Andrew W.K.’s appearance at Big Ears gives credence to the suspicion that his pop-metal party anthems are somehow more complicated than they seem. There’s little doubt that Andrew W.K. is a character, a persona, part of an ongoing real-time performance-art project, but that doesn’t mean that his evangelical zeal for good times and good vibes isn’t real. It’s a legitimate message—party hard, don’t stop living in the red, party ’til you puke, it’s time to party—but it’s delivered in a way that’s kept some people confused for the last decade. Does he mean it? Is he who he says he is? Is it all a joke? There’s no easy answer.
For a guy whose message seems pretty simple, you have a very complicated reputation. How has that affected your career?
It is simple, but there’s some complexity. Part of the nature of what I’m trying to do is deal with contrast, complexities, incongruities that affect performance. As far as the specific confusion, that’s left to people beyond me. I can’t tell where people come up with their ideas. But I’m just going to do what I’m going to do. In the past, when people would accuse me of being an actor, of being put up to do what I do, it used to be frustrating. It hurt my feelings. I’d try to defend myself and explain that it’s not true, but it didn’t make it go away. The more I defended myself, the more suspicious some people got. I decided I’m just going to keep going and try to embrace the questions rather than push them away. In the beginning I thought I could control what people thought. I quickly found out that’s one thing you can’t do.
In a basic way, I will take responsibility for oversimplifying myself as an individual when I first started doing Andrew W.K. I obscured a lot of information I didn’t think would matter. I thought it would make it easier to digest. I thought too much information would dilute the power of what’s most important to me, and that’s a feeling of excitement.
Your long-delayed new album, Close Calls With Brick Walls, finally came out this week. What caused the delay?
It was really just business issues and contracts. I renegotiated a bunch of contracts. A bunch of stuff just lined up in an over-the-top way, for me, that would allow the album to come out, allow me to tour with my band again, and start touring with my traditional rock ’n’ roll-style music again. It’s a lot of freedom. It’s like a clearing-house feeling.
Now that it’s out, what’s next?
We’re doing the Warped Tour this summer, and after that we hope to record a new full-length album. I’ve already written a lot of songs for it.
You’re performing this weekend with Calder Quartet. You’ve performed with them several times in the past couple of years.
I did a tour with them in October. We’d done some one-off shows in New York City. I enjoyed it so much—I’d done 55 Cadillac, an album of piano music, and touring with them was probably the most expanding musical experience I’ve ever had, the way I felt before the tour and the way I felt after. I’m grateful to them for being willing to associate themselves with me. For me, it’s a no-brainer—I’m elevated by playing with them. But for musicians coming out of the classical world, they can feel like they’re being lowered when they perform with a rock musician, especially an intense one. So they were taking a risk, and that was powerful and meaningful for me.