Roaming With: Party Rocker Andrew W.K.
For many of his fans, the name Andrew W.K. is synonymous with “party” – the hard-working musician has made a mission of spreading his good-time message for nearly two decades through live appearances, TV shows and advice columns. Andrew recently completed “The Power of Partying” U.S. tour, a run of speaking events that hit all 50 states over the course of eight weeks. Roam caught up with the "Party King" to ask about his travels and the philosophy behind the party.
You started your career in music – what made you decide to do a speaking tour, and was this the first time you’d done something in that vein?
This was a combination of seminar, discussion, Q&A and lecture. I’ve done these sorts of events primarily as one-offs over the past 10 years. With any kind of one-off event, it can be frustrating – if it goes well or doesn’t go well, there’s a strong desire to want to do it again, to apply what you learned as immediately as possible. It’s very satisfying to take those lessons from each night and put them towards another attempt the next night. To try and get better with each event, in a meaningful way. I try to always be improving, always be learning. I have a long way to go.
How do you prepare for something like this and what was the response from the audience like?
Most of what I’ve done, for better or worse, has not involved a lot of preparation or careful analysis ... if I did that I would probably think myself right out of doing anything at all. I hoped it was going to be uplifting, but I didn’t put a lot of thought into it beyond that – just trying to speak from my heart each night about celebrating life. I was a bit intimidated, of course. I can never fully anticipate how people will respond or how a lecture event like this will go over, or what people expect or even what I expect. I tried to do my best to sum it up in a kind of raw, energized enthusiasm that, hopefully, people can relate to. I hoped that what we discussed each night would confirm feelings [the audience had] within themselves, and amplify them in an encouraging way – that we could kind of cheer each other on in life.
Can you elaborate on your party philosophy?
Partying is extremely accessible – a child can understand the concept. It’s rejoicing, and that rejoicing is a foundation that gives you a type of optimism and enthusiasm for going out into the world. It’s a sense of hope, a sense of inner drive, but it’s also an end result you’re working towards – a level of achievement or experience that gives you reason to rejoice again, so there’s a beautiful, perpetual kind of fuel that comes from a celebratory attitude. Even to those who think they don’t like partying, I hope they can still understand it.
How do you apply that approach to songwriting and recording?
Every song is a new opportunity to try and make this energetic and triumphant feeling emerge, to try to hit this mark of raw excitement. I don’t need to get there in a bunch of different ways – just whatever works. I just want to get to that feeling of pure positive power, period. If that happens to result in a different-sounding recording, that’s a fluke, almost. I’m trying to make this feeling of excitement happen, one piece of music at a time, and whatever happens as a result of that attempt is what gets written or recorded. Some songs get there better than others.
You’ve certainly had success with it. Are you ever tempted to change up the formula?
There are a lot of artists who evolve and reinvent themselves, but for this, for what I’m doing … it sort of takes the wind out of my sails to think of it that way. I feel like I’m still trying to make a really good song for the first time. I’m amazed that any of this happened, let alone that it’s gone on 20 years. There were people who said it wouldn’t last more than a month, and now every day that it continues, I’m more amazed. I really would like to do more, but at the same time, I just want to be useful, meaning I want this joyful feeling to tell me what to do. To serve this feel-good sensation. That’s the most ambition I think it’s proper for me to have.
With as much as you travel, you must be pretty good at it. Are you able to take time out of your schedule to stop and smell the roses, so to speak?
I do feel like I’m a pretty good traveler and I that I enjoy it. I enjoy being in the airport, being on an airplane and driving every day as an actual mode of moving around the world. But, compared to other people I’ve met, I haven't smelled as many roses as some. I really admire some folks and their ability to go out and see the sights and take photos and keep journals. It’s just a skill that I don’t have. All my energy goes to the work. The show.
It does seem like it’d be difficult to switch gears from a day of running around seeing sights to doing the kind of high-energy performance you’re known for.
Every day, there’s this crescendo from the minute I wake up to what I'm going to be doing on stage later that night, and I can’t remove that awareness from everything else. Some of my band members were very vigilant about making the most of these opportunities we had to see the world. If we were in some incredible city, they would get up early and get a whole day of travelling and sightseeing in before the show. I tried it and I sort of enjoyed it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the work I could be doing instead, and the fact that I was about to do this thing on stage that would take everything I had. I guess it's a kind of “positive dread.”
You're known for a signature wardrobe that you’ve worn throughout your career – a white t-shirt, white jeans and sneakers. How'd you land on that particular outfit and what's made you stick with it for so long?
It's the most basic outfit I could think of. And I was excited about having something that was consistent and recognizable and also easily replicated by others. Easily drawn, easily portrayed, easily pictured – but also, required no maintenance, no dry cleaning and wasn’t even formal enough in its individual pieces to be considered a uniform. It’s very easy to dress in this outfit. Anyone can do it. I don’t want to have to evolve, I just want people to be able to find me. Like Santa Claus – you just know what he's supposed to wear, and he always wears it. You can count on him.
Ah-ha, I knew he was real! OK, when you’re loading your suitcase for a tour, what do you take?
I usually just bring two or three sets of my white clothes, but I only wear one – the others are backups, just in case. Even though I was only on a lecture tour, my pants on this last tour did tear from doing high kicks on stage, so it's good to have extras.
I’ll say. Do you have packing down to a science at this point, or do you still find yourself bringing along stuff you don’t need?
I’ve tended to overpack – I’ll bring all my underwear and all my socks, even though I’ll only end up rotating through five or six pairs and then doing laundry again. There’s something kind of fun about doing laundry at a hotel. I find that what might be described as a “homogenous atmosphere” really inspires free thinking. You can tackle bigger questions and contemplate whatever you want because you’re not being distracted. But I've tried to get better at not overpacking.
Andrew's suitcase, overflowing with party armour.
Here’s a big question to tackle: What’s next for Andrew W.K.?
There’s tons of stuff, or maybe nothing at all – we’ll just see what happens as it happens. I don’t make any kind of plans anymore. I used to think that way 10 years or so ago … now, I just want the party gods to show me the way. The one thing I feel confident about more so than I did earlier in this adventure is that I can show up, really do the work and give all I have. As far as what the work is supposed to be, that’s not for me to say. Anything is possible – in the best, and also the most frightening way. But the power of partying always gives me the strength to forge ahead. I've been very lucky to experience so much joy on this big adventure. I want to share that joy as much as I can. That's what partying is all about.