Andrew W.K. Wants You to Know ‘You’re Not Alone’ in the Search for Life’s True Meaning (Q&A)

Andrew W.K. Wants You to Know ‘You’re Not Alone’ in the Search for Life’s True Meaning (Q&A)

Andrew W.K. has been many things over the years — he can count jubilant hard rock vocalist and piano player, motivational speaker and political movement founder among his job descriptions.

But it all started with the music, specifically his 2001 debut album I Get Wet, a barrage of riffs and energy that exploded with the song “Party Hard.” His latest album, You’re Not Alone, is out on March 2, and is the culmination of a long time away from releasing new music — it’s his first proper rock album since 2006’s Close Calls With Brick Walls.

Taking a break from his partying to answer some of Rock Cellar’s burning questions about the album, his commitment to positivity and the strength it brings other people, and why the world needs a new Andrew W.K. album, he spoke with us for a recent interview…dive in below.

Rock Cellar: Breakfast is an important meal, and one you post about frequently on social media. What did you have for breakfast today?

Andrew W.K.: Actually, breakfast is a meal that I’ve always struggled to enjoy. Like many people, I suppose, I was informed by my mother that it was the most important meal of the day. And in those younger years, I did choke it down, begrudgingly, often fighting nausea. When I became a more independent child, I was able to forgo breakfast, although I always enjoyed the breakfast foods. I preferred eating them later in the day, or even at night, especially.

That has held over now, I’ve still gone back and forth — there were times I was choking down breakfast over the last couple of years when I was trying to gain weight. Now, I’m trying to only eat when I’m hungry.

And the last thing I am at the start of the day, no matter what time I start my day, I do not want to eat.

But I do love breakfast food — cereal, especially.

Rock Cellar: Your new album, You’re Not Alone, will be out soon. The first song released from the record is called “Music Is Worth Living For,” and even dating back to your album The Wolf with songs like “I Love Music,” that theme has persisted. What is it about music that makes it worth living for, would you say?

Andrew W.K.: It has been the most consistent and reliable source of positive emotions for me. I don’t say that lightly. I consider music to be an entity, a being, of some sort, that we all have access to yet none of us control or can say we invented. It’s a phenomenon that’s unique among all the phenomena humans are able to interact with, and yet it’s extraordinarily pure and extraordinarily reliable.

And from an early, early age, around four years old, I began to realize that music could make you feel like this and it wasn’t just a fluke. Each and every time. And you could devote yourself, not only to music but to the feeling that it conjures up, and that’s become, I suppose, my life’s work.

Rock Cellar: That sentiment carries over to the second song from the new record, “Ever Again,” and its positive, inspirational lyrics. A lot of fans on social media seem to come to you often for life advice, I assume in part inspired by your overall aesthetic and theme.

Andrew W.K.: It’s something that has developed along with the themes of this work, like you said. I hadn’t anticipated or sought out to be an advice giver or a role model or however people might look at me, but I am a representative of this feeling. A servant of this feeling. I feel obligated in a wonderful way to provide that feeling to the world at large as much as I can.

I feel like it’s a noble effort when anyone is able to help raise our collective human spirit. When you provide that kind of presence for someone else, you’re providing it for yourself, as well. And initially, as I explained, the reason I was drawn to this work is because it made me feel better about being alive, and to think that I can somehow through that work also put other folks in contact with that feeling is tremendously rewarding.

So I don’t know that I could ever help someone more than they’re willing to help themselves, but we can be present — and I think one of the great things about entertainment is how it gives you the ability to be present almost in a supernatural sense. And people have given me that power, they’ve put me in that position, and I take it very seriously.

Rock Cellar: The music video for “Ever Again” features some visual cues that seem to pay tribute to your videos for “Party Hard” and “She Is Beautiful” from back in 2001 and the I Get Wet album. Musically, too, it’s reminiscent of your early sound. What was it like to go back to that kind of hard rock/metal style, since it’s been a while since you put together an album’s worth of music in that style?

Andrew W.K.: Well, first of all thank you for those insights, and even taking note of details to that degree. A lot of it is just quite instinctual, based on impulse and emotion and not so much what I’d call a “conscious” approach. It’s subconscious, although certainly there was a decision to make a rock album but there wasn’t a decision to have it take ten years — it just did. And certainly there was a decision to make a music video but it wasn’t consciously to make it have these visual elements. When you’re free to do what you’re compelled to do, this is what comes out.

I always want to be consistent, I want to deliver what I feel like I’m best suited to deliver. You’re always learning what it is you’re best at doing, you try to refine it and essentially hit that bulls-eye more accurately. I’m still trying to hit the same bulls-eye that I was trying to hit when I started this in 1999.

I’m hoping that I’m getting better at hitting it, or hitting it in different ways that resonate with different people.

Rock Cellar: Did you learn anything special or unique from the experiences in which you spent more time working on Japanese releases and more experimental material like Close Calls With Brick Walls and generally kept out of the limelight in the U.S., pretty much? 

Andrew W.K.: I was trying to make the most exciting songs I could, and that’s what came out. There were some frustrations, and perhaps that affected it. It was a very chaotic time, these last ten years have been that. That’s been the one consistency, that things have not been consistent.

So I was trying desperately to hold on to any fragment of consistency or purity or clarity in the midst of a lot of confusion, and I wouldn’t change any of it. As you said, I’m still processing it and learning from it. I don’t know if I can articulate exactly what I’ve learned, other than that I’m extremely grateful and thankful to now be making an album at all.

Rock Cellar: You’re Not Alone, then, sounds like it’ll be the result of a lot of work behind the scenes. What would you say the new record, which seems pretty long with 16 tracks, might offer, and why does the world need a new album from Andrew W.K. in 2018?

Andrew W.K.: Well of course, my first instinct is that they don’t “need” this album. It’s an offering for those that might be looking, hopefully it’s a desire that someone has that I might be able to help satisfy.

There’s a certain feeling that I’m looking for in the world, in life, and it’s difficult to describe. I’d say it’s a confirmation of life’s value and beauty, felt on an all-encompassing level. It’s a physical understanding, it’s an emotional understanding that tells you in no uncertain terms that there is meaning in life — even if you don’t understand what that meaning is.

You can feel that something’s happening, that something counts. That’s always what I’m trying to do with my work, in all these different capacities or modes, whether music or even talking like we are right now.

So that is the message. I do have a message. I used to, I suppose, feel conflicted about the fact that I had something so specific to say. I guess just because I had heard so many times from people I had respected, like musicians, and people in the arts say that they had no message, or that the message was whatever you wanted it to be, and so on. Of course, everything’s open to interpretation, but I actually do have something to say because I’m first and foremost saying it to myself.

Saying from the very beginning, “Andrew, life is worth living. Come on, let’s go, let’s feel better.” And that’s what I’m trying to offer to somebody else, whether they need it or not. They might not need it as badly as I do, or as much as somebody else does, but if you’re looking for that life force feeling, that sensation of raw energy, that essentially is my message.

Rock Cellar: And that’s an important message, especially in light of some of the things going on in the world and also the big music losses we’ve had recently, like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. They succumbed to the challenges and rigors of life with their own personal battles, which is more or less the type of battle faced by anyone that can use the message you’re giving off.

Andrew W.K.: Well that’s certainly one element of the work. It’s an impossible task, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth striving toward. You can’t save someone as a human, but you can show concern and presence. That is part of the work. But it’s also that each person is a universe unto themselves, and I have complete understanding for the — although I can only imagine to a certain extent — you can put yourself in someone else’s position and find some sort of common ground, even with the most extreme behaviors.

Which is quite terrifying, actually, to realize that you can relate to humanity at its most extreme. And you try to, even though again you can’t find that absolute truth that tells you what to do in life, you can sense vaguely through the fog of despair a light which is begging you to stay focused on it, or keep your eyes headed in its general direction. You might not know what it means or why you’re supposed to see yourself through the pain, but there is something telling you to keep going, almost in honor of all the people who haven’t been able to keep going, or who lost the chance to  keep going.

It’s a very delicate and fragile compulsion, but it is there, and together, I think music can amplify that will to live.

Rock Cellar: Musically, is the rest of You’re Not Alone along the lines of “Music Is Worth Living For” and “Ever Again”?

Andrew W.K.: Well first of all, there are three motivational speaking tracks, which is something I’ve never really done before on an album. And then there are some longer songs where the structure is less conventional. I just let the songs write themselves in that regard, and tried to keep them unconstrained. There are things on this album that I’ve always wanted to do that I finally could do, there’s an instrumental song with no singing or lyrics.

It’s the best that I could do, and it’s the realization of a lot of longtime musical dreams, for me.

Rock Cellar: In addition to music, you’ve been an advice columnist, a motivational speaker, you created your own political party, you’ve hung out with internet celebrities like Lil’ Bub, all sorts of stuff. Is there still anything in the non-music realm that you haven’t done that you’d like to at some point?

Andrew W.K.: That’s for me to not know and for you to find out!

 


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