The Rumpus Long Interview with Andrew W.K.


“I used to think that you had to be in a lot more pain and going through a lot more struggle to really prove that you were working hard, but then I realized that was just working really inefficiently.”

Andrew W.K.: I remember you asked for me to type these answers. As much as I love typing and writing, and I think that I spend most of my time typing, I don’t really like doing interviews over the email for some reason.

Rumpus: Better stuff comes from two people talking. But I think a lot of times people are busy and want to do it at their own pace. Anyway. Over the years you’ve worked with all kinds of artists, like Lee Scratch Perry, Mike Pachelli, and Baby Dee. Who have you had fun making music with recently?

W.K.: Well, right now I’ve been working on producing two new artists. When I say ‘new’ I mean they are new to me, as far as me working with them, but they’re also relatively new in the world, in that they’re coming out and presenting themselves for more or less the first time. I’ve been working with them in the capacity of producer, as a friend, of course, and, as a sort of creative developer. And the name of the first one is Aleister, you can find him at MySpace. And the name of the other artist is Bad Brilliance.

Rumpus: Aleister and Bad Brilliance. Nice. Are they both young people?

I guess so. Bad Brilliance is younger than Aleister, and Bad Brilliance is younger than me. Aleister is younger than me but older than the combined ages of me and Bad Brilliance.

Rumpus: Huh.

W.K.: So I don’t know their real ages. But I can tell who is younger. For a long time I worked with other musicians, and was in bands, and played music with my friends but when I started doing Andrew W.K. as my main focus, I sort of swore off collaborating, mainly because I didn’t want to be associated with anybody in that initial period of establishing myself. I wanted to come out clean and not related to anything if I could help it. That was of course very challenging, and it clearly helped that I didn’t have a lot of musical connections and I wasn’t working with other people. Eventually that became very limiting, and after following that rule for about five years I decided to contradict it, and started working with other people, and it’s been very, very rewarding. But I’m glad I didn’t do it any earlier.

Rumpus: Do you think that both Aleister and Bad Brilliance could succeed without any attachments, the way you did it?

W.K.: That’s an excellent question. I certainly had a lot of help and a lot of people working with me and giving me tons and tons of energy. More literally speaking, I just didn’t want to have a musical association with anybody at those early days, but it’s interesting. I never really thought about that before. These guys are coming out and their having a musical association with me, but I guess that they’re okay with that. Which is great, ’cause how can I blame them? ‘Cause I did the same thing. I’ve had some interesting experiences lately, and I’m not going to name names, but I’ve seen younger, up-and-coming bands or musicians who seem to have been inspired by things that I’ve done, or who I’m well aware are inspired by things that I’ve done because they’ve told me and we’ve talked about it, and then I’ve seen interviews when someone asks them what are their influences, “What are some of the people who have inspired you?” and they specifically don’t mention me. I can’t get mad at that, ’cause I did the exact same thing, and I didn’t want to be associated with it.

Rumpus: What kind of music inspired you?

W.K.: I was influenced and inspired mostly by people who made music that was nothing like mine. I didn’t want to sound like their music, I just wanted to have the feeling that I got from that, that feeling of excitement and joy that their music gave me, I wanted to give that to other people. So even though I was inspired by these bands, it was wrong to say that they influenced me in terms of this is what my music sounds like.

Rumpus: No man is an island, especially when it comes to art, right? It’s a collaborative community.

W.K.: It’s an absolutely communal experience. Especially music. And no matter how much someone might make music for their own sake, or think of it as a personal pursuit, the minute it’s played and anyone else can hear it, it exists in a communal atmosphere. When you listen to a piece of music, you’re not only listening to the people who made it and who recorded it, you’re in touch with everyone else who has listened to that song, and everyone else who’s ever listened to it takes that into the world, and you are participating in this communal experience of having heard that song, especially songs that we’ve heard thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of times, which, really, collectively is a beautiful aspect of humanity. I really think it’s one of the best things that humans have ever done. Perhaps the best thing. Though I don’t know if I’d like to order it as the “best.”

Rumpus: Tell me about collaborating with Bad Brilliance and Aleister.

W.K.: Bad Brilliance and Aleister don’t need me. They’re able to do everything themselves. They write the songs, they record the songs, they make the album covers, they take pictures, they take videos. I mean, that’s why I want to work with them, because they can do everything on their own, so, they don’t need me, so whatever I contribute is like an added bonus. It gives it that much more energy, but I think that anyone I’d like to work with wouldn’t require me, because then I think we’re working on an even level. If the relationship is too skewed and one person is needy and the other person is all-powerful I don’t know if that’s a healthy creative process.

Obviously you’re getting something out of producing them. It’s fun for you, too, right? And it’s probably helping shape your music-making as well.

W.K.: Absolutely. Working with Lee “Scratch” Perry especially had a huge musical impact on me. Not so much, again, about, “I’m going to change the way I make Andrew W.K. music,” but more like a fundamental impact that changed my whole understanding of life and how creativity fits into that. And that’s what I can take from working with someone else. It wasn’t so much like the literal things, like how to record the best possible sounding drums, or learning this particular trick of how to write this particular song, I wasn’t looking for that information. I was looking for the more subtle experiences, and the more magical quality. I used to think that you had to be in a lot more pain, and you really had to be going through a lot more struggle, to really prove that you were working hard. But then I realized that was just working inefficiently, and perhaps even working detrimentally, and perhaps self-destructively, and that when I’m at my best it’s when I’m enjoying working. It’s not that it’s easy, it’s that the things that seem hard about it are still so much fun to do that you’d never call it hard. And that’s how we’re able to do what we’re able to do well. And that goes for everybody, I think, that if we’re ever going to be really successful at doing something we have pick something we really enjoy doing ’cause that’s the only way we’re going to have the motivation to put in the thousands of hours to be successful.

Rumpus: Are they both in New York?

W.K.: Yes, they both are. Bad Brilliance was originally from Brazil, but he’s American.

Rumpus: How’d you meet him?

W.K.: I was at a concert at the Bowery Ballroom, and I was doing some interviews with some of the performers. During all of this excitement, I saw this man walk by me on the stairs, and for whatever reason I was completely blown away. He wasn’t wearing any particularly crazy clothes, and he didn’t have a crazy hairstyle, or anything that would make him stand out specifically, but his entire aura, his entire charisma, was just so strong, and so unique, it was just very intense. And he looked familiar to me even though I was sure I had never seen him before. I just remembered seeing this guy, even days later. And I don’t know if that’s ever even happened to me. I mean, I’ve seen people on the street before, men, women, kids, just people that you notice, and this is one of those guys that I really, really noticed. Then a few days later someone went to my MySpace and posted these incredible photos. People have done that many times before, and I’ve been tricked a few times into thinking that the pictures were created by the person who posted them, and I’ve actually had a lot of fun talking to people about their work and figuring it out. But I was a little hesitant, even though these photos were so mind blowing, I was wondering, “Gosh, did this guy who posted them really take them?” So I wrote to him and I asked him, “Did you really take these photos?” And he wrote back, “Yes.” And I said, “I’m blown away by your pictures, I’d really like to work with you taking photographs.” He sent me his number and I called him and it turns out that we had some mutual interests and we were really passionate so we scheduled a time to meet at the McDonald’s in Times Square later that night. And I realized after I got to the McDonald’s and I was waiting out in front on the sidewalk, I realized that I had never told him what I looked like, and I didn’t know what he looked like. I wondered how I was going to recognize him. I thought that hopefully he’d seen pictures of me on my website, or hopefully since he’s familiar with me, he’d recognize me. I was wondering how I was going to respond to this guy, and sure enough, ten minutes later he walks up and it’s that guy I had seen at that show, that guy was Bad Brilliance. Those types of what some people might call coincidences, the more I appreciate those types of things. Those types of circles or connections, those moments that seem like destiny, or fate, or like a great dream coming true, I really try to cherish them, and be really grateful for them, and really pay attention to them and not just say that it’s funny that it worked out like that but really say that, no, it was meant to work like this, this is all proof that the right things are happening, and to really put stock in those types of things. And, of course, the more you do it, the more they seem to happen. Or at least the more you notice them.

Rumpus: Then what?

W.K.: Then you can take it up another notch and make these things happen, but making them happen doesn’t seem to work as well as allowing them to happen.

Rumpus: Right. I mean, don’t you think that if you’re just open to these so-called coincidences that makes them happen more often?

W.K.: Exactly. I think that maybe some people might have some difficulty grasping these types of ideas, me included. It’s been really hard sometimes to imagine that we really have this type of power and control. It’s a little different type of control than what we were just talking about in terms of I want to make things happen a certain way. It’s a lot more subtle than that. I think we do have influence, and I think that basically what we want to have happen is happening. And the reason why that’s been kind of unsettling, or kind of disturbing on the other hand, is ’cause then maybe we can think that everything that we haven’t enjoyed, maybe all the not-so-nice coincidences, or the not-so-nice experiences, that we have to take credit for those too, maybe that’s why it’s been a little painful.

Rumpus: So if you’re going to take responsibility for the so-called good and the so-called bad, and with the good things, like meeting Bad Brilliance, that requires gratitude, do you feel that with the negative or the things that aren’t as enjoyable or traditionally thought of as beneficial–

W.K.: Like the economy for example?

Rumpus: Sure. If something bad happens, what do you feel?

W.K.: Humility. Yeah. That sounds like a good opposite of gratitude. I’m only making this stuff up as I go along basically and trying to figure it out every day. A lot of times, on a personal level, if things don’t go well, or I get bad news, or something bad happened, I’ve been sitting there and tried to think why did I want this to happen, somewhere deep down inside, very deep, maybe a place I never even knew existed in my mind, somewhere I wanted this to happen, now why? Most of the time I’ve been able to figure it out. That, to me, is a lot more productive than blaming it on outside forces, blaming it on other people, blaming it on the world just sucks.

Rumpus: I think maybe what I learn from a negative experience can make me strong enough to be even more grateful the next time something good happens, if gratitude is that sort of universal constant you’re trying to foster.

W.K.: That’s absolutely right. I think that we should have as many ways to be happy as possible, and as many ways to interpret our experiences as we can, ideally with all those different interpretations leading towards meaning, understanding, appreciation, and most of all, for me, joy. I do think that is the point of humanity. And I’ve heard many times, from extremely smart people, like, even Wittgenstein, the philosopher, he has a quote where he says, “I don’t know the purpose of life but I’m pretty sure it’s not to be happy.” I don’t know. I kind of think that it is. Because we have the capacity to experience it in the first place, to understand what causes it for us and what doesn’t, and we’re geared towards satisfying that desire for happiness. I think that our understanding of what happiness is is different and maybe that’s what he was getting at with that quote, but I think that being in a state of joy is ultimately what the human spirit wants to experience.

Rumpus: Well, then why do people try to work against that? To take the argument that the natural state of humanity is to be joyful, then what is it about humanity now that seems to work directly against that?

W.K.: I think that in the past there’s been a lot of different behaviors, and some of them worked well, and some of them didn’t. But I don’t think, and I really believe this, I don’t think that people were ever really trying to ruin the world. I think that some humans’ versions of what happiness is were different than others, and some peoples’ ideas about what would achieve happiness for them or others were different, and that’s when we’ve seen the clashes. When someone has tried to impose their will on someone else. I still think that the reason why that person tried to impose their will was to pursue happiness, and that’s also been perhaps, the danger of that pursuit of happiness, is: To what lengths will people go?

Rumpus: So what about now?

W.K.: I think that instead what we’re experiencing now is that we’re joining together and we’re combining our collective happiness and figuring out new ways to be happy that don’t involve some of the old ways that we used to think that we needed to be happy. For the first time we can conceive of an era where rather than someone wanting to buy a tee-shirt, we can imagine an era where someone would rather have a really cool graphic on their computer page, or would rather have access to this piece of information, whether it’s a song, or a picture, or article, or whatever. And things like Second Life and MySpace, and I never would have imagined I would have been saying something like this even a few years ago, but they’re pointing towards a reality where what we value will no longer be material experiences. They’ll be just pure experiences, not necessarily based in any one version of reality or another, it will just be raw experience, and whether that experience is information or sensation I think less and less of it will have to do with material objects. And it’s the same thing with what’s been happening with CDs, it’s no longer important for people to have these plastic CDs as much as it is to experience the music.

Rumpus: So for Aleister and Bad Brilliance are you planning on only releasing their music through the Internet or on their MySpace pages or through MP3s or something?

W.K.: We’ll do it all those ways. But I really like the artwork being a large size. So I’d like to do limited runs on vinyl and CD as well. But I hope that no one throws them away, I hope they don’t wind up in a landfill. Have you ever heard of a book called Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson?

Rumpus: No.

W.K.: It’s mind-blowing. I can’t even begin…at any rate, Neal Stephenson, in Snow Crash, he anticipated, with many other people, and many science fiction writers, he anticipated many of the technological advances that we’ve already been experiencing, and he’s predicted more. Perhaps some day, just as we’ve grown to spend more and more time on our computers, and interacted more and more using the computer as a portal, eventually we’ll, perhaps, just as the Snow Crash characters, we’ll just live in a storage space where we have a computer, like a terminal basically, and we log in there, and there, that’s the world. The world wide web, the Internet, in terms of a street where you can just visit these different addresses, web addresses, eventually the street, like in Second Life, is the main Internet, and each website is not just a page but is in fact a three dimensional space that you can explore, in virtual reality or cyberspace, or on the flat screen as it is now, and people there, now I can play a concert in Second Life. Now, I have not joined Second Life, but in theory I could play a concert in Second Life, and then I don’t need to fill the venue, or buy equipment, or manufacture anything other than what I already have to put on this concert in Second Life. I could manufacture clothing in Second Life, like I was saying. I could design, like this Chinese woman who made millions of dollars, she designed buildings for companies, but they’re Second Life buildings, they’re computerized, they’re just a picture on a screen, so that involves nearly no material consumption, except for energy. And it’s really interesting to imagine a world where people only value a computerized version of a material object over the actual material object.

Rumpus: That’s a promising theory. I hope that we get there sooner rather than later.

W.K.: But think about how much has gone on already! Just with CDs, newspapers, and books.

Rumpus: I guess so. I guess we have to think that negative things, like pollution, global warming, the economy, mass consumption, these negative things will lead to positive changes.

W.K.: They have to! We have to think that. I mean, we might as well think that.

Rumpus: Santos’ Party House is the nightclub you opened last spring. Speaking of positive changes, thank God Mike Bloomberg finally got around to scrapping that lameass, outdated dance police law.

W.K.: Actually, that cabaret law is still in effect. Nothing’s really changed. He’s just made it not quite as difficult for people to get them. But it still exists.

Rumpus: I remember being a teenager in New York, and I remember being chased out of places for fear of the fire marshal coming and shit. It was so stupid.

W.K.: Yeah, we’ve been very fortunate, and it’s great what he’s been doing. I actually like Bloomberg. For his general support for the arts, for downtown New York, for the creative residents of the city. He’s been very vocal about that. That’s had a really positive impact for everybody working in this field.

Rumpus: It’s good stuff. So, is there anything else?

W.K.: I just announced today that I’ll be releasing a solo piano album. I had mentioned that before, but it’s called Fifty Five Cadillac, it’s on Ecstatic Peace! in the US on vinyl, I’m releasing it on CD in the UK through a label I’m starting there with the company I’m going to be working with to release the Aleister and Bad Brilliance material. It’s called Skyscraper Musicmaker. And another project we’re working on is a mixtape called Damn! And that features Bad Brilliance and Aleister and a producer/DJ called B-Roc. It’s got a bunch of songs on it, remixes and special tracks, the mixtape we’ll be releasing it in spirit with what you were talking about, about completely offering it in the digital format, but we’re also probably going to make CD copies to pass out to people. I personally, probably ’cause of my age, I haven’t been able to really completely separate myself from compact discs. It’s always been my favorite format, I like vinyl because of the big artwork, but I’ve never really liked listening to vinyl, though I understand its appeal entirely. I really like the large sized artwork. But the CD case is still so great.

Rumpus: Do you like to imagine a completely computer-based world?

W.K.: It’s been pretty scary to me to imagine a completely computer world. But even Neal Stephenson in his book, where things have essentially evolved to that point, the typical world still does exist, and it’s still more or less the same, but there’s this other, entirely other world in cyberspace. I can’t believe, I mean, I used to think these ideas were so stupid, I really didn’t like them, I did not like the idea of cyberspace, I did not like the Internet, I fought it for a really long time, probably until I was about twenty years old. And then I just faced it. And I just think it’s just heading that way, it is that way.

Rumpus: What happened?

W.K.: The big change for me came from reading Ray Kurzweil. He’s an amazing man. He’s an inventor, I think that’s what he’d most like to be referred to as, he invented some of the best and earliest synthesizers. He started a keyboard company called Kurzweil, and he worked on this company with Stevie Wonder developing new era of keyboards, it was a big breakthrough. And he’s invented, if I’m not mistaken, dozens of equally important technologies. He’s also a brilliant writer. He’s a futurist, he writes about what’s coming, and it’s extremely intense. His greatest and perhaps most powerful idea is about the moment when technological advancement reaches a pinnacle, much how the speed and power of computer processors advances at a very rapid rate. It actually doubles every, I think, fifteen years, but because it’s doubling it’s even able to double faster, it’s exponential growth rate. He says that the moment that the exponential growth rate hits vertical, meaning if you’re looking at a chart of the advancement of technology, the power of technology getting more efficient, more powerful, it looks like it’s just going up in a forty-five degree angle, but because technology enables itself it’s actually going up in a curve that is approaching a ninety-degree angle. And once we hit straight up, at vertical, that’s when he says we’ve reached this great moment. It’s called singularity. And the name of his book is called The Singularity Is Near. He’s saying that it will be within our lifetime, and when this singularity occurs, life as we’ve experienced it for all of civilization will completely change and be completely unrecognizable, and then he has a whole book describing what that’s going to be like.

Rumpus: Yeah. Wow. Unrecognizable? That’s a scary idea. But it’s one to be prepared for.

W.K.: Exactly. I don’t think it should ever not be scary.

Rumpus: Interesting.

W.K.: I think it should be scary in the way that it was scary for us to go to school for the first time when we were little. It’s cool because Ray Kurzweil says it’s going to be very different, but it’s going to be very great. There won’t be any more health issues, there won’t be any more issues with population or resources because all of these things will be solved, and the most beautiful thing that he says, and the thing that made me change my mind about computers, is that he says that the distinction between a human being and a computer will no longer be any different than the distinction between one person and another. Meaning that he sees computers as a direct extension of the human world, of the human spirit — similar to other tools, like the hammer is an extension of a person’s arm — but an extension of their spirit as well, and their will, and eventually of their intelligence. He just says that the conflict and the pain that we feel about computers arises from that disconnect, that confusion that sees them as something alien, that sees them as something separate from ourselves, when in fact they are the result of our self and a result of our spirit. The whole idea is that we’re like God. It’s God manifesting through us, and us manifesting that through computers, and then it all loops back, and then it becomes one.

Rumpus: So you like computers?

W.K.: Computers are amazing. Why would I fight this? But then there’s other people that say it’s black magic. But I like to think of them as just pure magic. It’s sort of just alchemy, and whatever you’re going to turn that energy into is really up to you, so I like to think that people will use it for good.

Does online music sharing bother you?

W.K.: I used to get pretty upset about downloading on the computer, people stealing music, even though I did it a lot. I don’t anymore so much, but I used to do it a lot. I wasn’t bothered by people downloading my music, I just didn’t like the idea that what I was familiar with, that process of waiting for the album to be released and going to the store and buying it, I didn’t like that that had ended. I don’t know why. Now I could care less. It’s so strange. But fifteen years ago I probably would have felt very different. All these people can spend huge portions of their time now making music, being engaged in an active creative process, whether it’s a thing, a statement, and then they can share it instantly. Now that, to me, means that I put more people in a good mood more of the time.

Rumpus: The thing with technology is that it’s changing so rapidly. It’s like what Kurzweil is saying.

W.K.: Exactly. And if you think back to human civilization, when the ability to see anywhere beyond a few feet in front of you was limited, imagine, we never could have imagined that there ever was a whole world, that the concept of their being a whole world, our perspective was so specific. And eventually we were able to travel greater distances, we developed methods to see greater, so eventually we were able to see the idea of ground grow, and then we were able to explore. Now we see ourselves as nations, and already we’re seeing ourselves much more than ever before, and now because of the information age we’re seeing ourselves as a planet, and that’s very exciting to me. And you’re right, it’s happened so quickly, I mean, really it’s been within the past ten years, it’s unbelievable that it’s happened so fast, and that’s when if you read Kurzweil it’s very exciting, ’cause he says just ten years from now it’ll be unrecognizable again. The change from 2000 to 2009 was massive. Even in the last few months. So just imagine the next ten years. The intense part is that it’ll keep going faster.

Rumpus: That’s what’s so scary.

W.K.: Fortunately the computers have conditioned us to experience life at a faster pace, to be able to exist at a much faster pace, and fortunately for the young people, it’s all working perfectly well, and they’re living with computers from the very beginning, so they’re completely fluent on them. And it’s all headed in this direction. Now, again, there’s that paranoid side that says it’s all been designed this way for malicious purposes. But I’m enjoying it, so maybe the powers that be aren’t so bad. I really like to think that. Even if there’s a secret one-world government controlling it all, I’m having an okay time.

You can see what Andrew is up to at his website , and check out Aleister and Bad Brilliance to see the magic made from his alchemy.

Read also about 3D printers and how to make money with a 3d printer here

Santos Party House is the nightclub that Andrew and three friends opened in the spring of 2008. Check out the site for upcoming shows, table reservations, and a whole slew of other assorted awesome anecdotes.

Ainsley Drew is a native New Yorker, freelance writer, and euphemism enthusiast. Her work has been featured in The New York Press, McSweeney’s, The Morning News, and Curve Magazine, among other totally sweet publications. An avid fan of all sports, but especially the NBA, when she's not stalking 6'10" centers she eats way too much Japanese food, plays word games, and hits on anything that moves. Aiming high, she hopes to one day be a notorious literary celebrity with her name in tabloids. She also has eleven fingers, so she can type faster than you. You can find her and ainsleydrew. Be her Internet friend. More from this author →