On Monday night, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew W.K. and watching his spectacular performance at Webster Hall for the I Get Wet Ten-Year Anniversary tour. We had a nice conversation, and his show was an absolute party unlike any other I have ever seen.
It's impossible not to be inspired by Andrew W.K. Besides his musical talent, he has ventured into public/motivational speaking, television (including hosting the Cartoon Network's fun game show Destroy Build Destroy), club ownership with NYC's Santos Party House, and probably more of which I'm not even aware. But beyond the sheer zeal he brings to his manifold pursuits, it turns out he's a really great guy. I have never witnessed the spectacle of hordes of people swarming a stage during a concert and every one of them getting to hug Andrew or high-five him or even share the mic mid-song – and this was each and every song! It takes an incredibly giving and warm person to embrace that chaos and reciprocate the outpourings of joy from all the fans.
That's what made this show so memorable to me. It really was a party and it was impossible to say who was having more fun. Right from the get-go with "It's Time to Party," the crowd burst to life at a level of energy unparalleled in my concert-going history. Over the course of the main twelve song set of I Get Wet, plus the ample seven song double encore, there was constant motion, many fans shouting every word, and a never-ending roulette of people climbing onstage, rocking out, stage diving, and crowd surfing. The music of Andrew W.K. is a perfect stimulant, incredibly loud, big, and fast, and it was even more massive at Webster Hall. I honestly don't know how the band, which includes four guitarists, a bassist, drummer, and Andrew W.K.'s wife Cherie, in addition to the man himself, has the endurance to keep up night after night, though I imagine that the monumental energy is a two-way source of sustenance and adrenaline. I do know that it was incredible to witness and even greater to feel part of such unified, collective jubilation.
I guarantee you there was not an unhappy person in that room. The communal spirit is why I love concerts, and it was in full effect the other night. It was so easy to get swept up in the present moment, forget everything else, and just have a rocking good time. Sounds a little trite but it really felt that way, and I say that as more of a casual fan than a true diehard. The highlights were numerous, but my personal favorite was the one-two of "I Love NYC" and "She Is Beautiful." Musically they sounded awesome. The former went over well since we were in NYC, and the latter found Andrew W.K. starting the song on a pizza guitar and dedicating it to a young woman in the audience who found her way on stage to tell him how much she had been waiting for the chance to see him. I'm sure that made her night, and the best thing was the palpable sense that the show meant so much to everyone else there, too. Not all live performances have such transcendence. Experiencing that will always be life-affirming.
Just look at this picture. Have you ever seen so many people onstage during a show? It was like this for every song!
Prior to the show, I had the chance to talk with Andrew W.K about a variety of subjects. It was a lot of fun. Here's the interview.
TWD: You're doing the I Get Wet tour where you're playing the whole album. This is something I think is really cool as a music fan.
Andrew W.K.: Thank you.
TWD: I like the idea of seeing an album live, but I always wonder how does a musician feel about it? Does it take away that you don't get to create a new set each night or is it thrilling?
AWK: Normally on tour we've picked a set and then ran with it, so it's not different in that way. The main difference is that for the audience there usually is some amount of surprise with "I wonder what song they're gonna play next." When we play the album, if you're familiar with it, you're well aware what song is going to come next because we're playing them in order.
There are some fun changes in how the show rolls. For example, "Party Hard" is a song we normally would play towards the end of our set, if not last. On I Get Wet, it's the second song. That changes things up in a very exciting, fun way. It explodes by the second song, we're in the thick of it. There's actually a lot of momentum created by that. It's been really satisfying. I hope that for folks coming to the show, they have that satisfaction of an album that maybe they've listened to a lot of times being played for them live. You don't normally get that, so it is exciting to adhere to that structure and that order and revel in it. It's a good order, it works very well actually.
TWD: What's an album you would want to hear live straight through?
AWK: Hmm, that's a good question. Maybe Screaming for Vengence by Judas Priest. That one works really well as a full album.
TWD: Is there a good story behind how you got into Judas Priest and that album? How you discovered it?
AWK: I don't remember exactly how I heard that. I think I had been aware of Judas Priest, probably first from their name, when I was quite young. Probably very frightened by it as well, because it looked kind of intimidating and I didn't understand who Judas was, let alone barely understood what a priest was.
Oh! When I first had moved to Brooklyn at 18 there was a video store around the corner from my house. I would go and rent videos whenever I had that night open. I didn't have a VCR but I did have an old camcorder that had a viewfinder that played full-sized VHS tapes. And I could watch with headphones on the small black and white screen. One day I thought, "Oh, there's this Judas Priest live video." I had just been hearing some of their songs, like "You Got Another Thing Coming," and realizing that was them and was very excited to watch this. I rented that video more than any other video at that store for the whole time that I lived in that neighborhood – Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
TWD: Oh, Greenpoint, that's where I live.
AWK: There was a video store on the corner of Jewel Street and Nassau that I don't believe is there anymore. It's possible that they are, maybe doing of course more DVDs now. I'd also rent adult videos and watch them on that same camcorder. I would have to lay on my back, hold the camcorder over my head. At first I would watch bent over a table like that [bends over], headphones on. I would get uncomfortable, like any position, after awhile. Then I would lay on my back, holding it like that [leans back and holds up pretend camera] and watch it.
I learned a lot from Rob Halford's moves, the intensity of their performance, the excitement of those guitar riffs, and one of the greatest drummers of all-time, Dave Holland. A good group there. Dave Holland doesn't drum with anymore I think, but he was one of my favorite drummers of all-time. He had a huge impact on me.
TWD: I know you're an inclusive guy, but if you had to pick to party with Animal from The Muppets or the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes, who would you pick?
AWK: I'd probably pick Animal because he plays drums and Tasmanian Devil seems a bit more belligerent. Like a trouble maker almost, he's winding everybody up, trashing the place. Animal seems more like he directs his energy towards the drums. He has an outlet that's musical and ultimately constructive. Rather than Tasmanian Devil, that's just pure destruction. Although I respect him and please don't tell him I said any of this cause I don't want him to spin his whirlwind over into my face or anything. Very vicious beast.
TWD: (Laughs). Something I like about your album, besides just the idea of having fun, it's really also very empowering and inspiring. Some of the songs I think that about are "Got To Do It" and "Ready To Die." "Got To Do It," being where you say the lines like "You got to do what you love no matter how hard it gets," "Ready To Die," being sort of, "You're gonna die, so own your life."
Andrew W.K. – Got To Do It
AWK: Yes. It's funny, "Got To Do It," is the song that we've played, out of all the songs on this album, the least. That one is now probably, out of all the I Get Wet songs – I mean, I don't want to say my top one I look forward to, but I love singing that song. That vocal line is different than the other songs and it just feels really, really, really good. I'm glad you brought it up as well. That's a fun one.
TWD: I wanted to ask you about what you have found helpful for those times when you're not feeling at your best to go for things. You've obviously met a lot people, you've helped a lot of people. What are some tricks and tips you've picked up along the way?
AWK: Music. Music, and if you can think of something that makes you laugh, think of even one thing you're grateful for, it's very hard to be in a bad mood. You actually really can't have both those thoughts and feelings at the same time. It seems almost, I think, spiritually or physically impossible when thinking about what you're thankful for. You know, having food, or thankful for having your best friends, or thankful for your parents, or whoever. The beauty of it is that there's pretty much an infinite amount of things to be thankful for. Even if you're someone that doesn't have the things that I specifically mentioned, there are other things. It's very hard to be resentful or angry or upset or frustrated while meditating on one of those ideas.
Beyond that, the other day we were walking in Denver, to our show, and [guitarist] Frank put on "Hot Rockin'" by Judas Priest. I already actually had been in a pretty good mood, but I literally felt on top of the world. Music has this magical power to change the way it feels to live in your body. It's not just your mood or your emotions or ideas or thoughts. It goes into a part of yourself that's much deeper than that. It's almost hard to pinpoint or to fathom or localize. I guess it's your soul or your true self as someone might say. If you can have a song you can even just think about or hum it to yourself, that is real magic.
TWD: For me, "She is Beautiful," might be the most magical song like that on the album. When it came out I was in high school and back then – still to this day even – I was not the most confident guy around girls.
AWK: Yeah, likewise.
TWD: Especially when I'm interested.
AWK: Right, of course.
TWD: Anyways, I've driven around with that song, it's great for the car. The whole album is really, but I especially love that song and air drumming in the car to it. I love when it breaks down and then builds back up. That drum fill in is euphoric.
AWK: Ok good, that is a good thing.
TWD: Besides the romantic aspect, you could also think of it as a song just about approaching people in general, making new friends. What have you found is a good way to break the ice and meet someone new? Sometimes it's very intimidating.
AWK: Well, I feel the same way as you and always have and in some ways have continued to. In some ways I'm more comfortable and more confident in myself, through whatever I've learned and having friends around. But I would still never walk up to someone that I wanted to meet and say hi to them. I don't know how people have the courage to do that. It's not a good feeling to me. I don't really know what I would get out of it other than to say "I met them."
I have done it a few times, and sometimes it's been great and sometimes it's been terrible. You just got to trust your instinct. I would say if you really feel like you want to meet someone or say hi, then go for it. Otherwise I'd say that if it's meant to happen, it'll probably happen on its own. Even the most unlikely meetings that you never think would, if it's meant to be, just hold on to that feeling and let it carry itself out in its own way. Otherwise, you're trying to impress the person.
TWD: "I Love NYC" is a cool song to me because I'm really interested in the connections of music and place. Urban planning is something that I'm really fascinated by and trying to do with my life.
Andrew W.K. – I Love NYC
AWK: That's awesome. You know about Robert Moses? You read that book about him?
TWD: The Power Broker?
AWK: Yeah, that's pretty incredible, right?
TWD: It is. He did a lot of stuff that's not the greatest, but…
AWK: He just did a lot of stuff. On both sides. It's over the top.
TWD: Yeah. But what I was going to ask you is, can you tell me a song that reminds you of a place?
AWK: Those Judas Priest songs remind me of Greenpoint. "New York, New York," as sung by Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra reminds me of here. The first Ace Frehley solo album, that reminds me of Michigan. Most songs remind me of here (laughs) because that's where I've listened to them. Oh, this band called Gism, G.I.S.M. written as an acronym, that reminds me of Michigan.
TWD: One of my favorite things you've done was your collaboration with Rodney the Mailman [for the AV Club's Undercover web series].
AWK: Oh yeah, he sang great, huh?
TWD: That was amazing.
AWK: He's a nice man for sure.
TWD: How was that to perform? It looked like it was so much fun and so joyful.
AWK: It was. They had this small room that's just in the middle of their office. I guess it would have been normally like a storage room for office supplies, but they cleared it out and made it into a small live performance space. I did "Silent Night," and then he trotted in, happened to be delivering the mail actually right at that time.
TWD: So it was all spontaneous?
AWK: It was, yeah. He was a great sport and definitely embraced it. And he was also a very good performer. Very engaging.
TWD: He was! He was loving it.
AWK: Yeah, he put on a great show.
TWD: It makes me wonder if there's a way to do something like that. Get random people off the street, start singing with them.
AWK: I don't think it's that easy. That was like a divine moment.
TWD: Yeah, he was kind of a gem.
AWK: Absolutely. Got to give him his proper due.
TWD: For that anniversary episode of The Simpsons a few years ago, you were part of the opening theme montage. I'm a big fan and wondering what might be one of your favorite episodes or characters?
AWK: Here's a rare case where I actually have a favorite in terms of the episode that made me laugh out loud the hardest and with the most consistency to the point of tears. There are a lot of laughs I get on the The Simpsons, like many shows I love, but there's a few…for example, on Seinfeld, the mohel episode.
TWD: Oh, "The Bris." "The glass, deep in the shag!" (Laughs).
AWK: "You're on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass, you can't get it out of there! And then one day, you walk in barefoot. And you cut yourself on a piece of glass and you kill yourself! Is that what you want? Do ya? Do ya? Huh? Do ya? Huh? People!"
That guy was so incredible and such a fantastic character and he was so on fire. You could tell they gave him so much time. They don't usually give secondary character that. "The Library," the episode with Bookman, that's also a great secondary character.
TWD: Yeah. I agree.
AWK: But just the mohel's intensity and his joy in performing those lines! What did he say, like, "People! We're performing a bris here! It's not a burlesque show! Not a baggy pants farce! It's not a high school play! It's a bris! This is the sacred union between God and Abraham! Or something like that."
TWD: (Laughs). That's good.
AWK: It's amazing. In The Simpsons, it's the one where they get snowed in at the school ["Skinner's Sense of Snow"] and Principal Skinner places each kid in a special duffel hanging from the hooks in the gym (laughs). I think Homer somehow knocks over a salt truck or something that ends up melting around the school. And Super Nintendo Chalmers comes in and says "Skinner! What are you doing in that ridiculous duffel?"
TWD: (Laughs). That's great. That's a good dynamic, I think, the Skinner-Chalmers dynamic.
AWK: Oh, they have a great rapport.
TWD: I love when Skinner's cooking for him, and Chalmers thinks he's getting steamed clams, but then Skinner goes and buys the Krusty Burgers and he's like "Oh, I meant steamed hams. I'm from Upstate New York." Chalmers goes, "Well I'm from Utica and I've never heard that!"
AWK: Steamed hams! (Laughs).
TWD: I could talk about these shows all day.
AWK: I had never watched Seinfeld. Ever. And then Sgt. Frank, our guitarist, on our first tour, which was in 2001 or 2000, started bringing his VHS, hand-taped-off-the-TV, copies of Seinfeld. We watched them after shows driving to the next town for hours in hysterics. He educated me. That was a gift that he gave me, telling me about Seinfeld.
TWD: That sounds awesome. That's a wonderful gift. One last question, if you could be any ingredient in a salad bar, what would you be?
AWK: Pepperoncini, definitely. If they don't have that, I'm not going to enjoy the salad very much.
All around, it was a great night. The US portion of the tour is winding down, but exciting news is that a deluxe edition of I Get Wet is due out July 17, 2012. Check out Andrew W.K.'s website for all the details on that, shows, and more, plus be sure to follow him on twitter.