Progress Report: Andrew W.K.

Name: Andrew W.K.
Progress Report: The undisputed king of partying talks about comics, reissuing I Get Wet, making new music, and what it means to become an official “Brony.”

In addition to being an expert in the fine art of making a party, Andrew W.K. could also teach everyone a thing or two about the fine art of multi-tasking. A quick peek at his website shows just how busy he is — playing shows, recording, giving motivational speeches, curating events, making videos. The dude just doesn’t ever stop working, moving, or — as I found out — talking. This month his iconic party manifesto, I Get Wet, gets the deluxe reissue treatment (super deluxe versions will include things like locks of his hair or little swatches from his signature white jeans) and next month he’ll be speaking to all his Brony homies at a national My Little Pony convention (Yes, those My Little Ponies). Speaking to W.K. about his various creative pursuits, it’s impossible not to be charmed by his absolutely non-ironic enthusiasm for doing things and making things. He is a dude who is all about helping people celebrate whatever makes them happy and if you can’t get down with that, then you are probably a jerk who needs to lighten the fuck up.

STEREOGUM: I was just looking at your website and there is so much stuff happening on there! You stay insanely busy.

W.K.: Well, it’s loaded up. It’s summer, lots of excitement.

STEREOGUM: I know the tenth anniversary reissue of I Get Wet comes out this month. What else have you been working on?

W.K.: Yes, that was quite a big project in terms of assembling the artwork and packaging. I’m still working on that packaging this week, not so much the printed artwork but there are 500 copies of this reissue that is a special limited edition. We are doing a 2-disc CD set or a 2-LP vinyl gatefold. Both of them are really nice in terms of the packaging they come with posters and lots of extras and things like that. But this week I’m specifically focusing on these 500 limited copies that come with an air freshener that is shaped like a bloody nose and some signed stuff. And then, a special something — an unpredictable gift and something very personal -– each one will have one. It could be a lock of my hair, a hangnail –- it will be put in a little plastic bag of course so it doesn’t get lost and it will also be autographed. I mean, I can’t autograph some of the stuff because its so small. Or things like, you know, crumbs. Well, ideally they will not be perishable things but definitely personal things. They’ll be little things too, you know, a photo, travel memorabilia, stuff from the tour. I have to come up with 500 things so it’s going to be all kinds of stuff. What else? We just finished a music video so I’m also working on that this week –- the sound effects for the music video. That’s really just these last two, three days. Also working on Santos Party House. Otherwise, we just did a big world tour. It took about four months. We started in March and went through to June and we have been doing special one off festival dates and things like that. We just got back from Comic-Con.

STEREOGUM: How was that?

W.K.: That was amazing. I went to Comic-Con for the first time -– I’m not proud of that. I wish I had been going for years now. But last year was the first time that I attended and I’m embarrassed about that, but last year was so overwhelming that I vowed I would never miss another one again. And that we would do something every year from now on in terms of playing a concert. And that was one thing I noticed was that, every facet of entertainment is represented there but music seemed really under represented. And maybe that’s because there are already a lot of music conventions and events and things like that. But, we played a great concert with Franki Chan and the iheartcomix crew. And for our first year doing that I was really happy and we learned a lot for the future. This will be a tradition now to always try and throw some kind of huge party.

STEREOGUM: Are you yourself -– well, I know what is represented at Comic-Con is all over the map as far as the entertainment industry goes -– are you yourself a super fan of a specific thing that goes on there? Anything that you were intensely geeked out to see?

W.K.: Nothing more than anything else, really. I like everything that is represented there. The stuff that I would be most interested in is probably the comics themselves –- literally seeing these amazing museum worthy comic books that I had only seen in books and stuff. There are so many new comic books to keep up with that’s pretty much a full time activity. But I’m endlessly impressed and inspired by, not only the people that make them but by those who read them constantly and keep up with them. I’ve collected comics for many, many years but I’ve usually collected older ones for whatever reason. I was definitely excited about new ones -– underground comics, or what people refer to as underground comics, whatever that means. Which I guess just means they are made by different people than the larger companies but at this point there are so many comics made it’s really hard to draw a distinction between different genres and styles or underground and mainstream. But for me the most exciting part was seeing this comic books that I’d only seen in books that you could buy just right there on the spot. I’m a big fan of this artist Basil Wolverton, and they had quite a few of his original comics there, which are very rare. And they even had things like Action Comics #1, the most valuable comic book of all time if I’m not mistaken, which contains the first appearance of Superman. I’d only seen it in books or on TV so to see seven copies in a row in a case it’s very amazing. And that’s just a part of the convention as well, there is so much going on, so it’s important to actually remember that there are comic books there and there is a whole section for them, it can get swallowed up by everything else that is happening. I just love everything about Comic-Con, but that really specifically blew my mind. I used to go to comic book conventions in Michigan when I was younger and that’s all there was, was comic books, maybe some toys and stuff. But, I do really like the atmosphere of people that are fans of anything, and the passion and excitement that’s generated by it. It’s also a lot of very nice people -– I guess the pass is like $400 or something to get in — so there is also a lot of dedication to make the most of your time there. So really it’s all about a fan being a fan or being excited about excitement. That is something I hope there is continuously more of in this country and the world in general. I think that older civilizations and societies have gotten to that point, maybe in Europe or in Japan or Asia, where isn’t as much hesitation to say what makes you feel good or talk about what you like in a very outspoken way. I think we are getting to that place here where you just like what you like and you are proud of it and there is a network of people to share it with and that will support you.

STEREOGUM: Yeah, a friend of mine is working on a project that’s just about photographing conventions. She has been going to a bunch of different ones all over the place and she was telling me about a convention that was just for people that are obsessed with jetpacks.

W.K.: Oh wow! Yeah, I’ve noticed that’s been blowing up -– the technology seems to be more and more within reach. You can actually do that now.

STEREOGUM: Yeah, she said they have been doing this convention for many years and she said they even have their own song that they sing — a song about jetpacks. I love that. I think the most amazing part about conventions in general is that it’s people getting together to celebrate their love of something really passionately which is really an infectious energy even if you don’t know anything about it.

W.K.: In that way it reminds me of a concert or a music experience. Or a movie where everyone is really familiar with the movie or what it’s going to be about — like Star Wars or Rocky Horror Picture Show or something. But, even with a concert where everyone knows these songs or the majority of people are in this state of mind, it’s not going to be a surprise so much. It’s about really relishing something that you love and being around a bunch of people that are in that same state of mind. It get’s really euphoric and extremely powerful. And that’s what a lot of these conventions seem to be, like, really amplified and extended versions of concerts.

STEREOGUM: Well, that seems to be in keeping with what people love so much about your work too. You must experience that when playing the songs from I Get Wet. That kind of energy seems to be what that record is all about. Collective euphoria in the form of a party.

W.K.: I mean I always like that an album or a recording or any kind of encounter that you have with a band or performer or music was all to prepare you for that kind of experience or even just the imagination — the idea — of what that live encounter could be like. So the photos and the videos, it’s all just to add fuel to the fire of finally getting to see that in person. Some of my favorite bands I didn’t see play in person for years and years and years and years and years and believe me when that moment came it was overwhelming. Sometimes in a great way and sometimes it was disappointing. Sometimes the disappointment reveals itself to be a different kind of excitement years after the initial live encounter. It’s just so intense, you put so much time and thought and emotion into this thing that is sort of like learning some kind of code or a secret chant or some way of looking at something and then it comes all to you at once. And that to me was always the best thing to actually get to do that or at least imagine what it would be like to be up close to it and you know learning a song or the melody or the lyrics, it really intensifies things when they have that familiarity. So, that’s why I tell people that even if they aren’t a fan of what we are going to see that they should at least check out something about this thing we are going to go see. If we are going to see a concert, this performer, this movie. Like a trailer to a movie, for example. These days when a trailer contains different footage than is actually in the movie, it actually helps to build this excitement.

STEREOGUM: I know you are also doing speaking engagements as well. I was reading about the thing you are doing at the My Little Pony convention, which I actually have some experience with because one of my friends is a collector.

W.K.: Oh nice! Fantastic!

STEREOGUM: How did that come about?

W.K.: They invited me. Well, let’s see. About three months ago they formally invited me and it was a no-brainer right away. I was very, very honored to be asked. I had never properly aligned myself with My Little Pony or Friendship Is Magic or the Brony phenomenon but I was very interested in it –- a lot of fans and friends and people that I talk to around the globe have been asking me about it and telling me about it — and specifically telling me about the Pinkie Pie Pony, which they said had a really awesome party attitude which they said that I would really relate to. And I had been hearing about Pinky Pie for at least a year or so and there had been tribute videos that used some of our songs and some animated GIFs of the pony partying hard. And I was noticing that it was generally men of all ages that were telling me about it. So then I learned more and more about it and the folks that were so passionate about it were also so friendly, which is the case generally when you are a fan you want to tell other people about the thing you love. But still I don’t take that for granted because there are some people that don’t like to tell people what they are into or what they like, which I also understand. But this is a nice situation because of the friendship and the attitude you really are inviting people to the party, so I felt very glad and took it very seriously that these folks were opening up their passion to me because any time there is a lot of passion there is also a lot of ridicule. You know, boys aren’t supposed to like this, let alone, men. And that it’s not appropriate and adults shouldn’t like things for kids, like cartoons. And that’s what really sparked my excitement. I’m always interested in how there can be so much hatred for something that makes someone else happy. And I still don’t really understand where that comes from. If it’s as simple as someone not understanding or if it’s as simple as someone not having that for themselves so they have to rain on someone else’s parade, which is very common, unfortunately. There have been these really personal attacks on the Brony folks and to me it seems much more based on the idea that adults shouldn’t like things that are childlike and shouldn’t like things that are feminine. And this reminded me, that’s when it became more personal going back to my childhood days when one of my best friends was this girl Caroline who specifically only liked to play with G.I. Joes and Hotwheels. I remember she was one of the only kids — boy or girl — that had a camouflage-only wardrobe. And she was very passionate about this, she had short hair and in terms of her sexuality –- she is married to a man and has kids now and everything and it really wasn’t a sexual thing — it was just her preference in toys.

And on the flipside I liked playing with dolls and things like that from time to time. I liked all kinds of toys but there was this specific kind of doll, a miniature baby doll that was very realistic and I was always fascinated by how real it looked and stuff. And it was amazing to me the criticism I’d get for that, especially from adults. It wasn’t the other kids that bothered me so much, though they were always teasing me about all kinds of things — my hair what kind of shoes I’d wear — so that wasn’t so surprising. It was more confusing how other kids parents would say boys shouldn’t have a baby doll or a stuffed animal if it was a certain color was only meant for girls. Even as a young kid, my young friends and I realized it was completely ridiculous that these adults who were supposed to be so smart and so advanced were giving kids shit about that. So, to me this is a real, you know, just another big step forward for society and culture to realize that there are all sorts of different pieces of culture to enjoy. And to think that a boy can’t play with a certain kind of toy and a girl can’t with another is completely absurd in the most primitive and basic way. I find that the My Little Pony and Friendship is Magic and what people call the Brony phenomenon is a very healthy sign of people embracing what makes them happy rather than deciding what makes them happy based on what people are going to think of them. It’s obvious, it’s very obvious but it’s still shocking to me how confused people are by it. I would love to be an official Brony but out of respect for people that have put in so much time and passion into the culture, I am here as a fan of the phenomenon and a supporter of this way of life and the attitude which is represented by these characters, especially Pinky Pie. I’m going there as a humble participant who out of respect would only be so glad to get to that place of passion with these really beautiful ponies.

STEREOGUM: I’m looking at the Pinky Pie “Party Hard” shirt, which is amazing.

W.K.: That was a no-brainer. It’s tough because not everybody can make a party hard shirt, but when you find the right character and the right look for it, they are just very fun t-shirts.

STEREOGUM: Do you get asked a lot to speak at these types of things?

W.K.: Yeah. One thing I enjoy about what I do is that there is a lot of variety and I get to learn about new stuff. The vibe is about fun and partying and excitement and entertainment. The entertainment industry is so vast, that’s why I got into it the first place. As someone that really likes painting and visual art but also likes video and movies and also music and recording and style and clothes, it was hard to pick what to do with my life. I realized that in the entertainment industry you get to do all these things and they are all valuable and useful. Whether you are making a painting or a design for an album cover or a t-shirt or a stage set or picking out your clothes or what you are going to wear or if you are picking out the clothes of the people that are performing with you are going to wear or making a music video. I mean every mode of expression has a useful place here and that is what I felt frustrated by in other areas of the arts. If you made a painting and hung it on a wall it still counts for sure but it didn’t feel as useful in that kind of satisfying way. It was almost utilitarian in some way. I like that all the work is serving some higher version of experience. Otherwise, it kind of feels like making a craft or something. I love the performance element of what I do … and when you bring in other people it’s a lot more powerful than when only a few people get to see it. What if a million people see it? What if you are the painting? So that is always really exciting and then to see how that has panned out even further in ways I never expected, such as doing motivational speaking or lectures or TV performing, like being a host or a spokesman. Those are things that I would have never even dreamed of doing…but it’s that beautiful balance of consistency with doing things in the party spirit and my white clothes and how we explore these realms. I just feel like we can do anything. All we are really doing is exploring human joy and the human experience in general and it’s a really vast and endless thing.

STEREOGUM: In regards to your motivational speaking, do you feel like people understand it now in a way that people didn’t at first? I assume that a lot of people must have thought you were trying to be ironic or funny when, in fact, you are quite serious.

W.K.: Oh for sure. The more time you do anything the more time people have to check it out. But it gets very frustrating when … I care as much as I can about what people think but I cant control what they think, so if they don’t think the same way I do its much better to change my perception of what I want or what’s valuable. I’ve been extraordinarily inspired by how other people have thought about this versus what I thought about it because other people have different ideas you know? It’s like a different brain. And if they are going to give you any of their time you have to really soak it up for what it is. I have gotten a lot of advice and continue to get a lot of advice from some very experienced people who said to never listen to other peoples’ opinions. Never get caught up in what your audience wants. Never let the results of your work influence your future work. And that all seems insane to me. I don’t even see how that is possible it almost seems that if you try and do that you would go insane or be living in some complete state of denial. How could you not let your life affect your work? That’s all it is. Unless you have a very specific isolated version of what you’re doing. You have isolated it down to a very sure, distilled place. If you are going to be Bello the clown from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey I guess I could see how his success doesn’t need to change anything about him being Bello in the ring that night, because it is Bello not the guy playing Bello. I don’t know, but, my goal from the very beginning was to have an adventure and wherever the adventure has taken you will effect where it continues to take you. I think what people are saying is that you don’t want to lose yourself in the process. But, I’m very happy to lose myself and this really has very little to do with me, in terms of satisfying my own needs.

STEREOGUM: (laughs) Yeah. Well, another thing I think that is so amazing and inspiring is that your career model represents the ideal as far as just doing the things that interest you and following that natural impulse wherever it happens to go. Do you have a sense what you want to do next? More new music?

W.K.: I want to make another album. The only drawback is that I want to do so much and there are so many amazing opportunities that it’s very hard to say no. I would never go back to it, but in the old days I didn’t have anything to do. So to record an album for two years was the easiest thing in the world. There was literally nothing else I had to do except go to a job for a few hours during the day or, after the record deal, there was nothing else to do because my career didn’t even exist yet. So that was kind of like being unborn. But after you are born and you ask for what you want, you have to run with that. I guess you can go away completely and say no to everything and just focus your energies on one thing. I’ve tried to do that before, but now that I think back, the times that I tried to do certain types of work because I felt that’s what I supposed to do … I lost out on so much. I mean whole, huge avenues of experience that sometimes expanded into many years of experience in many ways, they never would have happened if I’d tried to operate that way. So in some ways I feel like I’m not in control of what I’m doing — and that’s a wonderful feeling — so to follow it completely fearlessly (or at least as much as possible) and follow it wherever it takes me even if that seems confusing to me … that seems like the best plan. So, I’ve been working on this album as much as I can but when I’m recording music, just the way I work, it’s usually just me and one other person overdubbing endlessly, it does take sort of an unbroken focus. Even if it’s just for a week here or a week there. I’ve never really been able to record for an hour and go do this, or record for two hours and then take a day off because once I get going I just wanna go – it’s too much fun really. That is the big plan and big focus for late summer into fall – finishing this new album. There’s a lot of other stuff too, but I’d rather just let it happen rather than talk about it too much beforehand.

STEREOGUM: Well, that’s probably the healthiest way to approach it.

W.K.: In the old days I would talk about things I wanted to do and when they didn’t happen exactly as I had hoped it would take away from the excitement of it.

STEREOGUM: Well it must be also gratifying to play the I Get Wet shows and to see that album reissued. Are you surprised by what long legs that record continues to have?

W.K.: Sure. I mean, yes and no. I don’t think about it too much. I’m amazed by the whole thing –particularly in those moments when you step back and try to fathom what is going on. But I don’t really know what’s going on either, so there is so much to do still. It’s mainly just a real feeling of gratitude. I feel humbled when I think of all the twists and turns and all the scenarios that have intertwined to make any of these things possible. I mean, what has happened over the past year alone … it becomes very overwhelming and very mysterious and miraculous when I think about it. And that is what encourages me to keep going. It goes to show that if you really want to do something, it will happen. I’m excited by the future. I always planned on doing this my whole life, so I have plenty of time.

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The deluxe edition of I Get Wet is out 8/28 on Century Media.

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