Interview: Andrew W.K. harnesses the power of positive partying a new motivational speaking tour

Andrew WK, motivational speaker.

Andrew WK, motivational speaker.

There is something very mysterious about a man that burst onto the music scene sporting a bloody nose and stains on a well-worn plain white shirt. Andrew W.K. is most famous for his 2001 LP, I Get Wet which is considered by many as one of the greatest party albums in recent time. He’s performed countless concerts that have impressed fans and critics alike. During a tour in 2004, W.K. broke his foot in the middle of a show and rather than cancel shows, he finished his dates by rocking out in a wheelchair. His other two full-length albums, The Wolf and Close Calls with Brick Walls showed lyrical growth while continuing a sound that you would play during any kind of party. He also once pretended to be the ambassador of partying to the Middle East (until Brokelyn exposed it as a goof, that is).

However, the proclaimed “King of Party” is channeling his originality and raw energy in a seemingly un-party like forum with motivational speaking engagements as he embarks on a 50 state lecture tour starting in the fall. But to Mr. W.K., an Ann Arbor, Mich.-native who moved to New York City when he was 18 to pursue his music career, there is greater meaning to the word “party.”

“A fundamental part of partying (during the lectures) is being in that room, having an enjoyable time and realizing that you’re having one next to someone who could be extremely different in almost every way from you except the fact that they’re human beings,” W.K. said in an interview.

Some of his words and philosophies may echo those of famous motivational speakers such as Tony Robbins, who have made their living discussing the power of positive thinking. But there is something brewing beneath the surface with Andrew, whether it’s genuine kindness, vulnerability, or both.

_______

Before Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were even in existence, W.K. used the Internet to connect with fans. He wrote hundreds, perhaps thousands, of notes of to his fans, often taking pictures of himself holding them up for proof and posting them on his website. The advice he wrote to them ranged from gaining the courage to ask a long time crush out for a cup of coffee to coping with the death of a loved one. Do these practices stem from a strong work ethic or something else entirely? And one may ask why take advice from a rock musician?

Perhaps his words have resonated with audiences for more than 15 years because he never claims to have any answers to difficult questions.

“I think part of being a human being is you’re always going to be at your threshold and pushed there and go all out and be a full, living human being,” he said. “It’s never going to get easier, it just keeps going and you just hope you keep getting stronger.”

During a phone interview, the musician discussed the upcoming tour, his struggles with staying positive, maintaining a hefty schedule and if times are really harder for younger people than they used to be. W.K. will make a stop in Brooklyn on November 20 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased on www.andrewwk.com.

_______

W.K. works it out on stage.

W.K. works it out on stage.

What inspired you to do the Power of Partying 50 State Speaking Tour? It sounds very ambitious.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the first lecture I ever did back at NYU in 2006. They invited me to give a speech and at first I just assumed they were going to have me speak to a music business class or something related to it. But they made it very clear right away that they actually asked me to avoid discussing the music business and instead focus on just life in general. That was exciting to me because of the freedom it allowed and thinking about life like anyone else.

That started this whole other way of partying or way of offering something. Early on, I realized that music for me was a way to get to this powerful feeling. It made me feel good about life. It made me feel stronger, but also just talking to people and thinking about ideas and diving into life itself would also give me that feeling sometimes. Writing letters to people back and forth and meeting people after concerts, it became very clear to me that I wasn’t alone in this and a lot of people wanted to talk about these things and now doing lectures, there’s been this other side of summoning up this celebratory party spirit just through talking and I guess this tour came about.

_______

 

As far as what fans could it expect, will these speaking engagements be more of a free forum where every subject is on the table?

That’s what I’m excited about. For the most part, I’m trying to stay away from my own beliefs and opinions. I try to talk about things that go beyond my tastes, my own feelings that day. I’m trying to get to those essential truths we’ve all experienced. I also want to ask people questions. I want to see what other people are thinking about because truly it’s supposed to be a discussion. I’ll kick it off but then it’s going to be whatever happens in that room together.

I’ve been to a few and I love how you don’t know what shape it’s going to take. It’s always a positive one, but it’s the collaboration you allow with fans that make it special.

I’m speaking from a place of trying to tear away at everything that stands in the way of getting to these core points. I hope I get better at it too getting all that practice at different events. It’s going to be uplifting for me too. That’s something I thought about when we were scheduling this is that this is going to be a great opportunity for me to just be able to be in that room and conjure up those feelings with people too.

Your columns for The Village Voice are so very insightful. How challenging or fun has it been for you to partake in it and deal with such serious topics that people write to you about?

A lot of those situations have been outside of my immediate experience. I haven’t gone through certain ordeals that people have come to me and asked questions about. In that way, it’s challenged me in an amazing way to not only put myself in someone else’s shoes, but try to access a part of your own mind that isn’t even yours. A lot of times in these columns, the only choice I have is to imagine that this person asking me that question and I imagine that I’m asking a question to the highest, most intelligent person in the world and ask what I would tell this person. And I just sort of pretend that I had those thoughts in a way.

The thing is when you pretend to think that way, you actually do think that way. If you imagine what would the most advanced quality person do or say in this situation, all of a sudden you realize that it’s you thinking that. We each have the ability, but with a little effort and concentration and we quiet our own weaknesses and set aside our shortcomings, that quality and advancement is inside of you.

It’s difficult for anyone, yourself included, to stay positive? Does that make it difficult when others seek good advice?

I try to be pretty upfront. My whole motivation for everything that I’ve done in this whole adventure going back to 1998, I’ve tried to feel better about life myself. I’m not a naturally positive person. These things do not come easy for me and they still don’t. I desperately struggle every day at this, but because I’ve made it my life’s work, I have a reason to keep doing it. It’s like a cause or purpose that I’m devoted to and it’s more important to me than any other particular aspiration.

I feel like I’m sort of saving my own life in the process and I’m right there with anybody else. I’m in the depths of it at all times. But one thing I know is that I’m not giving up at it and there are times when I feel like I don’t know how to get through the day, but I just put my head back down and just put one more foot forward and take another step and then another one. It doesn’t come easy to me at all. I don’t even know if it’s really gotten easier over the years. It sort of feels the same. Sometimes I wonder if it’s supposed to be hard.

It seems like there are more obstacles for college students and recent graduates nowadays, whether it’s the distraction of social media creating self-doubt, student debt, a lack of career opportunities. Do you sense that and do you have any ideas how these men and women can deal with those feelings?

In one way, everyone’s situation is unique and on the other hand, maybe this is kind of how it always is. Generation to generation, it works in cycles. But we know it’s always challenging. It’s so easy to say “Oh, 30 years ago, it was so much easier” but then there would’ve been some other challenge for young people.

What I find helpful just try to realize that the surrounding struggles such as self-doubt, finding jobs, dealing with student loans, and money in general. On one hand, let’s say all those were magically solved, there’d still be the real challenge, which is becoming who you are inside and I think sometimes it’s easy, for me at least, to get caught up in all these challenges that could be big and life altering and focus entirely on them almost in a way to distract myself from thinking too much or too deeply about me and the quality of person I am. Do I keep my word? Have I developed integrity? Am I someone that can be counted on? How easy do I give in to my weaknesses? How selfish am I? It’s very easy to ignore those kinds of challenges if you’re trying to think about how much money you need to make by the end of the week. But all of these things are worth focusing on and deserve a noble effort.

I have obstacles too, but you want to keep pushing forward I think because eventually, even though you go through some sort of misery, when you try branch out and get out of your comfort zone, you get a sense of satisfaction. It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m continuously amazed at people that are truly in intense situations yet they find a reason to smile.

You’ve always had a different definition of partying. Can you discuss what that definition is? It doesn’t seem to be traditional one.

I like that word so much because it’s easy to understand. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t know that word, so it is supposed to be simple and instantly understandable, but I’m trying to expand it or empower it to be still very one-dimensional and easy to grasp, then a big enough of a word to essentially contain all of life. That being alive is partying and they’re synonymous. Existence, by its very nature, is positive and when you’re able to experience a positive thing that you’re grateful for, you have a reason to celebrate it. That’s this mindset.

You had signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster. How that’s been going?

It’s been a long process. It’s another new experience talking about doing different things. As far as what it’s about, it’s changed quite a bit over these few years I’ve been working on it, but we’re getting into the home stretch. I’d say it took many times at bat to just hit the ball at all and at this point, I’m rounding second base. It’s getting there.

Do you still have a passion for putting out albums? I know putting out music is different now than it was a few years ago. Is that something that you’re currently working on?

I’ve been working on a new album for a while now and I’m kind of in the thick of that too. I’m trying to keep all that going too. Nothing for me really works the same way as music does and it’s always going to be a part of this party.

Do a lot of people ask you about new music? Does it frustrate you to be asked?

I appreciate people asking about it. There have been so many times I’ve tried making a new album and then some amazing opportunity will come up and on one hand I’m thankful and excited. In 2013, that was the last time I was really trying to carve out a whole year just to record and then something I would never thought of or imagined to dream up like Black Sabbath asking me to be their official tour DJ for their official tour. When they asked that, I can’t say no. It’s been like that. On one hand I’ve been frustrated but on the other just turned myself to this idea when it’s meant to happen, it will happen and I can’t complain that I have to follow this path.

Because the tour coincides with this year’s presidential election and a time where people are more divided than in recent times, which is saying a lot, is that something you might want to discuss along with people’s different points of view?

There are so many reasons to divide and separate ourselves from one another, but all we really need is one reason to relate to each other. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, but we can start or keep that fundamental connection that we’re all human beings and we’re here at the same time. We deserve the ability to get along. We’re worthy of it because we actually can do it. It takes a little bit of effort, discipline and rigorous dedication to being at our best.

Each person can recall upon times when they’ve been able to be that best version of themselves. And I need it as much as anybody. The minute I can feel myself being pushed away from someone else, whether it’s a friend or family member or someone I don’t even know, like an idea or opinion, I know that I got work to do. It’s not anybody else’s fault. It’s my fault too. I have to be able to call upon those higher powers inside myself. Partying can do that.