Andrew W.K.

Andrew's life-cast noseAfter launching a music career built on positivity and partying, Andrew W.K. keeps busy by going in several directions at once. He is co-owner of lower Manhattan’s Santos Party House, has appeared in and supplied music for episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and recorded an album of J-Pop covers. He currently hosts a game show for teenagers called Destroy Build Destroy on Cartoon Network, and is putting the finishing touches on a solo piano album, ‘55 Cadillac, due in September. (Interview edited from a recent phone conversation.)

TMN: How much were you involved in developing Destroy Build Destroy?

AWK: The show’s creator is Dan Taberski. We met a long time ago, when he was working at the Daily Show; he was producing a segment about college students not partying enough. It was a lot of fun, and it was really special to me that after all these years—that was probably six years ago—he was now running his own production company and had moved to Hollywood and was working with Cartoon Network on a new show.

I had been working with Cartoon Network for several years developing different show ideas. When this show concept came up, I met with some of the people involved and was just blown away by the idea of combining explosions and teenagers. It really hooked me. They were looking for a person to sort of pull it all together and I must say I was extremely honored to be given the role of the host, of the cheerleader, the main guy on the show, running the show, sort of the ringleader.

TMN: What was the most terrifying moment of your childhood?

AWK: That depends on when you define childhood starting and ending. What age is childhood—is it until 21? I mean, the most scary moment of my life was September 11th. I was still pretty young then.

TMN: How did you pick which songs to use for your J-pop album?

AWK: Well, we actually asked my fan base in Japan to vote for their favorite songs, the songs they would like me to cover. What really appealed to me was that I had never done an album of cover songs. I’d only released a few cover songs before that and they were primarily released in Japan. I did a cover of the Mickey Mouse club theme song march—[singing] M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E—I did a version of that and I liked that, but I had sort of stayed away from doing covers because when it came to songs I really loved, I was happy with the original recording or the recordings that I’d already heard. It didn’t occur to me until later that even if you love a song and love a recording, that you can add something to it, or just enjoy the process of recording it.

And I liked the idea that I was hearing these songs for the first time. I didn’t have a relationship with them yet. I could approach them from a fresh point of view, which has been very rare for me. So, just being able to discover all this new music and dive right into it was really exciting.

TMN: What’s your favorite object in your studio?

AWK: I don’t have favorites. It’s just a really stressful feeling to me to try to pick one thing in life, whether it’s a favorite song, favorite object, favorite person, favorite place, favorite experience, favorite restaurant. Why cut things down like that?

Here, I found a thing: it’s a life-cast—a real life-cast—of Jimmy Durante’s nose. It was given to me by a Hollywood make-up and special-effects artist. It’s definitely an intense object.

TMN: You recently gave your first spoken-word performance—

AWK: I never liked the term “spoken word.” I like to call it a vocal performance or a non-musical performance. “Spoken word” to me sounds so dry. Like you’re just going to see somebody speaking, but it’s so much more than that. I mean, it’s performance. Is a comedian doing spoken word? It’s just a different mode of performance where I’m maybe going up on stage without instruments or going up on stage without any sort of particular plan. I mean, I really try to go in spontaneous—that’s what makes it so much different than singing a song.

TMN: What can we expect from ‘55 Cadillac?

AWK: I can say right now that I’ve spent more time on the artwork than I did on recording the album. That was the whole point—to take a very scary step to see what it would be like to record something where you just sit down and play and you put that out.

I recorded for about two hours, then I picked the best of those two hours and edited it together. Normally I’ve recorded albums where I wrote songs and worked on writing the songs for a long time before even beginning to record them, and then the recording process would be very long and involved with lots of overdubs and fine-tuning and fixing and redoing. I mean, just a very painstaking process. That’s how I enjoyed it. But I wanted to see what it was like to do a totally different album. I’ve played piano—that was the first instrument I ever learned—I guess for 26 years now.

When there’s that feeling of someone just playing for their own pleasure, that’s what I wanted to get in touch with. This one is just Andrew W.K. playing piano and seeing what happens.

TMN: What’s something you’re not good at, but wish you were?

AWK: I would like to be able to ski or snowboard better. My wife is a very, very advanced snowboarder. She used to be professional, she was very good, and I would like to be able to do more of that with her.

TMN: What makes you irrationally angry?

AWK: Feeling short on time. It’s been, like, the worst feeling in my life, and I’ve noticed that almost every bad day or moment of stress I’ve ever had, it’s all come from a feeling of not having enough time. Any other big issue or situation or ordeal I had to go through, any sort of bad news—it’s never caused me the anguish that that feeling of not having enough time has had. Like that feeling of not even having the ability to start thinking about what you want to be thinking about. It’s been really torturous.

There’s a point where you’re either going to feel awful or sick from stress or you just let things go as they go. I try to have more faith now that I’ll finish whatever I’m meant to finish and that I’ll do whatever I’m meant to do and whatever falls by the wayside obviously wasn’t meant to be.

TMN: You recently turned 30. Did it signify a turning point for you?

AWK: Oh, it was massive. Everything changed. I didn’t really notice it happening until it happened, but there was just a lot of baggage, a lot of fears, a lot of hesitations, nervousness, mindsets that were not helping me in the world; they just sort of stopped right after my 30th birthday, and I mean right after, like that day even.

It seemed like everything that I used to think was really hard just wasn’t hard anymore, and it wasn’t like it was easy but—it’s just, like, you just do it. I’ve also reinterpreted the feeling of what it is to be nervous or scared as not being a bad thing or not being a scary thing or not being something to avoid, it's more like just getting yourself prepared.

The way I guess a lot of people put it, and I totally agree, is that now I officially feel like an adult—in the best way. There are these phases that don’t really mean much, but we can put labels on them. You’re a child, then you’re a teenager, then you become a young adult, and then there’s this period between 19 to 29, those 10 years when you figure out how to become an adult. And it doesn’t have to do with being responsible or being boring or being resigned from having fun or giving up on things. It’s just—you realize you can go fully into the world with a clean slate as yourself, and you don’t need to have anything to do with those earlier versions of yourself that would’ve held you back. My fears and my reservations about life—those don’t exist anymore. I’m not that same person. And none of us are the same, even day-to-day. Something about turning 30 really made that clear to me.

TMN Editor Erik Bryan is living the dream. He grew up in Florida, but he’s from all over. He likes playing chess, making cocktails, smarting off, and not freezing to death in Brooklyn, where he currently resides. More by Erik Bryan

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