Andrew W.K. is a busy man. Having just finished up a solo tour, W.K. recently embarked on a world tour with Marky Ramone for his annual Marky Ramone Blitzkreig. All of this while trying to write and record a new album. When I got a chance to catch up with Mr. W.K., I asked him about all of this and more.
You recently wrapped up your Human Party Machine Solo Tour. How was playing solo different than a full band tour?
The main difference is there aren’t as many people playing instruments–obviously–and that creates quite a different atmosphere. To me, those shows were truly parties. I tried to pick venues that were small and intimate–more like a bar or a club than a traditional venue–so you could really be together with whoever has come. Its almost like hanging out and singing along to songs you love with your friends. I just wanted to feel as close and as friendly as possible. I love playing with my band too. We play all the time and we have shows coming up later this year, I love it just as much as this. Its just a different way to get to the same place of joy. Its certainly more challenging way. It feels kind vulnerable. You feel exposed up there without the band but there is so much good will out there that the audience doesn’t feel like an audience anymore; they become my band. Often I feel like part of the audience myself. Its a very magical type of show. It has definitely made me a better performer, a better entertainer overall.
How do you get the energy though without other people on stage playing live music with you?
From the music itself fortunately. No matter how worn down I might feel physical or sore, as soon as the music kicks in there is just something about the nature of those kind of rhythms and melodies that just takes over. I’ve tried to play those songs with a low energy approach and its very difficult to hold back. I don’t take credit for that; there’s just something special about music in general. When you focus on making energetic and energizing music–music that almost creates power out of thin air–its a very magical and effective tool. Its a device that will get you to that place of excitement.
After the solo tour, you embarked on he Marky Ramone Blitzkreig. How did that all come about?
Marky was looking for a new singer. He spoke to a friend of his who is actually a friend of mine as well, a wonderful man name Steve Lewis. Steve Lewis is really a New York City legend, especially in the world of nightclubs and nightlife. He is a mastermind and I have worked with him a few times. I’ve done parties with him. He was very supportive when my friends and I were working on opening our own venue called Santos Party House. He’s always had real good will towards me and I’ve always had real good will towards him. When Marky asked him about a singer, he said “what about Andrew W.K.?” Marky found out about my party hard philosophy–and that’s the way he’s always how he’s approached life–and it just clicked. It was a chemical reaction. I can’t believe I’m getting to do this but I don’t question. I just think the gods have somehow blessed me once again and its very humbling. I’m just going to do everything I can to make these songs the best that I can make them. There has never been greater rock ‘n’ roll made in history and to be around Marky, to be around this legacy, to be around this power that comes from their music is an amazing life experience, let alone getting to sing the songs that changed my life already.
What can fans expect from this tour? How are you going to approach singing Ramones songs?
Its Andrew W.K. singing 34 Ramones songs. Its basically impossible to impersonate Joey Ramone even if you wanted to. He seems like a one of a kind person in every way from his personality, to the way he looks, to his spirit, to his character was completely otherworldly and completely unique. Its not even worth trying to fill those shoes. Fortunately the music is so fantastic that, as long as you sing your best, its going to carry you along. Its a very powerful type of music that gives you the ability. I wasn’t sure with a lot of these songs if I was going to physically be able to pull them off but there is some kind of force that rises up in you that makes you do thing that even you didn’t think you could do.
You’ve met Marky but did you ever get to meet any of the other–now deceased–members of the Ramones?
No, unfortunately not.
Do have a particularly favorite Ramones song you’re looking forward to performing?
I like them all amazingly enough. There were some initially that I liked more than others but at this point when one song finishes and we start another its like “aw this song is the best” and then the next comes and its like “aw this one is the best.” It is an unbelievable feeling to have that music going through your body. Its almost like one long song. The entire set is just one giant song.
Is there any Ramones song that you really love but are not performing?
Not really. All the songs I requested Marky was gracious enough to include in the set. The set originally was not even 30 songs and we just kept adding songs because we couldn’t imagine not playing them. He was very kind to include the ones I was very excited to hopefully do.
Recently it was Record Store Day, what was the first record you ever bought?
My mom bought a lot of records for me. The first record I remember being an idol that I could conceive of was a seven inch of an amazing artist named Dan Crowe. I think I still have that record somewhere. And the first record I ever requested was the USA for Africa “We Are the World.”
Was there a particular artist that was a favorite on that “We Are the World?”
At that time that was pretty much my first encounter with just about everybody there. I think I was familiar with Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson–probably Stevie Wonder. I didn’t really know who anybody was until sometime later. I mean, there were a lot of people up there.
Speaking of records in general, it has been a while since your last one. Do you have any plans for a new album?
Yes, absolutely! I have been working on one for quite sometime now and it just hasn’t gotten finished. I’ll keep working on it and hopefully put it out as soon as possible. I’d like to get it out this year but I’m not really in control of that side of my life. I thought I was but I just realized that I’m not and never really was and never shall be which is fine. The more I have stopped trying to control my life the more magical it has become and out of respect for my own destiny, I try to do the best that I can with whatever comes along on this amazing ride.
So its just because you’re trying to let it flow out of you?
Well, getting asked to sing for Marky Ramone on a world tour, that puts the album on hold. I don’t even have to think about “do I do this or do I do that?” You just turn yourself over to the higher forces at work and let them tell you where to go and what to do. Most of my whole career is based on that. I made that agreement when I moved to New York and I could be more pleased or grateful with the results. I don’t know why I get to do these things or why things have worked out the way they are but I don’t feel like it is really appropriate for me to really question it. I just try to be very thankful and work as hard as I can for all the people out there who would give anything to do some of the stuff that we’re getting to do here. Out of respect for them and out of tribute for everybody, you really have to never take things for granted and really put all that you have into it. I want to be the best that I can at living Andrew W.K.’s life.
Really the point of all of this is to get this feeling of joy, this feeling of possibility. That’s why I became a professional partier. The power of positive partying is to spread the good feeling and the cheerful joy. It cheers me up, I hope it other people up and that’s my main goal. If its through music or through talking to you right now, there are many ways to spread cheerful party joy. As long as I keep doing that, I think I’m being a relatively good young man.
Speaking of the cheer you spread, there was talk of you being a goodwill ambassador to the middle east. What happened with that?
Nearly a year and a half ago, the US state department invited me to the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain. Initially I thought they would want me to go play music but they just wanted me to go and do motivational speaking to some students there: elementary school, high school, and college aged. I was going to visit these schools and some other institutions of culture to represent the United States and spread a positive image of western culture and Americans in particular.
It was all planned out. We all had to go through very extensive background checks that took about six months. But our representative from the state department was very nice, very communicative, and supportive. We put together an itinerary of the trip and they paid us $8000 to buy plane tickets and to pay for hotels and our time. I was going to be over there about four days. It was all said and done, tickets were bought and then three days before the flight I asked the representative if I could tell people I was going. He said “by all means, you can put it on your website. Tell your family and friends you are going. That is the whole point of a cultural endeavor like this is to spread the good will on both sides.” It was supposed to create a discuss or a dialogue. I definitely didn’t know much about Bahrain; a lot of my friends hadn’t even heard of it. So it was good to spread this idea of someone going. Once I told people I was going it was a very positive reaction. I was very grateful and kind of surprised at how powerful the response was from the general public. I think they thought it was kind of cool to send a rock ‘n’ roll type person instead of maybe someone from academics or sports or something. Again, I was certainly amazed I was getting to go. It became quite a big news story. Then the guy who worked under Hilary Clinton at the state department saw a picture of me and cancelled the whole trip. He said its not appropriate to send someone who looks like this to the Middle East.
At first I was very confused like “why didn’t they know about this since we’ve been working on this the last year and a half?” He already paid me. But then I started thinking maybe it wasn’t so simple. For all I know they were trying to protect my safety. Maybe there was something really dangerous about going at that time but we never really got a straight answer. My gut instinct initially was that they judged a book by its cover without really spending anytime looking at why they had chosen me in the first place because I had long hair and my close looked dirty or whatever. We may never know the answer. The funny thing is when they cancelled it, they thought it would just go away but that’s when the story got even bigger. I went on MSNBC and the reaction from the political media was very supportive of me saying that this was a really embarrassing moment for the state department, second guessing themselves and thinking this would all go away when it really inflamed the situation. The whole news coverage of the non-event I think promoted more interest and discussion than even if I had gone! In that way, I think it was a massive success as a cultural experience. We’ve been trying to go to the Middle East now but it hasn’t been so easy. I don’t know how many people there want me to go. Again, its something that is out of my control and I just assume that this is how it was meant to be. I just ride along like a twig on the shoulder of a mighty stream.