Andy Warpigs, the Arizona-born folk-punk icon, died on Sunday, May 30, 2021, at the age of 32.
Although they were known for their musically smarmy, slick-tongued storytelling and relatable yet absurdist lyricism on tracks like "Drown My Baby" "Everybody Likes You Now," "Bad Faith," and "FOLK-PUNK YOURSELF," it's also Warpigs' altruistic and empathetic treatment of others that has led to an outpouring of condolences across the Phoenix music scene.
Bryan Preston of Dadadoh, a friend and collaborator of Warpigs on projects like Militia Joan Hart, tells Phoenix New Times about their mutual beginnings:
"They were the biggest supporter of live music I ever met; we came up together in the Phoenix music scene and both started out as just journalists who wanted to document local music we thought was cool," Preston says. "Once they got on and started making money from their music, they gave me some of [the earnings] to make physical copies of my first EP. At some point throughout the years, I joined their band and they joined mine.
"We always loved and respected each other but we also fought about things and disagreed about people; we became a real family together. They have this power to always find the light within the darkest people and moments. They were so funny; they were a genius; they were my brother."
According to their longtime bassist, Jackson Bollox, Warpigs (who was born Michael Johnson) first presented their adopted moniker at Jesse James Comics in Glendale on Free Comic Book Day in May 2013. Warpigs reworked old punk songs into tunes about comic book characters at the event, which they played alongside Bollox's band Nerdzerker and Billie Russel from Contradiktion.
Friend, collaborator, and Militia Joan Hart bandmate Scott Mitting tells New Times about Warpigs' relationship with their chosen stage name:
"When I first met them, there was clearly a difference between Mike and their character, Andy Warpigs. But those lines began to blur over the years. It's something we talked about often."
Local artist Hotrock Supajoint was a friend of Warpigs' who helped record, mix, and release their debut album, Folk-Punk Yourself, on 56th Street Records in 2014.
"Andy wanted to help musicians make music; we did a bunch a live shows together back in 2014 and '15, and they also helped me start and co-host my SupaShow potcast back in April of 2017. The last time I saw Andy perform was February 7, 2020," Supajoint says.
"Andy is a fuckin' rock star and everyone knows it," he continues. "They gave their attention to peeps who needed to be noticed, and had a genuine desire to assist, entertain, and inspire. I'mma miss 'em, yo."
Warpigs got plenty of coverage over the years on culture blog YabYum Music + Arts. YabYum senior editors Carly Schorman and Mark Anderson say, "Andy Warpigs, as they were known to us, was one of the most caring, earnest, and supportive musicians we’ve ever known. Andy was a defining force in the local music scene and they played a shaping role in the community. Andy’s talent and charisma stood out on and off the stage, perhaps, overshadowed only by [their] kindness."
Bollox describes playing with Warpigs as "always an adventure," due to their improvisational nature.
"I have been performing live for over half my life, and I never felt an adrenaline rush anything like playing with them," he says. "It made me a much better musician, [as I had to learn how] to switch how I played the song on the fly like they would; [Andy] would completely change the chord structure during the song, or even use a kapo and tell me just before we started the song that the song was going to be in a different key that night."
Friend and former collaborator Jorge Felix echoes that sentiment; he tells New Times that playing with Warpigs could feel "wobbly."
"Andy would change the tempo of a song according to their mood. Although hard to follow, I think the vulnerability [of their music and performance] drew people in, making them the realest person in the room. Even with a $20 pleather jacket and a toy guitar, they were a rock star," Felix says.
The first time I remember meeting them was at a show that we played together," Jedidiah Foster says to New Times. "We were immediately fast friends. It was easy to hang out with Andy — all you had to do was go to a random show, and they were probably playing it. I was also a fan. Subversive, humorous lyrics couched in easily digestible melodies, being sung by Gordon Gano meets Morrissey. What wasn’t to like?"
Preston describes Warpigs' songwriting ability as "truly unbelievable ... they could write something so silly or something completely heartaching."
"We both were attending a show at the old Trunk Space location, and the guy headlining the show was demanding everyone stand up or he would end his set early. After throwing a tantrum and ending his set, Andy stood on top of the bench seat of an old piano and played their song 'Ego Death,'" Preston recalls.
"The lyrics are all about this crybaby/egotistical rock star, and it really got to that guy who was headlining; by the end of his impromptu performance, you could see it had softened that guy and he felt a bit ashamed of how he acted. [Andy] didn’t care who you were. They knew we were all equal and should be treated as such. That always stuck with me."
Though Warpigs' music is what made them a part of the local scene, his kindness and empathy is what endeared them to countless Phoenix musicians.
"I can’t think of anyone else who could get me to pile seven people into my car at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday when I had to be at work at 6 a.m., or anyone more supportive and inspiring than Andy," says Mitting. "I wish I could be that good of a person."
Jimmie Lewis of NFOE, who played drums with Warpigs at a number of shows, met them when he attended his first Trunk Space show.
"I was about 16, [and] Andy was super friendly and inviting; it took us approximately five minutes of conversation to become the best of friends," Lewis recalls. "We could just talk for hours on end about music. They were the closest thing I had to a role model. [Andy Warpigs] was selfless and a saint."
Local musician Benjamin Fuqua remembers a time when Warpigs, who was only an acquaintance, helped him during a difficult time.
"I was alone in the middle of the alley, completely fucking baked like a burnt potato, and [I began] hyperventilating, and I freaked. I was starting to cry and right as I did, Andy ran up and gave me a huge fucking hug," Fuqua says. "I didn't remember their name, [and] had only met them in passing at a few parties, [but] they hugged me right as I was about to cry, and it just fixed something. They told me that the world fucking sucked, but that I should just take it out on them instead of falling apart."
Jeff Schaer-Moses, the manager of Arizona nerdcore rapper Mega Ran, worked with Warpigs at a number of local music events, including It Gets Weirdest, Sharefire Music Festival, and Miami Loco, as well as productions of The Rocky Horror Show at the Firehouse (in which Warpigs played Dr. Frank N. Furter).
"They were inspiration incarnate, with an unreal ability to encourage everyone around them to follow their passions," Schaer-Moses says. "I'd be nothing with Andy and Mamma Warpigs. I'd be a drone rattling my days away at a desk waiting out my mundane life, [but] Andy and their mom breathed life into every person who ever thought life could be more than that. Andy believed in me and acted on that belief, [and] I owe everything I've done in the music industry in part to Andy Warpigs.
"And the only thing they cared about more than creativity was inclusion; they just wanted everyone to take equal part in the good time and have equal space in making it happen."
Phoenix filmmaker Josef Rodriguez, who made a 2015 documentary about The Indie 500, a recurring local music marathon at The Trunk Space, remembers Warpigs' presence during the shoot.
"They were one of those people you were happy to see, because they would always have something to say, and listen to you, which is rare these days," Rodriguez says. "They were a mythical figure in a way, even though they were upfront with who they were. They were always shrouded in some kind of mystery I really loved. They loved their mom more than anything in the world and would hang out with her and all of us, and loved everybody.
"From far away, they seemed like this larger-than-life person, but when you spoke to them, it was clear they were the most humble human you ever met. They were themselves with anyone, anywhere, and at any time of the day."
Andy Warpigs is survived by their partner, Keyah Hanwi, and mother, along with the locals, friends, and fans who will keep their spirit, memory, and music alive.