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.
Photo by Augie Arredondo
Our story so far: Tristan Shone is an American mechanical engineer who records and tours as one-man-band Author & Punisher. He’s known for his intense brand of (what has been labelled as) industrial metal, and self-built instruments that resemble something you might see if a Terminator and Tetsuo had a baby.
His latest album, and first for Relapse Records, is last year’s Beastland, and he returns to Toronto this Monday, July 29th at Velvet Underground, serving as direct support for rising industrial stars 3teeth.
Listening to an Author & Punisher album can be a unique experience, as there’s no context for the sounds being produced. So it’s a kind of aural leap of faith. On his last visit to the city I sat down with Shone in a quiet bakery cafe to talk about the new album, and how people are connecting to his music.
“I think I do a really good job of making people see emotion, and hear something,” he says earnestly.
“It’s not fake, I’m controlling that sound. The pitch-controller and the knobs in my left hand, they’re stacked vertically so you can actually see what I’m playing. When I first built them they were just on a table, on a rack-mount. I saw videos and I was like ‘Ugh you can’t see what I’m playing!’”
This new visual connection to his live audience has come about in part due to Shone re-thinking how he travels with his setup, which used to surround him like a high-tech fortress. But the rigours of touring took hold, and now the Author & Punisher show fits neatly in 3 cases, each weighing fifty pounds.
“Some of the other stuff that I built that was more sculptural was a little harder to… it was really fucking heavy!” Shone says laughing.
“If I wanted something to be really heavy, (to) have a certain feel, I made it heavy, I made it big. Now I can’t make things as heavy as I want, so I have to design around different restrictions. It’s a kind of fun engineering problem to basically say ‘I want something that feels good in my hand, that slides back and forth, but it has to be a little more compact and not have that extra little bit.’ I’m probably going to do two albums with this setup. (Beastland) is the first one.”
Shone has always had eclectic lyrical inspirations, and the new album is no different, as it addresses societal issues that also connect to deeper, more personal experiences.
“I knew the name of the album was going to be Beastland because I wrote (that song) a long time ago” he says.
“I don’t consider it to be the title track because it’s not the signature song of the album. At that point I said ‘Ok so let’s think of different beasts,’ and with this whole Trump thing and the rise of nationalism I was thinking of different modern beasts that we could view. There’s a song called ‘Pharmacide’ which is about the pharmaceutical industry… we’ve all had friends that have fallen to ill-fate on that topic. Another topic I explored was nationalistic European figures, and then there’s more personal demons and things like that. Initially I was going to make 8 beasts and I kinda got a little hazy.”
Something that’s always been curiously amusing is how Shone has found his place in heavy metal culture. After all he’s technically an electronic musician, and while darkwave music may have found a place alongside metal, Author & Punisher’s music has far more in common with visceral 90s industrial bands, but it also wouldn’t be out of place with the avant-garde output of the early pioneers of the genre.
Shone has always been outwardly grateful for the support from his metal audience. There have been moments where Author & Punisher seemed to stick out on a certain bills, but that's perhaps more so due to the nature of being a touring solo act in the middle of a bunch of bands. It’s something that he now embraces more than ever.
“If I was still playing in bands… I wouldn’t be playing in a pop band, I’d be playing in a metal band” he says.
“I think maybe that was something that I was a little more concerned about in the past, but I don’t really care anymore. You’re lucky at this point as a musician to exist anywhere in the music world. To be able to do it as long as I have, and have kind of a slow crescendo of… I don’t know… a crowd, a fanbase, or something. I’m happy about (how) it’s never blown up but it hasn’t really had a downturn. It just comes out naturally. You know, it’s the films that I watch. I’m no different than any other metal guy honestly.”
Beastland is available now on Relapse Records, and you can stream the album in full here. You can find out more about the show with 3teeth here, and you can get a good look at Shone's setup in the video for “Nihil Strength” below.
Photo Courtesy of Red Music
From The Zombitrol Vaults here’s an audition interview with vocalist Cristina Scabbia of Italy’s Lacuna Coil, where we delve into their latest, and surprisingly aggressive album, Delirium. Have a listen via SoundCloud below.
Lacuna Coil's latest release is The 119 Show - Live In London. You can watch the live video for “Nothing Stands In Our Way” below.
Photo Courtesy of Freeman Promotions
In my first interview with Jon Schaffer, guitarist/founder of the long-running and beloved American heavy metal act Iced Earth, we talked about why the band seems impervious to lineup changes, how their sound evolves from album to album, and why he’s not keen on his band being associated with power metal (which he characterizes as “cheesy”).
Schaffer has also gained a reputation for right-wing beliefs after appearing on divisive conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ InfoWars program, wearing a confederate flag bandana on stage, as well as the intense rhetoric found in the lyrics of his side project Sons of Liberty. I feel that it is without question that due to the timeless nature of the classic heavy metal style that Iced Earth plays, it can be said that Schaffer has fans from all walks of life. Based on that presumption, I wanted to know if he has any concern about alienating parts of his fan base who don’t share his views. Have a listen via SoundCloud below.
Iced Earth’s latest album, Incorruptible, is available on Century Media Records, and you can watch the video for “Black Flag” below.