Music News

10 Years Later, Andrew W.K.'s Debut Still Is Gloriously Baffling

A helpful hint for anyone scheduled to interview Andrew W.K.: Don't rely on trying to take notes. He's going to start talking right away and go largely nonstop for the length of the conversation. This isn't to say that W.K. is impolite, because he certainly isn't. He listens and responds to questions asked. He says "thank you" and adds a few compliments here and there. Just make sure you have a voice recorder at the ready. Otherwise, you'll have pages of notes that make precisely no sense a few days later. What does "Arcing perpetually, exponential type of development; simultaneously progressing/breaking" mean? It sounded brilliant at the time, I promise.

Andrew W.K.'s music isn't for everyone. It wasn't for Pitchfork when the site's founder, Ryan Schreiber, gave W.K.'s debut, I Get Wet, a 0.6 rating in 2002. To be fair, his criticisms were fair (once you get past the "horsemen of the apocalypse" hyperbole). Is his music basically an amalgam of Def Leppard arena rock tracks and "Who Let the Dogs Out"? Is it worthy of the criticism leveled by rock elitists at those who enjoy the gonzo fun of the record? Probably not: Pitchfork came back around to name the album as one of the 200 best of the decade, so maybe fun is acceptable after all.

Andrew W.K.'s latest tour finds him performing the album in its entirety (which isn't all that long, clocking in at 35 minutes in recorded form), marking the 10th anniversary of its release. Which makes sense — but then there's an issue of whether the Andrew W.K. who recorded that album is the same guy touring now. There are websites set up that comb through photographs and press appearances, trying to decipher the mystery of Andrew W.K. A guy who seems to tweet party tips every few minutes (example: "A six-pack is just as good as six-pack abs") is supposed to be the same guy who gives motivational speeches at universities, who once played piano backing Bonnie Prince Billy on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, who makes strange references to an organization of sorts, made up of people who don't want to be named, who are equally part of his career. That particular narrative was suddenly a minor online controversy in 2010 that was never really resolved (as far as I know), and W.K. doesn't really help resolve the confusion when he refers to when he "signed up to do Andrew W.K. 14 years ago" or uses a sort of "royal we" grammatical device at times to refer to himself.

Why would anyone even care whether Andrew W.K. is a character assembled by committee? Probably because the hyper-sincerity of his message (he described the message to me as "putting up a giant blinking arrow inviting people to the club of the human race" at one point) would seem hollow and deceptive if W.K. isn't "for real." Personally, regardless of the reality of W.K.'s story, there's something empowering about a guy who wants people to have more fun. His concerts a decade ago were bursts of ecstatic joy, ending with Andrew W.K. hugging members of the audience as the band closed with his biggest hit, "Party Hard."

If the guy who told me that he's currently working on "the most exciting collection of songs using the patterns and instruments of rock music that [he] possibly can" is some sort of construct, don't tell me. I'd prefer to party, nearly until I puke, maybe even "simultaneously progressing/breaking," if that's something that exists/can happen.

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Dan Gibson
Contact: Dan Gibson