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Andrew W.K. comes to party in Portland: Q&A

By BENJAMIN MAH //  "I think that I am partying’s muse."

Andrew W.K. parties hard at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland on Monday the 25th.

What was the reason for recording again? It’s been several years since you’ve released a rock album, and so what was the reason for going back to that?

That’s a fantastic question, and you’re certainly not the first to ask that and I’m hoping that you won’t be the last to ask.  I’ve already experienced a significant amount of distress at my inability to find an answer for that, for you and for myself. I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. I don’t know why things have gone the way they’ve gone. I don’t know why this is happening now as opposed to earlier.

 I certainly take as much responsibility for the path that I’ve placed myself on or been placed on, for decisions I’ve made or not made, but there’s just no reason, i guess, if that is an answer. I’m not saying that as a cop out, but it was not part of a strategic plan. But I think also that it was not a complete lack of planning either.

 I think the only way I could answer with any clarity personally, is just that it’s the nature of partying.  This is the kind of stuff that happens for better or worse with partying. 12yrs can fly by like it was 12 seconds, and then other days 12 seconds will feel like 12 years plus infinity.  The harder you party, the less rational and the less cohesive in the traditional logical sense, life becomes. But there are beautiful byproducts to that, and I’ve embraced it wholeheartedly, and this is the result of embracing it. 

 I think that’s perfectly reasonable. Most artists talk about how, at least the ones that last and that tend to follow their own path, is that they follow “the muse” and I think maybe in your case your muse is partying? You follow it where it goes regardless of the outcome and you just go with it, and that’s what speaks to you.

 That’s a generous way of looking at what I said and I appreciate that. I think that I wouldn’t dare to say that partying is my muse, I think that I am partying’s muse.  I’m at it’s mercy and it’s toying with me and slinging me to and fro like a cat with a half-alive mouse. Or even a toy mouse just for it’s own amusement to see where it can dangle me next, but I am here to serve it.

 That’s probably why I don’t question what it asks me to do or not do. It’s quite humiliating in a way, or it’s humbling, because I don’t feel that I have that much control or power or input. There’s times that I feel quite frustrated by that or embarrassed by that. I’ll look around at other people around me and compare my experiences to theirs and think “Oh they’ve really asserted their dominance over their destiny and they’ve made these decisions and they’ve reaped the rewards because of that”, and meanwhile I’m just partying. But at the same time I can’t, I wouldn’t change anything.

 So, at some point it’s one of those odd, those sort of rare moments of life where you kind of don’t even have an opinion about it. It almost seems disrespectful to judge how things have gone or even what’s to come past a certain point not only because of all the wonderful gifts and blessings bestowed on me and the opportunities that I’ve gotten to indulge in as a result of all that’s happened. Because so much of the adventures I have gone on were not my doing, they were a chance that someone else gave me or the support of other people or circumstances, not to mention just blind luck but also that just sometimes the mind’s desire to compartmentalize and create a hierarchy of value about one's experiences. Sometimes that just doesn’t work, and I don’t think that works with partying.

 That being said, would you consider then, or would it be accurate to say that your music is more of a vehicle for partying, or more of a delivery for..partying?

 Yes. The music a means to an end. The music is a tool, a resource..hopefully like an energy resource. A renewable source of energy, if there is such a thing. A renewable source of spiritual or emotional or physical source of energy, I think. That life force energy which as I understand it, can never be created and never be destroyed. The music is a means to formalizing the experience of reveling in that energy. Feeling it as a sensation as an undeniable internal experience of truth. So that something like these emotions or moods - like happy or sad or good or bad or excited or bummed out, they all coalesce into pure feeling. Like a whirlpool of every emotion felt at once that transcends reason and rationality in a very freeing way. It even transcends again the good/bad dichotomy and is just felt as the undeniable fact that we exist.

 The beautiful thing about music to me, and this work, is that it then takes that pure existence and shows it to us as being an irrefutably good thing. A good phenomenon, a good event. Because that’s always been a struggle for me. “Ok so I exist”, but how do I know that’s a good thing because it comes with all this pain or suffering or struggle or confusion? Somehow there's these brief glimpses of clarity, where a transcendent positivity is felt, and felt in a way that’s so strong that you can’t doubt it.

 You can try, but you can't doubt that you're feeling this all encompassing reality, that it’s good to be alive and that it may slip away and we can go back to doubting and wondering and puzzling and that’s all good too, that's all part of it. But I’m very thankful to have at least the hope of reaching those moments of clarity, that life is worth living and is a beautiful thing.

 And not only is the music a means to that end or a tool for achieving that, I am a means to that end. Like you said, that’s why the songs aren’t really about me and I try to limit that as a person, a person with their own weaknesses and strengths, a person with their own interests my own tastes my own opinions, I try to leave that out of the equation as much as I can as still actually do the work. I don’t know if it’s possible to limit your presence in your work entirely, but I am here to serve this feeling, first and foremost.

 It’s really not about me, it’s about that feeling. Because I need to get that feeling too. I’m not just making it for other people, I’m making it so that I can survive.

 To follow that up, in your opinion do you think that in all of the different types of things that you dabble in ( the speaking, the writing, the tv shows) that maybe music is the most successful way to communicate those ideas and those feelings?

 At times. At times it is. It’s case by case. One of the other kind of challenging and confounding parts of life is, nothing is definitive. Nothing is always the best means. And each moment might demand a different reaction, or a different mechanism, or different approach. I can say that for me, music has been extraordinarily consistent.

 There's never been a time that I’ve turned to music as a human being that it’s failed me or let me down. It’s always given me that feeling. It’s always comforted me and inspired me and enthralled me and connected me to that sense purpose. And not even a purpose in terms of day to day life, career or work purpose. Just the purpose that there must be some meaning to this, or this feeling wouldn’t exist.

 The human mind and spirit wouldn't be imbued with the ability to feel this way if we weren't meant to.  It has to mean something. I don’t know what it means, but it means something. And just to have that sense of something is so hugely empowering when faced with so much nothingness or confusion or meaninglessness.  To have even just a shadow of a reflection of the edge of truth is almost all you need.

 So now you’re moving into the touring phase?

 Yes, so now we're touring, the band is back together, and the band has never been better on many levels, we have a brand new drummer named Clark Kegley who literally as of last night, the third date on the tour, that was his first show ever playing with us.

 Oh wow, so he’s really new.

 Yeah, as new as someone could possibly be. His first show with us was 3 days ago in Cleveland.  I’m just incredibly proud of him and incredibly grateful.  So many aspects of this party adventure, and this connects back to some of what we talked about earlier in this conversation, has been seemingly dictated by circumstances or forces or events that are outside of my control and really any one person’s control who’s involved or even ability to have input on. I never really believed in destiny.

 Well I understood destiny was like a dream, you come up with what you want to do and you push and you make it happen.  But as I was saying like partying, I’m partying’s muse.  I feel like my dream, dreamed me and pulled me towards it whether I liked it or not. Then it was just a choice of this is your life, do you have what it takes, and do you also have the selflessness do give yourself over to this thing that you’re supposed to do?  Even if it wasn’t what you thought you were supposed to do or even what you wanted to do. You know, do you, can you rise to your calling, as unexpected or as bizarre as it may appear to you and deliver? And there’s been so many instances and so many unlikely things that don’t make any sense.  For example, this drummer.

 We’ve had fantastic drummers throughout, and our most recent drummer had a commitment to another act where he couldn’t continue playing with us, and the drummer before him had to bow out gracefully for sort of similar reasons, and at the same time they had never missed a show, their loyalty was second to none, and i’m endlessly grateful for what they gave while they were able to give it.

 So we needed a new drummer, and I remembered. I was sitting with some of the other band members and we were talking about drummer possibilities and they were mentioning people they had played with, and I said “Hey I remember I saw a video of this young man, this teenager playing drums to “Party Hard” that I think he sent me years ago, like 2005. He should be the drummer.” And they said who is he, and I said I never met him I don’t even know what his name is, I’d have to find that video. 

 So we found the video and the band was being very generous in suspending their disbelief that this was a wise decision. And I said yes, let’s just have him be the drummer.  “Should we meet him or audition him?” and I said no, just tell him he’s the drummer.  And looking back now, I don’t really understand why I didn’t have some of these same concerns. But it just seems like, of course this guy should be the drummer. And he’s better than anyone I could have ever auditioned had I gone through that more traditional process. And I never even doubted, even up until the first show it never occurred to me the he might not be that good, or maybe that I wouldn’t like his personality, that we wouldn’t get along. Maybe he was insane maybe any number of all the likely possible pitfalls?

 It just never occurred to me until after he did a great job, I said “wow you’re phenomenal” and it’s odd now to me, that it never even seemed to me that he wouldn’t be phenomenal.

 And he just fits in perfectly with you guys?

 Yeah it’s just destiny, it was just meant to be. And that video wasn’t there for me to dream up having him in the band, that video was the preview of the person that was going to be in the band whether I liked it or thought it made sense or not. You know, that was the future reaching back through the past or the present saying, “Hey, check this out! Get ready, this guy is an awesome drummer!”.

 That was partying tell me that this guy was going to be our drummer. The rest of the band is more of the same.  I didn’t meet our guitar player and bass player for example, until we were filming our music video and I just had faith that they would be ok. I can’t even say that I had faith, I wasn’t even thinking like that on that level. Just like you asked why is the album happening now, there’s a lot of non-thought. It’s not even as much as a no-brainer, it’s not even that type of non-thought.

 There was a blind acceptance, which I think is even different than faith, because it’s not even as conscious or responsible or as committed as a faith. It’s an acceptance where I didn’t even feel like i had a choice or that it was up to me. I was being propelled and carried along by something that I didn’t even understand was carrying me along. And my mind was turned off when it was in everyone’s best interest, including the mission's best interest that my mind not be involved.

 When you are playing are playing live with the band, do you pick songs at random, or do you sit down and build a list?

 Oh it’s as rigorous as we can possibly make it. That’s always been the case. I just increase my efforts, all of our efforts, to make the show the best thing it can possibly be, like a movie. Picking the movie you want to see. Clearing out the time you want to see it. Getting in the car. Driving to the movie theater.

 Finding the parking space. Getting out of the car. Walking up to the movie theater. Seeing the marquee or whatever even if it’s a large movie theater in a parking lot. Approaching the theater, opening the doors. Checking in, getting the tickets, moving through that stage. Going to the concession stand. The smells, the carpet, the atmosphere. Getting into the theater. The preliminary live show style previews that are just not saying much. The lights are up, people are talking.

 The lights go down halfway, the real previews start. They’re louder, they’re more extravagant, more intense. The lights go down all the way. That first movie studio’s logo comes across the screen. The whole experience the whole buildup, and then knowing that even if you have no idea what the movie’s about or even if you have doubts about the quality of the movie, that you are now turning yourself over. You're in the hands of the person who’s created this hour and half, 2 hour long long experience for you. They’re going to take you on this set ride like a haunted house or like a carnival ride, like a roller coaster. You can’t make up a roller coaster as you go along. 

 Now i have full respect and I enjoy very much on a personal level, music that has twists and turns that they make up as they go along.  I enjoy playing like that myself at times. But, I also really love, for example, an album experience. When you know an album front to back, and you can put on that album and you are already hearing the 2nd song half way through the first song because it all becomes one solid experience. The way your mind adheres to that familiarity, that knowing by heart depth, and there’s a universe within that. It doesn’t need to be different every time, it already is different every time.

 You're different from the last time you listened to it, even if you listened to it the day before. So that’s the kind of show we do. We try to hit the bullseye tighter and more direct each and every time, constantly doing whatever we can to make it that much better. We try to eliminate wiggle room so that it's just jamming, piledriving towards that bullseye.

 How long is the tour?

 This is a relatively short tour in terms of things we’ve done over the years, I think it’s about 5 weeks? We have a new keyboard player as well - Erica Pino, we have a relatively new other guitar player, Amanda Lepre.  But this band, again it’s never been better. We have the capabilities to do things that we’ve never done before, and this tour is to allow us to get to that place. Sort of like exercise, so that next year when the album comes out we are primed. 

 We haven’t toured really, we’ve been playing constantly - one offs, festivals, but a full tour?  The last time we did that was in 2012, the 10th anniversary of the first album release. And without really consciously planning it, it's now the 15th anniversary of the beginning. This is just a way to build it back up really.

 To get back out there and remind people that you are a musical entity, and more than just whatever else people might have discovered you as before?

 Yeah that we exist. Reminding ourselves that we exist, reminding partying that we’re committed. There’s an urgency and a desperation that I feel now that I’ve never felt before in life or in general. I’m sure it has to do with the passage of time, but also the sense that this is it.  There’s no more time for trying this or that or the other.

 This is what I have to do. This is what i’m meant to do. And I’ve got to do it as best I can while I have the chance. That’s not to throw any regret on any previous experiences or decisions, they’re all lessons, they’re all tests.  And now the test is, it’s time. It’s time to go all the way, this is the prime, right now.






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