From the moment Andrew W.K. planted his party flag in 2001 with the breakthrough album I Get Wet, and announced to the world that "When it's time to party we will always party hard," he might as well have written on his signature white t-shirt: "Never take me seriously."
For his part, W.K. (born Andrew Wilkes-Krier, in Stanford, Calif.) has embraced that generalization, doing interviews where he makes silly faces while being asked serious questions and performing a ridiculous version of a weather forecast on a morning news show.
With each new medium, W.K. has never stopped preaching the power of "partying," but what started as something seemingly innocuous and goofy became something more profound: a message of absolute positivity. Even his Twitter feed is full of golden life advice, dispensed in bite-sized "party tips."
When W.K.'s people reached out to me for an interview, I hoped to speak not with the goofball Andrew W.K. character but with the wise Andrew W.K. -- he has admitted he plays a character in one of his lectures -- even though he was promoting a pizza party. Luckily, it wasn't hard push aside the funnyman and speak to the zen master, who lives just beneath the surface of his party-boy persona.
You were born in Stanford. Did your dad teach at Stanford University?
He taught there and he taught at Cal Tech. And UCLA.
And now he's a well-known law professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Did having a law professor in the family help you develop communication skills?
He's a great teacher. I've sat in his classes and he's able to express very complicated ideas -- certainly much more complicated ideas than partying. It may seem like I'm good at communicating, but that's because of what my subject is; it does all the work for me. It's such an appealing subject because it's fun, and anybody can talk about partying and make it sound cool. Now talking about contracts and property law, that takes some real talent to make that interesting.
When I Get Wet came out, it was like a shotgun blast from the speakers; the production was so intense. What was the vision for that record, and was the sound/production a part of that?
I wanted it to be as exciting and energizing as I could possibly imagine something being, and at the same time just fulfill its desire to exist. Sometimes there's just something that wants to be what it is and you're asked to help make it happen. It was a combination of trying to make songs that made me excited and make the songs that were excited about existing. In a weird way, I don't feel like I made that album. That album made me; that started my whole adventure. And it's hard to even take credit for it that way because, like a lot of people say, it came from some place beyond. Out of anything that I've ever gotten to be a part of, that is certainly the case with that record. It emerged, and I was just there, lucky enough to help it come out of the darkness.
You seem to have such a clear vision with all of your work, and to hear you say that your first album was driving itself rather than you pursuing something you envisioned -- that's quite surprising.
It doesn't feel the greatest to say that but, if I'm to be honest, that's just what happened. I used to think I was in control of all the stuff I did, and I could really take responsibility. I decided this, I decided that. But while that felt good -- it made me feel proud and powerful in certain ways -- it just wasn't really the case, because if I couldn't do that again, why did it happen then? Why did it align with so many other things that happened? Why did so many other people that I had never even met come into that project, get involved and have such an impact on it?
In the end, there were too many factors out of my control for me to take credit for any of it. I showed up and did the best I possibly could, and you should always try to put everything you have into the opportunity in front of you. But it would be dishonest for me to say, "I made that." It sort of made itself, or someone else made it. Or some other thing made it.
I'm just trying to face these things with sincerity. It's very easy to lose your way and lose sense of yourself in what you're doing.
Other than age, has there been anything that inspired this mature outlook on life?
I used to constantly fight against everything, which had its moments. It was exciting, and a lot of times it was emotionally stimulating -- I mean really dramatic. But then I realized it had nothing to do with anything. It really accomplished very little other than to sort of distract and entertain myself, and give myself a sense of purpose and great achievement -- or great loss, depending what was going on.
But when I look back, it didn't have any impact on anything else, negative or positive. It was only really going on in my mind. All this striving, scheming, plotting and planning -- it had nothing to do with anything. So I just stopped spending all the energy on that, and just started showing up for my assignments and doing them.
If you've been in school and didn't like it much, you really want to get away from that approach. But no longer is it the school and those teachers giving me assignments; now it's life, and the world and everyone around giving me assignments. And those are good people and good forces to have be your teachers. That's a good curriculum.
That actually demonstrates why school is structured like it is: 1. In life, sometimes you'll need to be in places which you might not like, but you still need to be there; and 2. Just because some teachers aren't great, others are.
Exactly, very well said. You've got to show up whether you like it or not and try to do what you're supposed to do. I used to think that you're supposed to do what you want, but now I know you're supposed to do what you're meant to do. Having that reveal itself to you can be painful, it can be discouraging, it can even be depressing! But if you can somehow develop the strength of character and personality that allows you to just do what you really should do -- what you, in particular, should do in the world -- then whether it's hard or not, or even fun or not, you know you're doing what needs to be done.
A flower may not want to bloom. It may say, "Hey, I want to stay in this bud forever. It's cozy, I'm protected, no bumblebees are going to try to land on me. I'm gonna stay like this." But deep down inside it knows that that is just a part of its process. It's meant to blossom, even if it's painful, even if it exposes itself to the entire world -- and to bumblebees. At some point it finds satisfaction in following the path that was set out for that flower. I'm no different; I'm trying to blossom here in my own way -- and I encourage everyone else to do so.