Party Politics: Andrew W.K. x Phillip Crandall
“When it’s time to party, we will party hard.” These words, which open Andrew W.K.’s largest hit, “Party Hard,”from his major label debut, I Get Wet (2001), are as timeless as they ever were, resonating with the same youthful abandon in 2014 that first struck audiences 13 years ago. (Yes, it’s been that long.) One would be forgiven for expecting I Get Wet and its creator to age poorly, but Wet and W.K. have withstood the test of time with grace and vigor: his trademark image—faded jeans, crisp white shirt, tussled hair, bloody nose—remain as iconic as ever.
Interview spoke with W.K. at home in Manhattan, where he was joined via conference call with the author Phillip Crandall, who devoted an entire book, the latest in the 33 1/3 series, to the events leading up to and surrounding the release of I Get Wet. When Crandall joined the conversation, he was sitting in the driver’s side of his 2006 Mini Cooper.
JOHN TAYLOR: As the third wheel here, I have to ask: Andrew, what’s it like reading a book about yourself? And such an intimate one, at that.
ANDREW W.K.: I read the book once. And for several reasons I’ve never read it again or even opened it again. It was an extremely intense experience—very, very emotional in ways I didn’t expect at all. The parts that moved me the most were things that my family said—things that my brother said—things that I never would have thought they’d thought about. It was very upsetting in that it upset the balance of my brain… in a good way!
TAYLOR: It’s a love letter. I especially loved the moment where Phillip, the author, recounts leaping in his car and racing to the local record shop to purchase I Get Wet. It’s almost unsettling how personal the book is… “unsettling,” I think that’s the right word.
PHILLIP CRANDALL: I can’t even imagine how unsettling it is. Not to put myself in Andrew’s shoes, but I can’t even imagine how it must feel to hear those things from loved ones and friends. Every conversation I had with people Andrew had worked with was a love fest. This album did move people and obviously, Andrew, you as a human have moved people well before the album was around. If the album is the excuse for you to see that light—I don’t want to say that I’m honored to have brought that to your attention, I’m not your counselor—but these people do love you and feel moved by you and the art you’ve created and the person that you are.
W.K.: I just remembered, I recorded another album more recently, 55 Cadillac, where I made up songs on the piano and put them together. It was an oblique strategy approach to recording: I usually work really, really hard and really, really long at an album—[here] I made one where I literally just made it up as I went, which was very scary. When my brother said that when he listened to that album it reminded him of what it was like when we lived at home together at our parents’ house and I would just mess around on the piano. That’s my favorite part of the whole book, that I learned that about my brother.
CRANDALL: And Patrick was great. We spoke on a Friday evening, and I think it was after a Pistons playoff game. I got the impression that there were a lot of things he was sharing that maybe he didn’t even articulate before. I won’t take any credit for being the messenger, but I’m glad that you got the context because that is a great album. “Driving the Car” is beautiful. Andrew, I have a question. The artist Lucas Samaras—did meeting him change the context or the appreciation of his art?
W.K.: No, not really. I usually don’t try to meet people at all, especially if I really like them, for all kinds of reasons. My whole past that intertwined with his was so specific and it was such a case, as I’ve seen before and as is talked about in the book, of these dreams coming true in such a direct and obvious way. It really seems much more like the future is giving you little bits and pieces to preview what is already going to happen. So rather than it being a dream that you then make happen, it’s like something that’s already destined to happen and it’s like the future is preparing you for it. Going back, his artwork was one of the first artworks that I ever saw as a child with my family at the art museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when I was probably seven or eight years old, and it completely blew my mind to meet him so many years later, not even realizing that that was his artwork all that time ago. Things happen and it’s hard to know the significance of them. I don’t really know what impact he has had on me. It’s just… his art makes me excited to be alive.
TAYLOR: I have a question for the both of you, one that Andrew once asked the artist Spencer Sweeney for Interview: “After you’ve had as many experiences as you’ve had, do you think that dreams have come true for you?”
CRANDALL: Do I think dreams have come true? Absolutely. In the past 53 weeks, I’ve not only submitted a manuscript for a book, had the book come out, but I had a daughter. I won a contest to win my favorite record cover: The Beatles’ Butcher album. I can’t imagine living without multiple dreams and multiple goals.
W.K.: I’ve had many. Pretty much every single one, which is baffling.
CRANDALL: I would definitely say that the one thing that has changed for me with dreams is that I don’t really share them until after they’ve happened.
W.K.: Yeah, because at this point, what’s the point to talk about them? You know they’re going to come true in some way or another at some point. Every dream I’ve had has come true and the ones that haven’t, I can tell they’re already unfolding. The book starts [with] Phillip telling the story of probably the most specific dream I that I ever had: I wrote a letter to my favorite drummer of one of my favorite bands in the world—Obituary—and not only did he write back or call me back, he joined my band. The longer the time goes on, the more crazy these things seem to me.
TAYLOR: These are very vivid and poignant dreams. My dream is simply to have a nosebleed.
TAYLOR: I’ve never had one before.
W.K.: Phillip’s book is not the biggest book in the world, but the spine is quite rigid, and I bet if you held that book and with enough conviction, slapdashed it into the bridge of your nose, at least a hundred times… you probably will get a bloody nose.
TAYLOR: Consider it done. I’ll do it once the interview is over.
CRANDALL: I can’t believe you’ve never had a nosebleed.
W.K.: That’s what I’ve tried to explain to people all these years! You can get a nosebleed without any sort of physical violence being involved. In Michigan, there was a kid—I won’t say his last name, his name was Andy—but he was always getting nosebleeds. Being fair-haired and fair-skinned and sort of sensitive might have had something to do with it, but he always said, “No, it’s ’cause of the dry weather, it’s ’cause of the dry weather.” He’d be sitting there in class and it wasn’t just a trickle, he would have a full-blown nosebleed. It was quite intense to see. Everyone says [of the I Get Wet album art], “Oh it’s such a violent cover, it’s a drug reference.” But really everybody gets nosebleeds—except for you, sir.
TAYLOR: Looking back on I Get Wet, which turns 13 this year, what have the two of you learned from life since? What’s changed?
W.K.: I have more energy now. I throw myself into things with a lot more abandon, a lot more focus, a lot less fear. So I definitely think I’ve gotten much, much, much better at partying and having fun the older I’ve gotten. And I enjoy it more too.
CRANDALL: I agree 100 percent. And it’s not just being better at it, it’s being better. I definitely appreciate partying, the fun that I’ve had, and being able to continue that, with my wife, with my daughter, with more human beings has just made it all the better. Andrew, my wife really wanted to ask if you were ever thought of putting together some children’s music, because she’s a teacher and she’s played your songs for kids, and they love it.
W.K.: Did I answer?
CRANDALL: She wasn’t able to. Someone else sort of popped in and interrupted.
W.K.: My answer now would be that, I feel like all the music so far has been adult music written for children, and at the same time, children’s music written for adults. I’ve really tried to not have a break between childhood and where I am now. There was no cut off, like, “Okay, now I’ve gotta grow up,” or, “Now you gotta get serious.” It really, really bothered me when people said that. It might have been not going to college helped me not break that thread as much. I mean, you’d think moving to New York might have broken that thread—when I moved here, I was 18—I think it’s a very classical point of view, that the strengths and the skills and the abilities that you develop as an adult, growing up, are there to facilitate the visions and dreams that you began as a younger person or as a child.
TAYLOR: I’ve always been fascinated with Andrew’s unique ability to tap into this childlike sense of innocence when writing or performing “party” music—especially when most “party” music seems to come from a place more acknowledging of sex and death.
W.K.: Well thank you, that’s a huge compliment. Not that there’s anything inherently dark about sex or death—
W.K.: They’re good too, but yeah, it’s always been, and it still is, it’s about this feeling. There’s many ways to get to that feeling, but the feeling is not an emotion, it’s not an idea, it’s not a mood, it’s not a concept, it’s a raw, physical, I don’t know, spiritual, mental… feeling. Music is the easiest way to get there. Actually sex is a very easy way to get there. Death, that’s when you feel this feeling the most, actually—for better or worse. There’s this whole idea of a loss of innocence being wrapped up in growing up. Like you sort of check out or cash out once that happens. I think it’s so completely bizarre and arrogant for anyone to ever think that they could lose their innocence, because that implies that they have some sense, some idea of what’s going on, and no one has any idea what’s going on. Of course it would feel satisfying, and that is a very “adult” way to think, that now I have it all figured out, and there’s nothing mysterious or interesting about the world, my innocence is gone. “And then I lost my innocence and became a man.” It’s especially a thing men like to do. “There comes a time to set aside childish things.” That’s all a bunch of nonsense.
CRANDALL: When I hear that, I don’t think of it as a true feeling. I almost feel like it’s a lip-servicey…
W.K.: A cop out!
CRANDALL: Yeah, a cop-out. I hate to belittle it that much, but I don’t see that as being someone’s true feeling.
W.K.: If anything, I think it’s a defense mechanism, because it is so intense to be alive. It is completely overwhelming. And to say that you’re not overwhelmed by it might give you some sense of comfort, or control, or stability, but that’s not the point. Innocence isn’t whether you think you are or not, ’cause no one has any idea what’s going on.
PHILLIP CRANDALL’S 33 1/3 BOOK ABOUT ANDREW W.K.’S I GET WET IS AVAILABLE NOW.