puke’, have earned him a reputation as a lunatic rocker, beloved of skaters, slackers, stoners, and a bunch of people who ought to know better.
But he has also emerged as an unlikely cult favourite, attracting fans with his positive mental attitude (he has given motivational lectures to Ivy League universities such as Harvard and Yale) and legendary rowdy live shows which more often than not descend into joyous brawls of sweaty bodies. Followers will tell you that if you're not bleeding by the time you leave one of his gigs, you're doing something wrong. Twitter has also introduced Andrew W.K. to a new generation, all curious as to who this oft-retweeted man is (sample tweet: “PARTY TIP: Show up in a banana costume”).
This week, the New Yorker brings his raucous circus to the UK, and although he has gone on to release five further albums, he will be playing I Get Wet in its entirety to celebrate its tenth anniversary. And if there was any doubt as to his popularity, his first headline tour in seven years sold out so quickly that they had to upgrade to bigger venues to meet demand.
It’s one of those peculiar albums that, over time, has gone on to connect with people in an unexpected way. You might even say that it has become a modern classic (in as much as over-the-top manufactured metal can be). On its release in 2001, Pitchfork gave the album a stinging 0.6 out of 10, describing it as “evil in its purest form.” By the time the decade came to a close, the same website awarded I Get Wet with a place at number 144 on their list of the top 200 albums of the 2000s. The music is certainly not to everyone’s taste but there was something about his joie de vivre that was endearing, even contagious.
Unfortunately I can only meet Andrew W.K. on a Monday morning (which is officially the least party-time of the week). He’s sitting in the lobby of a hotel, sunglasses on, emitting a kind of musty smell (to be fair he has just got off a flight from Oslo). One thing’s for sure: he is overwhelmed by the response to his upcoming tour. “This is the biggest reaction, especially in the UK, that we’ve ever had to any shows we’ve announced,” he smiles. “In that way I just feel extraordinarily grateful and really, really humbled by the growing support.”
Born in California, before moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan at an early age, Andrew Wilkes-Krier started classical piano lessons when he was four-years-old. He was in a number of bands throughout high school and in 1998 moved to New York, finding work in stores such as Bergdorf Goodman. After a few false starts and limited releases, he signed to Island Def Jam and released I Get Wet three years later. The cover art, a head-shot of W.K. with blood pouring out of his nose, was immediately banned in the UK. “People said it was a drug reference,” he recalls, “but it never occurred to me, ever. I figured it was the one kind of bloodbath that everybody has probably had, from a little kid to your grandmother. You know, it can happen from dry weather or picking your nose too much. But it is an intense image. That’s what I’m here for.”
In the past W.K. has claimed that he gave himself the bloody nose because the fake blood they were using wasn’t effective enough; although now he doesn’t like to talk about it because of his subsequent work with children (he has even presented a show called Destroy Build Destroy on Cartoon Network and continues to work with the channel). Although W.K. doesn’t have children of his own, he has been happily married since 2008 to Cherie Lily, a sweet fitness instructor and musician who pops over during the interview to say hello and who he clearly adores.
Spending time with W.K. is an odd, yet thrilling, experience. He is prone to long (and perhaps surprising) philosophising speeches on anything from Christopher Hitchens’ death (“his revelations and his erudite presentation of that experience made other people stronger”) to his plans to turn his live shows into electricity (“I’m trying to figure out a way to connect it to a car or maybe power a home or something”).
The only time he gets nervous is when I bring up his 2008 gig at Madame Jojo’s in London, during which he claimed that he had auditioned for the part of Andrew W.K., who had been created by a number of people, and he was merely the guy playing the part of this relentlessly positive rocker who based his life around partying. In what was the rock equivalent of a child discovering Santa Claus didn't exist, W.K. quickly backtracked, claiming that he was “a real person”. He clearly doesn’t want to talk about it today, giving me a long-winded explanation that actually reveals nothing (“I had been dealing with some real personal and business issues that were kind of coming to a head and certain handlers that I work with advised me to reveal these kinds of things and in the end it backfired…”)
The real deal or not, his upbeat personality has struck a chord with jaded folk everywhere. When asked about the enduring appeal of a decade old album whose title track features lyrics as basic as “I get wet when the party is dying/ I get wet without even trying”, W.K. is much clearer. “They don’t express my experiences; they’re not really storytelling songs,” he says. “They weren’t made to be organic expressions of an individual, they were meant to create this feeling that I wanted to feel, which was raw energy. It fulfils a very particular space. Music has the power to change the way you feel. Initially it’s just this physical rush but it ends up making your mood better. I don’t know what it is and it’s very hard to describe; it’s a form of magic.”
And if you assume there must be a shelf life on Andrew W.K., he has no plans to hang up his white t-shirt any time soon and talks enthusiastically about recently working with 75-year-old Lee “Scratch” Perry (W.K. received a Grammy nomination in 2009 for producing Perry’s album Repentance). In fact, W.K. doesn't even have plans to depart this Earth any time soon. “I figure Ray Kurzweil has a lot of plans for life extension and ways to preserve human consciousness, and you and I could both very well live to see some versions of that happen. And that’s very exciting because then we could really, actually party forever.”
Righto. So what does partying mean to him exactly?
“To me, that was the word that if there could be a word to sum up the sensation that I was trying to manifest then that would be it. Pure excitement, pure happiness, pure joy, celebration, energy, just a state of euphoria. Usually parties have been reserved for celebrating a birthday or the new year or a holiday or the weekend so you’re always in this state of gratitude and awareness about what you’re happy about, so it creates this certain mindset. And I thought, well, what about making that every single day? What if you make it about being grateful to be alive?”
But how can people really party all the time, Andrew?
“I think it’s possible and I’m trying to lead by example.”
So how can someone like me party more in my day-to-day life?
“Well you can notice things, like this beautiful plant. And the beauty that’s around you and that you possess. You can enjoy things like food; the laughter of a friend; the challenge of a project.”
I look at him, disappointed. A plant?
“I like to think that we can unite the human race through common shared experiences like partying and music,” he finishes earnestly. “It’s the one thing that all humans seem to be able to do. Besides maybe smiling. That’s a good one. Laughing too. You can laugh and smile with someone and not understand what the heck is going on.”
So it would seem, Andrew. So it would seem.
Andrew W.K. tours the UK from Thursday. www.AndrewWK.com