Read the full unedited transcript of Andrew WK's Invisible Jukebox test with Marc Masters
"The Faire Folk"
FROM RIDE THE SKIES (LOAD) 2001
ANDREW W.K.: Ruins?
MARC MASTERS: Good guess.
ANDREW W.K.: The fidelity of the recording is very clear. I think that's a bass guitar, but even that I'm not so sure about. Is it Lightning Bolt?
MARC MASTERS: Yes. [Distorted bass comes in]
ANDREW W.K.: Ah, there it is. Now it sounds much more like them. A lot of the recordings I've heard by them are grittier, more raw and overdriven. The drumming I thought could be Brian Chippendale, but then I thought the singing sounded like the guy from the Ruins, when he sings high and kind of shaky.
MARC MASTERS: Have you seen them perform?
ANDREW W.K.: Probably years ago, at Fort Thunder in Providence. I would often visit there after I moved to New York, and went to Fort Thunder a few times. But I don't remember specifically if Lightning Bolt played any of those times. There was a time when a band called Barnyard Animals played, another band Brian Gibson [of Lightning Bolt] was doing. I also think I saw them at one of the first concerts they ever had at Warsaw, the Polish National Hall, before they started doing events there often. I think they played there, but I couldn't see them because they were on the floor, with people all around them. But I could hear them, and they sounded amazing.
MARC MASTERS: Was it from those trips that you hooked up with Load Records?
ANDREW W.K.: Yes, it was. I remember meeting [Load Owner] Ben McOsker at my friend [Bulb records owner] Peter Larsen's house, where he was having a concert. It was actually a very big, nice industrial space. It was good for shows, and he had set up a show there. I played, and Barnyard Animals played, and that was the first time I met Ben McOsker. I think before I even met Ben, Peter had said, "dude, check this out." And it was some 7-inch with a photograph on the cover where he had positioned himself so that he could give himself oral sex. And it was real! It made a certain taste come in the back of my throat, no pun intended actually (laughter). But it was disturbing and very inspiring simultaneously. I think because I had always wanted to do that, so I was jealous in a way, and also really shocked that I was seeing that. And then I met him a few hours later, and I was kind of star-struck, because I had seen that picture of him (laughs). He was very nice, and I was interested in the work that he was doing with Load. I don't remember how long Load had been going at that time, it might have been near the beginning. So a lot of goodness came out of that Providence time, a lot of amazing energy collected right in that space of 3 or 4 years. I was living in Brooklyn at the time.
MARC MASTERS: How did having Load do the vinyl version of Close Calls come about?
ANDREW W.K.: Well, I like to think that it was a development from those years of being familiar with one another. I'm trying to remember if we were already doing the Sightings record when he asked me to do the vinyl. I think we hadn't even started it yet. I saw Ben, after not having seen him for years, at Bowery Ballroom. It was for a concert, I can't even remember who, it might have been a Sightings show actually. He was very friendly and it was really great to see him after those few years. He said that he liked Close Calls, and he asked if I was going to put it out here. I said, ‘No, we don't want to release it here yet, I want to release other stuff, and keep that in other countries.' And he said, ‘If you ever want to do vinyl, I'd love to do that.' I'd never even thought of that, a way to do a special version of it here without releasing it widely on a traditional format. So we did, and I was very honored to work with him.
FROM BOOTLEGGED IN JAPAN (LIVE) (EARACHE) 1998
ANDREW W.K.: Napalm Death, "Unchallenged Hate."
MARC MASTERS: Correct.
ANDREW W.K.: Is this the version from Bootlegged in Japan?
MARC MASTERS: It is.
ANDREW W.K.: Everything about them was really innovative, but
the drumming especially. Just little things like that, like that
kind of beat. Not to mention the blast beats, or the holocaust
beats, the very fast grind beats. But some of those mid-tempo, sort
of rock'n'roll beats he did were very exciting, and those were the
moments that would really amp me up into the most. They have an
album called Harmony Corruption which has a lot of really great
middle tempo beats - not too fast, not too slow, but these really
perfect tempos that are very, to me, energizing. They really amp me
up. I listened to it for years and years and years, that album,
every day. Especially when I moved to New York, there was something
about it that really made itself necessary - a kind of consistency
in the middle of all the chaos, even though it was a chaotic
consistency. I've talked about that album quite a bit. A lot of
people didn't like because it was different than before, and the
production especially was very unusual. Kind of the way that live
recording has a very unusual sound, sort of loud in a quiet way,
and powerful in a weak way. There are all these opposites in their
music. They're a very unique band, you can really only compare them
MARC MASTERS: Are there specific things about their music that has influenced yours?
ANDREW W.K.: Well, like with many groups that are so powerful, or many artists that are so unique, it seems daunting to try to do anything like what they've done, because they've done it so well. It's almost disrespectful to try to take anything from them and incorporate it because it's just going to be a pale imitation. So I never felt inspired by anybody to work in that way. But certainly in terms of the feelings that I felt listening to their music, and the feel that other people seemed to have at their shows, the kind of energy that they would inspire and the kind of response, the kind of longevity they had and the kind of impact they had by doing their own thing, that's what I really wanted to take from it. To try to find something that I could do that's my own thing, and do it at the same level that they had their own thing. I think that's always inspiring when it comes to other groups that are very original and very powerful.
I remember going away on this family trip to Turkey, and something about being away at that time, in the midst of a lot of excitement that I had at home…I felt really like I wanted to get back and work on things at home. So I kind of was depressed on part of this trip because I really couldn't do anything. All I could do was think about plans and ideas. I remember having this talk with this girl, who was the daughter of the family that we were on this trip with, and she said, ‘What are you going to do with your music?' I was 17, so it was before I had moved to New York. And I said, ‘I'm going to move to New York, and I'm either going to do my own music, or I'm just going to play drums in some kind of a heavy metal band, because I love that music so much'. And she said, ‘I think you should do your own music.' But it seemed just as legitimate to me to join a band, because the pleasure I would get from playing in a Napalm Death tribute band, that would've been just as satisfying in other ways. But in the end, I ended up not doing that.
I auditioned to play in a band called the Great Kat. She was - she still is - a virtuoso speed metal guitarist. She was looking for a drummer, and I saw an ad in The Village Voice. So I auditioned - took the train to Deer Park, and I actually got the gig. But soon afterwards I actually quit, because it was a very intense situation unfortunately. She's incredibly talented and very intense. But I think that's when I realized I didn't want to play drums in another band. I wanted to do music of my own.
MARC MASTERS: How long have you been playing drums?
ANDREW W.K.: I played quite a bit of drums early on, without much technical focus or practice. I ended up seeing all these drummers and meeting all these drummers and playing with all these drummers in my band who were so much better. And I played drums, but I don't know that I can really say I played them well. But I played them a lot, and I was in a couple of bands where I played drums mostly, and those were mostly heavy metal cover bands with really fast beats. Piano was my first instrument, and I think I was only able to play drums from having played piano. Piano gives a really solid foundation across a lot of different musical abilities. Melody, syncopation, all those things. Piano's easy to play because you're just pressing buttons, versus making the notes from scratch with something like strings. But I like the drums and I'm really glad that I have played them. It's given me more understanding of rhythm.
FROM MYSTERIOUS TRAVELLER (COLUMBIA) 1974
ANDREW W.K.: I really like it, but I have no idea what it is.
MARC MASTERS: It's Weather Report.
ANDREW W.K.: I've never heard them, but I've heard the name for
years and always loved the name, it's a really intense name.
MARC MASTERS: I was wondering if fusion jazz had any influence on your piano playing.
ANDREW W.K.: Maybe the idea of it. My dad likes jazz and talked a lot about jazz piano and had a lot of recordings. But I never really listened to them. So I think I had an idea of what that stuff would sound like. I had a lot of friends in high school in jazz bands who were really into that, collected those records and obsessed on them, and I think were proud to say they were trying to make music that was the same thing. I think I was very intimidated by that, because they would talk about these specific time signatures that were very complicated-sounding to me, and took a lot of the mystical part of music away. So I would sort of block out the technical end to a certain degree. I was probably just uncomfortable and a little scared, unsure of my abilites and whether I could compete with these guys. And it seemed like it came down to how well you understood theory, and how well you could speak this certain language. When it came to actually playing, it seemed like sometime the playing was based on how it fit into that language. So all of that did not appeal to me. I admired them a great deal, but I was intimidated by them. I liked the idea that you could play that way, and I understood the value in it. But to me there was a sensation that came from music that was more important than anything else. Whether it was going to be something you called rock music, or you called jazz music, or this or that, if there was a sensation there, a physical feeling, then that's all I was interested in. I would set everything else aside in terms of theory and studying. I was traditionally trained on piano so I did have a good understanding of that, but never enough to where that interested me to the extent that other aspects of music did. I just wanted to feel a certain way that I couldn't feel from anything else. To play piano in a free way, where you could just play and feel good yourself - that to me is as good as it ever had to be.
MARC MASTERS: Has anything specific drawn you back to playing piano?
ANDREW W.K.: Maybe because I hadn't been doing it for a while? I have played piano all along, but playing solo has a different feeling than playing as part of a group. It feels more risky. When I first started playing in New York, it actually was just me and keyboard. I formed a band mainly because I didn't feel confident enough as a performer - why would anyone want to see me just play the piano? But that same pressure is now exciting, because I think to myself, I bet I could figure out a way to do it that would make people want to see it. So I've kind of come full circle. People have been telling me a lot lately that life moves in circles, and I've really been seeing that lately, like by working with Load Records years after meeting Ben. Aspects of your past experience seem to come back in exciting ways, and to me it seems to confirm that you're on the right path. It can feel strange if you feel like you're just going in a circle. It's more like a series of figure 8's maybe, and you break off, and it becomes a bigger circle. Not circle in a limited way, but a circle in having pieces line up in unusual ways.
Peach of Immortality
"2 December 1984"
FROM TALKING HEADS ‘77 (FIFTH COLUMN) 1985
ANDREW W.K.: Is it Nautical Almanac?
MARC MASTERS: Good guess, but no.
ANDREW W.K.: The violin sounds like them, but it's a little too clean sounding overall to be them.
MARC MASTERS: You have played with a person in this band.
ANDREW W.K.: Oh, Peach of Immortality?
MARC MASTERS: Yes.
ANDREW W.K.: Awesome! I've actually never heard this before. It's really good!
MARC MASTERS: You were into Tom Smith's stuff in To Live and Shave in L.A. before you started playing with him, right?
ANDREW W.K.: Yes, very much so.
MARC MASTERS: How did you find out about him?
ANDREW W.K.: A lot of my musical exposure traces back to a man named Jim Magas, who was in the band called Couch, and co-founded Bulb with Pete, and was very involved in the Michigan music scene when I was…I guess starting around age 12? And he worked at a record store downtown, and I would stop in there. And by the time I got to high school, someone told me I should go down to the store and meet this guy. I had been going to the store before, but he introduced me to this clerk, who was very imposing to me at the time. He had really cool glasses, hair was really cool. He was older, and tall - everything about him was cool. His name was Jim Magas, and he also went by the name Marlon Magas. So he had a made up name to, and that was cool. His real name was cool as it was! So he was very friendly in terms of turning us onto music - it wasn't so much to make sales or even to sell his own records, which often was what he recommended - but he did take a pleasure in teaching us about music we weren't familiar with. And so he would recommend records that had come out, records that were old, everything. And he would really steer us in certain directions when we responded, if we liked something, he would follow through into this almost endless world of music that he would introduce to us. One day he said, "This is what you've got to get today." And he handed me a To Live and Shave in L.A. CD with these many pictures of a naked woman dancing on the cover. It kind of looked like a movie soundtrack. That really interested me: here was something that was supposed to sound crazy, and it looked like the most normal CD Jim had ever recommended. I had heard a lot of what would be considered experimental music or noise music at that point, but this was something very different. There was a very strong vocal personality the whole way through, this very strong human presence. Whereas a lot of the other music I had heard seemed otherworldly, here was something that was very in my face and very clear, and it made me uncomfortable in a new way that was so inspiring. I felt like I immediately could relate to some element of this person's consciousness that I had never been able to describe before.
MARC MASTERS: How did you meet Tom and come to work with him?
ANDREW W.K.: About two years later, I heard that he and To Live
And Shave in L.A. were coming to Ann Arbor. He came to a house
where a lot of my friends lived. Aaron Dilloway, Twig Harper, and
Nate Young [of Wolf Eyes] were probably there too. And so Tom came
and he seemed like twice as old as even the oldest person there -
he looked twice as old, and he carried himself as if he were five
times as old. And was simultaneously friendly and scary and
intimidating and warm and all these conflicting, contradictory
feelings and essences that really blew my mind. I remember he had
Calvin Klein underwear, because he was very comfortable about
getting undressed and getting ready for bed. He didn't get nude or
anything, but he said, ‘I'm going to sleep now, so I'll see you
guys tomorrow.' And he took off his clothes and he was wearing
Calvin Klein boxer briefs, and that really struck me. I think
because either the people I knew wore crazy homemade underwear, or
boxers - they would never have that kind of underwear. And I felt
like Tom had that underwear specifically because we wouldn't have
that kind. And I thought, that's really an amazing approach. I
don't think I talked to anyone else about that, but I got the sense
that he had been through it all, done everything we had done,
thought everything we had thought, and had somehow doubled back,
synthesizing these higher approaches that we could barely fathom
yet because we were still on this more primitive level. And it was
so inspiring, the idea that this guy was doing exactly what he
wanted to do, making sounds and music that I had never imagined
before, and operating his entire life in this artistic way. Being
creative right down to what kind of underwear he wore.
MARC MASTERS: And what has it been like to work with him?
ANDREW W.K.: It was amazing. He was very encouraging. With all the intimidating sides of the experience, all the whole time regardless he was very kind. And if he was talking about something that I didn't understand, I would ask, who is that person you just referenced, or what is that song that you're talking about? And instead of saying, You don't know?, and making a big deal out of it, which he easily could have, he would just stop and take the time to tell me about it. He loves to share and he's an excellent teacher, and I think that part of his role in the cosmos is to inform and teach. He's spent so much time learning, he's like an encyclopedia of the world. Not in any one area. He just has a lot of knowledge.
MARC MASTERS: And touring with him was good too?
ANDREW W.K.: Yeah, years went by, and for a while I lost touch with him. But then he moved to New York not long after I had moved here. And we touched base again and re-established our friendship. Then he moved away and I lost track of him for another few years. So every few years we've reconvened, and it's been a great honor to make art with him, make music with him. To be around him, it's been very intense.
Lee "Scratch" Perry
FROM CHICKEN SCRATCH (STUDIO ONE) 1965
ANDREW W.K.: (waits, then hears song title sung). Oh, that's Lee "Scratch" Perry. I've never actually heard this recording but I've read about how it was Lee Perry's big breakthrough and gave him his nickname.
MARC MASTERS: Have you been a fan for long?
ANDREW W.K.: Well, I was only a fan peripherally through many friends being obsessed and what he did with a lot of different musicians. So I would hear them play his stuff, but I think I was a little overwhelmed by the quantity of music that there is out there to consume. For a long time I just felt overwhelmed, like with lots of people's music, I admired it from a distance, and realized that some day there will be time to get into that. Someday it will be very natural to make that jump.
I met him in Texas last spring, in Austin, when I was doing interviews for DirecTV, and performers were performing and I was interviewing them before and after. So they gave me a list, and it was very exciting, everyone from Rickie Lee Jones to Iggy Pop. And Lee Perry was on there, and somehow I just felt that that was going to be the interview that would be really special. I was very excited to meet him. As we were getting ready for the interview, people were telling me he's very eccentric, so don't be offended if anything strange happens. I had such a hard time believing that considering all the joy people got from his music. But when he came in, I kind of understood what people were saying in the sense that, he's just a very different human being. To the point where I could see some people thinking he is not a human being. But he is just a very advanced human being. He's further down the road, like Tom Smith is. And those who are not down there and don't give him the benefit of the doubt that he could be that far, they just assume that he's different, so he must be crazy. But if you give him the benefit of the doubt that he's further along than you, then all the sudden he's like a God. And he really blew my mind. Because it was all so new to me, I felt a little embarrassed that I didn't know all there is to know about him, and I didn't have all those facts. There were a lot of people around that knew a lot more about him than me. But I just kind of went with that, and figured, if I'm going to get into him, now is as good a time as ever. And I decided I wanted to do another interview with him again on my own, and so we did that in New York a few months later. And he was just as nice, and very exciting and inspiring.
MARC MASTERS: How did you come to produce the album he's currently working on?
ANDREW W.K: After the interview, I told his record label, whatever his next plan is for doing music, I'd like to be involved in any way that he would have me. I had this very strong feeling that I would work with him. It seemed very absurd - why would I work with him? I had no history in reggae music, no understanding beyond just a love for that music. But I just had this feeling that I was going to do something with him. And about two months after that, the label called and said they wanted me to produce the whole album. It was all so strange and so unlikely, I figured he must have felt the same way I did - that the idea was very absurd, and that was why it was going to be good. He's such a force, he has this connection to the unknown that through his developments over all these years he's been able to make stronger and stronger, and clearer and clearer. So that if someone is going to take a walk to get to their destination, he's figured out how to teleport there. There's no more going around the block. It just seems like he has a direct channel, a high-speed internet connection to his creative force. At the end of the day when we were recording, and I would come home, and these waves of revelation over what I was getting to experience and how grateful I was would just come over me. And I just remember looking at him throughout the day, and how I couldn't believe I was in the same room with him. And it wasn't being star-struck - I hadn't been researching him for the past 20 years, it was all very new. But I could just feel that it's so amazing to be around someone who is operating on this level. So to be able to serve him, which is sort of what I think I'm doing on the record, paying tribute to someone who's at this point in their lives, by providing for them - it's been a huge, huge honor. We're still in the midst of it, but it's getting close to being finished.
Zip Code Rapists
"Happy Like Harry (He Taught Me How To Die)"
FROM 94124 (AMARILLO) 1995
ANDREW W.K.: Zip Code Rapists, "Happy Like Harry."
MARC MASTERS: That's right.
ANDREW W.K.: I really love the whole vibe of this song. When I first heard it, I didn't have enough context of what the band was to understand whether they were joking, or whether they were sincere. And it was so intense, and just really beautiful. I thought of it as some older guy who is maybe facing death, and is using this friend's experience to strengthen him as he approaches death. And it's very powerful. I understand now that it might have more humor than I originally saw in it. That's one of the wonderful things about when you're younger is that you don't necessarily look for context. I think that's a great talent, the ability to remove contexts when they limit your appreciation of things. The idea of a guilty pleasure has always seemed really silly to me. That's a very adult idea, that we're supposed to contextualize our preferences, and that when we were younger we might have liked this, but now we know that we're not supposed to like it in a certain way. If something really does feel good to us, we should have the courage and ability to eliminate any ideas that it should not be enjoyed.
What's interesting about commentary and what we're doing right now talking about music, and writing about it and reading about it - all of that is secondary to the primary experience of listening to music or making music. It's not worse - that's a very big point to stress, it's not better or worse, but it is different, it's secondary. You can listen to a song, and the feeling of listening to that song has nothing to do with talking about it. If it did, we wouldn't need to listen to it. There's so much information out there now, a lot of commentary and secondary experiences are being shared and elaborated on, and that's beautiful in a whole different way. But it's also good to be aware of the difference between a primary and secondary experience. The feeling of reading a text, interpreting the words for the first time, versus analyzing it.
MARC MASTERS: Their music straddles the line between humor and sincerity, which I think your music does as well.
ANDREW W.K.: I've never liked the idea that something has to be
either/or, that it has to be binary - that either it has to be a
complete joke, and they're totally aware of what they're doing, or
that it's the dumbest, worst music ever heard. Can't it be both
those things and many more? And don't I get to decide what it is?
There's so much that comes from the observer that it doesn't really
matter what the person who made it says it is, or what the majority
of people say it is. That's what Lee Perry is so good at, looking
at things the way he wants to look at them, and having the courage
to follow that instinct.
MARC MASTERS: Has lecturing made you think more about these kind of things?
ANDREW W.K.: Well, I started thinking about these kind of things when I started doing interviews. People would say to me, "Your music isn't serious, let's talk about that." And I'd have to figure out ways to explain why playing something could feel good, even if they didn't think it was valid. I've really liked being able to analyze my music through interviews, because it is a chance to think about things in a different way, and communicate that. It is secondary to music, and I don't feel like it really has anything to do with music - you can really let your mind run free. The lectures have been just an extension of that, but it all started with interviews. I thought, if this person really wants to talk to me about this, I better really go for it, and take advantage of this opportunity.
MARC MASTERS: Is there a circular thing there, where the analysis informs the music?
ANDREW W.K.: (laughs) Maybe! I don't know if that would be good or not. Some people say to never be analytical, to never be introspective. And that's valid as well. But to me it's very natural to think about things. And I don't think you're in opposition if you're aware of what you're doing. Just being open to everything that comes to you, and think it should be enjoyed and taken seriously. To me it was always very natural to think about what I was doing. But I understand both sides.
"Bore Now Bore"
FROM POP TATARI (WARNER BROS) 1993
ANDREW W.K.: Boredoms.
MARC MASTERS: Yes.
ANDREW W.K.: First album?
MARC MASTERS: Nope, later than that.
ANDREW W.K.: Pop Tatari.
MARC MASTERS: That's right.
ANDREW W.K.: I listened to this album recently after not hearing it for a while, and it sounded very much the same and also very, very different. I remembered all the parts, and all the different sounds, which I love. They were one of my favorite bands around this time. My favorite was Wow2, the one with the rainbow looking pattern on the cover. They were very ahead of their time. I feel like their aesthetic, the things that Eye was working in over a decade ago, are now just taking over the mainstream. Mish mash, using pop culture and mixing it in, the splattered colors and crazy clothes, the whole thing. So ahead of their time.
MARC MASTERS: Did you see them play?
ANDREW W.K.: No, I never got to see them play. I got to see some bootlegged video, but I really wanted to see them play. I just loved them, they were one of my favorite things in the whole wide world. I guess I found out about John Zorn around the same time, and I really liked Naked City too. It was really exciting to me. So now years later, a circle has formed, where I found myself playing drums with the Boredoms at the 77 drum concert. And I realized as it was happening how amazing that was, and if someone had told me 15 years earlier that I was going to get to play drums with the Boredoms, I don't know what I would have said. Especially in that amazing spiral drum set up, and with the whole beauty of that in the park. It was very special and very moving. I think the person that appreciated it even more than me was my mom. I told her about it and she saw it in the paper. She would sometimes get me Boredoms albums for my birthday. So that was just an incredible feeling to be part of that, especially after that many years, where something has really been put in your subconscious, to where I had almost forgot about my dream to play with them someday. To have that circle come around is really beautiful. It shows how if you impress something on your subconscious with that much passion, it's going to stay there, and it's going to manifest itself - maybe a day later, maybe years later.
And then around the same time, a few months later, I got into contact with John Zorn. I moved to New York with the intent of getting into John Zorn's world. That was one thing I was very excited about when I moved here. I saw him recently play at this downtown space that's a community center. Me and three partners are opening a downtown space on Lafayette Street, a venue and night club, it's going to be called 100 Lafayette. And I told him about it, and he was excited that there was another space opening of that size. It's amazing to see those kind of circles come around. I don't know how meaningful it is to someone who's not me (laughs). But I feel very grateful, very blessed and fortunate, and I really want to make the most of all these opportunities.
"Rays of the Sun"
FROM INERRANT RAYS OF INFALLIBLE SUN (BLACKSHIP SHRINEBUILDER) (DURTRO JNANA) 2006
ANDREW W.K.: High on Fire?
MARC MASTERS: Close.
ANDREW W.K.: Sleep?
MARC MASTERS: Even closer. [Drums and vocals kick in].
ANDREW W.K.: Om! Is this from the split release with Current 93?
MARC MASTERS: Yes.
ANDREW W.K.: I haven't heard this yet. It sounds great. Very, very special sound they have. Such a great vocalist. That bass tone and style is just so unique, you can recognize it right away.
MARC MASTERS: Is this strain of metal something you're into?
ANDREW W.K.: Definitely. We toured with High on Fire, that was great. My first long-term manager, Matt Sweeney, had been friends with Matt Pike when he was in Sleep, and told me a lot of great stories from that era. And I got the uncut version of Dopesmoker, and I got really into that. The vibe is just this really specific feeling, and they really nail it. A repetitive note repeating in a way that you don't expect. Riding these notes in these ways that I'd never really heard before.
MARC MASTERS: It has a familiarity that you can't pin down.
ANDREW W.K.: It also feels like you could do it really easily,
but you can't. It really shows how accomplished they are because
they do it very effortlessly, very gracefully, yet it is very much
their own. Even this sounds so much different than Sleep in terms
of the vocal delivery and some of the rhythms. But there's this
amazing consistency that I really admire with them.
MARC MASTERS: How did you first meet David Tibet?
ANDREW W.K.: I had heard that band name for years, and I thought it was such a strange, funny name. I didn't know anything magic or Alastair Crowley, but I was fascinated by how a band could have a very pedestrian sounding name, and also have this enigma of being very intense, very intimidating, maybe potentially evil. Those two extremes really fascinated me. Later, I was at a friend's house in Brooklyn, and I really didn't want to be there, I didn't really want to be around anybody, especially someone I had never met before. I was feeling very shy. I was intending for it to be bad vibes, so that's what I was getting. And I really wanted to leave, but I started focusing on the music playing in the background. It was this record that kept going and going with the same part, and I noticed that it wasn't changing. The more I focused on that, the better everything seemed. And I found out was Current 93. It was this record that had this operatic vocal loop and this amazing, droning, long chord that would just sustain and sustain. I couldn't imagine better music. I was so thrilled, and for years after that I tried to find that record. The cover had this painting, this colorful landscape of a deer in the woods. And then years went by, and Mark Morgan from Sightings brought over a new record by Current 93. And I thought maybe this will have that song, but it didn't, but it was amazing in its own way. These songs with beautiful melodies and unbelievable lyrics. Very direct vocals. Nothing was obscured. And I thought, this band is more vast than I thought. That was the Soft Black Stars album. And it really rejuvenated my effort to find out more.
At one point, Will Oldham had been in touch with David Tibet, and through that David had reached out to Matt, and asked Matt to play with him. And I was just in awe of this whole scenario, and I had this dream that was more than a dream, this kind of inherent understanding that something was going to happen. I had this sense that I was going to be involved with Current 93, and it seemed so absurd, much like it had with Lee Perry. But that's what made me convinced it was going to happen. Matt had me send some of my music to David, and he wrote back and said he'd love me to play with them and be in the group, and we became really good friends. He has an incredible impact on me in many ways, through his kindness, and his enthusiasm for the world in many different ways. He has been really lovely to be around.
"Noise Not Music"
FROM HUMAN ANIMAL (SUB POP) 2007
MARC MASTERS: I asked this band if they though anything from their catalogue would stump you, and they suggested this.
ANDREW W.K.: I have a lot of guesses, but I don't think any of them are right.
MARC MASTERS: Let me play another track from this album…
ANDREW W.K.: (immediately) Oh, Wolf Eyes!
MARC MASTERS: That's right.
ANDREW W.K.: They were right, that other one stumped me! I can see now how it was them, but it had a very different vibe than I'm used to from them.
MARC MASTERS: It's a cover of a song by a band called No Fuckers.
ANDREW W.K.: Ah. That was very powerful. I've never heard them
play at that pitch. That second song you played had their signature
beat. It's so great that they have a signature beat. It's a big
accomplishment. It's so effective. They've really developed that
skill with their performances, they all really hit it at the same
time. With all the success I've been able to have, it's been
equally thrilling to see all the dreams of my friends come true. I
never had any doubt that it would for them. I wasn't sure how it
would though. Wolf Eyes' success is so amazing because they're so
uncompromising. They have never departed from what Nate originally
mapped out and wanted to do, and Aaron as well. And the way the
band has continued with John and Mike. When I really knew that they
had reached this point, was when they played at the Knitting
Factory, and there were all these young people, that were the age
that we were when we first became friends - like around age 18. And
this audience was just beside themselves with excitement. It was
amazing to me that Wolf Eyes, with the way they sound, could
inspire that kind of enthusiasm. That a bunch of kids could all go
and be that excited to see that band. To see that as a fan is so
amazing, it's so rare. It's really thrilling.
MARC MASTERS: What was it like knowing people like Nate in Ann Arbor?
ANDREW W.K: They're all, John and Mike and Nate and Aaron, so talented. And when you're around those kind of people your whole young life, it's hard to see how amazing and unique it is. I was just so lucky to be there - all my friends were all really intense amazing people in touch with this vibe. I met Nate and Twig in high school, and I idolized them. I was obsessed, and I wanted to be like them in every way, before I figured out that it was impossible to be like them. There was a sense of possibility around them, that everything was possible, that you could do anything that you wanted to. I really credit that time and those people for giving me the idea that I could do what I do now. I didn't have older brothers, and there weren't a lot of older kids in my neighborhood. So I was very determined to be around them however I could. I didn't really feel like a part of them until I moved here, and then Nate moved out here for a little bit, and so did Aaron, and that's when we started doing Wolf Eyes out here. It was a name that they came up with, and I wanted to use for my band - I don't know if I ever told them that. And then I wanted them to start learning my songs, songs that ended up becoming Andrew W.K. songs, but they moved back to Michigan.
MARC MASTERS: Did their performance style have any influence on you, in the way they are so physical?
ANDREW W.K.: For sure. I never really went to big concerts. In Ann Arbor, there was this kind of default approach that seemed to state that, you must go all out when you play. Whoever was playing would just completely freak out, and would put all their energy into it and smash a bunch of stuff. There was never a question about it, that's just what you did if you performed. We wanted to get chills, and feel a little scared, when we went to a show. I'm very grateful to have had role models that would put that much into a performance.
FROM SCHOOLY D (JIVE) 1986
ANDREW W.K.: (listens to entire song) Hmm, I really don't know.
MARC MASTERS: It's Schooly D.
ANDREW W.K.: Ah, ok. That's really funny. Because one of the Lee Perry songs, he does a cover of "Mr. Big Stuff." And my friend said you should get Schooly D to do an appearance on that, he did a cover of that song. I think it's called "Mr. Big Dick"? (laughter). I don't know his stuff but I love the production sound of that song.
MARC MASTERS: He and you have both been involved with Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
ANDREW W.K.: Ah, yeah, he did a song for the soundtrack, the theme song. I never would've gotten that. My knowledge of rap, especially older rap, is very spotty. But I do really like rap, especially new rap.
MARC MASTERS: How did you get involved in ATHF?
ANDREW W.K.: It was originally going to be me doing the voice for some character. But then that turned into me doing a cameo as myself, and then it turned into recording a song for the show. But it ended up being that they wrote a song and I performed their song. It was just an inverted version of a song I had already made. I thought that was really funny. I think they couldn't pay for the licensing for a song owned by my record label, so they just took the riff, which was 1-4-5, and made it 5-4-1. It was great, I really liked what they wrote, and I was very excited to record on it. I ended up recording some voice lines from a script, but in the final version I'm just silent after singing the song. I was really honored to work with them and really excited with how it turned out.
MARC MASTERS: Have your experiences with TV and movies been generally good, like with Jackass?
ANDREW W.K.: Yeah. The way you ask that is interesting, because I always did feel that dread, like somehow they're going to make fun of me, or this is all a big trick, I'm being set up. I think that was just my reverting to an old childhood fear, maybe even going back to how I used to idolize Twig and Nate, and always thinking they were going to try to trick me, because sometimes they would. So sometimes they seemed like older kids, or big kids, the Jackass guys. They appeared from a distance to have that sort of bullying side, or making fun of each other. And they do trick each other. But they were always so nice and so professional - almost so nice that it would get me suspicious, like, are they tricking me? But they just work very hard, and the amount of focus and effort that they put into the stunts and maintaining that level of excitement and energy is very impressive, and I can relate to it in a lot of ways. It was a great honor to be on the movie soundtrack and the video they did, and on the show they used some of my music. We had a connection that ran deeper than the show, that also helped. Seeing behind the scenes, that's when all my respect for them doubled. They are doing things that are very difficult - they make it seem really easy and carefree, but they are really working hard, and really getting hurt, and they were really putting effort into showing how much they enjoyed it. There is acting involved and performing involved that's more like a concert performance than a traditional television performance. So it really is exciting to me.
Television has always really appealed to me, because of how creative and wide open it can be, and at the same time how impermanent it is. The idea of something being broadcast and being disposable, watching it in the moment, and not necessarily having it be a long-term statement. I like that idea, and I like how it works with what I'm doing. I am working on something new for TV, but I'm not saying anything about it yet because it's still in the works.
FROM LIVE AT BULB CLUBHOUSE (BULB) 2001
ANDREW W.K.: Mr. Velocity Hopkins?
MARC MASTERS: No. [Vocals come in]
ANDREW W.K.: Sightings! This is "White Keys," right?
ANDREW W.K.: This is one of my favorite songs by them. At this time they were making these songs that were bouncy and upbeat, with really strong vocal hooks. I really like the vocal hook on this one (sings along). And that drumbeat with the syncopation - this is a really exciting era of the band.
MARC MASTERS: How did the idea of producing them come up?
ANDREW W.K.: I had helped out on a couple of their albums. I was always around and involved, but I'm not sure how it came up. It just seemed very obvious to all of us, I guess. The feeling was in the air that it made sense to do that now. And what I proposed was what they wanted to do. To record in a really good studio, to be able to hear everything, and to be able to work on it as long as they wanted. That's what I felt I could offer them. It wouldn't be rushed and it wouldn't be frustrating, and I felt confident I could provide that for them. I know they had always made the records they wanted to make, but I don't know that they had the opportunity to work on them as long as they could. So I wanted to give them the best of both worlds.
MARC MASTERS: How was working with them, given that you know them so well?
ANDREW W.K.: It was an amazing experience. There were times when it was an ordeal, and then there were times when we were just on this huge high, and so excited about the work that we were doing. It got better at every step along the way. As far as the personal interactions, I learned a whole new understanding of myself, and how it is to work with people, friends or not. I learned that it's not always so important to say your ideas, to say what you think. Sometimes you have to have faith that the other people are thinking the same thing, and will arrive at the same place. A lot of times at the beginning, I would have an idea and I would say it, and sometimes they would agree, and sometimes they would say no. Sometimes it would just not be the right time to say something. But I noticed later I could still have an idea and not even say it, I would just keep it in my mind or even just let it go. And then, sure enough, it could be minutes later or days later, but somehow or another that idea would come to pass. Either just happening on its own, or someone else would suggest it, or it would just evolve out of circumstance. But that approach I was then able to use a lot when recording with Lee Perry. I don't think I would've been able to work with him had I not just come off of making the Sightings record. I've talked to other people about it, and I've been told it's a process called "Silence", where you silence your own impulse to blurt something out, and you put it inwards into your subconscious. The more you keep it on the inside, the more power it has from working inside out. That all started with Sightings.
"Guitar: Do What You Will Do"
FROM BLACK/RICH MUSIC (DRAG CITY) 1998
ANDREW W.K.: I don't recognize this, but I really like it.
MARC MASTERS: It's someone you've played with who has a very strong vocal presence, but this is instrumental.
ANDREW W.K.: It's great, but I don't know who it is.
MARC MASTERS: Let me play you a version with vocals.
ANDREW W.K.: Will Oldham. That wouldn't have been my guess, but that makes sense now. Will has been very inspiring to me in terms of letting risk into the forefront of choice-making. I used to hear his music and think, that part, someone messed up there, or, they got out of time there, why didn't they fix that? Why didn't they redo it? But once I played with Will, then I could really appreciate what was going on, and what the recordings were the result of. He wasn't recording for the sake of recording, he was capturing an event that was happening. I never thought of recording that way - I always thought you make a recording, you were there to make this experience to be listened to, not the other way around, where the recording just happened to be documenting what you were already doing. I learned a lot from him. He's given me a lot to think about. I remember the first time I heard him, on one of those trips to Providence, Pete Larsen might have played him for me. And I really reacted to it. I don't remember if I liked it or disliked it, because I couldn't really figure out what to say about it. I just had a lot of feelings about it for whatever reason. But since then he's given me a lot to think about, in his music, his performance, and himself as an individual.
MARC MASTERS: How has it been working with him?
ANDREW W.K.: The first time I played with him was on The Conan O'Brien Show. Matt Sweeney, who was my roommate at the time, said that Will's coming to town, and we're going to play on Conan. He asked if I wanted to hear the song, and I started playing piano along with it, just for fun. But then I had this idea that I wanted to play that show too, and I had this feeling that I would. Not trying to take credit for my appearance, Will granted me that. And I was very excited. We practiced in my old house up on 3rd street that had this nice big room with a grand piano and room for a drum set. He explained some aspects of how the song would go, but it was mostly what he didn't say that was so interesting to me. He didn't tell us a lot, he left a lot up to us. He had confidence that it would happen on its own. I felt really relaxed considering, and it was amazing when we played. I love the song very much and I noticed how Will sang it differently every time we played it. And later, we were in Austria at a festival that David Tibet had curated. Will was performing, headlining the last night. And again since I was there, he asked if I would play on a few songs. We had soundchecks and I was able to learn the songs pretty quickly. There was a sense that I didn't really know what was going on, but…not that it doesn't matter, but there's more of a sense that everything's going to be ok. He's so relaxed about it, and everyone else in the group was so relaxed and confident. That seemed like what it was all about, to not project yourself forward but just to enjoy playing and have faith that that's what it's for. That was a big idea for me, that we weren't trying to play a certain way, we were just playing. However you play is how it's going to be. Will just seems to be tuned into anomalies. When there are opportunities for something to go amiss, or a wrong note - that can be a gateway into another area, much like a shadow in the room activates the imagination. Rather than everything being well-lit so you can see everything, it can engage your mind in a different way. There's something about those moments where you have to stay on edge, that motivates you to be more active and less passive.
FROM DOUBLE LIVE (LATINO BUGGER VEIL) 1989
ANDREW W.K.: I don't know this. I recognize the Sabbath riff, but it's not Sabbath.
MARC MASTERS: It's the Butthole Surfers.
ANDREW W.K.: I'm not very familiar with them. I have definitely been interested, but I think their name always freaked me out. That's actually one of those groups that I've always figured some day I'll get into all of their stuff, that just hasn't happened yet.
MARC MASTERS: I'm curious if you see any of your music as a reworking of classic rock ideas the way this track is.
ANDREW W.K.: Hmm, I guess so, thinking about it now. There are feelings that are out there, and there are positions on the keyboard or on the guitar neck or even rhythms that just hit certain marks in very solid, tried and true ways. I never really thought about taking things like that and making them new, but I am aware of that feeling of when you hear something, it sounds familiar in a way that you can't tell why. That song is a very obvious example, although it's not exactly similar, but there's that exciting feeling. It has that sensation where you feel as though you've been there before, you've heard this before, you've felt this way before. But ideally you never figure out exactly what it is that you're remembering. I think, maybe there are these feelings floating around in the world, in the collective unconscious, or in your own subconscious, that can be awakened by certain sounds, ideas, or experiences. And perhaps the person who's on the other side creating that experience is aware of that. That's the most exciting thing to me. Does that person realize that what they just did had that effect on you? And when they can give you some sign that they do, that's a great experience. I've had it many times. It's actually what I go for. And I think there are certain bands that nail it every time, that's that what they were made to do. In some ways that's what I want to do. Not necessarily make music that reminds you of something in the past, but that reminds you of something that hasn't happened yet. Then the timeline goes away. You're there in the future and you're there in the past and you're there now, all at once. You realize you will remember this moment in the future. I have a song about that called "You Will Remember Tonight." "You Will" is for the future, "Remember" is for the past, "Tonight" is for right now. I like the idea that you can be in all these different times at once. I used to think, what am I going to be like in my 20's? I couldn't really imagine who that person would be. Now, thinking back, it's the same me, it's the same sensation of being aware of myself in an entirely different situation, but I'm able to remember back. That loop has never been broken, that moment is still going on. I think music can effect those experiences and intensify and amplify them. Music will take you to a time, not necessarily backwards - it takes you into the present in a more intense way, puts you into the moment that you're in an amplified way.