Photo by Johnathan Thorpe
Riot Fest Preview
Interview with Andrew W.K.
By Bill Jones
Ever since arriving on the scene in 2001 with I Get Wet, Andrew W.K.’s mission has been of a singular mindset — party hard. And it’s damn near impossible for anyone who has come across the rocker on his extensive touring schedule not to get caught up in the sentiment.
Andrew W.K. breathes pure energy, sings as though possessed by nothing but good vibes, and headbangs and fist pumps like a madman. Those were probably all factors considered when Black Sabbath decided to tap Andrew W.K. to open for its U.S. summer tour as the official party heavy metal DJ. It is probably also what Marky Ramone had in mind when he picked the New York-based singer to front his Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg project.
And it is definitely what Riot Fest had in mind when it slated him to play Friday, Sept. 13, to help open the three-day festival in Chicago’s Humboldt Park. We chatted with Andrew W.K. in early August to discuss his crazy touring schedule, including his plans in September for a continuation of his Party Messiah tour.
Let’s talk touring. You’ve been on some really awesome tours lately…
I feel the same way. I’ve been very, very lucky — kind of like winning the lottery 10 times in a row with these opportunities. No one is more baffled than I am that I’ve gotten to be doing this stuff. I’m stoked.
You’re on tour with the legendary Black Sabbath. How did that come about?
Not only will I never forget any single moment of this actual tour, I will remember forever the day I got the phone call. I remember it very clearly. We were in San Antonio, Texas. We were driving across this parking lot from where the hotel was to a barbecue place called Bill Miller [Bar-B-Q], where we ended up having an egg breakfast. The phone rang, and I picked it up. My manager, sometimes I can just tell the tone in his voice when he’s excited about something. He usually starts the phone call with, “OK, you ready for this?” It’s usually good news when he has that tone in his voice, but you never know. So I just kind of prepped myself, and when he proceeded to say that, “Black Sabbath want you to come out and be their official party heavy metal DJ on their entire North American tour,” it just sounded like — not even a dream, like — another dimension, a different universe, like I woke up in the Twilight Zone or something. It was just so over the top and so unbelievable in the best way. For the first few days, I didn’t even really believe — not that it wasn’t a real offer, but sometimes you don’t want to get your hopes up. I didn’t tell anyone about it for weeks, because I figured there’s no way this is actually going to happen. Sure enough, here I am. This will be our fifth show. It’s unbelievable to not only be on this tour at all, but I get to have my set — I get to play my favorite heavy metal songs and then watch the greatest heavy metal band of all time right afterwards. It makes me feel very lucky, also very humble. There’s so many other people who would also want this opportunity. I want everyone to understand that I know it doesn’t make much sense that I’m getting to do this, but that doesn’t mean I’m not as excited as anyone could ever be. It’s living proof that life can be very strange and unpredictable and dream-like. I’ve had so many dreams come true at this point that it starts to feel like you’re not even awake as much as lucid dreaming.
Was there any reluctance on your part about the DJ aspect of it? Any point where you thought, ‘This is great, but it would be better if the band were performing?’
I’m very happy doing what I’m doing. I want to do whatever they want me to do. Whatever Black Sabbath tells you to do you’re going to do. I want to make them happy. I want to serve them. This is a chance to bow down and do whatever is asked of me.
Does Black Sabbath still know how to party, in your expert opinion?
Oh, absolutely. It’s a very festive atmosphere. Very nice — the other thing I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everyone I’ve encountered has been very kind, just because they’re so excited this is happening. That the band is playing these shows just means so much to everybody. That’s the main focus. That’s on the front of everyone’s brain. So everything else gets taken care of because we’re just so thankful to be here. I’ve done Ozzfest before, a couple different years, and always had a good vibe there. I just think that everything Sharon Osbourne is involved in has really always done very well. It’s just an honor. I can learn so much from this, and whatever I can contribute is just a privilege.
On to your performances with Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg — what is that like and what does the AWK energy do for the already high-energy Ramones songs?
That was another situation where I was given an opportunity to audition to be his new singer. There was no question in my mind. Even though I was intimidated and realized it was going to be very challenging to sing these 34 songs rapid-fire at that level of intensity, I said, “You have to do this. You have to step up.” And the worst-case scenario is that you become a better singer and got the chance to play even just a few songs with Marky Ramone on drums. Fortunately, he liked what I did, and now we’ve been showing the world. Again, I can’t believe it. I’ve never had more fun singing before on stage in my life. And it absolutely has made me a better singer. It forced me to call upon deeper abilities than I had before. I’d done singing, obviously, but never someone else’s songs to that extent, be someone else’s frontman rather than my own. I want to do the best I can for him. There’s never been greater rock songs written, ever. So it’s just a pleasure to play. And I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it. I don’t think anyone was sure I was going to be able to pull it off. But I have been doing it, and I think each show gets better. So come October, when we do our U.S. gigs, I think we’re going to be in top form.
You’re on the road in September for your Party Messiah tour. What can fans expect?
The Party Messiah shows, for the most part, are me with my solo show. These were shows I added on from the solo shows I did a few months ago that went so well. People seemed to enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed it. I thought, “Let’s go to some more towns we haven’t played.” The solo show is me playing all my songs with my keyboard, and I’ve made drum machine beats. It’s a more electronic version of the songs, but it’s still songs from every one of my albums. In some ways, I’ve been fortunate enough to get the feedback that it’s sort of like hanging out with me — I don’t want to say in bedroom or something, not in that intimate way, but — like rocking out with your friends to songs you like and are singing along with together. So if you like my songs, basically, you can be my band. It gets very chaotic. It’s very up close. We try to pick venues that are not always like traditional concert venues, but more like a club or a bar, a place where that festive atmosphere can spread to the whole room. It’s not just people standing and watching a stage. The whole room is the stage. The audience is performing for me as much as I’m performing for them. It gives me a lot of energy. These are the shows that really cheer me up. I guess when you’re so close to everybody, energy can transfer more easily, and I take that, and it keeps me going.
On the flip side, what can fans expect from the full-band performance at Riot Fest?
If you like to party, that is what we will be focusing on. … Our offering will be a high-energy party mindset, hopefully that you can take to give you the stamina to see all the other great bands and artists that are performing. But we will give everything we have. It will be a cheered-up vibe, and we hope that we can cheer up other folks there, even if they’re already very cheered up. We’ll go into over-cheer.
Any chance you’ve got a new party tip for our readers?
PARTY TIP: Partying doesn’t make you cooler than other people; partying makes you cooler than yourself.