Andrew W.K. is often photographed in a state of crazed rapture, mid-party. Blood gushing from his nose and staining his all-white outfit has become an integral part of his image, as has his unruly mane and (sometimes) a pizza-shaped guitar. He stands out in a room.
Since his debut album I Get Wet was released in 2001, W.K. — real name Andrew Wilkes-Krier — has also stood out as one of the most distinctive figures in pop culture, in a way that’s almost completely subsumed his music. Now, you’re more likely to have read his advice column for The Village Voice, or to have seen photos of him hanging out with celebrity cat Lil BUB, or to have watched viral videos of him taking over for local-access weather forecasters (there’s a strong chance of a party, it turns out) than you are to have heard his delightfully boneheaded breakout single “Party Hard” or anything off his subsequent five albums.
W.K.’s appeal and his enduring popularity come down to his personality; in his interactions with fans — via his active Twitter account, through his aforementioned advice column or in person at shows — he exudes earnest empathy and dogged honesty. The artifice of his outfit and image contrasts with (or perhaps accentuates) that emotional openness and relatability — the sense that W.K. understands our problems and is there to help us through them.
“My whole mission — my whole focus, my whole cause, my career, my work, whatever — is all about creating that feeling of excitement, of energy,” says W.K., speaking on the phone before his Sept. 15 show at Saturn. “It’s hard to describe, of course. It goes a bit beyond description. It might even just be summed up as a feeling of really being alive and being excited about that! Just feeling happy about what it feels like to exist. Getting to promote that, getting to explore that and hopefully getting to summon that feeling or conjure it up is a great privilege.”
Most of W.K.’s sentences have a scattershot structure to them, the sense that he’s attempting to address the widest variety of perspectives possible. Few words, it seems, quite have the same one-size-fits-all quality as W.K.’s favorite term: party. W.K.’s Twitter feed is rife with the word: he offers “Party Tips” (“Whether you believe it or not, you do have magical powers. Use them wisely,” reads one) and his account describes himself as the “King of Partying” in all caps. (It also lists his email address in another example of W.K.’s compelling accessibility.)
“Partying in itself is very therapeutic,” W.K. says. “I think many people are familiar with using partying as a way to get cheered up. Of course, it’s also a way to celebrate what you’re already happy about. But for me and for many folks who have struggled with dark feelings — or perhaps it’s better said as struggling with the natural, inherent darkness that is present in any existence or in life — this is a way of developing some sort of strength that doesn’t try to escape from that darkness or try to pretend it isn’t there, or even just cancel it out, but gives us the strength to face it courageously and actually turn it into some sort of light or appreciate the light that we can encounter in the midst of the darkness and see both the darkness and the light as sort of positive, by the very nature of their presence in our experience at all. So yeah, partying just made me feel better about being alive, and it made everything about life easier, or meaningful, to deal with.”
He adds, “It’s actually saving my life. It’s the best thing I could ever be doing for many reasons, including for my own sanity and well-being. It’s the only thing that I’m contributing that really makes me feel better and hopefully makes other people feel better.”
W.K. is open about his own struggles with depression, which he says are ongoing. “A lot of my personal struggles with darkness have involved an overwhelming sense of doubt about everything. Doubt about the meaning of life, doubt about life in general, from the very ground up, doubt about myself, doubt about what I liked, what I didn’t like — just being lost in a state of perpetual negation and questioning that did not lead anywhere, that did not provide a purpose or an answer or a solution to anything.
“So I tried to start rebuilding or building from the beginning a feeling of goodness by really clinging and acknowledging and celebrating the things that I could say, ‘Well, maybe I feel bad, but this one thing I know makes me feel good,’ like music,” he says. “Sometimes even just the idea of thinking about life would be enough to get me over the hurdles, the ordeals. Just saying, ‘Well, maybe I don’t have the answers, and maybe things aren’t easy, but I can still keep moving forward and trying to grapple with these things.’ You know how we’re talking about life right now? Just talking about life became really exciting to me, and that used to be a thing that I doubted and questioned.”
“In a way, I’m very thankful for the dark feelings because that was what motivated me to do any of this,” he adds. “If I’d felt perfectly okay from the beginning, I don’t know that I ever would have been pushed to find a way to feel better.”
And it is helping, he says. Touring and partying and interacting with others who might be seeking solace from similar dark feelings is encouraging, W.K. says.
“It reinforces and encourages me to think, ‘Okay, other people are thinking about these things, too. And they’re relating to it, and they’re going through this,’” he says. “I’m not speaking from a place of authority; I’m speaking from a place of hope.”
Andrew W.K. will perform at Saturn Birmingham on Tuesday, Sept. 15. Girls Own Love, an Andrew W.K. cover band, will open. Tickets are $18. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the show begins at 8 p.m. For more information, visit saturnbirmingham.com.