Celebratory Euphoria: An Interview with Andrew W.K.
Our interview subject is not one who needs much, if any, introduction, so I’ll say as little as possible here. On the heels of releasing his taco-guitar and promoting a U.S. tour, Andrew W.K. agreed to a 20-minute phone conversation with The Toilet. If the punctuation I’ve used in transcribing it seems odd, it is only the result of my trying to capture the flow and rhythm of the foaming torrents of thought that issue forth from this particular head. I’m going to assume you’re already familiar with this fellow’s glorious party rock, so here is his solo piano music to accompany reading this, if you feel like pausing that Bolt Thrower album. Enjoy.
Toilet ov Hell: Let’s start with some recent news: you’ve just convinced ESP to put out a taco guitar. How did that all go down?
Andrew W.K.: It was a long time ago actually – as a follow-up to the pizza guitar we made together, so I guess it was like a sequel. That’s how the idea turned out, “Let’s make another one!”. I had begun thinking about possibilities – I actually had a taco in mind for quite some time, so I had that concept ready to go and they were game, so we began the process.
That was about four years ago. The pizza guitar was about five years ago, so as soon as that was done we began working on the taco guitar which was about four years ago. We just released it on Wednesday. I didn’t talk about it as it was being made; I just waited to tell people once it was done.
ToH: Did they ask for more food, or just whatever you brought to the table?
AWK: This was me going to them. They are a custom guitar company – powerhouse, really, and really they can make anything they dream up. The sorts of guitars I’ve been asking them to make is really proof, not only of their open-mindedness, but of their craftsmanship.
One thing that people maybe wouldn’t really expect – and probably can’t believe until they actually hold it and see it in person – is just how high-quality of an instrument it is. There’s a ridiculous intensity to it when you see it from afar just as a taco or pizza concept, but if you look very close the integrity of it as a guitar is quite high, and the balance, and the tone, and the playability is even better than it needs to be, in my opinion.
They’re the best guitars I’ve ever owned of any style or design or brand. They really go above and beyond. I’ve gotta – not just give them so much credit for it not just for the excellent work they do, but also being willing to take on this type of a design.
ToH: Yeah, it’s really amazing that you’re at a point in your career where you can take that to a major guitar company and have that become a reality. That’s gotta feel cool.
AWK: I certainly don’t take it for granted at all, especially because I’m not really known as a guitar player and whatever guitar playing I can do is quite limited to the area of my Party Music; I’m not a virtuoso guitar player by any stretch, and ESP is known for being involved with very, very high-level, very prestigious guitar players, so I also consider that a great risk to take on my part to just be associated. At the same time, it’s really not any point of my career that I’m at that’s doing that; it’s really just the generosity and the spirit of ESP.
ToH: Awesome. Another recent announcement is you’ll be putting out your first album in – is it ten years?
AWK: It depends how you look at it, I guess. To me, it was the first full-length album I had done since Close Calls With Brick Walls. Now Close Calls With Brick Walls came out in 2006, and then it was released world-wide in 2009, sort of released twice. I guess you could say it’s 11 years if you count from the first release date of the completion of that third studio album, but then other people mention the solo piano album I did, if that counts as an album, and other people mention the collection of cover songs that I did in Japan only. I’m not saying those don’t count as albums, but since they weren’t widely available and they were more particular in their content, I normally don’t think of them as one of the standard Andrew W.K. studio albums. Either way, yeah, it’s been several years, that’s for sure.
ToH: During those years, you’ve been doing all sorts of things: motivational speaking and hosting children’s shows, just to name two. Do you think those endeavors and what you’ve learned from them are bleeding through into the message of this album? Are you sort of taking that stuff in there with you?
AWK: It’d be very hard, in my opinion, to compartmentalize any parts of yourself entirely, and I don’t know what would be the benefit of that. Even the negative experiences can be applied in positive ways, the whole adventure of life, and the adventures yet to come. That’s absolutely the case; I would like to think that this album connects all these dots and pulls all these seemingly disparate experiences together in a cohesive way, and uses all the best aspects of these various experiences, these adventures, and dilutes them into one consistent feeling of power and glory.
At the same time, I am just taking it one song at a time and trying to make the most exciting music I can, but I certainly didn’t try to limit the influence of my life. I don’t really think of the music as about me; I think of it as trying to achieve a certain physical feeling, so it’s not really storytelling in that regard. I find it to be quite impersonal music when it comes to me, but it is of course as personal as something can be in that I made it, and it is my effort to achieve this certain level of physical joy through music. I hope other people relate to it and it doesn’t just seem like it’s about my life.
ToH: With this much time between the releases, how much of that was spent on this upcoming album? Was it recently you sat down and got to it, or was it piecemeal throughout these years?
AWK: There certainly was never intended to be this long of a gap between albums. I haven’t really been able to figure out the best way to describe what’s happened, because even I don’t fully understand it. It’s some amount of not planning – a lack of planning, a lack of thought, but also an awareness that there’s a lack of planning and a lack of thought. It’s a responsible approach to being irresponsible.
So there was always recording going on and there was always the assumption that this album was gonna happen. It wasn’t until 2016 when it really fully struck me that is has been ten years since Close Calls With Brick Walls. I got really disturbed by that, because it flew by very – not necessarily quickly, but very easily, the time went by very easily. Then you realize, well, another ten years is gonna go by very easily. There was so much partying going on I feel like life kind of becomes a whirlpool; it doesn’t feel like it’s moving left to right as an experience, as this linear thing; it just turns into this vortex, spiral, and you forget that time’s even passing at all, in a very enjoyable way; that’s why it’s easy for this amount of time to go by.
There are songs on this album that I was working on from before the last one, going back to 2004, 2005. There were, as you can imagine, pieces of music that came together just in the midst of the recording.
A big part of the approach to the writing, the recording, the creation of the album was, again, how am I gonna get this feeling across? What is the most efficient way to get to this – it’s very difficult for me to describe; I guess that’s why music exists, because it does it better than words – it’s a type of empowered, triumphant feeling, and it comes from melodies and chord changes, and it comes from a production sensibility, it comes from the lyrics, of course, and it comes from an entire personal presentation.
I felt like I had made my best efforts to get there before on the other albums, and now I felt I had even more – you’re always sort of practicing; you’re always sort of honing your skill. I’m trying to just hit this certain place, that’s really what my work, for me, is about. I’m not interested in going off in some other direction, I’m not interested in trying to hit a different target. I feel like I’ve barely even gotten to this target, and this target is this celebratory euphoria. That’s what all my work in all these different fields, it’s all for that: to try to create this feeling that it’s good to be alive, that being alive is a triumph, that being alive is a glorious, almost unimaginably fantastic thing, that it’s so over-the-top incredible that we can barely even fathom that it’s happening. I wanna make music that sounds like that feeling, that sounds like that revelation, the understanding of that as a truth. This is my next effort to really – Can I get there even better? Can I get there even more clearly? Can I get there even more powerfully? Can this song or this song or this song hit that bullseye feeling even more on the nose?
ToH: Word. That’s a noble endeavor.
AWK: Oh, thank you.
ToH: One thing I’ve found interesting in your life as a motivational speaker and media personality is you’ve been given platforms by outlets with very different political leanings, say The Blaze and Vice. Do you find them resonating with different parts of your message or do you think there’s sort of a one-size-fits-all nature to this?
AWK: A lot of times I hadn’t been aware that a certain media outlet or a certain person was supposed to be understood to be falling on one side of a line or another. A lot of times I wasn’t aware of that.
For example, I wrote for the Village Voice for a few years, and I was never aware that that was considered a certain side of the political spectrum as a publication. It wasn’t until Glenn Beck says, “I’m amazed that I’m talking to someone who writes for the Village Voice,” that oh, yeah, I guess I never realized.
All that seems so besides the point to me. That doesn’t mean that it is, but to me it always – that’s not what I was looking to feel, being someone who personally has experienced a lot of confusion and also revels in experiencing confusion and perhaps revels in confusion, in general.
I’d be interested to hear what they say actually, what they thought about that or why they put me on NPR one day and then Glenn Beck’s show another day. I guess the one-size-fits-all message is being human. If there’s one thing that’s gonna be shared by all people, it’s focusing on the fact that we’re all human beings and we all exist. That doesn’t mean there’s not an extremely set of issues and situations and differences within that one shared attribute, but that one shared attribute should always underlie and always over-power everything else. If we lose the sense that we are all in this together, our downfall is secured.
ToH: On the subject, we’re in a timeline where a lot of people are being barraged with news of political decisions that directly effect their lives, especially in vulnerable communities. How would you recommend people stay mentally healthy and resilient throughout this?
AWK: I don’t know that I would be the best person to give anyone advice, let alone someone who’s going through experiences I might not experience myself, but I would go back to that same human point of view, that if challenge is part of the human experience one way or another, that everybody is going to face challenges of some sort or another. Whether some are worse, or some are easier, or some are more unfair and unjust, or some are more absurd or superficial, in some aspect we are being tested at all times, tested by reality. Those tests can either bring out our worst or they can bring out our best, and that goes for everybody. I don’t know really know what else anybody can do except try to meet these challenges with as much, as you said, resilience and dignity and resolve, and to never let these challenges compromise your humanity or your own inherent goodness; let it instead amplify that goodness. That always seems to be the only thing that, in the long, long, long run, wins out and works.
ToH: You use the word partying in a very broad way that can include various activities. I’m going to list some activities and I’d like you to tell me whether or not they count as partying or not, alright?
AWK: Okay. I’ll try.
AWK: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Sure. I think so.
AWK: Yeah, I think so.
AWK: I think so.
ToH: Being mean to strangers online.
AWK: In someone’s world, that could. I’ve had experiences when I was much younger when we just got America Online. I don’t know if I was being mean, necessarily, but I found it really fun to go into chat rooms and pretend to be someone else and say ridiculous things. They weren’t necessarily mean, but just sort of talking nonsense, and realizing that no one knew who you were and you could say anything was so strange. This was, gosh, almost 20 years ago.
ToH: When are you going to collaborate with Municipal Waste?
AWK: Well I did play a show with them in Virginia not so long ago, and that was quite meaningful, and I saw them when they played a show at Santo’s Party House, the venue that my friend and I opened years ago in New York City.
They’re always excellent people and an excellent live band and everything else. They did invite me to sing on a song. I was very moved by that. There were various reasons why it didn’t happen at the time, but I was very, very thankful that they’ve always been so kind, that they have so much Party Spirit in the way they approach their work and their music.
ToH: Fuck yeah. Anything else you wanna say to the people of Toilet ov Hell?
AWK: Just, y’know, stay strong. Party as hard as you possibly can and then party a little bit harder because that’s how you grow, and that’s how your party capacity increases. Push yourself to the limit and then push yourself a little bit past, or a lot past if you can withstand it. Keep an open mind, a mind that’s so open that it questions even the veracity of having an open mind at all.