It was sixteen years ago that Andrew W.K. released his I Get Wet debut album and suddenly found that he was popular on a global stage. To this day, it remains an oddity. The album only reached number 84 on the Billboard 200 in this country, and a slightly better 71 on the U.K. album charts (number 32 in Finland, mind you), but audiences around the world seemed to instantly warm to Andrew WK.
Two years later, with the release of The Wolf, the party looked like it might be over. That record, and all subsequent records, haven’t gone over nearly as well as the cult-hit debut. And that’s no surprise. I Get Wet is glorious nonsense. WK takes the basic, bro-like theme of partying and essentially makes a concept record about it. Which sounds like it could be a nightmare (and to many, it is). But the songwriting is deceptively clever. The piano-driven verses crescendoing into epic choruses are extremely well crafted. That first album was packed with great tunes, and The Wolf wasn’t.
But in the live environment, W.K. has managed not only to keep his crowd but to rope in new fans, as well. Appearances at events like Riot Fest haven’t hurt. The man can play in between two contemporary favorites and hold his own. Nowadays, he admits he doesn’t enjoy playing new songs for audiences that just want to “Party Hard.” That’s why he hasn’t released an official studio album of new material since 2009.
“In 2006, we released an album just in Japan — a traditional rock album — and that didn’t get released in the U.S., I think, until 2009,” he says. “I guess it depends how you look at it. There will be a new album coming out in the early weeks of next year. We’re still getting the details dialed in, but will hopefully have an announcement sometime soon.”
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W.K. was 22 when I Get Wet came out in 2001, and he’s in his late thirties now. One might think that any human being would view the concept of partying differently when they reach that age, but he says that the original idea was actually more about generating enthusiasm than drinking and drugs.
“The only thing that’s changed is that I try to keep getting better at doing it,” W.K. says. “I practice. I have increased clarity, increased drive – I’m definitely more desperately determined now than I was back then. I’m trying to hit this bullseye of feeling. Through experience, through practice, you hope you hit that particular bullseye. Everybody has their own bullseye. Some people pick new targets that they want to go after; some people just keep trying to refine the same area that they’re working on. I’m just zeroing in with as much consistency as possible. Maybe it’s because I haven’t hit it yet. Maybe once you hit it, you have nothing left to prove, and you can move onto some other target. For me, I’m still obsessed with hitting this party jackpot feeling. I imagine that, based on my experience so far, I still have a long way to go until I master this domain.”
If that sounds like the junkie notion of “chasing the dragon,” always trying to regain the feeling of the first time, there are parallels. For W.K., he’s more like Sisyphus, eternally pushing that boulder up the hill.
“I think that encapsulates the human experience,” he says. “At some point, you can accept and come to terms with the fact that you might not ever get there, but that can be a beautiful thing, a compelling thing rather than a depressing, futile feeling. You can accept that the joy is in the effort.”
For many, it can be hard to enjoy music with themes as simple as partying when the world seems to be crashing down around us. For others, release valves are necessary when politics and social issues are bombarding us from all corners. We all need a break.
“The goal is to survive and make it through to the next day with as much dignity and compassion as possible,” W.K. says astutely. “You need to have those ways out. I use it as a fuel. To me, life is very intense and overwhelming and crushing. I need to be fortified with something. I need to bolster myself. I don’t feel naturally strong enough or capable enough to face the world without something underlying my own character and empowering me, making me feel more than I am. To me, music and the celebratory attitude is what gives me the strength to face the challenges of being a human being rather than just retreating and succumbing to the pressure. I want to have that underlying sense of goodness.”
Instead of burying his head in the sand and retreating into a party world that is only possible because of white privilege, W.K. is steeling himself, psyching himself up, so that he can cope with what the world throws at him. And all of it – the desire to see the good that world still has to offer, but also the frustration – informs his songwriting.
“It’s the sound of emotion, but emotion beyond what I usually think of as emotion, like ‘I’m happy,’ ‘I’m in a sad mood,’ ‘I’m in an excited mood’ — emotion as pure feeling,” he says. “As pure mental, physical, human feeling. A feeling that cannot be contained or described. A feeling that cannot be summed up or placed on a spectrum. Just total feeling. That's what I’m always trying to get to. It somehow confirms in this really undeniable way that you exist and that perhaps it’s good to exist, even with all the challenges that come with it. This is still a very self-centered effort in that regard, in that I’m trying to cheer myself up.”
Andrew W.K. plays Denver on September 21, and he says that he always remembers his shows here. Tour dates have a habit of blurring together after a while, but W.K. says that Denver gigs always stick out.
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“For some reason, there’s something mystically intense about Denver,” he says. “Something feels different being up there. I remember a lot of the times being there: good times, times that I associate with somewhat unpleasant memories — not because of Denver specifically but things that happened there of all places. I’ve grown to appreciate having memories about anything at all as time’s gone by. There’s been so many experiences — you just wonder, why do I remember that day and not the day before or after? Denver’s at the center of a lot of those memories for whatever reason.”
It’s nice to be remembered, right? And hey, despite the fact that he doesn’t like performing new material live, he will be pulling out a a fresh tune for us. And beyond that, W.K. says that he’s in the best musical shape of his career, and his band is on fire.
“I feel like we are more driven and excited than we’ve ever been, and that’s saying something,” he says. You like to think that you’re always increasing your powers and your motivation as you go, but I suppose there were times that I didn’t feel like this. I feel like it’s just the start. I don’t mean that we’ve gone back to how I was feeling twenty years ago when I was first starting to work on the stuff. I feel more determined now than I did back then, and I guess more desperate. I feel an exciting sense of desperation that time is running out to do anything in life. That’s actually a good kind of pressure to have, for me at least.”
Andrew W.K. plays with Modern Suspects at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 21, at the Summit Music Hall, 1902 Blake Street, 303-487-0111.