You're Not Alone
The music of Andrew W.K. has always been a vehicle for his unabashed message of positivity by partying. But the message has always been separate from the music, communicated through his stage banter and body language at shows. His most recent album, You’re Not Alone, took a sharp turn away from that separation. It’s a collection of what can only be described as ultra-anthemic odes to positive partying and overcoming adversity, interspersed by emotionally-driven spoken-word testimonials. Speaking via phone while on tour, I asked Andrew W.K. what prompted this more direct approach to his music and message.
“There was, and remains, frustration. Frustration is very inspiring to me, even though it’s a painful experience it’s very motivating,” he says in a calm, firm tone.
“I was really determined, almost violently so, to try and get through to other people, or myself, or get through to life! Dealing with feelings that are not very straightforward by their nature, (you) create a powerful physical force that can’t be denied, the physical encounter with the statement (is) undeniable. Even if someone didn’t like it, they would not be able to deny the force.”
Over the years Andrew has become known in-part as a motivational speaker. It’s something that also comes across live, especially during his “solo” tours where he performs usually with just instrumental tracks and one band member yelling backup vocals. In many cases those shows in a small club can be far more intense than his full band sets in front of thousands. The gaps left by the band are filled by Andrew’s huge personality and philosophical nature. So it does seem natural that the music he creates would reflect this.
“It's something that happened gradually, I think primarily prompted by people asking me questions about life, and me being interested in those same questions,” he says.
“Some of the frustrations that I have experienced with either being misunderstood, or just not being satisfied by the impact or the reach of the vision… I’ve tried to explain myself and explain this work, the nature of this mission that I’m on. Through all that explaining and all that questioning and all that answering, just more and more layers were stripped away. I was sometimes hesitant to talk about these things, but I related to them so deeply and was able to speak about them so personally. This puzzle called being a human, it was very easy to dive into for me. There’s a deeper compulsion that is kind of driving this, and I try to listen to it and stay very loyal to that instinct. Even if I have my own doubts, and I have many of them. I have a lot of second-guessing about all kinds of stuff that I’ve done. But beneath those doubts and beneath that second-guessing there is a clarity, and I try to work from that place.”
With his concern over his message being misunderstood, I asked Andrew if he has any issues with his music and image just being enjoyed in a base level, party anthem kind of way, and if it would make a difference to him if the more emotional messages weren’t perceived by a listener.
“I’ve always really liked that this could be received and understood in many different ways, and that all of them were valid,” he says after some thought.
“It’s when it’s misunderstood… there’s many ways to understand it properly, and it is about partying. It is about those base feelings, and in fact you can’t really have a shallow without a deep and vice versa. So someone experiencing this in a way that could be seen as shallow, or base, or low is what gives it the foundation to have a higher place or a deeper meaning. For me it’s really important to have all of those things. I wrestled with that much, much earlier in life as a teenager. I thought things had to be one way or the other. Then I realized they could be both, and perhaps everything was both, and that some of the things that made an experience rich, seemed to counteract its’ richness. It provides contrast and dynamics and range, a wider space to work in.”
Even for someone who gives themselves fully to their work like Andrew W.K, You’re Not Alone sees him somehow investing even more emotionally than ever before. Although Andrew is an extremely supportive artist to his fans, he’s not impervious to everything, and since he takes on so many peoples’ problems, I hoped that he has people who can offer him the same support.
“I’ve been spoiled with the amount of support that I’ve been given,” he says happily.
“That’s not only what enables me to do this work, it’s makes the spirit of the work come through. All the people around me help it exist, help me do what I can. That’s just happened over this last year. I was always very aware of how awesome this team was that I get to be a part of. I’ve always felt that the team was a means to an end, and that I was a means to an end, and that we were working together for something. It never occurred to me that the team itself is almost the highest result of the effort. When you look at sports, you see this team of athletes trying to win a championship. After even a short time together, they can look back and realize that it wasn’t the trophy, it was the hoisting of the trophy with (their teammates) that was the most meaningful moment. It’s similar to ‘the journey is the destination,’ but it’s not the journey either, it’s the people you’re on the journey with that are the prize, they are the pay off. That’s what really came through with clarity now, I was able to see it while it was happening, and not just after the fact looking back having fond memories. I was able to realize that this was a huge breakthrough for me. It took me almost 40 years to realize that it’s the relationships you have with the people around you that are the highest mode of being that you get to experience in this life.”
On paper it can be easy to dismiss some of Andrew’s ideas as cliché, but I believe that’s because most of the time people who express these kind of ideas don’t come across as genuine. Andrew W.K. has given his mind and body to prove to people who will listen that he means what he says. It’s a frustration that he refers to a few times in our conversation. Turning a positive into a negative is not a new concept, but it’s one that I think most people take far too literally. Being positive in the face of adversity doesn’t mean that you don’t allow yourself to feel anger or sadness. It’s this kind of understanding that for me sets Andrew apart as an artist, and makes his message seem like one worth getting out there.
“I think the frustration is really just a feeling of there’s really so much to do, and feeling almost overwhelmed in the best way by all the tasks we’ve yet to complete and all the places we’ve yet to go,” he says.
“At its worst it feels completely debilitating. But it’s so fiery, it’s not a melancholic feeling. It’s a very forceful, rage kind of feeling which is very powerful fuel. Maybe (it’s also) a panic that there’s not enough time or energy or possibility to get to that place. Feeling like I’ve let myself down, that I’ve let this mission down. That we have to do better, or that I have to do better, or do more. It’s difficult for me to even understand what frustration is. It’s just being human and realizing the limits of one’s self.”
Andrew W.K. is currently working on a new album. Stream You're Note Alone in full below.