Hollywood Prospectus Q&A: Andrew W.K. on Bloody Noses, His Pre-show Rituals, and the 10th Anniversary of ‘I Get Wet’
In November 2001, Andrew W.K. released his debut album, I Get Wet, on Island Records. The album featured 12 songs (three of which had the word “party” in their title, famously) of densely produced, maximum-energy pop-metal. No one was quite sure what to make of him, or of it. In the following years, W.K. has continued to confound. He has done motivational Q&A appearances, hosted the TV shows Your Friend, Andrew W.K. and Destroy Build Destroy, produced an album for Jamaican music legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, released an album of piano improvisations, became a co-owner of beloved New York City nightclub Santos Party House, and dispensed countless party tips via his very active Twitter account.
Tonight in Vancouver, Andrew W.K. launches a world tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of I Get Wet. Over the phone, he earnestly answered our questions about the tour and how everything came together a decade ago.
Why did you decide to commemorate the 10th anniversary of I Get Wet with this tour?
It was the dovetailing of many different pieces of good fortune — different coins of good fortune, different golden coins being discovered and dug up and gifted all at once. I had some business and personal complications over the past couple years, then we resolved all of those, which allowed us to do a tour like this again. Then we realized, wow, this actually coincides with, more or less, the 10-year anniversary of this whole Andrew W.K. thing existing, so let’s make the best of it and celebrate us still going after all these years.
Are you at liberty to discuss the complications that prevented you from touring like this?
It was a contract I had signed, just boring stuff like that.
It’s all resolved now?
Yes, yes it is. It was all my fault, I just want to make that clear. I take the full responsibility. All the folks that I’ve worked with, the folks I’ve signed up with, my handlers and whatnot, they’ve been fantastic all the way through. Once I really saw where they were coming from and read that fine print and more fully understood the connotations, we were able to come to a good compromise. In my younger years, with my enthusiasm and my lack of experience, I sometimes didn’t quite understand what I was getting myself into. It’s a small price to pay, it’s a worthwhile trade in the long run. I get to do this and have a really great cause to work for.
What’s that cause?
The same as always: To unite the human race and do it through partying and through music and through excitement and through entertaining folks, bringing out that joy and that fun that comes from this adventure.
When’s the last time you had a tour on this scale?
We’ve toured. We always did find loopholes and ways around the limitations I was mixed up in. So we did the entire Warped Tour the summer before last with the full band. We toured Australia and did the festivals out there. We did another U.S. tour of a different sort. And of course I’ve done lots of self-help speaking shows and solo shows and all kinds of different stuff. We have kept very active, which has been really crucial, but as far as a proper, headlining-our-own-shows tour, it’s been seven or eight years.
Who is in your band now?
It’s more or less the same folks since day one. Some have come and gone, some have changed roles or positions, but I’m extraordinary grateful and really blessed to have such an amazing team with this band and crew. I’m very loyal to them. That’s the thing, even though it’s called Andrew W.K., there are all these amazing people that are making it happen.
A lot of these guys are from the Florida metal scene, right?
Yes, a good portion of the group. There’s an amazing man named Donald Tardy, who is the drummer and one of the founders of the seminal Florida death metal band Obituary, which is one of my favorite bands of all time, going back to middle school. When I moved to New York, I met a guy who became my manager a bit after, but when I first met him, much to my amazement, he told me he grew up with Donald Tardy and his brother John Tardy, the singer of Obituary. He had Donald’s home address and I took the liberty to write Donald a letter — this was before I had e-mail or even a cell phone — and some of the songs I was working on. I was aware that at that time Obituary was on a bit of a hiatus, and Donald called me a few days after he got my letter and heard my songs, and said not only that he wanted to drum in the band, but that he would form and assemble, more or less, the entire group. That’s including the crew and the sound guy. I am very indebted to Donald. And of course it’s exciting that Obituary has been back on the road, recording new albums and doing great. I’ll always be grateful for everything he did and we’re still close friends.
On this tour you’re playing I Get Wet in its entirety. That album is only about 35 minutes long. What’s the plan for the whole show?
We’ll play that album, which we’re very excited to do, we’ve never done that as a full band. It will be a different kind of experience because, for example, “Party Hard,” that’s a song we play toward the end of the set, if not last. But on the album it’s the second song. So it’s exciting and fun to change it up like that and have the second song we play be one of our most popular songs. After we play that album, and we do some extended versions of those songs, we’ll play songs from the other albums, too.
Do you have a pre-show ritual that you’ve developed over the years?
Stretching, definitely some stretching. I try to make my eyes water, usually by not blinking, just to get them real moist. There are other ways you can do it — salt, of course, eye drops, but I tend not to use the eye drops. Then some coughing, some sputtering, some blending of your voice and mucus to whip up a frothy mixture in your throat. Other than that, be with the band and giggle a little bit, chuckle as well. Then march on out.
What’s the purpose of having your eyes watering when you go out to perform?
If you’ve ever had dry eyes, it can be kind of painful. So keeping them moist is always better.
Can you tell me about the process of recording I Get Wet and how long it took?
It was two years of pretty consistent work. It began in New York on my own, then I went to Hollywood to work with the incredible producer and engineer Scott Humphrey. At that time he had recently gotten really into snowboarding, so he decided he wanted to move his whole studio to Aspen, Colorado. We followed him and recorded there for a couple months. Then we went to Minneapolis to get the songs ready for mixing with an amazing producer and musician named John Fields, then went back to Los Angeles to mix it with the incomparable Mike Shipley.
Over those sessions, were you just reworking the same songs and obsessing over them, or did you have lots of different songs and you were trying to figure out which ones to pursue?
The songs were all selected. I had songs written for the first and second album, so we had the songs chosen. It was just a matter of adding all those layers of instruments. It’s a slow process. We don’t record as a band, we record one instrument at a time.
Would you consider yourself meticulous, or even a perfectionist, when it comes to studio recordings?
You’re painting a picture, and once the picture looks the way it is meant to look, or sound the way it’s meant to sound in this case, then it’s done. I never want it to sound like a band playing, that’s what you get when you see us play live. We’d start with the drums, usually the piano came next, then we’d stack up the instruments.
What was the philosophy you were trying to get across with that group of songs?
That feeling of euphoric, energetic joy. I wanted it to be like the feeling of the last day of school or Christmas morning or going down a roller coaster or a first date or a three-day weekend and you have a sleepover. You know, all those great, great moments that give you that real orgasmic feeling of physical joy. It’s not so much an idea in your head, but an idea in your body.
The cover of I Get Wet has become pretty iconic. Can you tell me the story behind it? I know Roe Ethridge shot the photo.
Yes. I met [Ethridge] at a performance by Fischerspooner. I had met them and was playing some shows with them. The first one was at a Starbucks in this neighborhood Astor Place in Manhattan. I was watching them play and there was this guy I was standing next to. I started talking to him and I found out that he was the one who had been taking photos of [Fischerspooner]. I was so blown away by their photos and so impressed by how high quality they were. They really looked professional, and I always wanted everything I did to look really good, like a movie poster. He said he would love to do a photo shoot with me and wouldn’t charge me anything except the cost of the film, which was so kind of him. We took a bunch of photographs and we were using a large-format camera, where you have one piece of film at a time. It’s a slow, painstaking process. It’s not snap-snap-snap. We had two frames of film left, that was it. So I excused myself and came back with the bloody nose. We took one close-up photo that we used for the album cover, then we took another one that was further away where I was smiling, and that was it. There’s powers intervening in those situations that have very little to do with me, and with all due respect to him, little to do with [Ethridge], even though he’s a master artist. What he did was phenomenal, but that photo was meant to be.
The story I heard was that you hit yourself in the face with a brick. Then I’ve heard that’s actually not true.
I have talked about it in different ways, especially recently. I’ve been working with much younger people and I’ve tried to be very sensitive about self-mutilation and things like that that I’ve enjoyed. And I never really did it as an abusive type of behavior, it was more like a stimulating, kind of empowering, almost erotic type of having fun with pain. But I did stop talking about how that photo was made, because I didn’t want to encourage young people to think they had to hurt themselves to be cool or to even take a cool photo. Sometimes that’s how you get the results you’re looking for. I used to cut my face up a lot and all kinds of stuff like that. I don’t know what it was, maybe just building up my threshold for pain, which certainly has come in handy.
What are the most important changes you’ve undergone through in the past 10 years?
I’ve had less diarrhea. That’s been huge. Really, really, really huge. Especially with traveling and even being onstage, wondering if it was going to happen again today or if it was going to happen again tonight. That’s one of the best things about the past 10 years, just reducing the liquidity of my waste.
Is that because of changes in your lifestyle?
I don’t know. It’s not quite clear. I’ve asked doctors about what could cause that and they’ve said it’s more mental than it is physical.
I was actually at the release show for I Get Wet at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City over 10 years ago. What are your memories of that night?
That was our first show ever [as a group] in New York City. The only way to get to the stage and to the dressing room was through the crowd. I was amazed that anyone was there. I had lived in New York for a few years at that point. I was nervous and excited and I had all sorts of emotions swirling and broiling around. When I walked from the outside and into the venue and up to the stage through the crowd, I just saw that real New York people actually came to the show. There have been so many dreams that have come true for me all the way through this. I really try to take note of them when they happen so that I can bow down and give proper thanks and gratitude to the gods for facilitating that. It’s a dreamlike experience and a very humbling experience at the same time. There’s different kinds of dreams, and there are those dreams that are so clear and so vivid and so strong and you desire them so badly. It’s not so much wishing for something to happen, it’s almost like a preview of your destiny. It’s almost like the future telling you what’s going to happen. And those are those moments.
Eric Ducker is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @mrducker.