On November 17th Andrew WK spoke at NYU. At the same time, but at Caroline's on Broadway, I was seeing Patton Oswalt. I was torn, but the tickets for Patton had been provided for me as far as a month in advance, so the decision was already made. Luckily, I was able to talk with Andrew about the lecture, among other things. And, the way he describes it, it's like I was there myself.
Ben Kharakh: How was the lecture you did at NYU?
Andrew WK: I'm not sure how many people came, but it was hundreds. And I was thinking it would be between fifteen and fifty people. I wasn't sure how heavily they would advertise it. It turned out to be just a lot bigger than I expected it to be and I'm really thankful not only for everyone attending, but for NYU promoting it heavily.
BK: What were some of the things that you discussed?
AWK: To be quite honest, I don't have a strong memory of the lecture itself. I don't really remember anything that I talked about except for the very beginning and a few points. The way I've been able to think about it since then is through people who have gone and reported on what I had said. The reason that I don't remember might be a couple of different things. It might be because of not going with any preparation. What's funny is that the only thing I planned on saying was that I wasn't going to plan to say anything and start from that. I realized as I was talking about that that I was contradicting myself within that and creating a neat paradox- I planned on not having a plan. I was explaining to them the idea of not having an idea. That set the tone for what actually was the idea that I wanted to talk about- the idea of not having an idea. Or the paradox that seems to form when you place an idea of that nature along side the idea that spawned it. Like a snake eating its own tail. Originally, NYU had asked that there be a Q and A in the lecture and I thought that it'd be more fun to have the entire lecture be a Q and A. Not so much an interview as much as a real discussion. It wasn't necessarily the fault of the people who asked the questions or my own fault, but it did turn into more of an interview. That might be because of how informal the setting ended up being. I thought I might be able to see everyone easily, but it wasn't like a classroom. It was a stage with theater style seating. It ended up that I was lecturing on the ideas that were being presented to me at that moment, as opposed to lecturing on an idea that I had selected. It wouldn't have been as fun for me if there wasn't that kind of unpredictability for myself, which is something that we might have talked about before in terms of where the line between audience and performer is drawn, how is one to be sure that the performer is not the audience and that the audience is performing just as much, and isn't the whole definition of live performance that it needs an audience to be considered performance even if that audience is yourself, and then how do you get that kind of perspective? What was exciting in this situation was that a lot of the people that did come up really did become part of the lecture themselves and performed for me and other people in the crowd. One guy, for example, played a very brief, exciting, and legitimate flute solo. Other people had written questions on papers, some of which I read some of which I didn't. That's the one reason that I might not remember things clearly. The other reason might be that I was very very drunk.
BK: Does the lecture reflect the way you approach things in general?
AWK: It's a newer idea that I've been thinking about as recently as last year. The time I've spent thinking about and trying to apply these ideas has increased exponentially since I began focusing on spontaneity and allowed the subconscious to have more influence in a situation. I probably wouldn't have taken that approach to the lecture if I had done it a year earlier. The beauty of the lecture was that it appeared that many of the people were drawn by this feeling that they were also having. NYU presented the lecture to me as, "We don't want you to have a topic and want for you to talk about what ever you want." The poster for the lecture, which I didn't see until after it was done, said Andrew WK and the title was "Andrew WK Lectures on Whatever the Hell he Wants." We all seemed to be on the same page and a lot of the people that I spoke to seemed to have been considering the same ideas. What's exciting is that one of those ideas is coincidence and there's another paradox- isn't it a coincidence that we've been having coincidences. What a crazy synchronicity that we've all been experiencing synchronicities. That was another example of paradox and using that paradox as a way to step into that in between space where things do cross over- where it's not possible to have an A or B when it seems possible to have A, B, and the rest of the alphabet all a the same time. Everything is connected. We talked about awareness and bringing about a type of coincidence that seems to be the product of a type of awareness. I was thinking about potential criticisms of this way of thinking. It seems to be a bit beyond criticism because it's talking about subjectivity and how your state of mind might be reflecting what is going on, how it might be informing you of what is going on, and where it stops. If we're only able to perceive and therefore gather information through perception is the perception in our head, is it outside, or is it a combination of these things? The idea of awareness may be even starting with the consideration of that idea. There seems to be an awareness that allows one to pick up on meaning in the world around them that may then prove to be less separate, around, and external than what is going on in your head. Someone could criticize that and say, "You're just looking for these meanings and you could see a certain number and say, 'Oh, that number has a certain meaning,' when really it's just that you noticed it." And I'd say that that's the entire point- to tune into an awareness that allows you to draw far-fetched connections between things. It's throwing the baby out with the bath water, to some degree, if the criticism is that you're just extracting meaning where none exists. Paying attention in such a way that it pulls meaning and makes a connection out of the random is the point. It's not a criticism. It's correct. You are imagining a connection there and that's valid. To imagine a meaning that you gained value from is not to trick yourself into thinking that there's a connection when there isn't- it's to create a connection where otherwise you feel isolated and disconnected from what surrounds you. The more that this type of awareness is employed the more it points to there not being a separation between anything and that ultimate awareness wouldn't just show you a few coincidences, or a few connections of meaning, or a few situations where there was synchronicity that pointed beyond random occurrence to whatever that is we don't need to necessarily identify. It's just to have some sort of faith in the possibility of it and not the fact of it. With that state of mind, these things seem to happen more and more.
BK: What do you think of global consciousness?
AWK: I used to think that these kind of ideas were stupid, but I only mean stupid because I probably felt stupid when I tried to fathom or consider them. The idea didn't seem of value to me for a very long time, but that might have been because it was so overwhelmingly simple or so overwhelmingly complex. It was easier to set it aside and not consider an idea like global consciousness or spirituality. I used to think that word sounded kind of wishy-washy or head in the clouds in a gullible sort of sense. It's a certain state of mind that threatened me because it would force me to do an inventory of myself and have an awareness that would not only be directed outward toward the world but also inward toward me. I'd have to really be aware of me in a different way and think about what it means to be me, what me is, and all those ideas. It felt a little funny for a long time. But now I don't see the point of avoiding or negating the possibility of it. I don't see what's gained to have issues with that kind of possibility because, ultimately, it can only seem to benefit a large number of people, or at least me. I think of ideas like subjectivity or the idea that everything exists in my mind and that this is all one experience. That you, right now, who I'm talking to on the phone, exist only in my mind and that the person who's reading this also only exists in my mind, and I don't exist in your mind, or if I did that still would all be contained in my mind. That kind of thinking seems to relate very compatibly with global consciousness. You might think, "One's saying that nobody exists except you and the other is that everybody exists as one," but that's the same. That idea has been dizzyingly fantastic to me because it's absolutely true for everybody. Everything only does exist in your mind. You only do exist to me in my mind, Ben. My understanding, my perception, and my way of seeing you can only be put together by my thoughts. Understanding, or just considering that, takes a rapid reassessment of everything. Or, at least, that's what it felt like for me.
BK: What do you think happens, then, when people cease to be?
AWK: I used think that ideas such as reincarnation were plausible, but then I went through a much longer state of thinking that that was very absurd and siding with a very hard scientific side of understanding death. Since then, I'd like to think that I've had a synthesis of those two extremes of thought and think that it's all much more simple, or complicated, and it's certainly doesn't need to be something that is understood. In fact, it seems like death and dying is the most definitive way we can even express the unknown. All the fears in life seem to trace back to, ultimately, a fear of the unknown or death. Alleviating one's self of those types of fears is to face death. Probably everything becomes very clear after the moment you die, but it's unimaginable. It's like another way to explain the word God, which I used to think of as a very religious concept but now I think of it as a very good way to refer to the unknown or all that is beyond imagination. Or an easy word that can cover everything that I can't cover any other way. But, I don't know. I'll see what happens when I die.
BK: You had mentioned spontaneity and I think, in our previous interview, you spoke of being spontaneous in the studio as well.
AWK: Absolutely. The idea of spontaneity has thrown me in a bit of a rough spot recently, especially in music. It makes me wonder about purely improvisational music and how to balance that with enough organization or playing in the first place. It's very easy to get stuck in between these kinds of ideas where, at one point, I was thinking, "Maybe I don't want to do anything anymore. I just want to exist." That's one extreme, but it's hard not to consider that. To say, "What action can I take that's as powerful as thinking about that action?" or, "Why do I need to take that action if I've already thought about it," and "If I'm trying to be spontaneous how can I plan something out and if I plan something out can I plan to be spontaneous?" I want to eliminate the very idea of how to do something and that becomes an idea of how to do something. Rather than work with a concept and say, "I wanna make music more like this," I want to do it and have no distance between me as an individual existing and the act of expressing something through music. And I don't mean expressing an idea or a thought. I just mean expressing the existence of an individual, as an active form of existence, whether it be music making or playing. Then I think if that's what I should write about or sing about, and I don't really know what I'm going to do, but that's okay. I used to need a much more clear idea and would then execute that idea, but more and more now I just want to exist and have that existence result in whatever comes out.
BK: You had mentioned that a phrase like, "Jen is a jerk," is not the sort of phrase you would say because it means that Jen is a jerk in the past, present, and future. That there's no room for her to not be a jerk. So, I wanted to know what, then, would the Andrew WK of the present, given the opportunity, would say to the Andrew WK of the past?
AWK: Am I talking to the me of a minute ago or ten years ago?
BK: Is there a particular period of your life that you'd like to speak to?
AWK: Once you're able to think about yourself, then you can remember yourself. So as soon as you hit consciousness and have the ability to have a memory, I guess it would take a few years after birth to have a timeline to look back on. When you're thinking specifically about how you felt in a situation or really trying to put yourself back in your head, that's a very particular type of memory and one of my favorite ones. It's very exciting and intense. I try to imagine what I would think of me now, but then I think, "Wait a minute, no time has gone by. I'm in the same head." When you really get back there you realize that it hasn't stopped. It's not like that was then and this is now. In terms of your head, it's been one giant experience. There's no distance in that space. That idea was expressed very clearly in a book by William Borough's son that my friend Matt gave me. The book's called Kentucky Ham. He talks about this train ride he's taking where he's looking at all the houses that he's passing as he's on his way to a rehabilitation clinic that he was sentenced to because of a drug related crime. As he's looking out the window, he's looking into the windows of the houses and remembering when he would have been a younger boy in such a house looking out and seeing himself on a train and wondering, "How did it ever come to this?" All of a sudden he saw that everything was so quick and that there was no time or distance at all. I guess I'd say not to take things too seriously. There's a lot of things that I was worried about ten years ago that I can't remember. Things that I would have put a lot of mental, physical, and emotional effort into. But, perhaps I wouldn't have arrived at the conclusions that I've arrived at now to think that if I hadn't have thought that then. So, I'd say, "You're doing everything right, and enjoy it." It's like Back to the Future. You can't mess with that. Everything that's happened has been the right thing to happen in every conceivable way because that's what allowed me to be here and here everything that I've dreamed of happening will happen. It's in that sense that I wouldn't have much to say if I went back.
BK: Do you think that everything that happens is preplanned or it happens and there's nothing guiding it?
AWK: That's a great debate too. Of course, I feel like you have complete choice, but it can easily be said that you don't and you're choosing pre-determined things. I don't know if it's important either way or whether it makes it feel like an illusion. You could say that there are eight doors to a choice, but they all open into the same room. Maybe it doesn't matter. Let's say that a person's will is predetermined, then I can say, "Well, I can go and commit a crime," and you get into this, and I've had conversations with people where they say, "If heaven didn't exist, why donít I just go out and murder somebody." I was so baffled at the time by what I thought was a very flimsy idea of what's right and wrong being set by the idea of being punished or rewarded and being strong enough to make this guy, apparently, not go and kill people from fun, which is what he really wanted to do. Does that have the same guiding factor for people who honestly believe that they have no free choice and they're being guided by something beyond their control as someone who's being guided by a reward and punishment system. If someone told you that you were going to hell right away, would you go kill a bunch of people? Or, if you could sell your soul to the devil to get into heaven, would you then go and kill a bunch of people? It's hard to say, but I think these are all legitimate questions. I just don't do to others what I wouldn't want done to me.
BK: Yeah, the Golden Rule has always appeared to be the easiest way and the clearest choice when it comes to the killing people idea. In the past, you've expressed your appreciation of Neil Hamburger. I mentioned that to Neil when he was in Maxwell's of Hoboken, New Jersey and he said that you had once written to him.
AWK: I'm so excited that he remembers that. When you and I talked about it and you told me about Kimmel, that started a wave and I looked at that footage, started talking with friends about it, and then I remembered when I had contacted him via Gregg Turkington years ago. I got his first record from a guy named Jim Magas who played in the group Couch. He's now a solo artist living in Chicago going by the name Magas. He used to work in a record store in Ann Arbor when I was in high school and he gave me that first seven-inch when it came out, which I liked a lot. I contacted him when I was seventeen. He had put four albums by that point. I asked him if he wanted to release something. I was also interested in another group Gregg was working with, The Zip Code Rapists. I was putting out music by other musicians at that time and, at that point, I was just stopping, which may have been why it didn't work out. Fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen was when I had put out a few releases by other people.
BK: You're quite popular in Japan and I wanted to know if there's anything in your music that you think resonates with their culture.
AWK: I've been told by some folks over there that the Japanese audience likes music with a lot of energy and a lot of spirit. One of my main concerns when making the songs was to present a great amount of spirit, emotion, and expression in general, so I can appreciate that side of it. I think there was something about them appreciating the presentation and delivery of these feelings that made them feel very excited, but I can't say for sure. I don't know that I'b been interested in lumping together all of the different individuals that like the music there and saying that it's a cultural phenomena because there are so many different things that are popular there that are very popular here as well. It's more interesting and satisfying for me to think of the common human qualities that are appreciated in any of the performing arts. As to why some things do well and why some things don't, I don't know. There's been very arbitrary and bizarre little quirks that people have explained to me that I never would have guessed. For example, I figured that the Pussycat Dolls would be very popular there because, from what I've seen, the Japanese audience likes girl artists and girl groups, especially really sexy ones, but I was told that the Pussycat Dolls were not popular with the culture because they were too sexy. They thought they were cheap. They can try to determine particular cultural phenomena but I don't know if it's interesting for me to think like that. I want to see this through my eyes, ultimately, and it's hard for me to imagine the eyes of another person let alone the eyes of an entire culture. On some level, it sounds threatening to me that such generalizations could be made over so many people when it comes to something as specific or elusively magical as music. It takes away the individual's experience for that music to win something specific to them and to be able excited that someone else feels that. Relating it to societal things seems sketchy. Who knows why or how? I guess it's exciting to think why or how because then people feel like they can manipulate and control based on that, but then you're getting into something that's even further from the actual experience of a song. I think the music itself, melodies, and inherent qualities of music are sometimes beyond conscious discussion. That's how it seems more interesting to let them reside for me, although I completely understand and agree with the interesting and curious quality of different cultures and their music.
BK: A lot of prominent noise artists, like Merzbow and The Boredoms, are from Japan and noise is a genre that you enjoy.
BK: What is it about noise that you enjoy?
AWK: When I was much younger I listened to that music ostensibly. It really thrilled me. It wasn't specifically only artists from Japan. I was more blown away that there were so many people in the world doing it in places that seemed as remote or as far away as Japan. When I was first being introduced to the music and finding out about other people doing it, I was just excited that there was a whole sound I had never considered possible. At the time, I'd hear just about a group here or there. I wasn't even aware that it was a genre. Then I started seeing that it was and that people were making a great effort to organize it. What initially appealed to me about it was that it had nothing to do with anything that I had ever thought about in music or genre at all. It wasn't a particular artist or scene as much as the spirit of the undertaking and idea. Then it just came down to case-by-case recordings.
BK: Since it's a genre that most people aren't familiar with, are there any recordings or artists that you'd like to recommend to the readers?
AWK: Merzbow has so many releases I don't even know what to suggest from that. There's one that I really liked specifically that I listed to the most of his. It was him and an artist named Achim Wollscheid. The sound of it was very different from what I had heard for a very long time. And it sounded like trucks backing up. That might have been what it even was. I think the picture on the album was a warehouse with trucks. I really liked that one. I haven't heard all of the Boredom's albums, but I've definitely heard many of them and I've liked them all. I'm also not sure what to call noise and what to call something else. There's a band called The Hatters, which is what people would call straight ahead noise. There's a band called The Laundryroom Squelchers. That's a really good place to start.
BK: I wanted to ask you about a song on Close Calls with Brick Walls.
BK: The song Don't Call me Andy.
AWK: My mom said to me when I was much younger that I should never let anyone call me Andy. That my name is Andrew and that's what people should call me. I asked why and she said, "I don't like the name Andy. I don't like the way it sounds." And my brother's name is Patrick and I would call him Pat, so he'd call me And. The verse lyrics came as I sang the rest of the song. I let those occur spontaneously and did not try to express a particular idea with those and just allowed them to be what they were. Looking back on it, there's many ways that I could interpret that. I was told often that making lyrics in a spontaneous or subconscious way was being lazy and that you're not really thinking of a meaning, but what if you're able to tune into a certain feeling and express that so directly that the words are the feeling and that there isn't an idea that you're explaining or translating with words. The words themselves become a feeling and that's what I've been trying to get. And then I contradict that with lyrics that are very basic and clear. Somewhere in between those I hope that there's a very powerful sensation of a song and not so much the literal describing of a scene but of something that's much more vast and elusive and relates to sensations rather than things. I don't want to be obscure if I'm talking about something very specific. I don't think that the subconscious or spontaneous lyrics should be confused with obscure lyrics or lyrics that are just hinting at a meaning. I want these things to be very upfront and straightforward and I feel that you can be very upfront and in your face in a spontaneous and conscious way and you can also be upfront in a clearly pointed and descriptive way. I do mean some things to be confusing because confusion is a way to remove yourself from a state of understanding that might become so common that we don't realize that we have that kind of a mind set. Confusion can take someone out of a stale mindset. I want lyrics to be clear and straight forward so that they can extract meaning from them and I want them to extract meaning and not have the obscurity keep them from being about to extract meaning. That is not to be confused with confusion.
BK: If you go out and about, do you wear some sort of disguise to keep from being recognized?
AWK: It depends on what you consider a disguise. Even when I've looked most like myself I've never experienced a situation that would make me want to wear a disguise. I've always been very excited and happy if people want to come up and talk to me. Most people, especially in New York, say, "Hello," and don't do much else. I haven't felt what it was like to walk around and be George Bush. Maybe if I was George Bush Sr. I'd have an outfit or disguise.
BK: I read an interview with Trent Reznor where he mentioned that one of the most intense things a fan has ever sent him was a note written in their own blood.
BK: Yeah. Have you ever gotten anything that compares to that?
AWK: I've wondered about this and have had people warn me about intense fans that you have to be careful of. Even that story right there about a fan that writes to you in their own blood. I understand those situations, but I've also felt that it's a bit like asking for it or creating what you end up receiving, like anything else in life. If you send out a vibe of inaccessibility and, at the same time, pleading for connection and emotional responses from others you'll get it. I've had a lot of intense communications with people, but nothing that I'd describe as sinister, scary, or bad. Even the most desperate and emotionally alarming states that people have been in when I talked to them I'd always feel okay and only if I removed myself from people would they feel more compelled to go to greater lengths to shock me, get my attention, or make an impact. The more present I am the more open and able they are to feel what I'm giving them and aware that I'm able to receive what they're giving me, there won't be a need to have things get to that kind of place. But you never know. That's just how it's been so far.
BK: Do you plan on giving more lectures in the future?
AWK: I'd like to do it as often as possible. I'd like to do all different kinds of things in my life and this was a really special opportunity and all the people that came to the lecture made it what it was and I hope for more wonderful experiences of all kinds.