Andrew W.K. on Winging It, Doing You, and Speaking From the Heart

If there’s one thing we know about Andrew W.K., it is that he likes to party. Hard and often.

We didn’t have to strain to get to that conclusion; he’s been telling us as much since the early 2000s, when his music career blew up with the hit “Party Hard.” Other songs like “We Want Fun,” “Long Live the Party,” and the goal-oriented “Party ‘til You Puke” further emphasize his message.

W.K.’s encouragement to party goes far beyond the one-dimensional message it might imply. It’s not just a missive to get wasted and act the fool, unless that’s what you want to do. And that’s precisely it — the “party” can be anything you want it to be, he’s just encouraging you to explore it, embrace it, and dive into it like a champ. It’s the “Whip It” of the 21st century.

"I can’t say there was a lot of ambition or purpose or planning in this, or in other things I’ve done."

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In some ways, he’s more of a one-man mobile cognitive behavioral therapy unit than a musician, using psychotherapy's technique of creating change through replacing staid thoughts with different, positive ones. He is continuously fostering the power of positive thinking via his encouragement to party. His social-media presence offers some pretty sound therapeutic tips on the regular, and for a couple of years, he penned an advice column for the Village Voice, where he displayed a lot of empathy along with his constructive feedback.

Currently, W.K. is on the road with his Power of Partying tour, speeding through the country at a breakneck pace to meet friends, fans, and interested folks, and collectively examine whatever life issues are on their minds. Each night, he kicks the event off with a talk, and then the conversation flows freely from that point. For him, it’s as much of an effort in self-exploration and growth as it is a forum that he hopes can help people do the same. He’ll be at the Phoenix Masonic Temple on Monday, October 17. We caught up with him to see how it’s going and what we can expect.

New Times: Your Power of Partying tour is in motion. How has it been so far?
Sometimes you have to crush your soul to unleash those spiritual party juices. That''s been the experience so far. It’s quite mind-blowing, to be honest.

What prompted or motivated you to put this into action?
Probably some amount of confusion and the feeling of losing my mind. Sometimes when you feel like you’re losing your mind, you have to go on a quest to find it. I didn’t really think too much about it. I think if I had, I would have talked myself out of doing it altogether, because it is overwhelming. When you dive into the power of partying, the power of partying dives into you — with intense results. Sometimes you have to fling yourself towards destiny and see where it takes you.

It’s like mobile group therapy
It’s very therapeutic for me, and I hope and would be overjoyed if everyone in that room got as much out of it as I am. I do feel like it’s almost selfish on my part, with all of the kindness and encouragement that I’ve been given at each one of these events so far. I never anticipated that it would be so much, and that’s been the most surprising and the most meaningful part of this — the incredible camaraderie being shared in that room. Not people just supporting my specific work, but all of us engaged together to dive into these parts of life as fearlessly as possible. When we do the diving together, we can support each other and cheer each other on with as much dignity as possible.  You mentioned the feeling of losing your mind? Personal stuff? The world at large? The combo?
It seems like something I was going through, but also something that many of us are probably going through. This confusing polarity between the best of times and the worst of times, along with a pervasive and deep skepticism that this time is really any different than any other time in human history. This seems to be our natural state — always on the threshold of greatness and tragedy. I don’t know if there was a lot of clarity motivating me. It also happens to fall on the 10-year anniversary of the first speaking event I did. A lot of the decisions I’ve made have been made for me, and I just try to rise to the occasion. I can’t say there was a lot of ambition or purpose or planning in this, or in other things I’ve done. 

You mentioned the polarities present in this experience. Can you elaborate?
I’d say it’s the nature of forced balance. I don’t want to feel lows but when you feel this high, it’s like nature forces you to come down so that you can go back up again. The event itself each night is like the greatest feeling in the world, so it seems like it’s inevitable that there’s a comedown from that. It’s been a new flavor, taste, and level of shadow, because the light has been so bright.

Do you have something prepared to say each night or is it freestyle?
It’s entirely free form, for better or worse. It’s been really extemporaneous and off the cuff. I’ve wrestled over the years whether it would be more respectful to the audience to have a more rehearsed point-by-point talk, but I just can’t do it that way. I feel like to get to the core, I have to be tearing away each time. That’s challenging — just talking from the heart for about half hour, as that sets the tone. 

Do you put a cap on how long you’ll stay at each stop?
No, I’m trying to talk and get at the core of life. It is kind of impossible but the effort is usually worthwhile, no matter how far you get.

Sure, that's the value in opening up – it can perpetuate some growth
The painful part is the stretching — it’s exercise for your soul. There’s pain that comes with that, but it’s a good kind of pain. You’re pushing past yourself. I really hope people are getting as much out of it as I am because I truly am.

Have you ever formally studied psychology?
No, unfortunately not. I am always trying to learn as much as I can, but I don’t have a lot of formal training or informal training.

Is the presidential election one of the topics being discussed?
No, it really hasn’t come up at all. I definitely haven’t formally demanded that people don’t talk about it. I just think it’s being so heavily covered, that a big part of this event is to talk about all the things that aren’t being discussed. Things that seem much more fundamental, in my opinion, much more important than these often divisive issues. And yes, those issues too are important and valuable, but there’s often an underlying phenomenon that we shouldn’t lose touch with, and that’s the shared experience of being alive together.

Yeah, if open communication was a more prevalent part of our society, historically, we might not have some of the issues we do.
I’m really glad that we can carve out moments to dive into this stuff, whether we do it on our own through our own thinking or reading or conversation or events like this. It is a human need, and to starve ourselves from it, intentionally or not, can only be damaging.

You had a great run with your advice column for Village Voice. Now you’re doing a column for Vice?
Yeah, the Voice column went for exactly two years. I just started this new one. In fact, it’s my same editor. He invited me to do that column at the Village Voice and has since moved to Vice. He asked if I’d like to do a weekly piece of writing there. It’s not following the advice format, just individual topics. I’ve done a couple so far. One on the subject of pressure and the next is Andrew W.K. on bread, as in the baked food.

This tour is a pretty demanding effort. What’s giving you stamina? Are you fueled by the people?
It really is the energy I get from people that keeps me going. Each day that I get to do this, I’m fueled by the people. You can’t not be energized by that amount of support or kindness, and that amount of positive energy. It’s funny that the idea of positive energy causes people to roll their eyes as if it’s some kind of trivial, silly, or naïve thing, when it’s in fact the most precious power that we have. I truly couldn’t do this to a wall every night. It’s like a perpetual motion machine between me and the people supporting this. Certainly, I feel drained but I’m refueled in the best way, each day.

What’s happening with you and music?
It has been 10 years since I recorded a full-length, rock-and-roll, Andrew W.K. album. I have been working on it over the past couple of years. I vigorously resumed some things I started a while back and hope to have an album out next year. It’s something I’ve wanted to do, but destiny intervened with fantastic opportunities that I couldn’t say no to. I was frustrated at times, but I had to follow the party gods’ will and make an album when the time was right.