By Mike Appelstein
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By Mike Appelstein
It could be expected that a song entitled "Party 'Til You Puke" would be designed to inspire alcoholic benders and Hunter S. Thompson-style drug binges. The same could be said for "It's Time To Party," "Party Hard," "Long Live The Party" and a host of other similarly titled songs in the catalog of rocker Andrew W.K.
Strangely enough, none of these songs is about that.
They're also not not about that, as Andrew himself is explicit in pointing out: "It's just as valid for the guy who puts [the songs] on while getting drunk as the guy who puts them on while doing the dishes. However someone wants to interpret and experience them is the right way."
It could also be expected that a man whose first album cover features his own bloody face, a man who threw his body around the stage in the throes of rock on all 300-plus shows from his last tour and routinely hits himself in the head with a microphone would be a raving lunatic.
Nothing could be further from the truth. A sharply intelligent, well-spoken man, Andrew W.K. knows exactly what he's doing and why. So if his party anthems aren't necessarily about intoxication, and he's not crazy, what is Andrew doing yelling songs like "Fun Night" at the top of his lungs and flailing around like a madman?
The first exposure many people had to Andrew W.K. was the single or video for the aforementioned "Party Hard," an adrenaline blast of a song so beyond the pale that the most common reaction upon initial listening is confusion. With its simple guitar/keyboard melodic progression, unrelenting high-energy backbeat and soccer-chant vocals, "Party Hard" tends to strike the listener as either moronic or brilliant before revealing itself as brilliantly moronic. As is true of the rest of Andrew W.K.'s repertoire, the song sounds as if someone threw metal in a blender with disco beats and symphonic keyboards and set them on purée, creating a sonic daiquiri as smooth as it is invigorating.
As effortless as it all sounds, Andrew W.K., a classically trained musician, actually spends a long time building just the right arrangement of notes and melodies to make his songs seem off-the-cuff. "I'm not interested in showing off or creating a spectacle of complexity," he says, "but I want to write the best song I've ever written right now, every time I write. I want my music to sound like it's something you've known since birth, like something you made. It's not about me; it's about us. This is our music."
According to Andrew, the fans are worth the effort. "I just want people to feel real good, through music, through camaraderie, through a shared experience. I don't want to divide people."
Andrew W.K. approaches this mission with an almost religious zeal, like a libertine televangelist. He spreads the word to anyone and everyone who will listen. He sincerely wants people to have a good time and to tell someone else about it. In fact, he is so sincere that he can put some people off. These days, the culture in general -- and rock music in particular -- are soaked with so much irony and angst that when someone comes along who pours his heart and soul into everything he does, disbelief and scorn are common reactions.
"It seems that people are afraid to believe in things, because they don't want to be let down or are just afraid of what their friends might think," Andrew says. How does he react to the naysayers and cantankerous crossed-arm crowds? "I just prove it," he explains. "One person at a time if I have to, I prove it."
Anyone who has talked to, spent any amount of time with or seen the look in the eyes of Andrew W.K. can tell you he believes what he says. Along with that, he believes in you. He believes in the unbound potential of human change. He runs a personally answered e-mail Q&A on his Web site that offers advice, insight and love to all his fans, answering each one "your friend, Andrew W.K." He gets excited when he talks to people, so much so that he is happy to endure the massive interview junkets and press mobs involved with being an international star, and he considers conversing with anyone interested in what he does a privilege. He is gracious, almost to a fault, and will stick around for as long as he can to hang out after shows. To him it's all part of what he does, and what he does is try to touch people, to better a life, even if just for a moment.
All this vaguely messianic talk and all these noble intentions might lead the jaded to think that Andrew W.K. is selling something, that ulterior motives lie just behind his well-baited hook. The truth, however, is that there is no subtext or irony behind what he says; it just is what it is, joy and fun, take it or leave it.
If the motivation is pure and the sound is well thought-out, just what are all these songs about? One theory is that the "party" is just a metaphor for the universal gathering, for communal experience and enjoyment on a primal level, at once the lowest and highest common denominator of social gathering. The artist himself says the songs are about "ultimate freedom and encouraging people to do what they want to do." Apparently, whatever the listener gleans from the songs at any given moment is what they're all about.
Coming soon is the new album and manifesto from Andrew W.K., The Wolf, a batch of songs he describes as "unmitigated human victory." However, very little of the new material is being played on the current tour until the record actually comes out. "I don't want it to be like, 'We know something you don't,'" Andrew explains. "If we play a song nobody's had a chance to learn yet, then it separates us from the crowd and ruins the communal aspect."
Of The Wolf, he says, "We've put in so much technical effort to accomplish the mission of melody, to make it glorious and euphoric and just make it feel good inside those who hear it." His desire to play the stuff live is evident, but unfortunately he hits town just before the release of the album, so fans will have to settle for hearing only a couple of new songs. One of those tracks is his latest single "Never Let Down," which is one of the most unabashedly beautiful and motivating songs to hit eardrums in a while. "I wasn't sure I could record this song," Andrew admits. "It felt too big for me. I wasn't sure if I had the ability to do it, but it seems like it turned out all right."
So what is Andrew W.K., if he's not a party-mad sociopath or a snake oil-peddling huckster? He's just a regular guy involved in something bigger than himself, one of the few people willing to inject pure unbridled passion into everything he does, willing to sweat and bleed for everything he loves and wants to accomplish. He wants people to enjoy whatever they're doing as much as they can, to live and breathe and absorb as much as possible, however they want to, because life is short and the future is not guaranteed. "I'd rather do this than anything else," he says. "This is a long-term thing, and we've only just gotten started. Through consistency, conviction and continuation, we're going to prove it every chance we get."
Spread the word.