BIG INTERVIEW Andrew WK: 'I'm a salesman for this sensation that I'm trying to create'

Andrew WK
Andrew WK
Thee Hypnotics in their heyday. Picture by Steve Double

Righteously Recharged, Thee Hypnotics are raring to hit The Wedgewood Rooms

When Andrew WK burst onto the international rock music scene in 2001 with a debut single, Party Hard, that also essentially doubled as a mission statement, he was an instantly polarising figure.

There were those who wrote him off as a one-note joke, but there were plenty more who took his 'carpe diem' message to heart.

Always clad in his trademark grubby white T-shirt and jeans, the California-born rocker took no prisoners in his full-on live performances. And the cover of his debut album I Get Wet, which featured the singer with a very messy nosebleed, further added fuel to both sides of the debate.

Follow-up album The Wolf was well-received by the press, but then a lengthy period began which saw Andrew embroiled in a somewhat farcical legal battle over the use of his name and image. Third album Close Calls With Brick Walls was released in the Far East in 2006, but wasn't released in the rest of the world until 2010.

While he was prevented from releasing anything in America, there were a couple of albums of Japanese covers and an instrumental piano album.

However, last month he released his first 'proper' new album since Close Calls, You're Not Alone. It's safe to say that the woes of the intervening years have not dimmed WK's passion for the OTT – its lead track is called the Power of Partying, and it features a cover painting by the renowned fantasy artists Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.

Be under no illusion, Andrew WK takes the business of partying very seriously indeed.

Given its background, it's not surprising to find out some of the songs on ...Alone go way back.

'It was recorded all over, for many years,' he tells The Guide during a visit to his record label's UK offices. 'That was not intentional but was a symptom of the circumstances of this long delay between albums – but I was at least still recording and writing.

'It was assembled at the very end from all of these disparate locations and recording moments.

The album cover for You're Not Alone by Andrew WK,  painted by Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.

The album cover for You're Not Alone by Andrew WK, painted by Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.

'There are sections of songs, or even entire motifs, that go back to 2005, 2006, they stayed and they didn’t decay. You hope that the strongest ideas will cling to you even if you try to shake them off, and when the time is right they’ll ask to be born. I didn’t give up on them, and they didn’t give up on me.'

While he'd been readying the album, he'd resisted road-testing most of the material as he continued to tour, only dropping in one or two of the new songs.

'I don't like playing songs people don’t have any chance of already being familiar with because of the nature of what I’m trying to achieve from the live concert experience, and what this music is meant to generate. But I went against that instinct to some degree, to acknowledge that there really was a new album coming, and to show the audience, who have been so patient, that there is new music.' 

Once WK gets going, he speaks in a genial rapid-fire fashion, eager to share his life philosophy and occasionally lapsing into his own brand of psycho-babble.

Given how the last 17 years have panned out, does he think the Andrew of 2001 would be happy with where he is now?

'I don’t know about happy, I think I would be completely baffled and amazed that anything had happened beyond the first day of this, ever, that it had lasted any length of time. Another part of me, in all honesty would be completely nonplussed in a rather impersonal way, that of course this is what would happen, but not in taking it for granted, but in the sense of the inevitability of it.

'There’s always been a sense, a real strong feeling that the best things that have happened to me have been out of my control and have so little to do with my personal efforts, so it would confirm my feelings that I was being carried along by another force or by the support and kindness of so many other people, or good luck, and you can’t really take any credit for that, you’re just thankful.'

Rather than focusing on highs and lows, he sees life – and his career – as a continuum.

'It seems very much like one experience so far. I’ve spoken with people older than myself about this, who have been doing the same thing for a long time, I asked them: "Does 30 years ago feel like a long time ago, or does it seem like part of what you’re doing right now, just not at this moment?" And I think there’s an understanding that it’s one effort, one piece of work, and it only feels like time is going by because the sun rises and the sun sets, but it’s one solid effort.'

The new album is dotted with spoken word interludes including I Don’t Know Anything which talks about the sensation that even though things aren't going quite right, that’s an essential part of being human.

'Yeah, it’s that feeling of being alive. It’s how I’ve tried to interpret that feeling, which I used to think was a negative one, that this was a glitch in my inner experience, and now I just think it’s the sensation of not being dead.

'Like how pain can be interpreted in different ways. Sometimes you might even describe an orgasm as being so intense you wouldn’t necessarily say it was pleasurable, or the soreness you might feel from an extreme amount of headbanging, or dancing, or exercise – it feels good, and that your body is becoming more than it was before. You break yourself down and grow.

'The aching that you have in the soul is the soul's growing pains, it’s stretching and expanding to accommodate more life experience.'

As to the album title: 'It’s meant to be quite straightforward, what some might call a platitude or just something quite obvious, but for me it’s perfect.

'There are times when I’m not alone and I’d very much like to be alone – it’s not always a positive thing to not be alone! It can also be quite unnerving or disturbing, like if you think you’re in an empty house and you hear a voice from under the bed saying: "You’re not alone."

'The idea of a presence being with you can be interpreted in many different ways, and be equally true on either side of that coin, and that’s a theme that seems to assert itself in my work, that contradiction and in opposites that work together. These are very classic ideas – these are the themes of human existence – ying and yang, and I haven’t been able to escape their allure.'

Over the past decade, Andrew has built up a sideline as a columnist and motivational speaker, giving talks to groups as diverse as a My Little Pony convention and Oxford Union.

The singer sees public speaking as an extension of what he is trying to achieve through his music.

'I did always like doing interviews, and I think that’s where it began. I always considered it such a privilege to have someone’s attention, even if it was feigned attention! It was a chance for me to figure out what I was doing by having to explain it to someone else.

'I’m a salesperson for this sensation that I’m trying to create, and I owe it to campaign on its behalf. For every person that might be able to feel or receive that feeling from my rock music, there are plenty of people who don’t feel it or don’t like the music, or it doesn’t have that impact on them, but maybe I can reach them through a speech or through writing something.

'If this feeling is the end result, and then all of these efforts are a means towards, then I owe it to explore and use all of them.'

Andrew WK brings his The Party Never Dies tour to The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea, on Thursday, April 19, doors 8pm. Support comes from Yonaka.

Go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.

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For a chance to win a pair of tickets to Andrew WK's Wedgewood Rooms show on April 19, answer this question: What was the name of Andrew WK's debut album?

E-mail your answer to features@thenews.co.uk or post it to Andrew WK Competition, The News, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Western Road, Portsmouth, PO6 3EN, with your name address and contact number, by midnight on Thursday, April 2.