x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The dynamic life of a rock star

Andrew WK isn't just known for his party anthems: in the decade since he debuted, he has released an album of solo improvised piano, gone on a motivational speaking tour, opened a nightclub and hosted a children's TV series.

The rock singer Andrew WK. Courtesy Ashley Eberbach
The rock singer Andrew WK. Courtesy Ashley Eberbach

You know you've made it when there are conspiracy theories about you. For a good chunk of last year, rumours were circulating that the rock singer Andrew WK was a fictitious character, played by an actor and created by a team of executives. (A blog called The Truth About Andrew WK still exists.) After meeting the 32-year-old singer as he prepared to set off on his latest world tour, it quickly became clear why some people bought the story.

Here are the facts: After making a trio of simple, repetitive, upbeat rock albums, Andrew WK (real last name Wilkes Krier) released an album of Japanese pop covers and then an improvised solo piano album. He has given motivational speeches at Yale and NYU, and presented a kids' TV show called Destroy Build Destroy, which involves smashing up machines. He often talks like he has been spending too much time in the self-help aisle of the local library - with what seems like total seriousness - but his tweets and his TV appearances are a whirlwind of clowning around. He also seems to be a natural businessman as he has launched a successful record label and nightclub, and his website contains an extensive line of merchandise and frequent, canny fan interaction.

So which is he? The salesman? The anarchist? The attention-seeker or the artiste? In conversation, Andrew WK mixes jokes and sincerity to such a degree it's impossible to tell which is which.

"The whole purpose of all this work and effort is to unite the human race through party and through music and through excitement," he says with a straight face, "and I think we've just got better and better at doing it."

Having torn up the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas last month (sample tweet during the festival: "Vomit food!!! Vomit blood!!!") Andrew WK has been touring the US and Europe and will carry on to Australia and Japan this month. It's not an ordinary tour, though, even by Andrew's strange standards. To mark 10 years since the release of his debut album I Get Wet, he'll be playing the whole thing from start to finish.

"It feels like 10 days ago in some ways," he says, looking back at the decade that's passed since the record came out, "and then like 10,000 years ago in another way."

He suddenly realises that it has been 15 years since he moved to New York from Michigan with an exclamation of, "Holy smokes!" and admits that "my sense of timelines isn't so good; there's a lot of missing time in there".

When I Get Wet was first released, the music website Pitchfork gave the album a rating of 0.6 out of 10 and dismissed it as "about as empty as rock music gets". Nine years later, after the singer had shown that there was more to him than repeating the words "party hard" over and over, the same site included I Get Wet in its 200 greatest albums of the decade, showing how impossible it can be to decide which side of the fine line of idiocy and genius Andrew WK comes down on. As for the impostor rumours, which reached a peak a year ago, Andrew typically revelled in the ambiguity and made a series of statements that only muddied the waters further.

Whatever you make of him, there's no denying how infectious Andrew WK's Tiggerish mindset can be. Whether he's speaking to crowds at Yale, writing metal lyrics or talking to kids about explosions, he's big on the power of optimism. "It's a choice," he says. "You can magically alter your life if you believe hard enough and then take actual physical action in the world outside your brain to make it happen. And then sometimes it seems like there is no inside and outside. You just have to set a goal and go for it."

With so many different goals already achieved, it's hard to predict what he'll do next, and other than the fact that he's starting work on his new album in June, he's not telling.

What has come out in the past few days, though, is that he's starring in a new web series being developed for MySpace, which mixes comedy with cameos by bands such as We Are Scientists and (Andrew WK's support act on his current tour) Math The Band.

For now, he's focusing on the tour and on trying to get across the essence of his music live, which he describes as "trying to summon up a physical feeling that I hope every human being can relate to: this feeling of raw energy, of raw power".

He says that he always wanted his music to feel "like the last day of school, or like going down the first hill on a roller-coaster, or the smell of cotton candy, just these really elemental types of joy".

It's either a great philosophy or a great sales pitch, or, most likely, a bit of both.

artslife@thenational.ae

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