Andrew W.K. is an advice columnist, game show host, motivational speaker, former club owner and musician.
Though he’s best known for his 2002 hit Party Hard, the musician part had nearly been pushed to the back burner; his last tour was five years ago and his last album was released in 2010. But thanks to a newfound focus on his music and dedication to doing the work he wants to do, he’s back on tour and has a new album due out next year.
We spoke to him about his musical drought, his tour and his new album, and he told us about his newfound urgency and his philosophy on work and life. This is the first in a two-part series. Come back next Friday for the party-hardying conclusion.
RIFF: What got you on the road again? It’s been a while since you’ve released an album, and that’s usually what inspires tours.
Andrew W.K.: Well this really isn’t an album tour, I guess, since the album isn’t out, and it won’t be coming out during the tour. I don’t know. It was just [that] it felt like time to tour. Finishing the recording of the album made it possible to do the tour since I wasn’t recording anymore, so we had … the open time.
We’ve been playing shows consistently over the last 17 years, so we never stop touring. We’ve been playing one-off shows as a band last year, the year before, the year before that. I’ve been doing touring in other capacities, solo touring, doing keyboard tours, lecture tours. So it never really felt like there was a hard stop or anything. But yeah, as far as a proper whole band tour where we’re playing a whole bunch of shows in a row, the last time was in 2012. … A few days ago, I realized that now it’s a 15-year anniversary tour, since the first album came out in the fall of 2002. …
Now I also feel now a greater sense of responsibility or healthy pressure to, I guess, get more organized. I’m very thankful that there’s always been a lot going on, a lot to do. … So instead of charting my own course I was being pulled along by the power of partying, which was very pleasurable and quite exciting and exhilarating. Not only did the audience not know what would happen next, I didn’t know it was going to happen next. It was going to be whatever the party dictated.
But now I’m going to push back against destiny, and rather than be pulled by it, push with my own power. And I think that’s what I probably should be doing from here on out, or at least the next 10 years: Try a more determined approach.
What sort of things is that likely to entail? What are your goals? What are you pushing toward?
I’ve been wanting to make an album for the last 10 years, almost 11 years. It’ll be almost 12 years when the album comes out next year. I wasn’t even aware that it has been that long. Time flies when you’re partying hard. You realize that if you just let yourself party, you will party, and at the same time if you want to do something like record an album, you have to clear out the time. It was really hard for me to do that, to get six months of open time, because it was very hard for me to say no to these opportunities that came along. … I wouldn’t have said, “I want to do this, so I’m gonna go do it. I wanna go with Black Sabbath, so I’m gonna go tell them that I’m gonna tour with them.”
Last time I tried to clear out time to record, it was three months in the summer of 2013. We cleared out the whole schedule, and then Sharon Osbourne called and asked if I wanted to be the heavy metal DJ on the Black Sabbath tour. And I said, “OK, I guess I’ll record my album later.” It was very easy to take advantage of those. Each one seems like a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the next thing you know, 11 years has gone by. … I’m very grateful to have had opportunities to be able to do any of this stuff. And it takes a certain, different kind of discipline to saying no even when it’s something you really want to do. … So this is me getting more strict.
Henry Rollins gave a talk at Outside Lands last month, and it reminds me of what you were saying, but for different reasons. He said he does everything that comes his way because he’s constantly afraid of losing the opportunity later. He feels like you always have to keep moving and just accept stuff. And that led to him having a show on the History Channel, being in bands and giving talks.
He has a show on the History Channel?
Yeah. 10 Things You Didn’t Know.
Joan Rivers described a very similar kind of fear. She would look at her calendar or her schedule or her planner, and when the pages were too blank, she would go into a panic. So she just filled up her schedule as much as she possibly could because she had the same fear: “What if the phone stops ringing? What if no one’s calling?” And I totally understand that approach. I guess that’s just the dilemma. It depends how you look at your work. If you feel like you can do what you are meant to do through accepting the opportunities that come your way, or if you try to force the issue.
It’s like if you’re being hired to design houses based on what someone wants, and you find that very fulfilling, and you’re able to express some of your architectural creativities due to certain certain choices that the client agrees to. But what if at some point you say, “I want to build my own house from scratch exactly as I want to make it. And I’m going to have to turn down all these clients coming to me to build their houses; I’m gonna build my own house.” And maybe I sell that house, and I just do it to build it; maybe I live in it. But sometimes you have something that you need to do, to say, to make, because it has to be made. And if someone doesn’t ask you to do that, eventually you have to do it yourself.
Or maybe not. I don’t know.
Going back to the new album. If this is the house you want to build, what’s it like? Is it similar to what you’ve done?
It’s the same instrumentation. I’ve tried to find a new thing, because people told me that you’re supposed to try new things or reinvent your approach, and I definitely got into sort of contradicting my own impulses. If my instinct was to work a certain way, I would try to invert that or flip it or contradict it in some way. But I just feel like there’s no time now to do anything like that, that I’m running out of time.
It’s a very sobering and motivating kind of pressure. There’s just not time to mess around with anything now. That’s how I feel. … Some people tried to get through to me to say, “Look, every person in life has only so much energy, so much vitality, so much time, so much ability, to do any one thing at all; you’ve gotta put it all into most efficient effort you possibly can. Even then, the odds are one in a trillion that you’ll accomplish anything.” I understood what they meant, of course, on an intellectual level, but I didn’t understand it on an experiential level. Like, “Oh shit, I’m running out of time to to do anything.” And it’s very easy to say, “I’ll get to that; I’ll do that the next time; I’ll make a song like that someday.” Then 12 years goes by.
And it almost feels like you’ve done those things! Because you’ve been thinking about doing them for so long that you kind of become friends with the idea of doing these things. You spend so much time soaking in them that you almost feel like you have done them. It’s like having a dream where, in the dream, you met somebody, and you feel this kind of intimacy with them. Then you see them on TV, and it feels as though you know them, but then you realize you never have met them, you just had the dream about meeting them. And I had all these dreams that I hadn’t manifested, or hadn’t actualized, hadn’t brought into being. To me they seemed real because I was living them, but then I realized, “Wait a minute; nobody else had heard this song idea I’ve been humming to myself.” Sure the song exists to me, but nobody else can hear it because I’ve never recorded it. So I’ve gotta get off the pot or I’ve gotta push out this recording now while I still can.
So I guess that’s the one good thing; there’s this incredible sense of urgency, almost desperation, to just commit to everything. I feel like all my instincts have always been, maybe not right, but they’ve been clear. But there’s nothing to be gained for me at this point to questioning those instincts past a certain level. I used to do it for fun: I would go against my own grain, I guess to test it, to see the veracity of it. But now I guess I just feel like there’s not time to do that anymore. I just have to do the best I can with this particular opportunity I have.
So you’ve got an album you’ve recorded and you’re on tour. Any idea what comes next?
Yeah, but we’ll have to just see when it comes. I’ve learned it’s best to just keep my mouth shut about the future at this point and do things as they’re happening. But, just, a lot more. That’s what I can say. A lot more partying. If I have anything to do with it, more partying than ever before.
This is the first in a two-part series. The conclusion runs on Sept. 22. Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.