You may not have known it when you first laid eyes on him, disheveled and bleeding from the nose on the cover of his debut album, but Andrew W.K. is a man you can trust.
In the decade and a half since he headbanged and jump-kicked his way into public consciousness, the singer, songwriter and classically-trained pianist has spun his party-positive thrash-pop into a self-help cottage industry. He's a sought-after motivational speaker. He's written a book, called The Party Bible, about the search for "truth, wisdom and party bliss." He hosts a radio talk show. He's even starting a political party, called—wait for it—the Party Party. And he has his own advice column, which he writes for Village Voice.
He is a particular inspiration to bands that, like him, seek to live life as a never-ending kegger—like quad-guitar ragers Diarrhea Planet, who are also playing Project Pabst this weekend. We assumed the band had questions they've long been dying to ask him, and we were right.
Andrew, what is the very worst physical condition in which you have ever played a show (like being sick, injured, sleep deprived, etc…) and what was so specifically brutal about playing the show in that state? — Jordan Smith
Probably the most challenging show I ever played was right in the midst of suffering from severe food poisoning. It happened in Japan, around 2002 or 2003. During the tour, I was asked to attend an event after one of our concerts, and they asked if I would like any food set aside for me. They had gotten this beautiful, very large sashimi spread, maybe $300 worth of sashimi, enough for maybe four or five people. Unfortunately, I was three hours late to the event and didn't realize this raw fish platter had been sitting out for all these hours.
I ate almost the entire tray, and at 5 am the next morning, I woke up with a nauseating illness unlike anything I'd ever had. I really thought I was dying. "This has to be what it feels like when you're dying," I kept saying to myself. The idea of continuing to live and feel like this didn't seem possible—just an overload of pure physical and mental anguish in every direction, as far as I could see. I mean, I realize there are many people who have gone through much more pain and agony than what I'm describing, but for me, at the time, it was a whole new level of discomfort. I was hunched over a hotel toilet, vomiting nonstop into the bowl while blowing pure liquid diarrhea all over the floor at the same time. With each rib-cage contraction and convulsion of puke, I would spray power shots of wet waste out behind me. I ended up getting in the tub and just laying there in an ever increasing pool of my own filth. My world had literally become a diarrhea planet.
As I was laying there, with all my vital energies flowing down drain alongside half-digested lumps of fish and seaweed, I realized I still had a concert to play that night. Just thinking about the show took more strength than I really had. It practically took all my effort to just breathe. With the little power I had remaining, I ended up somehow getting to a local doctor's emergency room. I don't remember how I got there. My memory goes from being in the bathtub to being on a stretcher with an IV, staring at the ceiling.
I kept thinking about the show that night, and my handlers wanted to an answer as to whether or not they should cancel it. I didn't know how I'd be able to play because I couldn't stand, I couldn't walk, I couldn't really talk or even move. But I really wanted to play. I didn't want to cancel. Especially being all the way in Japan and realizing there were a lot of people counting on me. Most of all, I felt like the music was counting on me. Or even more than the music, I felt like this feeling of pure joy that music can bring out was counting on me. I was a servant of that joy—a soldier of partying, and I couldn't let this special feeling down. I focused on this idea of my mission, and commuted to it with all the determination I had.
Having some reason to will yourself out of a diminished state, having a cause, a motive, a meaning—there was something exciting about that. Having a purpose that was bigger than me, bigger than my business partners, bigger than the music—if I devoted myself to this feeling itself, I believed the feeling would push me through—it would allow myself to fail. Even though I realized I was going to have to go the extra mile when I could barely imagine going one inch. Ad yet, I had to do this somehow, one inch at a time. And somehow, I did.
I broke everything down into increments. I wasn't just breathing, I was breaking each breath down into four segments: inhale, pause, exhale, rest, repeat. I played the show using this method, and I really tried to do everything I would normally do in a really deliberate, methodical way, like, "OK, now I'm going to bang my head. Now I'm going to kick my leg." Each fraction of a movement was considered and executed. Every second seemed like an eternity. Every degree of sensation felt like the gears of some ancient clock being ground against wet, exposed bone. I felt like I was made out of bleeding dry chunks of meat-covered stone. Every word of every lyric seemed like singing the entire alphabet. Just to make a sound of out of mouth, let alone perform, with any sort of physical exuberance, took digging deeper and reaching out further than I ever had before. I remember the blood vessels building up so much pressure in my forehead that I thought my skin would split—trying to summon "music" to come out of my skull felt like my brain was going to push through my eyes.
Because of that one show, I've been in other situations since where I'm not as overwhelmed by challenges because nothing has been quite as painful as that show. There have been plenty of times since where I've performed with a full-blown fever, or where I've broken my nose on stage, or broken my foot, and I can tell that even though it hurts, it won't be as bad as that one time. I can still do it—I can still be there and that the spirit of partying can still count on me. The spirit of joy will find a way to inspire me to soldier on. It's hard, but it's not too hard. It's not as hard as so many other things that people have withstood and triumphed over. They are my inspiration. The spirit.
It's strange because as these sorts of physical ordeals are happening, you lose all perspective and you think, "Yesterday, when I was healthy and I felt fine, I was so carefree and had no idea what was going to happen today, I was like a child back then, so full of hubris and innocence. Oh, only to be healthy again!" Then a few days later you're healthy and feeling recovered, and you can barely even remember what it was like to feel sick.
Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is, the show must go on. The party must not stop.
If you had to assemble a backing band of classic horror movie monsters, who would you recruit and what instruments would they be playing? — Evan Bird
I'm imagining the Universal monsters. I guess there's the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wolfman, Frankenstein, the Mummy and Dracula. I think that's sort of the main bunch there. I'm not too well versed in this realm of classic horror films. I appreciate all those characters, but I don't know much about their personalities. I'm not educated in that version of the lore. I'd probably ask each of them what instrument they wanted to play. If someone wanted to make a band with me, and didn't ask what I preferred to play, and ended up assigning me to trombone, I wouldn't do too well, because I've never played trombone—I've actually had nightmares about this, where I try to join someone's band at the spur of the moment, and we're playing at a festival together, and for some reason I think I have this incredible adeptness at trombone and then I realize not only do I not know how to play it, I don't even know this group's songs that well.
So I guess I would ask these monsters their preference, because for all I know I'd put the Dracula on drums and he might really be good at guitar instead. And since they're monsters, they could be quite intimidating, so I think it's wise to defer to their instrument preferences.
If you had to eat a human, what would be the context and how would you want it prepared? — Ian Bush
It's an ethical dilemma. From what I remember, in the movie Alive, when they were stranded in those cold and remote mountains, there were people who refused to eat the corpses of their fellow teammates, and because they refused, they starved to death. I don't think it was that they were too grossed out to do it, I think that it was a line they wouldn't cross. You put yourself in an apocalyptic scenario, you end up being faced with these kind of decisions. If it's every human for himself, do you ultimately want to participate in things that you consider subhuman, or would you rather opt out and die knowing you stayed true to your principles of humanity, even if it meant your own death? In a way, you're sacrificing your own internal code just for your survival, and at that point, what's the point of even surviving? Die as a noble person or survive as a corrupt person?
We see people faced with versions of this dilemma on a daily basis, oftentimes with pursuing material success and money. What are they willing to sacrifice of themselves? Are they willing to eat away at their own souls? What parts of their spirit are they willing to devour in order to get "ahead"? Are they nibbling away at their integrity, their own life core? If we sacrifice those things, what kind of person have we become afterwards? These values that we ate, did they make us who we really are? Do we still have a real life after that point? We might be living, we might have the trappings of a successful life, but we can tell that something essential was lost along the way—was it worth it?
So I don't know if I would eat another person. I might rather perish. Or I might rather try to eat myself and see how long I could sustain myself that way. I have more experience eating myself anyway, like most people do: hangnails, scabs, mucous, blisters, fingernails. Most people are engaged in some version of that. Maybe with my sushi experience, cooking the portions of myself would be advisable, but it's hard to imagine getting that sick from my own body.
Someone in Hollywood has given you a $5 million budget to make a documentary about anything you want. You can spend almost the entire budget on research. What is your documentary about? — Brent Toler
Maybe I would want to make a documentary about either carnivals, or Pat Lawlor, the pinball machine designer. There's definitely some great documentaries I've seen about pinball, but they didn't really have a complete focus on this particular amazing man, Mr. Lawlor. That's what I'm looking for. I think there were some short corporate videos internally made by Williams or Bally during their later stage heyday where you can get a glimpse of what went into making a contemporary game. But, yeah, Pat Lawlor is the Alfred Hitchcock of pinball machine design and gameplay. And again, I really like carnivals and dark rides and funhouses, so a documentary on that would be cool too. There probably already is one. I mean, who doesn't like a carnival or fun house? I guess some people don't.
What is the strangest/funniest/best dream you can remember having and where were you when you had it? — Mike Boyle
I don't remember most of my dreams. I wish I did. Most of the dreams I remember are nightmares, and most of those are very vivid, life-changing and disturbing dreams that linger for days or years and have textures that hover around and remain extremely upsetting. But like anybody else, I sometimes have vivid dreams of being able to fly, and really thinking while still in the dream, "Wow, I can actually do it – I can fly!" The physical clarity of how the flying feels is always interesting. The last time I had a flying dream—I don't remember where I was, but it was in the last five years—I remember the physical sensation of flying was very, very vivid – the feeling was similar to when you're in a body of water, like a swimming pool, and you submerge yourself underwater and propel yourself forward with powerful arm and leg strokes – like a frog. Moving through the air in the dream felt very similar to swimming underwater. It took that kind of explosive energy to push yourself through the air and you really had to exert yourself hard to keep it going – like treading water. You couldn't glide or float too easily. I could really feel it in this dream. It wasn't like a falling feeling, or like floating, it was like, "If I really surge, then I can swoosh over there and fly over here." It felt so great and clear in the dream—it seemed like it wasn't a dream at all, like I'd finally really figured out how to fly—like if you learn how to wiggle your ears, accessing this new muscle control had somehow just been out of reach but once you get it, it seems so obvious and inherent, like whistling. You have to get it just right until it clicks and bang—you have this new ability. I remember thinking in the dream, "This is going to change everything. What should I do now that I can fly?" I didn't even fly that high in the dream—like I didn't want to be too greedy about it—I'd just kind of go around, it was a lot faster than walking or driving. I was so convinced it was real, and I was definitely disappointed when I woke up. But thinking about it now, I think it's OK that I can't fly. I have enough regular abilities that I have barely figured out how to use. I've got to learn how to be a human being first. Then I can work on becoming a superhero.
Andrew WK plays Saturday at 3:05 pm.
Ice Cube: Original Gangster, Unconventional Activist b/w Portland Rappers' Favorite Cube Lyrics | Portland's Most Hardcore Duran Duran Fans b/w Rare Duran Duran Memorabilia | Tame Impala Weed Strains | The Cult of Ween | The Myth of Drive Like Jehu | Ask Andrew W.K. | Five Facts About A$AP Ferg | Five Facts About Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats | Tenement | The Coathangers | Liv Warfield | Parquet Courts | Hop Along | STRFKR | Unknown Mortal Orchestra | Sheer Mag | Diarrhea Planet | Kyle Craft | Awesome Things at Project Pabst That Aren't Music | Project Pabst Night Shows