IMAGE COURTESY OF NINA OTTOLINO.
Andrew W.K. has been refining his energetic stage presence since 1993. At age 14, he started performing with punk and metal bands around his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It wasn’t until the release of 2001’s I Get Wet that the singer cemented his station as a party-loving, hard-rocking proponent of self-acceptance and perseverance. Since then, his dedication to radical positivity has remained as consistent as his luxuriously headbang-friendly hair and monochromatic attire. Next month, W.K. will release You’re Not Alone, his first album since 2009.
“I’m going for the sound of pure, unadulterated power,” he explained in a press release. “Every emotion, every thought, every experience, every sensation, every fear, every joy, every clarity, every confusion, every up, every down … all extruded and concentrated into one thick syrup of super life-force feeling, and then psychically amplified by the celebratory spirit of glorious partying.” If the first single “Ever Again” is any indication, his hard-faced commitment to “keeping [the] light alive” has only grown stronger.
When he’s not wowing fans with his invigorating blend of metal-infused pop-punk anthems and unshakable optimism, W.K. inspires audiences as an advice columnist, motivational speaker, and self-described “Party ambassador.” In a world constantly threatened by negativity, cynicism, and despair, W.K. emerges as an all-white clad, rock ’n’ rolling crusader of unrelenting enthusiasm, a beacon of hope for these troubling times.
As he tweeted in 2017: “PARTY TIP: The negative forces trying to bring you down can either be crushing or motivating. Stay determined. Rise over them. Push through!” While he’s best known for encouraging fans to subvert negativity through partying, a look at his camera roll reveals the full depth of his unique vision, as he reflects on his artistic process, the dramatic beauty of Midwestern parking lots, and the mysterious allure of the fun-sized Almond Joy.
ANDREW W.K.: So this is a piano, obviously, by Steinway and Sons. They’re considered, I wouldn’t necessarily say the best, but amongst the best, in a way that puts them on equal footing with any other piano that would be considered the best. Each Steinway and Sons piano is different. I was very fortunate to take piano lessons from a young age, and the only times that we were able to play on Steinways was at our recitals, which were really nerve-wracking. Partly because we got to play on a Steinway. Steinways at this school were very unwieldy. They were not user friendly. The keys were very stiff. Having not played it, and coming up to recital and sitting down at this piano with very unforgiving keys was very unpleasant. Really, I had nightmares. So for many years, I didn’t like Steinways as pianos and just thought that was how they were built. I didn’t realize that this was just the Steinways at the piano school I happened to have been attending.
W.K.: This was a rug in the lobby of a pretty interesting hotel that I got to stay at recently that was decorated in these oranges and browns, inviting autumnal tones. It was during the fall and I thought, what if they just decorated the lobby for this time of the year? But I doubt they did. Although maybe they did! If they did, more kudos to them.
W.K.: These are my white clothes that I wear, my white Levis 501 jeans and a T-shirt. There actually is a T-shirt in there as well, it’s just very difficult to pick out in the midst of the monochromatic colors. Those are them just on the floor of the same hotel as the rug. Probably one of the rare times I was bathing.
W.K.: So this is, I suppose, the other hallmark of my party offering. I have the white clothes and I have this bloody nose. The bloody nose was the album cover for my first album, but it’s since become my logo.
W.K.: Oh yes, fun-sized. I think a fun-size bar of Almond Joy is the equivalent of about one half bar? I don’t know if Almond Joy is two … Is four Almond Joy bars four almonds total? Two halves with two almonds each? I think fun-size bars in general have their own appeal. If you like a candy bar, I think you’ll love it in fun-size. And if you don’t like a candy bar, I think you might actually find that you enjoy it if you have it in the fun-size.
Let’s take Three Musketeers, a very plain candy bar. I would never choose that in almost any situation. I like it just fine, but I would never choose it over the other bars on offer. I’d rather pick a Snickers bar, or a Reese’s bar—any number of Reese’s products. I would pick a PayDay, a Babe Ruth, a Milky Way, a Twix, a Butterfinger; it goes on and on. But if you have an assortment of fun-size bars and in the midst was a Three Musketeers, it might strike you in that moment, like, “Wow, this is really great.” There’s something about the dimensions of the fun-size bar. It’s difficult to pin down why it works so well. Obviously there’s a cuteness to that size. Think of how different it would look if it was eight or nine full-sized bars. It wouldn’t feel the same.
W.K.: I don’t have tattoos other than lines. So that’s my right arm and it just has those two, and then on the left arm there’s four. But that’s it. I don’t think [I plan on getting more]. It’s a slippery slope. I already have one more line tattoo than I would’ve liked.
I noticed there was this kind of unsettling craving to get another one on the other arm. It seems like the body subconsciously wants to balance itself out, and I tried to fight that. I didn’t want them to be symmetrical, and to be honest it’s even a little painful for me to think about now because I’m not really happy with how it all ended up. It became more symmetrical than I ever wanted it to be. I was quite dismayed to realize that some instinct took over and tried to balance out my body, even against my creative instincts. That’s a horrible feeling, and it makes me nauseous just thinking about it now. I guess I could get it laser removed, but I kind of embrace it in the end. It just goes to show that you have to stop short.
W.K.: This was when the printer sent me the final prints [of the cover art for You’re Not Alone]. We had done the test prints, and that was a bit of an ordeal because the reason you get proofs is to find the mistakes and fix it. After you do that, if you have enough time, you want to get a second set of proofs to make sure the changes you made look good, and we didn’t have time to do that. So these are the finished printed sleeves from the vinyl album. I didn’t want to look at it and find some mistakes, so I didn’t even look too closely. But then I did open it against my better judgement, and I was quite pleased just gazing at it from a distance.
W.K.: One great thing about hotels these days is just about every hotel has some kind of fitness center. But for many years prior it was harder to find, so I became very self-sufficient and used these rubber exercise bands to have exercise sessions right there in the hotel. This is me rigging up a special workout, basically a rubber band gym right there in the bathroom.
W.K.: This was at the beautiful dining hall in the Sony Music headquarters in London. The big center room of this office structure is sort of a restaurant. They wheeled out this cart of burgers, and I was just so moved at how beautifully prepared they were, and how fresh. It seemed like everything was better than it needed to be. Like, people would have been just as pleased to have any kind of food available in the office, but then they have these very lovingly prepared, perfect, world class burgers. I asked if I could pose with it and they obliged. I didn’t dare lay a hand on any of the burgers though, I kept my distance. And I had washed my hands right before, out of consideration.
W.K.: This was taken at one of the main Instagram offices. There’s not much to say beyond that. I just thought I should include a photo of me so that people would know who it was that’s rambling on about all these other random photos.
W.K.: This is just an outtake of the photo that ended up being used in the gatefold for You’re Not Alone. I’ve always had something about parking lots at night. They have a special appeal I think many people can relate to. I just had a magical attraction to it.
W.K.: This is my wife, Cherie Lily. Her last name is W.K., really, but she goes by Cherie Lily. That was during our video shoot for a video we released two weeks ago called “Ever Again.” I’ve always been dreaming of having a hype woman, or just a hype person in my band, someone who could sing and cheer and dance. Someone who was a band member, but wasn’t encumbered with an instrument, who could rally up and run around, like Flava Flav or something. I met her, and she was the first person I had met that had this fearless energy and also very warm good cheer. We fell in love, and the rest is party history.
W.K.: This was actually one of the very preliminary sketches I was doing when contemplating other possibilities for the album cover. Looking at it now, it seems like a very obvious, strong, interesting kind of image compared to what the final album cover ending up being, which is quite still and static and restrained in a way. That’s what’s so mysterious about how these ideas come to pass and which one ends up asserting itself to the degree that it manifests.
W.K.: This was on our tour last year, when the ESP guitar company was able to give me the final assembled guitar, they assembled the whole thing with this beautiful gloss finish on it, and made it a real working guitar. So that was the front side of it.
I painted both the front and back, but separated by a great distance. The back took many many days and I had to do the taco in one night, because of how the schedule ended up working out. So I stayed up all night and was able to finish it. I played it every night on that last tour and now alternate between the pizza guitar and the taco guitar.
Ground beef is my taco of choice, which is why I included it in there. But if someone wants to look at that taco guitar and imagine that ground beef is instead ground turkey, or even textured vegetable protein, or whatever they wanna think of it as, that appeals to them, they’re more than welcome to.
W.K.: This is when I was painting the eye. I think this is pretty close to the end of that painting process. That was just the back, so I painted the eye first and didn’t paint the front taco part until quite a bit later.
I had made a pizza guitar a few years earlier and on the back of the pizza guitar there’s just the bloody nose face repeated in a staggered layout and I was gonna do the same for the taco guitar but then I was looking at it and something didn’t feel right about that, it seemed like it wanted to be something else.
I realized there wasn’t that many other things that could actually fit into that shape so perfectly, and then it became a fun challenge to be able to focus on painting something so specific at that scale would be really fun.
W.K.: I believe that was out of the window of that same hotel. Sometimes, maybe you’ve experienced this, especially if there are more—and I use this in a positive sense—generic roadside chain hotels, there are these beautiful expanses of land. Especially by the highway, you’ll look out your window and it’ll just be … not wilderness, but openness.
I do prefer hotels that are very straightforward. I like Holiday Inns a lot, for example. There’s something about a homogenous environment I actually find very stimulating, because all your imagination is free to turn inward and explore your most interesting thoughts. If the place you’re in is too interesting or too different, then it takes more effort and more attention and mental power to focus on it and navigate it. I like the consistency of quite bland surroundings. The truly interesting things in life are not gonna be found in intentionally quirky atmospheres, they’re gonna be found in those most worthwhile and timeless puzzles that take all of your concentration.
ANDREW W.K.’S LATEST RECORD YOU’RE NOT ALONE (RED MUSIC/SONY MUSIC) WILL BE RELEASED ON MARCH 2, 2018.