Even Bad Pizza Can Be Good: Andrew W.K. on Working Hard to Party Hard

The party-obsessed rocker says he’s the most negative person he knows, but that might be hard to glean at his two shows at The Independent this week.

Andrew W.K. (Vicky Pea)

Even if you don’t know Andrew W.K. by his music, you likely recognize him from his myriad projects, from writing a monthly advice column for the Village Voice to his self-help lectures at Ivy League universities. He’s hosted shows with children (Destroy Build Destroy) and appeared in ones where adults act like them (The Eric Andre Show), remaining visible even when not on tour.

But if you’re unaware of those projects, then you’ve at least heard one of his anthemic, heavy, and boisterous tracks on the radio or in films — the more popular of which contain the word party a considerable number of times. In fact, W.K.’s established himself as a bit of an authority in the “party realm,” with the public often seeking guidance from him as to what counts as partying — petting dogs, being courageous — and what does not, such as giving up.

Like the product of someone grinding up Henry Rollins, Tony Robbins, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then pouring the resulting goo into the mold of a 1990s WWF wrestler and setting it to chill in the freezer, Andrew W.K. (born Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier) is a congealed force of aggressive optimism, life-coaching, rock music, muscle, and ‘tude.

Optimism and keeping a positive spirit are not natural state. Despite being a bit of a poster boy for positivity, W.K. is actually the most negative person he knows.

“Negativity is a starting point for me each day, my default,” he says. “Trying to be a better version of myself, trying to be a better person — to focus on the light rather than the dark, that is my quest. It’s something I work at, every day.”

Moving past conventional associations like music and pizza, his philosophy around “partying” extends to most of life.

“For life, and the entire phenomenon, even the negative stuff in life — it’s not about avoiding it, it’s about finding a way to value it,” he says. “A minor-key song has just as much beauty and power in its own way as a major key song. They both counter each other, and you can’t have one without the other. And that’s really the ‘party’ — the whole thing. Suffering counts as partying if only so that we can overcome it. We’re trying despite the suffering, to learn from it, to master it, to solve it. What kind of adventure would it be if it was all just easy-breezy?”

This philosophy even extends to pizza, apparently.

“I’ve never had a pizza I didn’t appreciate on some level,” he says. “Even the bad pizza I kinda appreciated, because it made the other pizzas stand out and shine even brighter.”

And W.K. wants to share this attitude with his fans. When asked how he wants them to feel at his shows, he says, “Energized, like they can do anything. Not just intellectually, but intrinsically, in their body. It’s this idea that it’s good to be alive, life is beautiful, and it’s this incredible gift getting to exist — this is no longer just an idea, but is an inescapable, undeniable truth. Whatever this is that’s happening, this thing called ‘being alive,’ even if we can’t fully ever understand it or comprehend it, we can comprehend the feeling of it. And right now it feels good, and that is real. But to know that as a physical experience and not just as a nice idea.”

But how did this party journey start.? Apparently, with what W.K. refers to as a “leap-of-faith mode of operation,” which began with the assembly of his live band.

“I don’t know how else to describe it, except that I was being led by some outside force or inner spirit or some sense of destiny,” he says. “But even that wasn’t clear enough at the time for me to be saying I was being led. It was a very odd time of my life and ever since, really, this mode of operation continued.”

W.K.’s first music manager happened to be hometown friends with well-known death metal band Obituary, of whom W.K. was a big fan. On a whim, he sent drummer Donald Tardy a letter asking him to join his band, and it just went from there. Without auditions or even meeting in-person, the majority of W.K.’s live band was hired on the recommendation of Tardy, with W.K. not meeting guitarist Eric Payne or bassist Gregg Roberts until the filming of their first music video, “Party Hard.”

Says W.K., “That was just very surreal because that was the biggest creative experience — even bigger than the album, was this first video shoot. The scale of that was probably a 50-person crew in this huge warehouse with tons of gear and cameras. It looked like a movie set. I’d never been around that level of energy and production. And then in the midst of all that experience, getting to film your first music video, you’re also meeting your band for the first time.”

More than 15 years later, Payne and Roberts remain a constant in W.K.’s live band, along with Dave Pino (guitar), Erica Pino (keys), Clark Kegley (drums), and Amanda LePre (guitar).

When asked about his rapport with the band, and the endurance of their working relationship and friendship, W.K. says, “That’s the hardest and most elusive quality. Because there are a lot of people that have skills. A lot of people that don’t have skills can acquire those skills through practice, dedication, and patience. But someone’s character, someone’s personality, someone’s attitude — those are much more delicate and fragile. You can teach a lot of people to play a drum part. But I can’t teach someone to have a personality that works with this party.”

“I certainly could imagine not liking touring if you didn’t like anyone you were touring with, or even worse, if you were enemies with them,” he adds. “That would be unbearable. So really, it’s such a blessing we get along so well. ”

Andrew W.K. ‘The Party Never Dies’ tour, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 27-28, 8 p.m., at The Independent, 628 Divisadero St. $25; theindependentsf.com

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