One listen to Andrew W.K.'s big-time, breakneck debut released this week, "I Get Wet," and you almost have to laugh. Not in a dismissive way, but rather a euphoric, anything-can-happen gasp of a laugh. Heavy directives of partying until you die (song titles: "It's Time to Party," "Party Hard," "Ready to Die," "Party Till You Puke") resound in a no-prisoners rattle of guitar crunch and hooligan camaraderie until no crack rock is left unturned. Breathing, here, is optional.
One conversation with Andrew W.K., and you have to scratch your head. Far from the Keith Richards slurs of "um" and "man," this guy comes off as more of a study in rock psychology, acknowledging himself as some kind of a conduit of mass philanthropy and musical immediacy. It's clear, in fact, that he knows what he's doing ... and he knows how to talk about it.
"I'm not trying to make anybody feel bad or react in a way that's anything but happy," he says on the phone from his current U.S. tour. (The closest he will come to Orlando is April 23 at the Cotton Club in Atlanta, and April 30 at House of Blues in New Orleans, hitting that city during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.) "Reaction isn't one of the things that I want. I want satisfaction. This is not a reaction to any one thing. It's something that just exists on its own terms."
Flighty words, perhaps, for someone coming completely out of nowhere. But Andrew W.K.'s charmed path is already stirring the biggest buzz in years among music-critic circles, landing lengthy dissertations in such mainstream mags as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair. What gives? Well, if we may say, Andrew may just be the savior of modern rock. Combining the historied irreverence of Slade, Mötley Crüe and Billy Idol with upscale, modern production values -- and a few more notches on the throttle -- he's bringing charisma back into the now stagnant rock world of brooding haircuts and re-recruiting the listeners it has been losing. For Andrew W.K., life is just a party, one that is meant to last.
"This music is so wide. It has so much freedom in it that it allows me -- and everybody else -- to do whatever they want in it at all times," he says. "That's actually a pretty intimidating concept, even for me: The notion that you can do whatever you want."
For evidence of this, you need look no further than "I Get Wet"'s controversial cover. There he is, stringy-haired and rock-worn, with blood pouring out of his nose. Controversy comes cheap.
"I don't know how I would explain or tie anything into this whole thing in the first place, so if I feel like doing it, if I feel like having a bloody- nose picture, then I will," he says. "The meaning was just a picture of me with a bloody nose. The rest is up to everyone else to interpret."
And if it seems indulgent, well it is. But what's wrong with that? "I Get Wet" is a masterpiece of trash-rock, rarely traveling above two-syllable epithets of metalhead bravura and just as rarely letting your neck down off the wall to allow you to even think about it. It's as infuriating as it is engaging, and really that's the charm.
"I just see this as blazing into uncharted territory, because as far as I see it, the amount of restraint that's involved here is almost equal to the amount of indulgence," he supposes. "You'd be surprised at all the things that we don't say, or all the things that you don't see. We're not using every trick in the book here; we're just doing what is right and what is true. If you really look at how it's presented, it's presented as nothing. As nothing, it leaves it open to be anything."
Premeditated simplicity aside, Andrew W.K.'s history isn't nearly as immediate as the music might imply. Having grown up in Michigan, Andrew relocated to New York for a several-year stint of cheap-gig pavement pounding, often playing out alone with a tape of musical parts he recorded himself. Eventually, word got out ("It's just a big miracle as far as I'm concerned," he says), and the project began its rock & roll manifestation. With label backing from Island/Def Jam, Andrew set out to find the band that could match his bang-'em-up ambitions. Tellingly, he looked no further than the west coast of Florida, where heavy-metal thunder seems never to die. Andrew wrote a letter to an acquaintance, drummer Donald Tardy; and Tardy's Tampa-area connections quickly produced the perfect rock roster. So Andrew relocated once again, this time to a Tampa suburb called Sefner. Yet, he insists that the Andrew W.K. operation is still based in New York.
But is the world ready for this resurgence of heavy-metal thunder? The label sent Andrew W.K. overseas to test the waters, and Europe swooned. Scene staples like NME and The Face espoused Andrew as the second coming, and "I Get Wet" was an immediate hit. Now, with America starting to lean in to Andrew's rock & roll swindle, the question remains: Why do people like this? Is it irony? Andrew doesn't seem to care.
"There's no wrong reason to like this, so if people are happy about it on any terms, that's a great thing," he says. "My job is not to say that's the wrong thing, and you don't understand it. I don't think one person gets it and one doesn't. You either like it or you don't. Life is so short that if we can give anybody something to smile about, that's good enough."
And even with all of the apparent work going into this campaign of universal partying, Andrew W.K. insists he's still enjoying the bash.
"Everyday is such a mind-blowing party that I can't even begin to sum it up," he says, just before making a mixed-metaphor attempt at doing just that.
"I am on the ground, and I am digging into that dirt and putting birthday-cake candles directly into the soil. That is the party that we are involved in. And from that dirt, we are able somehow to see the heavens."
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