Andrew W.K. Song Premiere
There's no denying that Andrew W.K. is, as he phrases it, a "crazy, bloody-nosed rocker." But these days, the man best known for his party-fueled 2001 solo debut, "I Get Wet," is finding a new niche in classical music.
Entitled "55 Cadillac," W.K.'s new album is a car-inspired collection of what he calls "spontaneous solo piano improvisations." The set, which includes the track "Central Park Cruiser" premiering right here, will be jointly released on Sept. 8 by his own Skyscraper Music Maker and Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace! labels.
In addition to preparing for a North American tour later this month, W.K. is juggling a new show on Cartoon Network. He's also entertaining rumors that he'll play Uncle Jesse in John Stamos' upcoming movie version of the TV show "Full House."
W.K. talked to Billboard.com about his new album, his own haunted '55 Cadillac, and why he thinks partying is like an "ice-cold chocolate milk."
What inspired "55 Cadillac"?
I had wanted to make an album of piano for a long time, just because it's an instrument I've played for most of life, and it's always used in all the other music I've made and my performances. It's the core of my musical experiences. I was never quite sure what kind of piano album I'd make. Would there be singing? Would there be other instruments? All of these questions kind of rolled around in my head until [Sonic Youth's] Thurston Moore asked me to do a piano album. He said if I recorded it, then he'd put it out on his label, Ecstatic Peace! That was motivating enough to give me a goal or even a due date.
How did you ultimately decide on a musical approach?
I read a quote by [saxophonist] Ornette Coleman about the difference between playing a song and just playing music. Coleman was talking about it in terms of jazz, and it really stuck with me. I've always enjoyed playing music for myself, not even necessarily playing a song or anything that I know. There's always something deeply particular about that sort of playing.
Did it ever feel like you were taking a big creative risk?
It seemed very scary to me because in the past, I've put a huge amount of time into the recording process until I got the best take. Many layers of overdubs and vocals and a full range of instrumentation are on top of the piano on my other albums. The most terrifying thing to me was to strip everything away and just leave the piano. Then, to strip away the songs -- strip away the idea of knowing what you're doing. And that was, to me, very exposed. Then just to record the album and put it out without even being able to have the time to think about if it's good or not.
But it's not about it being good or not. It's about those moments being captured they happen. When I listened back, I didn't even remember what I had played, so it was like listening to someone else playing songs for the first time. It was just to see what would happen, to pretty much break every rule that I had adhered to before and do everything that had been too scary to do before.
When you first listened back to the tapes, were you surprised by what you heard?
In some ways, I was. There were some things that I didn't remember doing at all that I liked. But I was also not surprised. What I wanted to get across was something that sounded like me playing, and to me, this album sounds like me playing. I could see someone listening to it and thinking it sounds like classical music or jazz music or new age music. But it's really just the sound of Andrew W.K. playing piano.
You recorded the album at musician Baby Dee's house in Cleveland. Why did you pick that space?
Because she has my piano! My concert grand piano was purchased right around that same time I bought a 1955 Cadillac limousine. Both of these objects were the biggest purchases I had ever made. They ended up sort of staying related. For example, it was always very difficult for me to find a place to park the car, and it became very difficult to find a place to put the piano.
So, rather than just let it sit in storage, what's the best thing you can do with a piano? Give it to a piano player. Baby Dee is as good a piano as I ever imagine hearing in the world, and to have her play the piano, keep the piano, make a home for it during this time when I happen to not be able to keep it, just enriches it that much more. I feel pretty honored for her to have it.
Did you find a permanent home for your 1955 Cadillac, too?
I actually sold that after the photo shoot for the album. It was such an ordeal. I never really imagined what it would be like to have a car that old or that big. People have said, "Oh yeah, having a car that's 50 years old isn't like having a regular car." I thought, "What's the difference?" I figured I could put enough money into it that it would work like any normal car, but it never really worked out that way. And I think the car was haunted.
Why do you say that?
Well, it was bought off the lot by Dean Acheson, who was the Secretary of State during the McCarthy era and an advisor to many notorious political figures. The most intense things would happen with the car in the most intense settings. It would break down in the heart of rush hour, right outside Madison Square Garden, in the rain, in front of a bus. The car just became this thing that, no matter what I did with it, it was going to be intense. I figured the best thing I could do is take some pictures of it and make this album. The only other good thing I did with this car was to take out my wife, before we were married, on one of our first dates. It ran perfectly that night.
You wait until the very last song on this album to introduce vocals and guitar riffs. Why?
I put this album together after I had recorded about two hours of piano playing and took the most worthwhile parts from it. I had been really set on it being only piano -- no overdubs, no vocals. Then of course, I decided to contradict that idea on the last song, and it just felt right. There's something about that last word I say -- "Cadillac."
There's some speculation about you playing Uncle Jesse in a movie remake of the TV show "Full House" Any truth to those rumors?
I'm so glad you asked about that! The only truth in that is that MTV wrote in their movie blog that I'm their pick for Uncle Jesse. I was very honored and happy to hear that, and I would have done it my best, if it's ever a possibility that I'm up for it! The other people they chose, I was really honored to be amongst. Whether that ever comes into play, I'm just happy to have been thought of for the role.
Can you tell us about your new Cartoon Network series, "Destroy Build Destroy"?
It's a competition show -- a live game show, but it's set outdoors in the wild outskirts of L.A., in a very surreal-looking landscape in the middle of the desert. That's because we're making 100-foot fire balls and blowing stuff up all day, so we had to be in the middle of nowhere to create this level of destruction. Two teams of teenagers, ages 12-15, compete to destroy things in a very violent manner, whether it's having things run over by a tank or dropping a vehicle off a cliff, blowing up a semi-truck or a boat. The teams use the rubble from the destruction to create their own invention, which they use to compete in a final challenge. Whoever wins that final challenge gets to blow up the other team's invention. It's really just a series of reasons to blow stuff up.
You've become somewhat of an icon of party culture, what with your NYC night club Santos Party House and your biggest hit, "Party Hard." When you're not on the road, what's your ratio of going out vs. relaxing?
What I consider downtime and what I consider work has really grown to be blurred. My ideal state is to always have it be that my work is something I enjoy so much, it's what I would do if I didn't have to do something else. That's certainly how it feels these days, but then I realize now that there are even times when it would be a good idea to take a break. I am trying to find that time to experience other things in the world that don't have to do with partying.
But partying is so important to me, and I could do it all day. It's very hard to resist. I create parties sometimes just as much as I party myself. But it's such a joy for me. It's what I was born to do. It's like drinking chocolate milk or something -- it's not a chore. If someone offers me a frosty, ice-cold chocolate milk, it's going to be satisfying. It was made for me to drink, and I'm going to drink it. That's how it feels when I bring the party.