Pizza + Sandwiches: Party Philosopher Andrew W.K. Thanks the Party Gods for Both

Kari Stark
photo by Nina Ottolino
By contributing WRITER (and KEXP's resident Andrew W.K. super-fan) Gift Processing Manager, Kari Stark 

I first heard Andrew W.K. around 2002. I — as I assume many did — thought his head-banging music and his party persona was all a gimmick. After watching the MTV special Crashing With Andrew W.K. and reading his writings in the Village Voice, I learned there was much more to Andrew than meets the eye.

Andrew W.K. is a philosopher who expresses the life lessons he’s learned in song form. To oversimplify his main thesis, parties bring people together to have fun and celebrate. He practices “positive partying” or the pursuit of the things in life that bring fulfillment, purpose, and joy. One does this by listening to the “party gods”, which are those unspoken forces that live internally and externally in oneself that guide one to positive partying (others might call this instinct, intuition, subconscious, etc.).

In today’s world, it seems that so many forces are out to divide us and encourage us to only think about ourselves. Andrew W.K.’s positive partying reminds us we are human and to appreciate what we have, whether it be others around us, hobbies, a job, or life. Andrew is trying to bring joy into everything he’s involved with, starting with himself.

Back in May, I spoke on the phone with the King of Partying, himself, discussing everything from his newest album You’re Not Alone (out now via Sony Music), to his party philosophy, to the ideal party food.

For the sake of inclusiveness, could you define what the "party gods" are? 

Andrew W.K.: Not exactly. I suppose, in a paradoxical way as is the case with many things of this nature — these elevated concepts — they defy definition and that almost is one of the hallmarks of their definition. It's the idea of infinity, of an ultimate truth — these are quite solid or straightforward ideas that are yet still very difficult to grasp. So part of what's most, I guess, intriguing or engaging for me is the mysteries wrapped up in so much of life and many of the most beautiful areas of life seem to be the densest with mystery. 

A lot of people when they hear you talk about the "party gods" or your party lifestyle, they kind of assume that party equals excess, but that's not necessarily what you mean. You're talking about the Positive Party. Could you maybe expand on that just a little bit? 

Well, excessiveness is part of human nature and I don't think there is much to be gained in trying to thwart or stamp out the appetites of a human being. I think the best we can do is direct them or harness those feelings, those compulsions, those hungers, and drives, and try to aim them towards something noble and hopefully, you know, worthy of a human being's effort. It's very easy to follow those drives for excess into very dark and painful areas and even then there can be a lot to be gained from that. But partying for me is quite simply celebrating the fact that we exist. Having a party about not being dead every day. 

...partying for me is quite simply celebrating the fact that we exist. Having a party about not being dead every day. 

It seems like that philosophy has connected with a lot of people, including myself, and I feel like with this new album a lot of people are starting to understand it. I don't know if you feel that's true or not. I guess I view you and your music as kind-of like... I speak in metaphors but like, maybe like a swimming pool, and people might walk up to the shallow end and think, "oh, this isn't for me." But then once they get in, they see how deep the pool actually goes. 

That's a beautiful illustration that I appreciate very much. Thank you for saying it that way. I also like metaphors. 

I think maybe going back to what we were first talking about the party gods — the party gods themselves are, in a way, a metaphor for forces and phenomenon that otherwise I struggle to put a face on. Sometimes you have to paint a picture so you can understand what you're looking at. Your swimming pool metaphor, to me, I love that. I mean, that's very complimentary. I think of this journey, this party quest, as climbing a mountain and we've been climbing it. We have our sights set from day one on this peak that is just barely visible through the mist of difficulty and delusion but you can see something clear shining through all that chaos and together, with this team, we're climbing together, not alone, but as a group focused together on that output and the beautiful thing is even the peak of the mountain, it's still part of the mountain and the way up the mountain is still part of the peak. So the whole experience is like a crescendo that you're striving towards an end goal. 

I mean, the sense of purpose with this party mindset is one of the greatest parts about it, because I really feel like each person in life is better served when they are serving something else. Even if it's as elusive as a feeling because that's really what I think we're going after with this party thing is a kind of feeling of understanding about life, about each other, about ourselves. 

You were named the Person of the Year by the American Association of Suicidology and that the ceremony was in April in D.C. — were you able to go to that? 

I was on tour. It was understood that I had a commitment I had been engaged with for a long time before I got the award, but it was a huge incredible experience. And I'm still amazed and processing it. Being someone who doesn't have a lot of professional experience in the field of psychiatry, psychology, you know, neurology, and any kind of -ology, especially suicidology, I was just very stunned that they would associate themselves with me but how I really interpreted the recognition was really that community's recognition of the power of music in general to be extraordinarily reliable and powerful source of resilience. Something about music it's like the human spirit made audible. And it's not just healing. It holds within it some undeniable truth and it's rare that we get glimpses of truth that are so palpable and so visceral. Music is one that you really confronts you with reality and it's a reality that is good and benevolent and beautiful and full of feeling. 

I read somewhere that you had been working on parts of this album since 2005 or 2006? 

Yes, there's material on there that was first being put together back in those years. 

The album feels so cohesive to me, so when I read that I was really surprised. It just flows so well to me and it definitely tells a story. Was that hard to put together? 

It just happened. I didn't even know that there was a story until it was done and then I saw that it made sense. It had never occurred to me that there'd be any kind of final through-line of meaning or even a dialogue of any kind within the album. It was just one song at a time over a very distended period of work. So the idea that I was going to make any sense at all... I hadn't even considered that sincerely so this is one of those instances where I was put into a kind of trance by the labor, by the physical effort, and focused on that and in a subconscious way the whole story told itself. 

I feel like with the creative arts, there's a situation that develops quite frequently where it's almost as though there's a spirit out in the atmosphere that's looking for a point of entry, looking for a way to get through to the other side and to make contact with people. So, that spirit of meaning will look for a location of activity where there's a lot of will and desire and physical action being taken because we realize that that's the magic potion the formula is the idea or the vision and then this action that can take place in the world around us. You know, move your body through the paces necessary to make something come into being that was in your imagination or was in the ether, as they might say. I think that meaning that's out there in the ether looks for someone who's busy trying to do something. It's like, "OK, if this person will just stay out of my way and do the work, I will have my story told." You know, the meaning of life will tell its story when it's given the space to do so. And I think that's kind of what happened in this situation because these are very basic ideas that seem to rise again and again in so many works. Good versus evil and happy versus sad and this duality and then the doubt of that duality and kind of the negation of any concept and complete confusion. 

So these are things that I'm sure every person is thinking about, even if we don't realize we're thinking about them, because the world is kind of bound up in these concepts. Everything's sort of rubbing up against these ideas, these questions of all questions, and it just seems like they pop up when you don't go in with your own agenda. And I had no agenda, or my only agenda was to make an album. So I think the party gods said, "OK, well, we'll tell our story in this album then if you don't have anything to say," and I really didn't have anything to say, I just wanted to make an album. 

You have three spoken word parts or tracks on this album... 

Yes, motivational speeches. 

I feel they especially help transition the songs. Was that part of their intent or was that again just one of those weird things that just happened? 

People talk about happy accidents all the time and that really was a reoccurring phenomenon with this, and I'm not trying to blow it off either. I'm trying to be as honest as possible. In some ways, it would be much more satisfying for me to take credit for the way these things came together as though it was part of some very strategic scripted plan from the very start of either the album-making process, the lyric-writing process. But like anybody, I'm just making decisions based on instinct and based on these urges, these compulsions that I don't even understand they're just there. It's like you're shown a sign of which way to go, but you don't know where it leads. You don't know why you're supposed to go there versus somewhere else. And the next thing you know, you arrive at some intersection of meaning and happenstance that is quite surprising. That's probably as good as the creative process gets for me is when I'm able to turn things over to emotion and instinct and turn off my mind. I feel like the mind is at its best when it's carrying out the instincts of our deeper mental areas — where the heart is, or the spirit is, or the soul is. The mind is really good at completing tasks and taking orders. It's what can make things happen in this physical world that can move our body. But it also likes to give orders, and we have to be very careful about how much we turn over to that highly critical and often cynical mind. 

Yeah, I think when you say on other interviews about how your mind tends to be negative and you do your best work when you listen to your heart or the stomach. 

It's a balancing act because it would be too easy to say it's all one or all the other. That's part of the constant back and forth between these polarities of life and it's so tempting to resign ourselves to one to one permanent position, one permanent mode of operation. But really we're selling ourselves short we're not using all our capabilities. All these things are supposed to work in harmony. I suppose that's maybe what that's what music's trying to tell us. 

There's a pattern and a system of laws that do seem to govern nature and were not completely removed from those. But we do have some X Factor about us, so it seems, that allows us to operate in an area that's both enlightening but also quite confounding and challenging. Some would say we have too much ability, too much power, and not enough sense of what to do with it. 

You started a political party called the Party Party to bring more unity into politics, especially because we are so divided. 

To try to increase the level of partying in political parties. 

Is that still going on? 

No. No. Well, what happened was, there was another doppelganger Party Party unknown to me whose lawyers sent us a cease and desist letter and we had to shut down that entire operation because there already was a Party Party founded somewhere in the country. But the Party Party spirit already existed and still does exist. And really the goal was accomplished which was to try to increase even just for a moment the party atmosphere in areas of great contention and emotional intensity. 

I'm sorry to hear about that, but I also look forward to any way I can help party in politics. 

Just be as righteous and also humble as possible and try to separate life from policies whenever possible. I think that can help. 

So, one more question: there was a huge debate in our office whether pizza or sandwiches were better. I had a very strong opinion but a lot of people argued with my opinion. I said pizza was better but I got a lot of backlash. What's yours? 

Well, I understand why someone might say sandwiches but with pizza, you can actually have a pizza sandwich. Really, that could be a calzone. You could certainly make a pizza sandwich in a more traditional sense by taking two pieces of bread and putting some pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese and maybe some pepperoni. That will be quite good especially if it was on toasted or grilled bread. So, pizza is very very malleable and pretty open-minded and easygoing. Sandwiches, you can put anything on a sandwich I suppose, including pizza. These kinds of guessing games they create an unnecessary type of strife. The beauty is we get to enjoy both sandwiches and pizza. No one is putting a gun to your head and asking us to pick one tonight. I do just find it stressful even if it's just for fun. I don't want to have to imagine a world without one or the other. I want to thank the party gods for giving us both. 

You’re Not Alone is out now via Sony Music, and Andrew W.K. plays Saturday, September 8th at The Showbox. 

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