Andrew W.K. shares what he learned from working with Lee "Scratch" Perry
What was the nature of your involvement with the Lee "Scratch" Perry album Repentance, and what did you learn from working with him that has stuck with you, if anything?
I'm still learning from that experience. I'm still processing that experience. It happened in 2008 or so. It's still unfolding in my mind. It was life-changing and an enormous experience being in his presence, let alone watch him work and facilitate his music. I've never been around a more potent creative master.
He's really a magician and an artist of the highest order. I think he's at the height of his powers now, even compared to when he was younger. I think he's even more advanced in ways that even he doesn't understand, with all due respect. He's just tapped in. There's no blockage at all between his spirit or his vision and what he's able to manifest, and he just does it so effortlessly. So yeah, I'm still learning from that. It would change everything.
What specifically do you feel changed?
Just that there shouldn't be any compromise in fulfilling what you were meant to do and doing it with complete commitment and focus at all times and continue to remove any obstacles or walls that are around you or within yourself to allow the vision to come forth.
And that it's always a constant process -- that you're in this creative state at all times. Everybody is. And to really be aware of it and really harness it and amplify it as much as you can. It's a lifelong journey. There were a lot of abstract strategies that he would take just to be aggressive in upsetting a situation for the better. That doesn't always need to make sense as you're proceeding as long as the result makes sense.
When you were working with him, did he ever tell you why he brought you in on that production and what is it that you did?
I just facilitated whatever he wanted to do, whether it was playing a part or recording a drum loop or editing. I was just there as a servant. I can't believe that it happened. I remember when I told Tom Smith I was going to produce the album, and he said, "How can you produce an album for the greatest producer that's ever lived?" I said, "That's a very good question. I'm just going to do whatever he tells me to do." He's producing reality, you know what I mean? He produced me into being in his painting at that moment. I was just a manifestation of Lee Perry himself. That's how I felt. I was just completely absorbed by his vision. That was an amazing thing to be.
There's a band that used to come to Rhinoceropolis to play periodically called Sightings, and they mentioned that you had produced one of their albums, Through The Panama. What attracted you to working with those guys?
Again it was a very unlikely but a very natural relationship. When I first moved to New York, I had no place to live, and I was looking for an apartment. A mutual friend introduced me to this lady named Kate I had met a few times in Ann Arbor, and she had moved to New York, and she said I could stay on a cot, like a small bed, in her living room. Her roommate was Mark Morgan, the singer and guitar player from Sightings. So I ended up living with them; it was supposed to be for a week, but it ended up being many months, much to the dismay of Mark and his roommate.
One, I was a really bad roommate, in that I would clean up the house and reorganize it, without any consideration that maybe they didn't want it reorganized. Or clean out the refrigerator and throw away a bunch of food that was perfectly fine and they were trying to keep, but I thought it was rotten.
But I was trying to do good, and Mark eventually learned to appreciate me on some level, and we were able to become friends, and that was around the time he formed the band Sightings. I think I helped come up with that name, and we worked on early fliers. We were very close friends. He was my best friend in New York for many years. Eventually, I offered, "Hey, I would like to produce an album for you guys."
And that album is excellent.
Thank you. They're an amazing band. Definitely the best rock band from New York, in my opinion.
You're one of the few people with a fairly wide audience to be visibly involved in the fine arts, experimental music, pop music, pop culture and numerous other things. Do you approach your various activities in a fundamentally different way despite the obvious specific differences between all of those things?
I just wanted to be able to be this guy that could do whatever. That could do anything or everything and it would all make sense or tie together at least because it was this guy doing it. And it's worked out that way thanks to a lot of people's generosity and support and a lot of very lucky opportunities.
I just liked the idea that if I could somehow make a really basic person or make myself very sort of stand-alone somehow or simple and not really associated with anything except being Andrew WK, then Andrew WK could do anything and it would somehow make sense. Or maybe it doesn't make sense, but I saw a lot of my friends and a lot of people I admire somehow not have the unilateral freedom of movement to do whatever they wanted to do because it didn't tie in.
Even with my early days with record labels, there was this sense that you had to just focus on doing one thing. You can't do multiple things because you spread yourself too thin. So I said, okay, the one thing I'm going to do is be Andrew W.K., and within that, Andrew W.K. can do whatever he wants.
I thought that was sort of that spirit of, again going back to, my idols in high school, they could do whatever they wanted and they designed it that way. There was no restriction, there were no rules, there were no boundaries. It was just a complete explosion of excitement, inspiration and possibility. I just really harnessed that idea and I wanted to live like that.
It seems you have a lot of drive to do so many things. Is that drive related to what you just said?
I guess just being very aware of how unbelievable it is to have these kinds of opportunities, or to even have any motivation to do anything is a very special gift in itself. I just feel very lucky and very thankful for all these unlikely occurrences that have led to whatever it is I get to do. So I guess a lot of the motivation comes from not wanting to take any of it for granted, not to waste any of it, not to be lazy.
You never know when it will all end, or everything could change, and you just want to make the most of all of it, and just do the best that you possibly can. I feel like I'm representing the dreams of a lot of other people too that have given their energy, not to me even, but to this way of looking at the world or this kind of spirit of excitement, joy and intensity. So I feel like it's a team effort, and I have to hold up my end of the bargain.