The Untold Truth Of Andrew W.K.

To paraphrase "Party Hard," his breakthrough 2001 hit and best known song, Andrew W.K. does what he likes, and he likes what he does. After a decade of disaffected, maudlin grunge rockers, W.K. emerged as a happy, exuberant, infectious jester of rock, encouraging listeners to enjoy life, themselves, and each other in all things. If Andrew W.K. ran the world, in other words, when it's time to party, everyone would party hard (in whatever way they liked). Forever dressed in a dingy white shirt and matching jeans, W.K. jubilantly and aggressively bounces around stages, belting out invigorating songs of celebration and joy, often accompanying himself by pounding away on a piano or keyboard.

Andrew W.K. is an eminently likable guy, but seeing as how he hit the scene fully formed in the 2000s, his mere existence raises a lot of questions if not controversies. Here's a look into the hard-partying and life-affirming life of Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. was a childhood piano prodigy

Andrew W.K.'s "Party Hard" offers a propulsive piano part, even though that's not a traditional element of metal instrumentation. "There was no question as to whether I would include piano," he told Metal Hammer. "It's percussive, it has power. And it's all I could play." And W.K. could play the piano very well, because he'd already been playing it for years by the time "Party Hard" was released in 2001.

Raised in Michigan by a teacher father and a stay-at-home mother, W.K. took up the piano at age 11, which proved a formative emotional experience. "Just learning how to tap the keys, seeing that was just the most exciting thing," he told The Independent. "I became addicted to moving, powerful songs." When he became a teenager and started going out to see local punk bands, that energy combined with his passion for the piano solidified his musical philosophy. "I heard this incredibly aggressive music from these dudes," he said. "Knowing that I could sit at a piano and play music that gave me butterflies in the pit of my stomach, and made me feel queasy and shaky, I thought, 'OK, if I can play these huge chords on a piano, imagine if I keep stacking it up with guitars and drums and bass.'"

Andrew W.K. skipped college to work odd but fancy jobs in New York City

The transition of Andrew W.K. from boyhood to adulthood began in earnest when the future rock star turned 18. He was all set to make the moderately distant move from his childhood home in Michigan to Chicago, where, according to Talkhouse, he was accepted to study at the prestigious The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. However, he never set foot in a classroom in the Windy City. "It seemed like the place to go was New York," W.K. told Pitchfork. After considering the idea of studying at NYU, he realized he "would have less time to do what I really wanted," such as pursuing music and the arts, "if I had all these studies and papers."

So, W.K. landed and held down a series of cool, interesting, and even slightly glamorous subsistence jobs. He worked at the legendarily well curated Kim's Video store, for instance, and also sold gum ball machines, did interior design for the Bergdorf Goodman high-end department store, and at fashion house Comme des Garcons. According to Vice, that last one was the result of W.K. writing a fan letter to the company three years earlier, which they responded, telling him they had a job waiting when he turned 18 and found himself in New York. (The gig lasted two months.)

His early attempts at releasing music didn't work out

Andrew W.K. emerged in late 2001 with the album I Get Wet, but that's his first major-label studio album, released by Island Records, according to Andrew W.K. Music. It's nowhere near his first recording let loose into the world, just the first big one and which survived the least amount of hassles.

In the late 90s, W.K. struck up a deal with small, independent label Hanson Records to release two cassette-only singles, in advance of a full-length album. In 1998, and under his full name of Andrew Wilkes-Krier, the musician put out the single, "Room to Breathe." It was produced in such limited quantities that most W.K. fans didn't hear it until a fan site uploaded it in 2016. The second just-tape single Wilkes-Krier was supposed to release was called "You Are What You Eat. It was never actually publicly available, because someone involved with the production lost the master. However, Hanson Records owner Aaron Dilloway made the only known dub of the song... and then that tape got lost, too. That promised album never quite saw the inside of a record shop, although a 19-song demo of the record, set to be titled Necronomicon, eventually surfaced.

Why does Andrew W.K. only seem to wear a dirty white outfit?

The rock star uniform has a long history in music. The Beatles wore matching suits in their early days, the Ramones always took the stage in leather jackets and jeans, and Andrew W.K. is rarely seen not dressed in his signature look — white T-shirt, white jeans, nondescript sneakers, and all of it at least a little filthy. Such an outfit is objectively bland and a little surprising that someone as colorful as W.K. would dress in such a way, especially since he once aspired to be a fashion designer. W.K. has often been asked why he wears what he wears, and his answers are elusive. "It just showed up well, through the darkness," he cryptically told StyleCaster in 2014, for example. "I don't wear white jeans and a t-shirt because it's fashionable," W.K. tweeted in 2013. "I wear it because it's party." Well, okay then.

The reason why they're so dirty? Life. In an interview with Crack, he mentioned that his current shirt and jeans were "not very clean, but that's because I've been wearing them for about four days."

Andrew W.K. takes partying very seriously

With songs like "Party Hard," "Party Party Party," "Long Live the Party," "Party Til You Puke," and "The Power of Partying" — and it being a major part of his personal brand — Andrew W.K. is probably the modern world's chief advocate of partying — and the benefits therein. 

"Party" means different things to different people, and to Andrew W.K., "it really can be whatever helps express that essential excitement and gratitude and awareness," he told Vice. "Anything that brings that sort of enthusiasm. That type of unbridled joy seems appropriate for a party." That happiness came from a dark place, as W.K. was sick of "feeling so bad about life so much of the time," that he wanted to dedicate himself to "getting cheered up and about feeling good about existing." The pleasures of partying speaks to some deep-seated personal truths for W.K. "You wouldn't be able to feel this good, if you weren't meant to exist in order to feel it. I want to feel that way, even if for just a glimpse," he told Articulate.

Andrew W.K. has a deep appreciation for pizza

Sure, almost everyone loves pizza, but few love pizza with the same zeal and intensity as Andrew W.K. loves pizza. In 2016, he served as the master of ceremonies and featured speaker at the first annual Chicago Pizza Summit, and he told the Chicago Tribune that while pizza is wonderful in and of itself, it's also emblematic of triumph. "Humans are always looking for ways to sublimate the struggles of life, to provide ourselves with lenses with which to view problems, to see them in a way that makes the problems approachable," he said. "Having some pizza in your stomach and, more importantly, in your heart, helps you approach life with a better attitude." Later that year, he appeared on the web show All the Pizza (via Pitchfork), where he made up a song on the spot about the beloved, savory pie. A sample lyric — "I like my pizza topped with butter and cheese / and a little milk if you please."

W.K. even combined his appreciation for pizza with his love of music. He teamed up with ESP Guitar to build "the world's first ever pizza shaped guitar," as he said on his website. It's not really shaped like a pizza, though — it's angular, not round, but the body looks like the top of a pizza (adorned with mushrooms, olives, green peppers, and pepperoni), and the word "PIZZA" is written on the neck.

How Andrew W.K. got bloody

Andrew W.K. made his major-label debut with the November 2001 album, I Get Wet. It stood out from the sea of other mass-produced, mass-marketed albums in part because of its striking and unforgettable cover — it consists of a close-up shot of W.K., soulfully staring into the camera, seemingly unaware of (or not bothered by) the massive amount of blood pouring out of his nose, over his mouth, and down his neck. It definitely told the world that W.K. was perhaps a little more intense and extreme than your average rock singer.

To whit — that blood is, mostly, real. In order to "fulfill the vision of the bloodiest nose that I ever imagined before," as he told Loudwire of the cover's concept, W.K. violently struck himself in the face with a chunk of a cinder block. That didn't provide quite enough blood, and he also tried picking his nose with "extreme intensity," because that habit led to a lot of childhood nosebleeds. But that still wasn't enough blood to W.K.'s liking, so he and his associates brought in some extra to make his face gruesomely camera-worthy, purchasing "the reluctant offerings of some poor pig or cow" from a butcher shop.

There wasn't anything more to the cover than that, but according to The Independent, the United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority asked W.K.'s label to remove or replace the cover, on account of how it could "frighten children and vulnerable people."

Andrew W.K.'s biggest influences are unexpected

Andrew W.K.'s music felt new and familiar all at once, combining an aggressive, heavy metal stomp with pianos, keyboards, and infectious hooks one might hear on top 40 radio. W.K. crafted his sound in part by synthesizing the kinds of music he liked the best and which inspired him, and it's not necessarily the stuff one might expect a lord of metal to so deeply enjoy.

W.K. says a big influence on his breakthrough album I Get Wet was "We Are the World," the 1985 blockbuster charity single that featured Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Huey Lewis, and dozens of other mid-80s pop stars. "That's one of the first records I got where I specifically told my mom, 'I want that song.' I was so amazed by all these people singing at once and I thought it was so cool that you couldn't really tell who it was a lot of the time," he told Pitchfork. "It was this amazing mass of people working together to create this powerful sound." Apart from that, W.K. said he was heavily influenced by bright and sunny major-key mainstream music, and that he loved church music — pipe organs and choirs — as a kid.

"Party Hard" is a response to a national tragedy

After five studio albums, Andrew W.K. is still most known for "Party Hard," his anthemic first single. "I hated being at a party and someone coming up and saying: 'Why aren't you drinking?' 'Why aren't you dancing?'" W.K. told Metal Hammer of the song's genesis. "So I thought, I'm gonna make a song telling people to party, but party however they want." W.K. devised the song's melody — propelled by a one-note riff — while in the mosh pit at a Sonic Youth show, aiming to make a song "where music doesn't just change the thoughts in my head, it changes the way my body feels."

W.K. recorded "Party Hard," with the song planned for inclusion on I Get Wet. Then the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, and in the climate of the subsequently devastated American collective psyche, executives at Island Records considered blocking the song's release, theorizing that it would be bad taste to release a party song at that point in time, and for W.K. to be himself to reporters. "I would get coached on what I should say in interviews. They'd say don't talk too much about having fun or enjoying your life." But W.K. held firm, arguing that "Party Hard" was exactly what people — especially New Yorkers — needed in late 2001. "Celebrating what you had was never more important. To be grateful for the life we have and this incredible city."

There's a bizarre urban legend about Andrew W.K.

Andrew W.K. is as real as they come, a seemingly regular, approachable guy who talks a lot about having a good time in his prominent Midwestern accent. And yet, there are a couple of enduring urban myths that holds that Andrew W.K. is a fraud. According to one theory, the Andrew W.K. of early 2000s "Party Hard" fame disappeared and was replaced with a lookalike imposter Andrew W.K. Another theory says that there isn't any one real Andrew W.K., that there are multiple actors out there playing the "Andrew W.K." character.

"I really think these stories happened because it's easy to look like me. It's easy to wear the clothes and have that hair," the purportedly real W.K. told the Phoenix New Times. "This idea that I don't exist, I really don't know what to think of it." W.K. told Larry King in 2015 that the myths make him uneasy, but that he partially has himself to blame, attesting that he never fully denied the rumors. "By accepting it, it would deflect it," he explained. No such luck.

Andrew W.K., life coach

Andrew W.K. seems to have a pretty solid worldview and knows how to enjoy life for all it's worth. He's not selfish about his discoveries about the secrets of the universe, either. In addition to recording music and staging concert tours, W.K. spreads his truths as a motivational speaker. After launching the lighthearted political group The Party Party in 2016, according to Pitchfork, the group sponsored a nationwide tour (meaning all 50 U.S. states) called The Power of Partying. "This is my attempt to add something positive and unifying to the divisive atmosphere surrounding us." That capped a years-long side career on the speaker circuit, delivering encouraging words to large, receptive groups, such as a My Little Pony fan convention in 2012.

The rocker has also shared his wisdom in print. New York's Village Voice magazine employed him as an advice columnist. From 2014 to 2015, W.K. earnestly answered readers' questions on everything from how to handle infidelity to dealing with depression to coping with PTSD.

When it's time to party, Andrew W.K. doesn't party hard

Andrew W.K. is all about partying, but that word has many definitions. It could be interpreted as a synonym for ingesting heart-stopping illicit drugs or drinking alcohol. Because of his tireless party advocacy work, a notion has developed that Andrew W.K. parties in such substance-fueled manners, but that simply isn't true. "I think there's a common misconception that true partying must always involve drugs and alcohol," W.K. wrote in the Village Voice. "In reality, the only thing that true partying must involve is partying." 

W.K. told Larry King Now in 2015 that he was a "straight edge" teenager, not experimenting with drugs or alcohol until he was 21, out of curiosity and the desire to acquire life experience. "I have experimented and enjoyed just about every drug and type of alcohol that I was able to try," he said. After partying hard in his twenties, W.K. embraced an approach of sobriety, while also realizing that food could be quite special. He followed a vegan lifestyle for a while but told Vice that he's now an "omnivore" who will eat large quantities of cake, cookies, and ice cream "after a high-intensity physical exertion." W.K. also now gets his kicks out of, literally, nothing. "Partying on an empty stomach can increase the strength of your party choices and get more out of them, more bang for your buck," he said.