INTERVIEW: Andrew WK
Could you tell me a little bit about how you and Lee met, how the project came to be?
I met Lee in Austin, Texas in 2007. I was going down there to work with DirectTV to interview musicians on their behalf. One of them was Lee “Scratch” Perry and I was extremely excited to meet him and talk with him. I had known him through the years as the greatest living reggae legend and many of friends had championed him over the years as this great creative visionary. But I was really overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work he had out there. Even though I didn’t feel familiar with this guy, when I met him there was a real excitement that I find to be rare. We really hit it off. I was able to interview him again a bit later in New York and it was there that I came into contact with this label, Narnack Records. I told them I was very interested in doing some work with Lee and the offer to help produce this album came soon after.
Was reggae something you were always interested in? It seems a bit of a departure.
No, I never was never particularly interested in reggae. I liked the idea of it and I really liked the music that I had heard. Sometimes I was just so intimidated by the amount of material out there that I wouldn’t know where to begin. I certainly wouldn’t have called myself a fan; I was just a happy-go-lucky person that loved the feeling of what I heard. When I started doing research on Lee and doing interviews with him just before the recording, it became clear to me that it might not really matter if I knew a lot about reggae to make this album. It might not matter if I knew anything about Lee’s history in order to make this album. At first I thought my lack of knowledge could be harmful to the recording process. Turns out it was helpful. Rather than try to recreate what Lee had already done or make it sound like other reggae, I started from a clean slate. It was good. I certainly understand the absurdity and ridiculousness of me, “Party Hard” guy, making a reggae album, let alone a reggae album with Lee “Scratch” Perry. But I think he liked that absurdity, too. In the end we could both appreciate doing the unexpected or going in weird directions.
Did you feel like you were learning on the job?
I think there was a lot of learning on the spot. Lee is an incredibly good teacher. As a musician, before this album, I was in a certain place. After having made this with Lee, I’m in a much different, far improved place. He was able to pull things out of me that I certainly didn’t think I was capable of. He believed I was capable of doing things that I had never done before. For example, there were several styles of reggae guitar that he wanted me to play on the spot. He would say, “play this part.” He would sing a part and the next thing I knew, I found myself playing it. I think that’s a real testament to his brilliance as a producer. As the artist that he is, one of his great skills is to be able to pull the best out of someone—almost magically create abilities that they didn’t realize they had. Maybe he saw that in me. I can say that being in his presence had a huge impact on me in ways that I can describe like I am now and in very intangible ways that are difficult to describe.
I remember seeing video of you guys together in studio and getting really excited about the record, if only because the pairing seemed so impossible and awesome at the same time.
That’s definitely what got me excited, too. Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty nervous and intimidated at times. I was definitely confused at times. I had heard from many different people that Lee was very difficult to work with and that making this album was going to be a real ordeal. In the end it was an absolute pleasure and very easy. Maybe if Lee and I had been more similar, it would have been harder.
Looking back, do you feel like there are moments in the recording where you can hear flourishes of your own, times when you can feel an Andrew W.K. stamp on the recording?
Hold on, let me think for a second. I never go in and think I need to make something sound like Andrew W.K. Even when making Andrew W.K. albums, I don’t think I need to make it in that style because I’m not sure I even know what that is. Andrew W.K. style comes out of a desire for a certain feeling. Once I go for that feeling, these sounds start to emerge. Like the sound of a pounding drum, a loud guitar or a really banging piano. Those aren’t there just to be there. The banging piano is there for something really specific that I’m going for. So with Lee’s album, once again, I was going for a feeling. And Lee was also going for feelings, I would imagine. I would never want to put my stamp on it just for the sake of it— I just want to make it feel as exciting and moving as possible. Listening back, it’s hard for me to say. It’s like if you heard this album and someone asked you who made it, would you say it sounds like Andrew W.K.? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone would, but maybe someone would. I don’t know. I would hope that it sounds like Lee “Scratch” Perry.
What sort of stuff have you been working on recently?
I’ve really been trying to diversify musically in terms of working with other people. The idea isn’t to stop recording my own music—I’ll continue to do that. I’ve actually got three full-length albums I’m working on as we speak. But I put those aside to work with people like Lee. I want to add new experiences to what I’ve already done. The next thing that I’m working on is an album with this guy named Allister, who actually has a great vocal appearance on the Lee Perry album, a song called “Party Time.” I am also working with a guy named Bad Brilliance. And then there’s my music. There’s a lot of music going on.
I’m sorry, but did you say the title of the song was “Party Time”?
Yeah, “Party Time.”
Was that your title or his?
That was his! A real amazing synchronicity when it came to lyrics and song titles. Lee was really into that mode of partying. He’s sort of the original party master. His vibe is so celebratory and fun-loving. I was thrilled when he started using titles like that. That energy is all over this album but I didn’t have to suggest it or push him there. Maybe he read my mind. I don’t know. I couldn’t have been happier.