The joy of being Andrew WK

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Life through the lens of a perennial optimist.

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Laura E. Marcus | January 10, 2012

Andrew WK

Photos by Alex M. Smith, styling by Lauren Oppelt

Andrew WK is more than just the sum of his parts. His energy, attitude and fierce positivity have all participated in solidifying his status as a hard-partying rock star, but it’s been his unwavering loyalty to his fans and his overall mission that have brought him success in the worlds of music and business. “My music isn’t about communicating an experience; it’s more about trying to conjure up a feeling,” he explains. For Andrew, both his approach to music and the work itself come from very personal place. “When you’re young you have all these emotions – anger, confusion, frustration – bad feelings. I wanted to find a way to not feel that way. I wanted to work on something that had ideals and hopes associated with it, that I could also be inspired by. Something that could build me up to be a bigger and better version than what I would have been otherwise. I had a mission, even if that mission was just making exciting music. Creating that kind of pure joy, which isn’t necessarily associated with any reason, is what I always liked most about music and art; this idea of pure energy. A feeling of possibility that wasn’t necessarily associated to an idea, an opinion, or a belief. An undeniably good physical feeling that you don’t need your brain to process – your body tells you by giving you the chills or butterflies in your stomach. I wanted to immerse myself in that, that physical sensation of joy.”

Growing up in Southeast Michigan, the son of a professor and a “super mom,” Andrew was encouraged to experiment with music at a very young age. By the time he was 4, he was enrolled at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, where he began training in classical piano. With no older siblings to guide his foray into popular music, he found other ways to satiate his curiosities. “I would hear something on the radio or see something on television, and my mom would really do her best to try and help me figure out what it was.”

Even without a musical lexicon, one of Andrew’s earliest musical attractions was to a “sort of funk guitar wah-wah sound, like the Shaft theme song.” He articulated what he could to his mother, and found himself with a Led Zeppelin record that didn’t really fit the bill. “I was expecting Barry White or Shaft and was confronted with this strange rock ‘n roll stuff – I didn’t like it all, out of sheer disappointment. A couple years later, I put it on again and it ended up being my favorite album. I was so thankful to my mom – she wasn’t sure if it was appropriate music for me to be listening to, but she never stopped me.”

When speaking about his parents, Andrew’s voice softens. His admiration is evident, and his approach to music was obviously affected by the lessons he learned as a child. “I don’t think a parent’s job is to keep their kids from being exposed to the world. I think it’s more about building the capacity and intelligence in that young person, so they can process those experiences themselves in an intelligent way. My mom would let me do anything, like draw naked lady pictures when I was young and not freak out about it! She made me feel like I was okay, and that the world was okay, and she trusted my judgment.”

It’s not hard to see how Andrew WK’s positive message and mission evolved – they were ingrained in him from the start. Like so many creative voices, Andrew had his sights set on New York City early on: “New York was made out to be so exciting in films and television. I liked the tall buildings, the energy. There didn’t seem to be a lot of people in New York that were doing what I was doing. It wasn’t based on one attitude or one shared opinion. New York seemed so volatile. I think I wanted to feel threatened in a way that would inspire me to work really hard. I respect the mindset that you don’t have to move anywhere to realize your dreams, but when your dream itself is moving to New York City it’s a no brainer. I didn’t think it would take moving here to do what I wanted to do, but it seemed more fun to me – it was a pleasure.”

It’s hard to pinpoint why some musicians drown once making the move to New York while others thrive, but certainly work ethic and drive are major components. For Andrew, it seems that his unrelenting positivity and openness to new opportunities have also played major parts in his success. His endless touring, and his willingness to collaborate with fellow musicians on events like the 2012 World Snowboarding Championships in Oslo, Norway, in which he is serving as a rock ‘n roll ambassador, are part of the puzzle.

Another important part of Andrew WK’s success has been his “party hard” message. Unlike other musicians who espouse the use of alcohol or drugs to heighten the party experience, Andrew’s message has always been about the high you get from life, unfiltered, unadulterated. What better way to capitalize on that appeal than to create a nightlife mecca where revelers from all walks of life can get down?

Santos Party House is a passion project between Andrew and a group of friends, who wanted to create the ultimate New York City destination. It opened in 2008. “I like clubs, but I usually can’t get into them,” he says with a laugh. “We all had very strong opinions, and a lot of experiences with venues, bars, clubs, sound systems and everything else. I think we really did achieve what we wanted, which was combining the best elements of all these things. We definitely went big with it. We didn’t want to settle or shoot lower out of fear, because it is a huge undertaking in a big space. It was also really important for us to do it in Manhattan, because there hasn’t been a new, proper dance venue downtown with a real cabaret license in over 20 years.”

“The only way we were able to do any of it was with the support of the city and the people themselves, so creating a space to give back to the city which has given all of us so much was a great privilege and a real labor of love for everyone involved. It’s the most rewarding and the most magical thing I’ve ever been involved with!” Santos has been a success since its inception, and its appeal has extended beyond New York City’s borders. In February, when Andrew attends the World Snowboarding Championships, he plans to bring Santos to Oslo every night. And of course, the completion of a new record set for the end of winter means yet another year of touring is on the horizon. For Andrew, it’s a mission he’s overwhelmingly happy to accept.

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