An Honest Attempt to Explain the New Andrew W.K. Album, by Andrew W.K.
The Party God pens a heartfelt explanation of his new record, how he fell in love with the piano as a 5-year-old, and why music is truly worth living for.
My first album in over a decade, You’re Not Alone, came out earlier this month. As one does, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews to promote the album. I’ve been asked all the questions you’d expect—about my process, what the album means, what inspired the songs, and why it took so long to get a new album out.
That last question is easy. From the very start of my party adventure back in 1999, I had made it a conscious strategy to say yes to almost all opportunities that "felt right." Even if a particular invitation didn't make rational sense or even seemed like a bad idea, if my deeper instincts told me this was what I was supposed to do, I would follow the path where it took me. Over the past ten years especially, this approach took me to destinations far outside of music, and outside of my comfort zone. Those offers lead to more, and those to more still. They never really stopped. Over the last ten years I’ve written an advice column, had a radio show, made TV appearances, hosted a children's game show, worked on a book, helped break a world record, produced other artists, played in other people's bands, gone on a speaking tour that took me to all 50 states, and a few dozen other things. It’s been incredible. But before I’d even realized it, a considerable amount of time had passed, and largely unbeknownst to me, recording new ANDREW W.K. music wasn't part of that time. In the middle of branching out into new and exciting adventures I honestly began to wonder if it ever would be again.
But the Party Gods pulled the stars into alignment, and jolted me with a striking bolt of mysterious inspiration, and after over two years of recording and mixing, You’re Not Alone is finally out in the world. And that brings us back to questions about the album, and my attempts to explain how it came to be, questions I’ve found extremely difficult to answer. But I’m going to give it my best, most noble and honest effort here about what the album is, what it means to me, and how I made it. And to do this, I have to travel back in time, to when I was five-years-old.
That’s when music really got its hooks in me. That’s when I fell in love with the feeling music gave me. It was a stirring of the soul so cataclysmic and so explosive, nothing else I've felt before—or since—has compared. This feeling was introduced to me by my piano teacher. I'd been taking piano lessons for several months, after having become more than passingly interested in the instrument about a year earlier. My dad had taken a few lessons and we had a piano in the house since I was born. Seeing and hearing him manipulate the large wooden machine with black and white buttons, entranced me.
My parents noticed this, and soon found a piano curriculum for young children called the Pedagogy program. The beauty of this program was that my main piano teacher was a student too, albeit one that was about 20 years older than I was. The Pedagogy program was run in cooperation with the University of Michigan School of Music. Part of their graduate student studies involved teaching young children piano. I was one of those children.
"That’s when I fell in love with the feeling music gave me. It was a stirring of the soul so cataclysmic and so explosive, nothing else I've felt before—or since—has compared." —Andrew W.K.
It was this piano teacher who introduced me to a realm of feeling I hadn't known was possible. Every now and then, during one of my lessons, my teacher Michelle would play one of the pieces she was working on for her various recitals—she'd play it just for me. During these private impromptu piano performances, I was shown glimpses of the ecstatic and holistic joy that music could unleash. But it wasn't until one particularly memorable piano lesson when Michelle played an especially dramatic piece by J.S. Bach that I first experienced such immense waves of surging emotional and physical movement, I actually felt nauseous.
The chills up my spine, the butterflies in my stomach, the tears in my eyes—all these were symptoms usually associated with something very wrong, but at the core of all these feelings was a glowing goodness that told me everything (including me) was all right. All right. Unconditionally right in each and every way. A rightness on a cosmic level. The music was the feeling of pure understanding—a resplendent level of clarity both bewildering and obvious. Most of all, this feeling told me, in no uncertain terms, that there was a benevolent spirit at the heart of all things. A goodness that defied logic and rational comprehension. A goodness that couldn't be articulated or explained, only experienced. And I had just experienced that goodness through the power of music.
At first, I thought this breakthrough was a fluke. It seemed too good to be true. But at our next lesson, when I asked Michelle to play that Bach piece again, I felt myself swept even more deeply into that same whirlpool of elation. I then realized, this is what music is: an access point to a genuine type of perfect Truth. A full-blown collision with being alive, an intimate soul encounter with the quintessence of existence. Music is one of the few phenomenon that can effortless penetrate the depths of our soul and bring to the surface it's most sublime qualities. It is, I learned back then, an intimate emotional encounter with the divine.
Once I realized music could be relied upon to bring me this surge of primordial pleasure, I had no doubt in my mind that music—or more specifically, the feeling that music gave me—would be at the center of all my activities from then on. And thus was born my life's purpose. This feeling instantly became my focus and my only lasting ambition. I didn't know exactly what or how I would devote myself to it, I just could tell that it would dominate my life whether I wanted it to or not. So I might as well embrace it and serve it with all I had.
For the last decade, there were moments when I allowed myself to indulge in the inverted pleasures of oblivion. I didn’t realize it, but I was losing my ability to stay close to that feeling-of-all-feelings. The feeling I had promised to serve was being neglected in favor of confusion and the attraction of sadistic despair. Through the grace of the Party Gods, I was pulled back from the brink with my self-inflicted ordeal internalized and absorbed. And now, with You’re Not Alone, I’m making up for missing time.
"I want my music to make people feel like the first day of summer vacation. Like going down a roller coaster hill. Like the pizza delivery man ringing the doorbell just when you were starting to lose hope." —Andrew W.K.
I want my music to make people feel like the first day of summer vacation. Like going down a roller coaster hill. Like the pizza delivery man ringing the doorbell just when you were starting to lose hope. Like when an underdog team wins the big game. How do I make things feel this way? How do I take those parts of life that are completely overwhelmingly joyous and make music that sounds like that feels, where every emotion comes together? How do I create work that makes you so happy you could cry, and so overwhelmed that you're laughing? That’s a raw totality of feeling beyond definition. And that’s what I’m aiming for. That's what partying is.
I want my music to be maximalist. More is more, not just for the sake of it but because that's what allows the feeling to build up and break through to the next level of intensity. I realize this approach is not everyone’s cup of tea—some find it exhausting and heavy handed. But what I hope is that there's someone else out there who's looking for this exact kind of overwhelming and full blown feeling, and that we can find each other and then party together.
Granted, it's all quite intense. It's a confrontational encounter with overloaded sensory power. And that does ask a lot of us. We can't have our guards up and still gain access to this joy zone. The power of partying is trying to blow your walls down like the wolf in the Three Little Pigs. And it's for your own good. You have to let go, and risk looking foolish. People are rightfully skeptical of any phenomena capable of overtaking their conscious grasp on the world and turning them inside out with waves of feeling. But music, like its cousins in the visual arts and letters, is benevolent by nature. There's an essential goodness that defies even the most sadistic human efforts to corrupt their core beauty.
We need not shield ourselves from the glory of this goodness. We can doubt the messenger, but need not doubt the message. We're only cheating ourselves when we keep joy at bay. If you don't get this feeling from me, I honestly pray that you get it from somewhere. The feeling is unsubtle, blunt, straightforward, and cannot be obscured. It's the feeling of life, and all you're doing by denying it is being a little less alive yourself.
This is what my new album is about. This is what all my albums are about. This is what everything I've ever done has been aiming for. I may not have nailed the bullseye yet, but at least I know what I'm shooting for. And I'll never stop shooting... or partying.
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