Andrew WK discusses his newly released album, his forthcoming television show, rumored conspiracies, his childhood, and art, amongst other things.
Tell me about the news you currently have on the front page of your website.
For starters, about two weeks ago, July 6th, and a week ago, July 12th, we released a new album in Asia called Close Calls With Brick Walls. It's part of a series of three albums that will be released at different points around the world at different times. I plan to release this album outside of Asia as well, but not yet. We're going to release these other albums first. The next one is called Young Lord and we're going to release that one in the US, but not on CD yet. I think we're going to make it a record. Then we're doing a third album called The Carrier that will maybe come out in Europe first. Eventually, all three of these releases will be out in every major territory, but in different order.
We're playing our one and only US concert of 2006, which is actually the first proper all ages show that we've done in the US in three years. That's August 3rd in Orlando. We're encouraging people from all over the country to try making it to this show. We've been so thankful to hear from fans that are making the trip from as far as Arizona and New Jersey. We have discounted hotel rooms set up through the Hard Rock Live, which is the venue that the concert's at. We're giving away a pair of tickets and airfare to someone outside of Florida some time next week. People have been entering that contest on the website. We want to make it not just for Orlando or Florida, but as much of the country as possible.
Then we go to South Korea the next day. We play two concerts there. That's our first time playing in South Korea. That's where the new album was just released. That's exciting. Then we're going to play two shows in Japan as part of the festivals that they have there. Then I come back and continue working on these new albums that I've mentioned.
How much of the other two albums are already finished?
They're in the midst of being recorded. There's a lot of material. My original plan for The Carrier had been to use this material that I've been working on, but now I'm thinking that I want to put as much of this material that I've been working on Young Lord. Some songs I've had for a while will be on The Carrier. But I really am looking to write stuff in the actual moment of the recording, which is not what I've tended to do in the past. I've had things very planned out and had a particular process for recording and I'd like to contradict that a little more. Well, a lot more. Close Calls With Brick Walls was recorded very differently from out first two albums. It involved people beyond myself in a different capacity than we've had in the past. It was a more creatively charged experience where imagination and creativity on the fly were encouraged and highly prized. My experience was to be very aware of what I might think of as my way. To try to catch myself when I'd say, "I don't want to do it that way," and say, "Why don't you want to do it that way?" I'd try catch myself doing that and then go against it. Maybe that's how I did it in the past, but that's not how I'm going to do it now. Just for the sake of shaking it up and challenging myself to be out of the comfort zone. That's when it's been more fun.
And what's the TV show that you mentioned?
You're the first person I've told about it officially. It's going to be on cable access in New York, so this is great to tell you. We haven't told anyone about it and I'm kind of unsure if I should tell anyone about it because we wanted it to be a surprise, but I feel good telling you about it since you asked. We choose to make a TV show, but I wanted to have it not be a specific format, plot, or idea beyond it being me with a TV show. I'm working with a writer, which I'm very excited about, and, initially, we had something very scripted and a series concept that we would take to networks or cable. I had a TV show on MTV 2 that was eleven episodes and have had many television activities that I really enjoyed.
What I enjoyed about TV was the spontaneity and the live quality of it, if we were in a live television situation. Plus, the fast paced almost disposable nature of TV in that it's content essentially to sell advertising, or it could be looked at that way. I like that because I felt that it liberated me from needing to place it on a pedestal. It allows you to get away from the integrity of television. If you had a concern about the integrity of television I think that you couldn't do anything with television. It'd be hard to. People have grappled with it. There's a book called The Glass Teat all about television. It's very critical of television. It's written by a successful television writer who's very interested in television. That's how I feel. It's not as simple as saying love/hate. It's more of a fascination as much as we can be fascinated with things that we define as dark or quote un-quote "bad". I don't feel that I even need to say that, but I will try to be aware of all of these qualities.
Anyway, I recently started working with a new manager, and he said, "I have an idea that you may think is kind of crazy. What do you think of putting the show on cable access? That way we can do anything." We're going to put it out ourselves and we'll have complete creative control. The more that I've been engaged in being an entertainer and working in the entertainment business, the more the battle for creative control seems to become the center point. Especially what I'm willing to sacrifice to do what I want or what I'm willing to sacrifice of what I want to do in order to make a living. There may not be any one time that you're on one side or the other, but I think people can do it. I feel that we have a foundation laid that will allow us to take bigger risks and to take more control over what we do and want to do. I think that cable access is a beautiful opportunity for that. It's designed specifically for people to have their own means to communicate what they want to communicate on TV.
I'm going to interview people a little bit. We want it to be something that's very fun to watch. It's going to be engaging and interesting on many levels, I hope, but I also want it to be purely enjoyable for the eyes to see. TV as a visual element where meaning, message, dialog, and essence isn't going to be what it's portraying or communicating as a show. I want to play with the visual screen. It's a canvas for images, colors, and ways to engage the eye. And that would be contrasted with dialog from the interviews and things. There are a lot of things about it, but I'm going to keep them secret for now.
When should people expect to see that?
I have no idea, but we're going to begin filming in the fall. Hopefully by the New Year.
How do you feel about your music being available on file sharing networks?
I've thought about it in different ways at different times. I haven't illegally downloaded for the last three to four years, but I did quite a bit when Napster first came around. I noticed from my experiences downloading that, as much as I was excited and satisfied by being able to hear a song relatively instantly upon thinking of it, the sound quality itself, I noticed, was very particular. I'm not going to say it's worse because I don't even want to look at it like that. I think it's different; MP3s sound different to me, they don't sound worse. I don't know how I would judge that. There are things about it that I think sound really neat.
I stopped downloading illegally not because of an ethical conflict, although there was that, but more that I said, "At this point, I'm not enjoying this way of experiencing music." It seemed dissonant to be sitting at my computer. I could burn it onto a CD so I could listen to it on my stereo, but I was unable to shake the connection and context of the song coming from the computer and that it had been completely separated from the person who made it and their intent. There's something about picking up a CD, taking it out of its case, seeing the album title and artwork on the CD, and seeing the album title and artwork in the case. It's very easy to say, "Yeah, that's a small part of it," but it has a very significant place in the listening of music. I don't think it's important, but I don't think it can be discounted as part of the experience.
I'm not saying it's better to have the CD to listen to, but I've noticed that there was a difference when I would just download. Beyond that I really don't care. I'm just interested in the aesthetics of it. I don't have any judgments about it and certainly don't hold it against anybody for downloading my music. Do I appreciate it when people buy it to support me? Absolutely. But do I hold it against people if they don't pay for it? No. Ultimately, all I felt up until this point, and that's all I can really comment on, is that my interest is it to make music and not to sell music. The reason that I work with record companies is because their interest is to sell music. As much as it's always been seen, or seems to have been seen, that there's this big fight and that business and art can't mix. It seems like they can mix if the business lets the person make the creative content and the person allows the business to sell it, but that's asking a lot. I feel really happy with all of my experiences in the music business, but I don't judge myself or anyone else as successful in music based on the business side. Someone could say, "That's a very successful artist," and I'd say, "He's a very successful business man. He's made a great deal of money." What has been sacrificed on the artistic side to make that money is always relevant. A more impressive accomplishment would be if they feel that they haven't sacrificed any of their integrity in order to be successful in business.
When it comes to downloading, since my main interest and what has motivated me for as long as I remember has not been purely the business of it, it would be hypocritical for me to be angry at, resent people, or feel like I've been stolen from. All I can really ask for is that people want to hear the music. I leave it up to them to do what they think is right or what they feel like doing.
I saw a picture of you in a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt on. Did you have the opportunity to see the band in concert this time around?
No, I've never seen them play in concert and I've never owned their albums outside of the Closer re-mix album. I really like that song. That was the foundation of my fandom for the band. I've never seen them in concert. I would really like to. I'd bet it'd be a very impressive show and sound really heavy. I really liked that shirt I had a lot. Did you see them in concert?
Yes, I saw them three out of the four times that they came around.
How was it?
It was good. Each time was different. I saw them at The Electric Factory, Madison Square Garden, and The PNC Arts Center. When Trent does a bigger venue, he has fun visuals.
I bet it's very intense. That's one thing I've enjoyed about him and the group. They take it very seriously and I find that very entertaining. It's a very passionate pursuit. Have you heard of an artist named Joel-Peter Witkin ? If you like Nine Inch Nails' videos and their art direction, you might like Joel-Peter Witkin. I'm not positive, but he may be a primary influence on Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson as far as that dark tortured soul aesthetic that runs through so much of their work. Once you'll see his pictures, I think you'll be into them if you're into that scary faces and weird bodies vibe. The Closer video, it seems very much inspired by his photography. I recommend it to anyone that's a fan of Nine Inch Nails.
This year, Trent Reznor put out two of his singles, The Hand that Feeds and Only, as Garage Band files so that people could remix them. What do you think of that?
I heard about that. I thought it was fantastic. Pushing music into different realms. To me, it seems like it's dealing with very fundamental ideas of what music's meant to be, how people are meant to listen to music, and the roles of the artists verses the listener and vice versa. Have you seen that happen more with other people making their music easy to remix.
I think I saw an Aerosmith CD that had some songs and software to remix them with at Bestbuy.
I was just listening to their album Rocks last night. I haven't really sat down to listen to it and I was blown away.
Do you get the chance to see many concerts?
I certainly get the chance to see many, absolutely. Whether I take that chance is the question. I have maybe gone to four concerts this year. When I go to see a show I want to be very excited about it, even if it's a band I've never seen. I have, in the past, dragged myself to more concerts and shows and ended up resenting my being there and that wasn't an attitude that made it as much fun. Now I go when I really feel like going. This Sunday, my piano teacher's playing a recital and I'm really looking forward to it. I like to see my friends when I play. Most of the shows I've seen over the years have been my friends' bands.
That's interesting when you think about it. It's a very different dynamic. When I was in high school, I didn't see many big concerts. I don't think I saw any. I didn't seen an arena concerts until I moved to New York. Most of the bands I saw were my friends' bands, which, for better or worse, were for small audiences comprised of my friends or other bands they were playing with. Maybe that had an impact on my going to see shows.
Sometimes, I thought, those shows were really boring. That was also my fault at the time. Clearly it was me not using the right imagination to see it in a way that boring.
It also made me feel antsy, not bored but more, "I don't want to be here. I want to be up there." It was inspiring and motivating, but it caused conflict and anxiety. I felt competitive some times. Maybe that sort of attitude that keeps me from concerts now. If there was something I really was excited to see, I'd go see it. Although, I can say that there were plenty of times when there was I band I would have loved to have seen but I didn't go. I don't have an answer as to why. Do you go to a lot of concerts?
I see comedy shows more often.
That sounds great. Have you seen that Dane Cook guy?
Have you heard of him?
Have you enjoyed his comedy?
I can't say that I'm a fan.
I've never heard him. I just hear he's all the rage. I have a younger brother who's twenty-two who saw him on a college campus tour. I asked him how he found out about him and he said, "Everybody in school is talking about him all the time." I hadn't heard of him until my brother showed me the CD and it didn't seem very interesting to me. Sounds like he worked really hard to establish himself in the college scene. Do you do stand up comedy?
Have you heard of Neil Hamburger ?
Do you like that?
Yeah, he's great.
I really like him too. I've been hoping for a long time that he'd blow up. I'm not sure if he's chosen to not go that route, but he's gotten more popular every year. I've been a strong supporter all the way through.
He's been on Kimmel at least twice.
I had no idea. That's great. Did you see him?
Did he have drinks in his hands.
Yes, but not for very long.
"Cancel it! Neeeeeeeeil Hamburger's in town! Who you got in there on Friday night? Well on Friday night we've got Cancel it! Neeeeeeeeil Hamburger's in town!" That's one of my favorite routines of his.
What do you think of comedians opening for bands?
Seems like a very novel idea and a nice change of pace. It's a diversity of entertainment for the evening.. I'm all for variety show. I've never seen a comedian open for a band, but I've heard about it. There's a juggler that's been opening for bands. There's something novel and quaint about it, but I haven't really appreciated the quaintness or preciousness of it purely as an idea. "Oh, isn't it funny that we're having a comedian open." But if it's good entertainment it's good entertainment. If it's comedy I didn't enjoy I'd much rather not have it.
What do you think of the rumored conspiracies surrounding yourself
I never could have foreseen the paranoia about me or where the music comes from. But, at the same time, I am happy with that because I see that as me succeeding to remove context from myself, the music, and for people experiencing it to be able to create their own context.
I've personally been enjoying trying to receive all experiences with as little context as possible or at least be aware of what contexts I may be I imparting on them or that society has painted on to them. I try to experience music, any creative statement, books, art, movies, as well as people, situations, ideas, and emotions from a detached observational point of view where the only context is the context of the experience itself. That may be impossible, I don't know. I think that that's the price I've been paying for doing that, for essentially not telling what it is or isn't and allowing people to make up their own minds. Some people will use their minds to come up with an idea that's totally far fetched, but I see it all as a good thing because as long as people's minds are engaged in what they're experiencing that's all you could ask for as a performer.
I don't consider myself an actor anymore than anyone that's acting at any one point. Everyone's acting, I suppose. Acting as your self is acting. It takes effort to have a presence in the world whether you're playing in front of a thousand people or whether you're going about your own existence isolated in your own. There's still an identity that's being constructed at all times and put forward. Where do you draw the line as someone presenting an identity that's quote un quote "really them" verses someone presenting an identity that is not really them. I don't think you can draw that line and if you can I'd like to be shown where it is.
In that way, sure, I'm an actor as much as anybody. I don't act in movies as a professional screen actor, that's using a very literal definition. I think of myself as a performer, but I think everyone's a performer. We enjoy seeing other people perform because it reminds us that we're always performing.
One name thrown around by the conspiracy people is Steev Mike.
The first time people saw that was the back cover of the first album. Under the credits, the executive producer is Steev Mike. What have you thought about all this?
It's creative, to say the least.
Fortunately, people have come up with a lot of ideas. I think people using their imaginations remains very exciting to me. Again, being able to say, "I don't understand," or, "My desire to understand," maybe that isn't the most important part of an experience. Maybe you don't need to understand an experience in order to experience it. In fact, maybe a truer or more vital experience would be one where understanding is nowhere in the picture. Over all, I'd be very pleased if people could purely experience it and were able to feel some sort of comfort in a larger discomfort or larger uncertainty and saying, "Well, maybe it doesn't matter if I understand it or am certain about what it is or what it isn't or if I'm able to identify it." Or, again, have this context and say, "I'm experiencing this and now I'm going to figure it out. I'm going to break it all down in my head. I'm going to make it fit into my understanding of what the world is and who I am." And, "I like these things and I don't like these things."
I've been very interested in tearing away all that. Tearing away beliefs of my own and tearing away at the very foundation on which I would experience consciousness, I guess. These ideas can seem very out there and wishy-washy. But, again, we're talking about the furthest thing from out there. We're talking about the most basic fundamental experiences that a person has that anyone can relate to. In fact, they're so close to us and so simple, basic, and fundamental that we almost can't see them because we're in it. If everything were red all the time you wouldn't see it as red. But if somehow you were able to consider the idea that our perception is in fact our own choice and not necessarily how it is.
I like that idea and I like to think that anybody can free themselves and say, "Well, I don't know and maybe the only thing I know is that I don't know." Maybe the paradox of that is somewhere in between- in that in between state of knowing and not knowing, being identifiable and not being identifiable, and of existing and not existing, that in between perfect hovering state that defies the human experience. Ultimately, I think, that's what people are either trying to get to or get away from. I think it's there for everybody.
Tell me about the comic books that you used to draw.
I made about four proper comic books. I did the first three by myself and the fourth friends drew as well. I was really inspired by an artist named Basil Wolverton as well as underground comic book artists from San Francisco like Crumb> , S. Clay Wilson
, and Spain Rodriguez . It was really edgy and gruesome. A lot of what I was drawing was sexual or very gory. What was really funny was that my mom would help me make the comic books and staple them together.
When I was thirteen, I made trading cards called Triple Gore. It was these drawings of very gory scenes like someone being pulled apart by hooks, someone puking out their guts, or someone being covered in green pustule boils. Each one had a description of what was going on. It was very basic non-sports trading cards. I sold those to a comic book store in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Dave's Comics. They bought them from me outright. Five dollars for a set of cards and they came in a plastic case and there were twenty different cards. They sold them for ten bucks, I think. They bought three sets. I was so excited to be able to go into my favorite store- and they didn't have just comic books, they had collectable, and unusual objects that I didn't see every day- and I was so honored to have my trading cards in their glass case. In fact, I made the trading cards specifically for adults only because I thought that would add to their impact. It provided the context of adults only and that it was so gory that kids shouldn't see it. So gory that even I shouldn't see it. It really made it more fun for me.
Two years passed and I was fifteen. I went into Dave's Comics and decided I was going to buy the last set of my trading cards. I went in to buy them and they asked for ID. I said, "I'm fifteen," and they said, "These cards are adults only." I was going to say, "Well, I made them!" but I didn't and I was really excited that I couldn't buy them. I thought that that was the perfect experience- that I had created something that was too intense for me.
I don't pride myself now on being a comic book fan because I don't feel that I keep up enough with it to separate myself as a fan. I'm friends with fans and they're very up to the minute of what's going on in the comic book scene. I continue to enjoy people who draw a lot, seeing what they draw, and seeing the stories that they tell. I've been very impressed with so many comics. All of the Black Hole Comics , all of Chris Ware . The guys are doing really well. I'm really excited about the Superman movies, the Spiderman movies, and the heroic mythology continuing.
What I enjoyed about comic books was the experience of taking part in the imagination of this other person. It seemed very direct, especially when it was drawn and written by the same person or when you had some sense that it was made purely because the person wanted to make it and they weren't necessarily going for anything more than putting it down on paper. Mike Dianna did a comic called Boiled Angel in Florida and, much like 2 Live Crew, experienced a lot of censorship and free speech legal issues in Florida. He was making comic books that were very dark and considered obscene. He's a very good example, I think, of someone who was drawing and working from this place that was so strong and so personal that it freaked people out completely and they didn't know what to do.
I have enjoyed that for as long as I could remember- people putting it all on the line purely for the sake of putting it all on the line. With no expectations of what it will accomplish and doing it without any manipulative purposes for larger means other than to have done it. That, in fact, what you're appreciating and experiencing as an audience for their work is not just entertainment but also this person's existence and the fact that they're choosing to do this with their existence. To me, that's when you're truly moved by what someone's done. It's not just what they've done it's that they did it. That's when we're able to be inspired by people outside of what we relate to. That's why someone can be inspired by Michael Jordan even though we're sure that many of the people that admire Michael Jordan may not be able to relate to what he's doing in terms of phenomenal basketball, clothing, or business. But we can all relate to his being a man who is choosing to take on these challenges and pulling them off. That's another level of entertainment that goes beyond the thing in question, which makes it even more relevant. It's the act of doing it.
If you listen to a song and then say, "I'm going to write about what this song means or I'm going to explain what this song is," I've been thinking it's impossible to do that without being subjective and to make a definitive statement about the meaning, message, or even what the song is at all. To say, "It's a well crafted song, " is an opinion. Even to say it's a good song because it's crafted in such a way. Who's to say what's good, what's bad, and all of those ideas. Then it became very clear, especially after reading some comments on artistic criticism- on the very act of someone trying to write or speak about art-, that that's all secondary. If you describe to someone a painting, the description of the painting is a statement separate of the painting and, in fact, has little or nothing to do with the painting as a painting. It has to do with you describing an experience that you had while looking at a painting. That's all it tells you. In order to experience the painting you would have to see the painting.
There's a great story that is a famous pianist was giving an interview and during the interview he was asked to play a piece. He played it and the interviewer asked, "Can you explain to me the meaning of this piece?" and he said, "Okay," and then played it again. Meaning that if someone was going to understand a song enough to talk about it, to use language as a way to explain it would be secondary and the only way to truly explain the song is to sing or listen to the song. Not to discount the importance of communication, thought, or discussion of these experiences, but it is to be aware of the primary, the secondary, or the secondary of the secondary, which we get so much of as a society. As a culture, we're constantly hearing about what happened verses being there when it happened.
With music, and art, I think one of the great things is that we don't need to have all of this stuff to have to say in order to think about it. We can experience it and say, " I have nothing to say about it. I have no opinion about it. I have no understanding of it where I could speak about it." And that's why I need to listen to it, why we have it, and why if you could tell me why a song is great we wouldn't need the song. I could just say, "That sounds great. I love that feeling I'm getting when you're telling me about the song." I can get moments from that, but all it is is me imagining a song. If you were able to communicate the meaning of a song you wouldn't need the song or music in the first place. You'd just do fine with words. The point is that music, melody, the frequencies, tones, rhythms, the colors in art, or the essence of a text are completely arbitrary and open to interpretation. They're all subjective qualities that are up to each individual to experience on themselves and no mater what the person who made it would think or had to say. It's free once they've said it and it's up to each person.
That's why when I read a review of a movie, let's say, I'm not learning anything about the movie, unless it's a factual run down of the conditions under which the movie was made or the plot, and even that is debatable. All I'm really doing when I read a review that someone wrote is that I'm learning about the person that wrote the review. I'm learning what they think, how they looked at it, how they consider things, what their opinions, and beliefs are. If someone said, "I just listened to this song. It's a bad song." Am I, as a person who hasn't heard this song learning anything about the song or am I learning that this person who said this thinks it's a bad song and is that not all I can really take form it? In some ways, to me, and I don't think this discounts the value of commentary or writing, I think there is an inarguable absurdity in commentary in general, which doesn't mean that it's not fun. Right now, all I'm doing is commenting, critiquing, and giving ideas. It's all completely secondary. We're talking about other stuff. All I try to do is be aware of the difference there and allow there to be both things and not get too hung up or take too seriously what I think about things because it's just one person's thought.
Why was it that there weren't too many kids in the area where you grew up?
That particular neighborhood had some kids, but they were far away. It wasn't a neighborhood where there were kids right next door. I spent a lot of time alone, playing with my brother, or friends in other neighborhoods.
What were some of the other projects that you had to keep busy with?
Despite the fact that there weren't a lot of kids in the neighborhood, our neighborhood was very nice and my parents felt safe with me walking around and playing in the neighborhood. It was a big block. You could walk all the way around the block in a half hour, I guess. I would just take walks through the woods behind our house and other people's houses and look for garbage, essentially. Garbage that wasn't garbage but more like an old tennis ball or maybe I'd be really lucky and find a necklace or something amazing. There were enough times when I did find something that would encourage me to keep looking, even if it was just a cool bottle cap. I had a little red plastic case, and I was about five, and I'd where a particular outfit that was shorts, a belt, a certain hat, and a lot of costume jewelry that I had found in the house when I moved in.
We moved from California to Ann Arbor when I was four and the first day in the house I found a rusted old metal box, it kind of looked like an ammunition box, in the basement corner. I opened it up and it was filled with jewels. My mom figured out right away that it was all costume jewelry, but I didn't understand the difference at that point. I just felt that I found treasure. One of the projects that I had talked about, but hadn't really realized, was that I spent the next year disassembling that jewelry piece by piece so that I would have all of the rhinestones separately just to do it. I kind of laid them all out and said, "Okay, all the little diamonds that are this side will go in this pile and all the red stones will go in this pile and the fittings will go here." Something about organizing gave me great satisfaction. I really liked indexing things, making lists, and having logbooks. I used those hardware drawers to keep things in there. It was some young way of taking control and having an ordered experience that felt satisfying. Having a sense of control was really exciting, although it was a false sense.
Did you keep pen pals?
I certainly have written my fair share of letters, so I'd like to think that I have many pen pals. I'm glad I can't remember everybody's name because that's how many there were. I spent the first four years touring being pen pals with people I met at concerts or people that would write to me. I'd put a very large or energy and time to establishing those relationships. It was really exciting to me to be connecting with people. I was very shy for many years and removed socially. I threw myself into the exact opposite when deciding to go into music. I decided I wanted a challenge. I really wanted to put myself in a different setting verses to being isolated and stoic, which is how I thought of myself before. I thought of myself as being someone who was shy that didn't want to be around people and was afraid of people. Once I had decided that that's how I was I realized that that was false and that I was only that way because I was choosing to be that way. There was no definitive characteristic that would make me that way verses any other way.
It was really exciting to have this music as a cause or purpose to take me out of my comfort zone and to see that I was okay even while I was doing things that I thought were scary, awkward, or uncomfortable and that it was something that I could do. The only difference was that I choose to do it verses saying, "No, I can't do that. Why not? Why can't I just be a shy person?" Over the last few years, all motivated by that, I've continued to try to break down any trait that I hold. I try to break it down or deconstruct it and pull it apart. I don't want to able to say, "I am this way," or, "I am not this way," about anything or about anyone else. I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, including myself that we are everything and nothing. That we are what we choose verses, "That guy's a bad guy," or, "That guy's an asshole," or, "That woman's a wonderful good person." How can I make those sort of judgments? I'm exhausted with making judgments and opinions. I did it for so long. I was the king of snap judgments. It was so fun and satisfying to know exactly what was going on with everybody in every situation so I could just call shots.
I've been really pushing myself to not do any of that. If I catch myself saying, "I don't like those kind of books," or, "I'm the kind of person that's always been blah blah blah." It's very easy to catch myself thinking that way and whenever I do I try to say, "Maybe I was like that, have chosen to do that, or even choose to think of myself definitively as being that way." I don't want to think in any absolute terms about what I am, what anyone else is, or what anything even is. I want it all to be unknown, at this point. I don't know if I want it to be unknown. I can't even know that. I just want to be. I don't even know if I want to be. You get caught. The minute you say, "I don't want a belief system," that's a belief system in itself. It's constant paradox.
That paradox illustrates so clearly that being stuck in the middle feeling. That's you're hovering. That you're perpetually off balance. That you're always catching yourself. I think that some people make such grand and very successful effort to remove that feeling of being off balance and it's considered a bad feeling. They say, "Oh, I feel freaked out. I feel like I don't know what's going on or who I am anymore." Or someone changes and they say, "You've changed. What's happened? Why can't you just be yourself? I don't like not knowing what you're thinking." Well, guess what? Everything can't know a thing about anything. To fight against that with such energy and effort is a choice. I'm not judging it as a bad choice, but it's putting a lot of energy into fighting what's undeniable and creating a lot of anxiety for one's self as opposed to say, "Well, I don't have the faintest idea as to what's going on."
In one interview , someone had presented you with the hypothetical scenario of what you would do if you lost your voice and you said you'd go to college.
I think I've changed my mind since then. When I said that I had forgotten that I could educate myself very formally independent of an academic curriculum. I could behave in a scholarly way and educate myself by my own means, meaning seeking out other people to teach me. I feel like I've been going through college the whole time, but it's not collegiate in the academic sense.
There are still things I like about going to college, but I don't know how much I would gain at this point from the imposed structure and the imposed lifestyle that's a part of it, which I think is very good and appealed to me even up to a year ago because it was something I hadn't experienced. I feel like I can gain just as much valuable experience from any situation in life just as long as you're open to making it happen. Maybe if you go to college, there are more people in that mindset and also helping to make it happen for you. I don't want to have assignments like that, but maybe the fact that I don't want those assignments is exactly why I should go- to challenge myself to do something that I don't feel like doing. That must be some of the appeal- to have that discipline and work ethic to do things that you don't feel like doing but choosing to do them because you say, "No, I do feel like doing this. What ever is telling me that I don't is exactly why I'm here: to go against that idea.
I didn't want to go to college to learn, to have accumulated knowledge, because I've been questioning the possibility of knowledge in general. Like we've been talking about, is it possible to even know anything anyway and is it valuable? It's more the knowledge of one's self, turning inward, and delving deeper and deeper into the experience of what it is like to be myself and then use that as the foundation of experiencing and learning other things, if it's possible. I feel like I'm learning right now just from this conversation.
Do you imagine yourself writing a book of some sort in the future?
I would like to do that very much. I would like to continue to work on my ability to write well and I'd like to improve that ability and, of course, the way to do that is by writing. I'd like to set aside more time to write formally, but I also don't feel bad that I'm not spending more time now because I've got enough to do. It's something I'd really like to do. I like to read writers who I consider to be good at writing, which I also think improves one's own ability to write.
I think that writing can happen without it being written down. You can write in your head just like you can make up a melody and whistle it. When you write in your head, it's not the same, clearly, since other people aren't going to read it as text, but I feel that doing interviews is like writing. When I'm speaking to you I'm trying to speak as accurately and with as much accountability as I would if I were writing it down on paper. Outside of speech, I think thinking, using words and language to form thoughts, is a form of writing. It's just not as formal in terms of putting text on a page or screen. Organized, focused, rigorous, and disciplined thought, which I think is really fun, is just like writing. If I took something that you said and wrote it down it turns out it's writing. Writing in general is a communication, so I feel like I'm always doing that. Or feel that I want to do that, at least at this point.
You'll notice, I catch myself a lot, just right now- I should say I've been catching myself- I spoke in definitive terms. I made an absolute statement. The difference between I catch myself a lot verses I have caught myself a lot. That was a huge semantic mind blower for me, realizing the difference there. At first, it seemed subtle. It developed over a few years, but came into form lately. There's a huge difference in mindset, in how you perceive the world and situation, from what I have seen. Right now I'm doing it! From what I have seen it appears that there has been an effect that significantly alters how I have experienced being. The difference comes from "this is" and "this has been". If I said, "This interview has went really well," that is reflecting my take on how it went. But if I said, "Ben's a great interviewer," I'd catch myself and try not to say it that way. I have been trying not to say it that way. See, I keep doing it! I just did it again. I've been doing it this whole time. It continues to be a challenge for me not to speak definitively. Or, it has been a challenge for me to not speak definitively. I encourage you to try this just for fun. It's really fun. You sound as well spoken. I haven't heard you say, "Like," or, "You Know," which would not be bad if you did. I've been engaging my dad in these games, which my dad introduced me to, that are essentially an exercise in self-awareness and self-consciousness. Self-consciousness isn't bad. I had had the idea that self-consciousness was akin to being awkward or shy, but I realized that the reason I saw self-consciousness as bad was because it made me aware of myself and what I saw in my awareness was perhaps upsetting or embarrassing. Self-conscious, I think, is turning inward and being shocked, or at least impacted, by what you find.
This exercise of thinking about what you're saying in a different way started for me by doing interviews. Doing an interview for the first time and then seeing what I said made me say, "What the fuck? How did I say this? I don't remember saying this." It's possible he might have changed what I said, but that wasn't the point. I want to speak clearly, or try to least. So, through that I started thinking more about what I was saying and as I was doing that I started becoming more aware of my words and becoming more aware of words made me more aware of other facets of my existence. That simple word awareness made me realize that I use words to think. I don't necessarily use words to feel, but I use words to comprehend and later think about what I feel. I use words to break down my impressions of what I experience. There's that dialog in your head and trying to take hold of that dialog is very interesting.
"I like eggs," and "I have not enjoyed eggs many times through out the past," are very different. You've not held yourself to an idea and you've realized on top of all that that you not liking eggs is not possible. You have only chosen to not enjoy the experience of eating egg at many points throughout time. All you're doing by saying, "I don't like eggs," is sort of making that choice infinitely in the future in any opportunity to be around an egg again. Why not instead say, "I'll leave it up to me next time there's an egg offered to say ' I don't want an egg. Last time I had an egg I didn't enjoy it and I don't want to have it now.'" It opens up things in this exciting way. I've said, "I'm bad at reading this type of book." Maybe I used to not do well at it and maybe now I'll do great. If I say I'm bad at reading that book, then I'm bad at reading that book forever. It's a definitive statement. It's over. The effect it has on a mindset to say, "That person is always this way," or, "Everyone is always this way."
The need to exaggerate, especially for young people - and I consider myself a young person-is a way for a person to cut through and make our voice heard because young people are oppressed. Young people have empowered themselves, especially in the midst of such intense cultural pressures, to consume so much. There's a lot of information out there and in order to cut through all of it and have an individual's voice, it's not hard to imagine why an individual would exaggerate in their speech. Instead of saying, "Somebody told me I was fat," and saying, "Everybody's always telling me I'm fat." Everybody. They didn't mean everybody; they just meant a lot of people. Speaking that way has an impact on how we're perceived and someone who has been called fat might feel that everybody does think that. Even though the majority of the population has never seen the person and can't think they're fat.
Anyway, these kind of seemingly absurd word games are entertaining. In addition, it does pertain to these larger issues we were talking about earlier. I think that by going down this road of awareness you open yourself to all kinds of stuff.
Did you enjoy going to school?
I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of my school experience. There was also a great deal of confusion that I wasn't aware of at the time. It's only confusion in how it compares to how I think now. If I had been able to look forward to see the ideas I'd have at this point, it would seem confusing to me back then. It's hard for me to say what I really felt, but I remember enjoying myself most of the time. I'm not sure if I had a real opinion on it one way or another. It was just what was going on and it didn't have much to do with me. That was probably good because I'm glad I didn't feel one way or the other. If I liked it a lot, it's possible I would have become disillusioned at each different turn within school. I didn't get attached to any particular time. I had some amazing teachers that I certainly was attached to and had wonderful experiences with. I felt like I was not contained by the experience of school. I felt that it was something that I did and that school was contained by me. Maybe that's the reason of why I didn't feel one way or the other. I didn't feel like I was there most of the time. I don't mean that I was absent minded. It just didn't seem like that big of a deal. There was so much going on after school, during the recesses and lunch breaks, between my friends, in my head, and everything was fine. I don't think I've thought of it until now.
I really disliked it toward the end because I had decided to leave. It was just time to leave school. I took a bunch of extra classes so I could graduate early and left. I felt like the structure and the time I spent there not doing other things was exactly what was working against me. At first I thought it was great. A place where young people can go, have adults impart what they consider wisdom, and, most of all, to have a routine socialized experience at a young age. Toward the end, the idea of having to be at this place because without the structure you won't be doing anything is silly. I can't do these things I want to do because I'm sitting in here. When I wanted to be working on recording, drawing, painting, building something in the backyard or basement, driving around with friends, or whatever it was, I felt like I wanted to be productive and this was keeping me from it. But I didn't resent the school. I resented myself for being there so I left.
You often speak in Interviews about how you started admiring the older kids in school as well as getting involved in things like mail fraud. Was there a correlation between the two or were they independent of each other?
I think it happened on it's own but my interest in what I would at the time, and now as well, define as doing things that would not help people. I don't want to say they were bad because I don't think they caused anybody any harm. There was some stuff that was very unethical and I wouldn't want done to me. I learned something from that, I suppose. The mail fraud, I forged old baseball cards, gift certificates, and all kinds of stuff. The thing that was interesting about it was that I was unable to see the results of what I did. I couldn't be there when the person opened the letter, although sometimes I would try. That was absurd because I'd usually give myself away, although most people figured out it was me and I still don't understand how they did that. They just said, "This seems like something that you would have done." I must not have been pulling it off so well. Or maybe I didn't want to pull it off well and it was some kind of performance and that I did somehow want them to know it was me. That's why it wasn't mean spirited. People were more baffled by the whole point. They'd think, "Why would Andrew spend all his time doing this? He doesn't gain anything from it. He probably spends money to pull this off."
The only thing I ever made money from were the baseball cards. I made two hundred dollars, which I gave back after the guy called us out on it. It wasn't clear if he believed they were real baseball cards or teaching us a lesson. He was a child psychologist, but, from what I understood, had a reputation for ripping off kids, although he was always nice to me. I went to his store for years and bought lots of stuff from him. I didn't even dislike him.
A lot of these pranks, if you want to call them that, although I don't think they were pranks. There wasn't a joke, there was no punch line, and most of the time there was nothing clever about it. It was to engage in something that, in a way, was abstract and pulled people into the idea of, "Why did this happen?" It didn't have a great punch line or purpose to it, whether it was to make them miserable, make me money, or make me look smart. It made me look pretty stupid to other people, actually. There was something larger than that about doing those things that I still can't figure out. A deeper need to engage in people in some kind of in between space. If I could explain it I might not have ever done it.
As far as older people, It just happened that a lot of my friends were older. I wasn't specifically interested in people because they were older. Actually, that may not be true. I think I found them exciting because they were different from me. I found it more exciting to be around people that were nothing like me, that I couldn't relate to, and seemed kind of scary and weird. I liked that feeling off the bat. Although it was scary and I'd go back for more. In high school, there was a group of guys that were between two and three years older than me and, at that point that, was the difference between and adult and a kid to me. Someone who was thirteen verses sixteen and was able to drive. Beyond that, the sixteen year olds were hanging out with people in their twenties and those people were hanging out with people in their forties and fifties of all different walks of life from professors to homeless people.
There was a group of friends that extended all the way into seniors of my high school who made their place in downtown Ann Arbor. I would go and try to be around those people. I was scared. They'd kind of fuck around with me and my friends and say, "Get lost little kids." But they were also excited because we were so persistent. They had this house that my mom called a flophouse that homeless people would stay at and it would get raided by the police. They had mattresses nailed to the side of the house, hanging off the walls. There were lots of houses and buildings in the area, so if it had been in a middle of a field and they did this it wouldn't have stirred anything up. They dug a pool hole, which was just a deep pit. They filled it with dirt, so it was just a mud hole. A lot of criminal, violent behavior and drug use was going on there as well. It was all very scary and I would think, "This is the last place my mom would want me to be right now." Despite that, I was still very attracted to it. I felt like anything could happen and I didn't know what was going on. When I got too much of it, it felt so good to go home, see my mom, go into my room, and have everything be okay. I'd say, "Gosh, how do those guys live there?" Over the years, my craving to get that continued. It would take more to get in that place, to throw myself off, and feel kind of scared. Not scared like I was threatened but really being in the midst of the unfamiliar.
Did you keep a journal growing up?
I never did that. I tried a few times, but I think rigorous thought is just as valuable. Being very aware is essentially what a journal is doing. When writing in a journal and recording your thoughts, you become more aware of what they were, as well as capturing them for posterity. But, as Plato had said, "The written word would be the death of memory." What's interesting is, from what I've seen of myself, I've never had a firm grip on timeline in terms of where the events and experiences that I've had fall in relation to one another. I have vivid memories of everything, but I'm unsure of what happened when.
Visit Andrew online at Andrewwk.com.