(Photo Credit: Roe Ethridge)
On September 12th, 2003, I had the privilege of doing one of the most incredible interviews I’ve ever been a part of, heard, seen, or read. Andrew W.K. took over an hour out of his busy schedule of PARTYING HARD to talk to me for my old web site. This was a HUGE interview, and initially, I spread it out over 5 parts, just because it was a ton of transcription, but for the purposes of republishing now, we can do it all in one go, all 10,759 words of it. We begin with Andrew’s and my musings over the loss of two legends…
Andrew W.K.: It’s too bad about Johnny Cash and John Ritter.
Scott Crawford: Yeah, that was a real heck of a thing to wake up to this morning. I mean, with Cash, we’ve all been kind of expecting the worst for a while, but John Ritter, that was out of nowhere.
AWK: Out of nowhere, very young. Yeah, I described that exactly the same way when I was talking about it earlier today, “Well, Johnny Cash, he’s lived a long, and very enormous life, and you knew his time was near, but he had just sort of gone out with a swan song, really great album that was very well received, and his wife had just died, so it was kind of all lining up that way, not to make it sound morbid, but once again, he was in his twilight years. But John Ritter, a man in his prime still, and one of my favorite favorite actors and comedians by far, you know what I mean? Just one of my top favorite dudes, and it really is too bad, but I’ve been reading, and people have a lot of really nice things to say about him, just that he was one of the nicest people they’d ever worked with, and when I thought about it today, I realized, I guess I’d realized this before but I’d never said it to myself…there’s no one else like him at all. There’s not even anyone close.
SC: He’s pretty much in a class by himself.
AWK: His physical comedy, he’s in a league of his own when it comes to that, but just his whole vibe…there’s one John Ritter, there’s one Jack Tripper, there’s one…that kind of guy. That’s very unusual.
SC: He’s a guy that went underappreciated throughout his career, because critically, “Three’s Company” was trivialized.
AWK: That’s definitely one of my favorite television shows of all time, and I would put that up there, pretty much with anything in terms of what I’d like to watch, and he’s the main reason, besides Don Knotts and Norman Fell. Yeah, just watching him on that show, he’s completely charming, and he’s the kind of dude you really wanted to be friends with. He was a good guy, he played an all-around good guy…and just completely hilarious, and there was nothing stereotypical about him. He wasn’t overly macho, there was no act. it seemed like he was just this real kinda quirky, strange dude, you know what I mean? So it was just really funny. I’m glad to talk about him with someone who did like him, because I really, really liked him, and I would laugh very hard when ever I saw that show and “Problem Child” and all that stuff he’s done since has been good. Anyway, onto lighter topics…
SC: Your music, especially that on “The Wolf” is probably the most overwhelmingly upbeat music in rock right now. How did you manage to get to such a positive place, both musically and personally?
AWK: You know, it’s all kinds of stuff. Part of it’s definitely making choices to do things a certain way to make attempts and efforts at living a certain way as anyone does. I guess some people go with the flow. I try to go with the flow, but I try to push the flow into a direction that’s going to be most…good. I want to be good. I want to be good, you know what I mean? I think everybody does, deep down inside. I just wound up with these really incredible opportunities to get there right away, or maybe just to get there now, or get there however, or get there at all. It’s interesting, because I don’t say to myself “I gotta stay positive, I gotta stay positive…” or “I’m going to make really positive music”, or “I’m just going to keep being a positive dude.” I don’t think of it in those kind of terms, really. I mean, maybe I could, but I more or less try to just look at things as they really are. And when I look at my life as it really is, I can’t deny that it’s good. And that’s just the truth, you know what I mean? And it’s not about a certain outlook or philosophy, necessarily, there’s outlooks to incorporate, certainly, but the fact of the matter is, my life is good. I have food, my health is fine, all my limbs and extremities are working OK, my brain seems to be working just fine. I have good friends. I have good family. I was raised in a good environment. And, on top of that, I have one of the most amazing opportunities that anybody could ever ask for to work on every day. So that’s the reality of my life, and to make music that denied that, or to live my life in a way that denied that would just be dishonest. I’m not really trying to represent myself or represent my life but, I just feel that I’ve gotta make the most of what I’ve got here, and I might as well try to spread it around as much as possible. So when I’m talking about these things in songs that might come off as being positive, or as having a positive outlook or a good philosophy or things like that, it’s not so much what I think or my opinion, but just reminding us or pointing out the things that we’ve always known about what’s right and what’s good and what’s true. Now, I know not everybody has grown up with a great family. I’m very lucky for that, because so many of my friends don’t get along with their parents or their brothers or sisters or whatever. So that’s actually the whole foundation of all of this, obviously, is from my parents. I feel for everybody out there that doesn’t get along with their parents for whatever reason. I certainly had times where I didn’t.
*pause for Andrew to talk to some fans*
AWK: So, I was talking about parents and stuff. So to me, the music may have these qualities to it, and if someone says it’s very positive, I take that as a compliment. I’m not trying to deny that at all. But I’m trying to point out the bigger picture…that it’s just a way of looking at the truth, and I think if we all really found the strength to look at things as they really are, or we found the perspective or the clarity to really try to be honest with ourselves, we’d probably realize that most of us have it pretty good, one way or another, and if we don’t have it good, or if we do have reasons to be sad, we still have decisions to make as to how we’re going to deal with it. Sure, we all have bad things happen to us, including me, and you should say “Am I gonna cut my losses and be alright, or am I gonna let it bring me down and take away from the good stuff I’ve got going?” It’s all a matter of what you choose to do, and I’m just choosing to try to be good, and I feel pretty good about it. I dunno, we’ll get back to this again, I’m kind of having trouble…like, for example, the songs on the album, the songs on this album in particular, on “The Wolf”, I didn’t sit down and say “I wanna make a really really positive song”, it wasn’t that simple, it was more “I wanna make a song that just makes people feel FANTASTIC, and opens those doors inside you that might’ve been locked that are still there, that have always been inside you, always waiting to be opened, or maybe have been opened but were shut, or maybe there were cracked open a little bit, or just point out that the doors are there in the first place, but just show people the things they’ve always known, you know what I mean? I’m not pointing these things out that people don’t know, I’m not making it up. Again, I think this stuff is very very very basic, I’m not going to stand here and take credit for this stuff. I’ve learned it from myself, but also parents and friends and family and many life experiences so far, but I’m very very young, and who knows what I’ll learn after this? I just know that I’m determined to make things as good as they can be, and that’s a challenge. I was always around people that were cool, but at the same time there were also people that said “Well, you’re just young and naive, and some day you’ll grow up and realize the world sucks.” And I was like, “You know what? Out of just the challenge that you’ve presented, no! I’m not going to grow up and realize the world sucks. I’m going to grow up and become smarter and stronger and better, and the world is going to get bigger and more fantastic with each passing day.” The whole idea of giving in to some kind of pessimistic, hopeless, doubtful cynicism was just not an option, and I became more and more determined that I’m gonna try to make life good, you know what I mean? As good as I could. You know what I’m saying.
SC: When you sat down and listened to “The Wolf” after you finished it, did you feel as if you’d accomplished everything you wanted to with this particular record?
AWK: Yeah, I think so. I mean, they all have problems, there’s always things that I say “Oh, I wonder if I should’ve worked on that more, or changed that…” about. When I first did “I Get Wet”, I didn’t listen to it for a while, I didn’t want to. There were so many things that I was so focused on, and would always hear as problems. I wanted to get away from it, so that when I finally did go back and start listening to it again, I wouldn’t hear the problems…I’d just hear the songs. But this album, right off the back, I was listening to it, I guess ’cause I felt it was really really solid, or I just knew it had come out so well that all the little problems had been fixed. I felt like I really did make it as good as I could, given the time that I had. And of course, there’s wrong things I hear now, little things like that, but that’s why you get to make a third album, to try and fix those things.
But I was listening to it last night, and maybe for the first time, maybe just a rare moment of real pride came over me. And I don’t feel that way a lot, and that’s fine, I think it’s a strong emotion that you reserve for special things. I rarely feel it about something I did, just because when you’re so close to things, I kinda just feel like I’m working on something. It’s not really about pride or not…I always feel good that I’ve done something, but this was pride beyond me. I was proud of all the people who have believed in me. They believed in this music, and had worked on it, and dedicated themselves to it, and all the thousands of people who believe in it, and love it, and like it. I was listening to it, kinda thinking to myself about these things, and I was saying, “You know what? I really really love this, and I think this is really great, and I’m really happy that we were able to do this album.” And I wasn’t thinking about it for me. I was almost looking at the people around me, it was after a concert with all the people from the audience hanging out, and I was looking around saying “I’m really thankful to you guys”, just thinking it in my own head, “and really proud of you for finding the courage to believe in me and this music, and thank you very much, because you just helped create this thing that I think is great.”
SC: You were talking about this a little bit at the Irving Plaza show…
AWK: Yeah, you were there?
SC: When you were recording “The Wolf”, were there any bands or records that influenced your sound?
AWK: Actually, no. And I hope that doesn’t sound like…sometimes, I imagine someone reading this, and maybe they’re thinking “Oh yeah, right. Of course there’s things he listened to.” I mean, of course there’s all kinds of stuff that plays into this music from all over the place. But going into this, and maybe it was from things from before…I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound. I knew all the instruments I wanted to use, I knew exactly how to record it, and it was just a matter of doing it. So all the “How should it sound? What should we do? Where should this come from?” and “What should this be like?” wasn’t the problem. The struggle was just getting it done in the six months we had to record it.
The way I think about it is like this: I’ve been in bands where I say “Well, I really like this band, and I like this one and this one and this one…I wanna make something that sounds like these”, just because I’m so in love with my favorite bands. Like death metal for example…like so in love with Napalm Death or Obituary where I say “I wanna be in a band that sounds like these.” That’s how I was in high school, and that’s fantastic…that’s a great reason to be in a band, that’s a great reason to make music…you love music, and you want to make something that sounds like something you love, that’s great…but I realized while doing that, and maybe being in other bands that were similar to that, that it was just about trying to recreate something, or trying to capture the feeling that I felt from what someone else was doing. I realized that I was trying to be someone that I couldn’t be. Now matter how badly that I wanted to, I wasn’t a great drummer from a death metal band. I wanted to be the drummer or the singer from Napalm Death. If someone asked me “Well, what’s your dream?”, in some ways, I would’ve wanted to be just that. But I’m not that, and I couldn’t be that no matter how hard I tried. I could be another singer or drummer in a band that sounded like that. I could be another singer or a drummer in a band that sounded like that, kind of an attempt to imitate it, but I realized that was kind of futile. No matter how badly I’d wanna be a cool guitar player from the 1930’s, “Wow, wouldn’t that be cool?” Yes it would, but I’m not. No matter how bad I’d wanna be a blues musician from Mississippi, no matter how bad that I’d wanna be anything that I’m not, anything that’s impossible for me to be…I can’t be from any time before this, and I can’t be anyone that I’m not. I’m a guy who grew up in Michigan playing the piano, I went to high school in the ’90’s, and I’m at where I’m at. It kind of just became this realization, and it was really scary at first, because I used to just debate with myself, “well, I really love playing fast drums, I should just do that”, and the idea of trying to find something as exciting with who I was wasn’t as thrilling, because who am I? I was just me. I’m not that exciting to myself at all. I was kind of boring to myself…I knew myself inside and out, and there was nothing exciting at all. I was excited about all the stuff other people were doing. But there just came a time where I kind of, not restrained myself, but I just said “Well, let’s see if you can create all that excitement and energy and capture it in something that you know how to do. It’s about you…and not a return to something that you know, or trying to make something that you really admire.”
The truest respect I think you can have for something that you really love is to let it be. Enjoy it, completely bathe yourself in it, love it for all it’s worth, and then let it be. I compare that to a beautiful animal for example, like if you’re really into elephants…no, I won’t use that, I usually use flowers for this example…if you’re really into zebras…let’s pick zebras, because they’re not as big of an animal…you’re really into zebras, and you might wanna go and look at a zebra and you love it so much that you’re like “You know, I wanna have this stuffed in my house.” So, you shoot it and you take it to a taxidermist, and you put it in your house. All of a sudden, you’ve taken this great thing, and yes, it’s still beautiful and exciting to look at, but you’ve kind of stripped it of what it really was, and it’s ultimately very disrespectful of the thing. It’s just like a flower in the forest…if you leave the flower there and let it grow, you can visit it every day, it’ll come back every season, other people can go look at it, but if you really respect it, you don’t touch it at all. And that’s kind of how I feel about some of the stuff, you know what I mean?
I’m just going to try to do what I know how to do. What I’m best at is playing piano, and making this music. And what this music is, on the other hand, and what makes this work, and why this all ultimately makes sense, is because this music isn’t really about me. It’s not really about what I like or don’t like. It’s not about what I feel good about, or what I feel bad about. It’s really just a thing that needs to be made. It needs to be built. It needs to happen. It’s like if you’re a ship builder, you build boats for people to get across the waters. You gotta build that boat. If you don’t build it, those people aren’t going to get across the water. You’ve got a job to do. You know how to build a boat, you put it together, you craft it well, you make it good, in fact, you can even make it beautiful and really fantastic, and then people will get across the water. You might really really love sky diving, and you might think “Gosh, I really think that should be what I do, even though my dad, and his dad, and his dad before him have all been ship builders, I wanna go and be a sky diver!” There’s that part inside of you that thinks sky diving would be really fun, but you know deep down inside that you’re a ship builder, you take pride in that, you do the job. It might not be what you think is cool at that moment, but you know that’s what you do best. So I kinda removed myself, and even what I think is cool at the moment, I try to remove that from this music and work more as an employee…try to build, and construct, and facilitate the most exciting music to exist and really craft it, you know what I mean? Rather than making it a combination of my experiences, or what I feel like doing, or what I hate or what I don’t like. It’s not really about that. I don’t want my weaknesses to enter into this, because my weaknesses are the one thing that would really bring it down and hurt it. I don’t wanna hurt this. I don’t want my bad mood or insecurities or my fears to limit this, hold it back, or hurt it in any way. I don’t wanna keep this locked down into my own private little world that I create to protect it so no one can touch it or hurt it. I don’t want it to be that. I don’t want it to be in there at all. I want this to be SO MUCH bigger than me, so much not about just me, but about all kinds of other people, some that I don’t even know. I want it to be huge, and vast, and limitless ultimately, because that’s going to be much more exciting for me. It’s going to force me to take myself out of my comfortable world. It’s going to force me to live in the real world, the out, open world, and it’s going to ultimately make everything bigger and better. Just for this music. And I understand and respect anybody who does it for other reasons, but that’s just what this music is about, you know what I mean?
SC: Sure. It’s pretty interesting that you approach things from that perspective. This does raise an interesting question, though: you say that you try to take yourself out of the music as much as possible, but a song like “Really In Love” sounds pretty personal. Were there experiences you had that made you write it, or did you work from an abstract, idealized perspective of what love should be?
AWK: No, I mean, there’s definitely personal experience applied to this stuff. There has to be. I don’t know what else to base it on sometimes. I base it on a thing that I think I would find exciting, and I try to communicate things that would make sense to me, or sing about things that I like singing about, but I try to leave them open enough, again, to not limit it, so that it can be understood and enjoyed by many different people in different situations. That song started out originally as a love song that I was writing when I was all alone. It was what I was hoping for, and imagining would be so great, like “Gosh, I’m so lonely, it would be so wonderful to have a situation like this”, and I kind of created my perfect romantic love idea, and then I wrote a song about it, even though it was all in my imagination. Then the song kind of morphed into a real girlfriend that I had. And then, even after that, I was alone again, and I realized that I was feeling kinda down and kinda wimpy, generally just in a lonely mood. I was thinking to myself, “Gosh, I would give anything to be able to be in love again”, just being kinda sorry for myself. Then I snapped out of it and felt like a fool, because almost like I’d just disgraced all the love that I had through this music, and that was kind of what the song ended up becoming about. “I get you, you get me, we get us.” It’s about people who love and believe in this music, and how, because of them, I’m pretty much guaranteed to never really be completely alone again, and how it’s one of the greatest gifts a person can ever be given. I didn’t make that on my own. People have taken it upon themselves to choose to be with this and have given me that beautiful thing, to feel needed and wanted, or just to feel part of something bigger than myself. That’s always what I wanted more than anything…to make something that would make me just a small portion of a bigger thing. You’d think that this music would be made to make myself bigger as a person, like “I’m important because I made this music, blah blah blah”, and of course, there’s exciting stuff about that, I won’t deny it, but I wanted to make something that I felt like a member of. I didn’t really have that. I saw glimpses of that, but I was also left out quite a bit. I wanted to make something almost to live vicariously through other people who could come to it and feel completely included and valued and not left out, and hear themselves singing this song that loved them so much and wanted them so much. That it was their music and our music together, and I just wanted to be another guy in the midst of this celebration. That’s kind of what this music is striving to do.
SC: I think you get there.
AWK: Even when the song is maybe a singular, or first-person song that sounds personal like “Really In Love” or like even “Tear It Up”, it goes back and forth from “I” to “we” to “us” and things like that. I think even with those songs, it still sounds like your friend singing it to you or with you. That’s what it sounds like to me. It doesn’t sound like you’re sitting there watching this person do something, and you’re kind of just a guy on the sidelines, watching this exhibition. The music was made to feel like a friend, you know what I mean? Like a really, really good friend, and I hope that people get a chance to meet that good friend, because I think they would like him.
SC: Again, you said something along those lines at Irving Plaza, when you introduced “Never Let Down”. You went into the bit about how “if you’re ever feeling down, alone, or left out, this song is your best friend”. I think that’s pretty accurate.
AWK: Excellent. But who knows? All the time I’m wondering…”saying all this…it’s a lot easier to say all of this stuff than to actually do it. Is this actually happening? Is this just a fluke that I feel this way about this, or do other people share it? Maybe I’m just so close to it, maybe I’m just working on it so much that of course I’m going to feel it, but are other people getting it?”. But I think like you said, and I thank you for saying it, and from other people I talk to, I think it is working. I don’t think it’s just me. I think people are feeling this same kind of passion that I’m feeling.
*pause for passing motorcycle*
AWK: I don’t think any of the stuff that we’re talking about, I don’t think any of the stuff that I’m doing alone really makes this better than any other music. I don’t think it makes it better, or more important, or more special at all. I don’t. I just think it makes it what it is. It doesn’t need to be the only kind of thing like this, it doesn’t need to be the one and only, it’s not really about that. It’s whatever you want it to be. It’s only as special as you feel it is to you, you know what I mean? And I’m not out here to say it’s better than this or that. You can decide those things, the individual decides those things. I just wanted to make it as good as I possibly can, and have the help of all the other people, but what ultimately is going to make it great, and is going to make it important is the long-term belief that many people feel for it.
SC: Having watched you over the course of a year and a half, and having seen the reactions of people in the audience…well, you’re up there on stage, and I’m sure you look out there. You can see that these kids and adults and everyone…they’re involved. That’s gotta be a rush.
AWK: It’s an amazing rush. It’s more than a rush. A rush is the excitement I get from a spontaneous moment of high energy. A rush like that initial impact of something. What ultimately comes from many, many rushes over time is this…strength. I get this strength. It’s more than just seeing the audience when we play. It’s more than just seeing the people and their faces when they hear the music. It’s more than even talking to them. It’s KNOWING…it’s this knowledge that it’s not something I’m just seeing, but that it actually exists. That these people actually do feel this way. It’s not just me…it’s not me separated up on one place with everybody else somewhere else. It’s that we’re really together in this…that bit by bit, people are kind of understanding that we’re one in this. And they see me in themselves, and I see them in me. Time and time again, you don’t know how many people I’ve met, because I really try to meet the people who are coming to these concerts and believe in this, where I’m like “Wow, where’s this dude been all my life?” or “Where’s she been?” These people are people I would’ve been friends with if I’d ever known them before, and thank goodness we found each other. That can sound kind of wishy-washy or sappy, it’s very easy to blow this stuff off as kind of corny, I guess, but it’s just because it’s heavy. It’s intense stuff. It’s very simple, but it’s demanding. It demands a lot of your emotions, and it asks you to believe in it. If you don’t believe in it, it’s not gonna be anything. Even the stuff I’m talking about right now, it asks you to find the courage to take that risk to go from someone who says “Oh yeah, whatever, sure…” to someone who says “You know what? Yeah. I’m into this.” I hope that, not just with this music, but that people will have the unending courage to always seek out things that will give them a real feeling, that they can believe in, that isn’t just like an “Oh yeah, sure, sure, I know it…” That whole know-it-all thing leaves you without any discovery, without any mystery, without any sense of wonder, without any real passion. When you know everything, what’s there left to get excited about, you know what I mean? So I hope that people can take the risk. And if they’re going to take the risk, I have to prove it to them. I have to show it to them, I have to earn their respect, earn their trust, in order to jump off that cliff with them. I want them to know that they’re not taking the risk alone, but again, that we’re all in it together.
This is good, because you know what happens? A lot of the stuff I talk about’s very basic things about the music and what’s going on, so I end up talking about the same things, which is fantastic. I love talking about it. But every now and then, I kind of make a breakthrough, or I find a new way to say something, or we just talk about something that hasn’t been talked about before, and this is kind of turning into one of those interviews where it’s just really exciting, because it’s going beyond just the basics. I mean, we’re talking about the basics, but it’s going a little further than that.
SC: I appreciate the depth you’re going into here.
AWK: Thank you very much.
SC: How much input, if any, did the band have on the sound of the new record?
AWK: I ask what they think of stuff here and there. To be honest, it doesn’t make it better this way, but I basically just do everything. Sometimes I feel a little weird about that, like someone’s gonna think “That guy’s so full of himself… he just makes it all…he thinks he’s so great.” Don’t get me wrong…I don’t. I don’t think I’m great because I happen to make it all, that’s just how I made it. I don’t think it makes it better at all. I just need to get it done, and I happen to know these songs and play them, you know what I mean? The band knows them as well now, because they’re going to play them live. There are definitely big parts of this album that are heavily inspired by knowing that I have this band, knowing that we’ve played over 300 concerts in the last year in a half, knowing what they’re capable of, and knowing what I can expect from them. Our drummer (Donald Tardy of Obituary fame-Editor), for example, is just so incredible, such an amazing drummer. On this album, I was writing drum parts and drum fills that I never would’ve done if I didn’t think he was going to be the one playing them. He showed me a lot about drumming. He’s just amazing. I thought I knew about drumming, but he taught me a lot. He showed me a lot. Being in the band, just sitting down and talking with him about stuff over tour and soundchecks and stuff, just little things like that, it added immensely to my understanding of what he’s capable of, and what we can do. So I was able to make these drum fills that really are HIS drum fills, and the kind of things he would do, even though he didn’t sit down there and make them. It’s interesting, because a lot of this music is inspired by itself. It’s music about itself. It’s music about the people who are playing it, how it’s written…and it’s music that knows what it wants to do, and is just so pumped up that it has the chance to do it that it’s just going to go all out. I’m so excited about getting to make a song. I’m so excited…blown away that we get to make another album. So it’s just like “Gosh…well, here’s what we do.” And again, it wasn’t a question of “How should it sound?” or “What should this sound like?” or “What should we do differently?”
SC: It was automatic.
AWK: Yeah. It was just like “Let’s go and make twelve of the best songs we can possibly write.”
SC: How did you manage to find this band full of guys who seem to be so totally on the same page with you?
AWK: It was all completely random. I’m a big believer in letting things happen, or just going with what seems to be taking shape, even if it seems completely far-fetched or risky. I certainly didn’t always think that way, but so much has happened out of almost random chance, that I kind of think that blind faith results in these…almost miracles. After our drummer came into the picture, this other dude who was a friend of a friend said “I know this guitar player. I think he’s living in Chicago. He’s insane. He’s the best guy. His name is Jimmy.” So I was like “Really? What is he like?” and he was like “Don’t even worry! I’m telling you, this is the guy!” So I met him, and I’d never met anyone like this guy in my whole life. I didn’t really know anyone, I just didn’t know. I guess I didn’t have any reason to think he’d be good, or to think he’d be bad. I was like “OK…let’s try it.”, and sure enough, he was incredible and great. I can’t imagine anybody else being able to do what he does, or being exactly the way he is. The other guys…the other guitar players were both old, old friends of Donald’s that he had played in bands with or just known…Eric and Gregg (Eric’s one of the guitar players, Gregg’s the bass player), those two guys were jamming in a band called Intoxicated that Donald sometimes played drums in. I was like “Donald, do you know a bass player and a guitar player?” and he was like “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” I asked “Are you sure?” and he was like “Well, there’s this one band I jam with called Intoxicated, but I don’t think you want these dudes in the band…they’re pretty weird dudes, pretty freaked out dudes.” I was like “No, they’re probably gonna be great, are you sure?” He said “Well, I can talk to them and see what they say”, and they were like “Yeah, I’ll give it a try.” So then, all of a sudden, you have two more members that I’d never met, and didn’t end up meeting until much later, just totally by going with it. By trusting them and having faith in them, it made them rise to the occasion, I think. I think that when someone else believes in you a great deal, maybe more than you believe in yourself, you’re able to rise up to higher levels than you even thought you were capable of. I experience that all the time. Again, I think that’s the whole key to this music. That’s what the music does for me and other people, and that’s what we do for each other. The belief that other people have in me makes me do things that I didn’t think I would be able to do. They make me feel like I can actually accomplish things that they expect of me, that personally I might be doubtful of. I’m just this one dude, but when I’ve got all this backing and all these friends, I feel like together, we can definitely do this stuff.
SC: On the new record, you’ve incorporated a lot more melody into your sound, and on at least two of the tracks, you’ve brought back the power ballad. I’m pretty happy about this…
AWK: I don’t know if it ever went away.
SC: People certainly tried to kill it.
AWK: Well, thankfully enough, Celine Dion and a lot of what people would consider “adult music” have always continued to embrace huge, loud, and gargantuan songs. Maybe in rock music, it’s thought of as kind of stupid now or something, but I think there’s always been huge songs. I mean, even Creed, those are power ballads, basically.
SC: Where I was headed with this is that these guys you play with seem to come from predominantly punk and metal backgrounds. How do they feel about performing some of the melodic, power ballad stuff live? Are they as into it as they were the material from the last record?
AWK: I don’t know if they think about it in those terms, as far as what kind of song it is…
SC: It’s just part of the whole thing?
AWK: Yeah, it’s just another one of these songs. I’ve talked to Eric about that, because he’s probably the most strict punk/metal dude out of all of them. He’s said that before he was in this band, he would’ve hated music like this. Music that he’s now gotten into, he never would’ve given a chance before, but he’s always loved beautiful songs, and he can’t deny that these songs are heavy. That’s the thing. Even if these songs are slow, or the emotions we’re talking about are very intense, they’re still super heavy, you know what I mean? They’re still loud as heck, and it’s going all out. I think because whatever we do, whatever kind of song we make, whatever the song goes like…it’s still going to be FULL-ON, and that’s all that really matters in the end with this music. That’s why he’s able to play it, that’s why they’re able to play it and respect it, and hopefully other people are able to get into it as well.
SC: I think they will be.
AWK: Well…so far, so good. I’m telling you, the people I’ve talked to so far…last night, I was talking to these guys who loved the first album, and they were a little apprehensive about getting the new record. “What’s it gonna be like? Will it be as good as the first one?” And they said…and I didn’t make the album expecting this response, nor even hope for it, but they said they think it BLOWS AWAY the first album. They think that songs like “Really In Love” or “The End Of Our Lives” are the best thing about this music now, and that makes me feel so good. I was afraid of that too! I was afraid of people not liking it, or thinking “this is stupid”. Of course, there will be people who do think that, but knowing that there are people out there who love the first album and love this one for what it is…that’s the whole point.
SC: Well, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a really natural progression in sound.
AWK: Thank you.
SC: I listened to the first album, and I wondered “Where is he going to go with this?” Then I heard “The Wolf” and I was like “Oh yeah.” There was a song or two that didn’t grab me right away, but they all caught up. There’s so much in it. It’s definitely impressive work.
AWK: Thank you very much. They all kind of play their own part, each song. And again, now all I’m thinking about is the third album.
SC: Have you started writing it yet?
AWK: Well, I’ve got songs that I was working on during this recording that will be ready for the next one. I always try to write a little bit ahead of time.
SC: How psyched are you to take the new material on the road?
AWK: Oh, very. Very very happy.
SC: You played four new songs at the Irving Plaza show. Are you planning on working more of “The Wolf” into the set as the tour goes on, or have you been varying your set lists to work them in?
AWK: We’ve been staying consistent, because I didn’t want to play a bunch of songs that people weren’t going to know. The album’s been out a few days now, but before the album was out, they couldn’t even have a chance to know them, even if they wanted to, so I limited it to songs that were available. “Tear It Up” and “Your Rules” were on that single, and “Never Let Down” has been on our web site, and there’s a video for it, so I kind of brought those out first. We play the first song on the album when we come out…well, we do that “Violent Life” song that’s actually a song from one of the overseas singles, but then we play “Victory Strikes Again”. I really wanted to do the first song on the album, because I thought it would be exciting, when people finally do get the album after hearing it live, to hear it on the record and think “Oh, that’s that song they played first!” By having that song first on the album, and having them hear it first at the concert, it might make them feel like they were at the concert again when they first listen to the new album, maybe have that whole experience again. But yeah, absolutely, as we tour, once we come back again for the next round of dates in a month or so, we’ll definitely include even more songs.
SC: In addition to the shows themselves, it seems like you’re out there every night after the shows meeting up with your fans until all hours of the morning, and making all kinds of appearances during the day. How do you cope with the grind of touring like this?
AWK: I don’t know. There’s days when it’s more difficult, and there’s days when I’ve got more energy than ever by the end of it because I’m so full of adrenaline. But I don’t think of it as an option…if there’s time to do that (and we always make time), then that’s what I’m going to do. I take it one day at at time. If I thought of it as some kind of a long-term thing, and wondered how often we’re going to do this in the future…I don’t know. I just know I’m going to do it tonight, and we get to the next concert, I’ll say “We’re going to do it again.”
Again, there’s no real big point or agenda behind it. It’s just what I think is the right thing to do. I want to meet those people. I feel like they deserve that, and I want to thank them. I just think it can only help, and it’s really what I would want someone to do for me. That’s how I initially felt about it. I would feel guilty about it, like “Wouldn’t I want someone to do that? Isn’t that the right thing to do?” But now what I’ve realized is that I’m addicted to that feeling, and that’s what keeps me so close with everybody. If I started feeling like I was in this alone or far away, or I couldn’t get that from these people who are loving this, I don’t know if I’d be able to do the other things. It’s worth it to sacrifice, or to invest that time, because that’s how I know that we’re giving this all we’ve got. It’s just the right thing to do, I know for me it is. Again, I don’t think it makes it better than other things. If another band doesn’t do it…I always like to point this out…I don’t think any less of them. I’m not doing it to prove that we’re better. It’s just what I feel is right for this music.
*pause for Andrew to take a picture with some fans*
SC: Do you feel a stronger responsibility to your fans than you thought you would, upon seeing how deeply you’ve touched some of their lives?
AWK: Oh yeah. Totally. I didn’t really anticipate anything like this. I had no idea what was going to happen. You know how…every now and then, I do this…you envision what you’ll be like when you’re older? I’ll think “I wonder what I’ll be like in thirty years…I wonder what I’ll be like in 10 years…” When I was much younger, I’d be like “Wow. I’m nine. I wonder what I’ll be like when I’m thirteen…”, and I was just kind of picture some weird, older looking dude that I thought I was gonna be. I’ve had time to do a little bit of that with this music, like “I wonder what I’m going to be like…I wonder what’s going to happen…” I had all these dreams and hopes about how people were gonna respond, but I really didn’t expect anything. You kind of hope for the best and expect the worst, I guess. Then, once things started, I think I was just so thankful that anyone liked this at all…I mean, I thought some people would like it, but you can’t prepare yourself, no matter how much you think about it, or anticipate hope or dream…I was not prepared in any way, I don’t think you can be, for when someone really returns that favor and loves it so much.
I was completely blown away, completely floored at our first concert, when I saw that someone had made a homemade t-shirt, or someone was singing all the words to a song. It hit me like a bullet. It moved me so much. My natural response was to just flood them with gratitude, you know what I mean? “Thank you thank you thank you thank you!” This one dude thought it was weird. We played our first concert in Canada, up in Vancouver. This one guy who I’ve become…I’d say good friends with, just because he’s so intense about his love for this music, he had spent two weeks painting this HUGE, photo-realistic banner. It said “I Play AWK Every Day”. It had this painting of my face. It was really, really well done. It wasn’t easy. It was done on canvas, and he said it took forever to do. I was so baffled…by the end of the night, I had been hanging out with them and all of their friends for a long time, and I was saying “I just don’t know what to say. Why did you go through all of this trouble? Why did you do this?” He ended up writing a letter to me later. The letter was amazing, just an incredibly wonderful letter, it just completely blew my mind. He said very simply, “The reason we did all of that stuff was to make you happy.” What do you say to something like that? That just made me feel like the luckiest person in the whole world. I get to do something already that I love so much, and then these guys loved it so much that they wanted to thank me?” It’s so crazy. The possibility and potential for power to come from that kind of give and take is INSANE.
SC: I had kind of a similar experience from a fan perspective, actually. A number of years ago, I’d written a review (One of many…-Editor) for an album called “Butterfly” by a band called Earth Eighteen. If you find a copy of it, I highly recommend it. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them, but the singer, Jon Dupree, was in a punk band called Void back in the 80’s…
AWK: Oh yeah! Void! D.C.!
SC: Yep, that’s him. This album is this huge, grand glammed-out arena rock thing. It’s an amazing record that should’ve succeded by all rights, but he had a litany of bad experiences with with his label among others. The album ended up going nowhere, and the band broke up. Anyway, since I got a copy of this record, I’ve basically been evangelizing for it like I am right now, because it’s an awesome record that deserves to be heard.
About 4 years after I’d first heard it, I got this email out of nowhere from Jon Dupree, thanking me. He’d come across a review I’d written of it, and he wanted to thank me for it. I was FLOORED at the time, and thinking about it now, it still gives me goosebumps, so I think I know what you mean about that give-and-take. With any kind of art that touches someone, there’s potential for that to flow from artist to fan, or from fan to artist.
AWK: Yeah! It’s like untapped, raw surging energy! You plug into that, and you’re good to go! That’s why people do this. This gives meaning to so many lives, including mine, and there’s a reason for that. There’s strength and a sense of invincibility that seems almost unlimited. That’s why I do the things I do, because without that, I don’t know if I’d be able to do any of it. That’s really awesome, that’s a good example of that.
I’ve gotta walk back to the building to do another interview, so I’m going to keep talking as we walk. Are you happy so far with everything?
SC: Absolutely. I’ve just got a few more questions, and I’ll try to keep them quick…
AWK: No, I’m the one who’s long-winded! Don’t worry about it! As long as you’re happy, because I wanna make it good.
SC: You’ve been REALLY generous with your time, and I appreciate that.
AWK: No sweat!
SC: To move to the ugly-at-times business side of what you do, have you experienced any pressure from your record label to “move more units”, as they say?
AWK: They definitely have their own desires and expectations, based on the business end of things. They’ve never asked me to do anything differently to try to meet those ends. I think they know that I’m doing pretty much everything I can to make this. I really believe that they have a kind of respect and belief that we can build this the real way, one person at a time, one song at a time, one concert at a time, and one day at a time. If there ever was a shot of doing that, it’s with this, because there’s a connection being made, like we’ve been talking about, and I think they see that.
I think they’ve been so kind to have the trust in me that we can do this together in a way that might take a little more time…it might not sell as many records, it might not sell ten million albums in the first year, but maybe this will be something lasting and meaningful, and that maybe they do want to be a part of that. I can only hope they continue to feel that way. They’ve been FANTASTIC, and I cannot stress that enough. I haven’t had to deal with a single one of the bad things I was fearing going into this. It’s incredible. The one thing that I really made an effort to let them know going in is that I was happy to be with them and trusted them and valued them, and that they were not the enemy. So many people were trying to tell me that I had to fight with my label all the time, and “don’t let them get too close”, and “don’t give them too much control”, but I kind of did the opposite. Maybe it’s a bad idea. I don’t know really why I went that way, but I just thought “No, I don’t wanna fight with them. If I’m going to be friends with anyone, these are the guys I need. I need them to be on my side. I need them to believe in this.” We went out of our way to include them, and why wouldn’t we? They know more about this business than I ever will. I know how to make these songs, but I don’t know how to do this other stuff. So thank goodness that we’ve been able to build this amazing thing with them, and I have nothing but good things to say about them. So far, so good.
SC: That’s refreshing to hear.
AWK: Yeah, believe me, I know.
SC: You license your music to a lot of advertisers. Do you ever get a bad taste in your mouth from doing it, or do you find it to be a perfectly acceptable way for you to make a buck and get your music heard?
AWK: For this music…I think it’s fantastic. It’s such an age-old debate, it’s often talked about, debated back and forth, but all I can do is speak for myself, and what I feel about this music.
I have three main points that I make about this. Point number one is: this music is strong enough to be heard in any context, by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Whether that’s in a movie, on a television show or in a television ad, on the radio, in a video game, at your friend’s house, on an MP3, on a CD-R, on an album, in a store, wherever. It’s strong enough to be heard, and it was made to be heard. I didn’t make this music to protect it, or to hold it in my own private world (like I was saying earlier) and dole it out to just the special people who are allowed to like it, or the people who I think are good enough or right enough to be a part of it. It doesn’t need me to do that. It’s so strong that I couldn’t even protect it if I tried. Again, it’s way way bigger than me and what I think is right, and my insecurities and beliefs really don’t play a part in it so much. All I know is that my job in this is to get it to be as far-reaching as I possibly can. But that’s again what this music is. Some music isn’t made for that. When some people say “our music isn’t made for commercials”, I say “I completely understand. I respect that.” Thankfully, mine’s OK with that. Mine is made for that, and I’m excited about that.
With this music…there’s nothing uncool about making a candy bar ad. That’s AMAZING! That’s exciting stuff! For me to deny excitement about getting to make a Kit Kat candy bar commercial? That was something I almost would’ve done for free! That kind of stuff is thrilling. Maybe some would call that naive, or say that I’m young or don’t understand what real art is, but I think that kind of stuff is thrilling. It doesn’t take anything away from me. I don’t have any problem supporting a candy bar company, or giving them a song to use. It was my honor. But that’s just me, and again, if someone thinks differently, I respect them, and hope they would give me the same respect.
Point number two, about getting the music heard: it’s so easy to get wrapped up in yourself that you forget how fortunate you are all the time. It’s not just with your life or your health or food or things like that always, but with the things that make your life exciting. There are a lot of people that didn’t grow up with a really cool record store in their neighborhood. There’s a lot of people that didn’t have an older brother or people in high school to turn them on to crazy new bands. Maybe they didn’t have cable television. Maybe their parents didn’t even let them listen to who knows what. You can only imagine the limitations that are imposed unintentionally on certain people, especially young people all around. So I’m figuring that if there’s a guy in the middle of nowhere, up on the mountaintop in a cabin and he turns on the TV and hears this song that blows his mind, well, thank goodness he found it one way or another. Why would I want to hold that from him, and keep that from him? Again, that’s not the point of this music. This music wants you to hear it. It wants to be everywhere. It wants everybody to like it.
Point number three has to do with money and the companies. I understand and again, respect peoples’ opinions about the companies, and how they question their integrity and how they operate, but I think we’re giving these companies too much credit if we honestly believe that they can destroy or injure music. I think music is one of the only invincible things that people can make. It can outlast and outsurvive anything I know of, as long as there’s a set of ears to hear it and a set of speakers to play it on. It doesn’t disintegrate like a painting, it doesn’t dissolve like a book, it sings through the air. As long as there’s copies of it being heard in many different places, it’s invincible. I don’t think any corporation or company or product or candy bar or whatever can hurt this music at all. It only makes stronger, gives it more life, and it actually enhances its invincibility by getting it heard out of more speakers and in front of more ears, which is how music lasts, grows, and takes on a life of its own.
Also, it baffles me to think that those who are so concerned with how the corporations make money and spend money would not want to have control of their budget! If I let them borrow my song for a little bit, I get control of their budget! I get to control a portion of their budget.
SC: I’ve heard that Chumbawumba have licensed “Tubthumping” to various corporations, and donating the money they get from the licensing to organizations that fight said corporations.
AWK: How amazing is that? There you go! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That’s incredible. That band’s been a long-standing, politically active, very interesting band, and I’ve always had a tremendous respect for them. Plus, that song rules. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I actually have given a little money to charity, but that’s not exactly the point I’m trying to make here. I’ve put almost all the money I’ve made from the ads into funding our tours, so we’re able to go on non-stop tours all year round, playing hundreds and hundreds of concerts around the world. It’s been a fantastic way to spread this music and give some kind of excitement to people wherever we go, and that’s the whole point. That’s kind of how I think of it. I haven’t been offered any million-dollar deals, but it’s hard for me to imagine someone turning down a million dollar deal saying “our music wasn’t made for commercials” when they can use that music to help save a rainforest or protect the whales or feed a family of four for the rest of their lives. That’s kind of how I see it. But again, the most important thing I can say about all of this is that this is just what I think about this music. I respect anyone who thinks differently, and again, I’d hope that they’d give me the same respect.
SC: You talked a bit about getting your music heard…based upon what you said, I’m going to make a leap here and guess that you’re not really against people downloading your music.
SC: Do you think the RIAA are acting in your best interests with their legal tactics?
AWK: I don’t know.
SC: It’s kind of a dicey question, I understand…
AWK: No, it’s a very good question. By having them help sell our records and get our music out there, we’re obviously entrusting them to do what we feel is right, or what they feel is right. I think it’s kind of not my call. I just don’t know if I can make that call…they’re doing what they think is best for the long run. They’re obviously using some sensational shock tactics right now, but I don’t know if I’m in a position really to say whether it’s good or bad. They’re just kinda doing what they do. People are breaking the law, as they see it, and they’re acting accordingly. I just think in the long run that these are all things that will work themselves out one way or another, and that it’s just another phase in the history of recorded music that’s going to ultimately affect things, good or bad, but it’s not going to stop. People are always going to listen to music, and that’s all I care about, as someone who’s making it. All I want is for people to listen to music and enjoy it, and they’re going to find a way to do that. There always will be ways to do that. I’ll let the business people take care of the business end.
SC: Alright. Overall, what are your goals, both musically and otherwise?
AWK: I think we’ve been talking about this the whole time, but to sum it up very simply…long-term goals?
SC: Long-term, maybe even past music if you ever see a time when you’re past it…
AWK: I can’t imagine that. Even if we can’t do music like the way we’re doing it now…who knows? All I know is that I can do it today, and that’s what I try to focus on. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if I’ll even be living tomorrow, so I take what I can do as it’s offered, and I try to do it all the way.
SC: Andrew, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you VERY much for your time.
AWK: This has been really, really excellent, man. It’s so cool when things come full circle, and I get to talk to somebody that I’ve met before (We’d met almost exactly a year prior to the interview, at the Birch Hill Night Club in Old Bridge, N.J.-Editor), especially when you like the music, that’s a great honor, so thank YOU for your time and effort.