Anarchy in the W.K.
Andrew W.K. is the Tiger Woods of rock'n' roll. He has no interest in being a worldwide rock star, although that may be the inadvertent result after the release of his debut album, I Get Wet. When he talks about his plans for the album and himself, he speaks honestly about drawing people into his circle, embracing both his fans and his detractors.
If his imminent stardom is improbable, it is no more so than the vehicle that will deliver him -- namely I Get Wet, an album packed to the rafters with Big, Dumb Rock, in the best sense of those emphasized words. Big -- AC/DC, Kiss, Led Zeppelin. Dumb -- Gary Glitter, Slade, T. Rex. Rock -- everything from Iggy to the Clash to the Ruts. It's loud, anthemic, and multi-tracked into the stratosphere.
AWK is already a huge hit in England, where his first single, "Party Hard," debuted in the Top 20 last fall, and its attendant success has resulted in two New Musical Express cover stories. And it has polarized critics and fans alike, with little gray area existing between those who would anoint Andrew W.K. as this year's savior of rock and those who dismiss him as an overhyped, studio-obsessed, garden-variety headbanger. For his part, Andrew refuses to be drawn into any kind of strident defense of his work, preferring merely to zen his way through the tangible negativity that he has aroused.
"There are new frontiers and new horizons that are untouched; I haven't existed yet, and neither have you," Andrew says with the conviction of Tony Robbins and the metallurgical blurt of David Lee Roth. "This is our time to blaze these fucking trails, and there's people who are going to be a part of it and people that are not. All those that don't want to be a part of it, that don't believe in it, stay out of our way. I've got enough energy and I know that I can work hard enough to include every single person on the face of the earth, even the people that don't want to be included. I'll scoop them up on the next go-round. Everybody is invited here, and we're only as far forward as the last person in line."
The 23-year-old, classic-rock/metal wonderboy was born in California but moved to Michigan at age four, when his law-professor father took a position at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Although he could stake a claim to the rich rock heritage that permeates the area (the Stooges, MC5, Grand Funk, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger), Andrew insists he has no fixed address when it comes to influences.
"I consider myself a part of everything I've ever seen or heard," he says. "Michigan is just a small segment of that. But very important. Southeastern Michigan is a powerhouse of all kinds of stuff. At the same time, because of that, I became determined to get away from what I thought were stifling, close-minded ideas. But I never would have been in the position to get away from them if I hadn't been initially inspired by it all."
Andrew's mother recognized his musical leanings early on and started him on classical piano lessons, which continued through most of his childhood. As a teenager, he gravitated toward the drums, which led him to bash the kit for a number of metal and punk bands in the Ann Arbor/Detroit scene. His youthful angst and unchanneled rage also found an alternate outlet in a brief but harrowing bout of destructive juvenile delinquency that Andrew says he was lucky to have escaped with a move to New York City at age 18.
"When you devote your life to doing something that you love and it's clear to you that you love it, all it takes is one other person to believe in it and feel as much as you do to make it all worthwhile," Andrew says. "I've had the good fortune of having one or two or maybe eleven of those people in my life."
By 2000, Andrew was making a name for himself with regular one-man East Coast shows and a couple of EPs on Detroit's Bulb Records (Girls Own Juice and Party Til You Puke). After a plum opening slot with the Foo Fighters, Andrew set about forming his band: guitarists Jimmy Coup, E. Payne, and Sergeant Frank, bassist Gregg R., and former Obituary drummer Donald "D.T." Tardy. Since most of them were already settled in the Tampa Bay area, Andrew relocated to keep a close-knit feeling within the band.
Having already signed with Island, Andrew and his merrie metal men wrote and recorded I Get Wet in a half dozen spots around the country, which ultimately resulted in the "Party Hard" single breaking out in England last October.
"None of this has been by design, and that's why I think it's gone well," he says. "If there's a plan, it's that I'd like this record to be out everywhere all over the world by the end of 2002. I knew what I didn't want to do, which was to say, 'It has to come out in the U.S. first, and if anybody else wants to put it out, we have to say no.' If people were excited, we said. 'Yes.' If Mexico downloaded MP3s and it was getting played on the radio, and people were excited, we weren't going to say, 'You can't release the record.' That would be moronic. We've just been saying 'Yes.' What an amazing idea, to say 'Yes.'"
It's an idea made more amazing by the number of people who have told Andrew -- and continue to tell him -- that he's working a dead branch of the rock-'n'-roll tree. "It's so out of my control, I don't think about it that much," Andrew says of the negative reactions that his music has generated. "But that's not their fault; it's mine. I'm going to work that much harder to get them the next time. What we're doing is so clear: We're celebrating the miracle of human beings. It's a miracle to be alive, and this music makes me feel excited in the pit of my stomach on a chemical level. It's so direct and so to the point, it just wants to satisfy people. It's openness, it's inclusive, it's not exclusive or special and just for two people or 200 people. It's for every human being on the face of the earth. It's the only way I can continue, to try to make the most exciting songs ever made. And we're just getting started."
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