Lounging in the back of his tour bus after a big meal in
Detroit’s Greektown, Andrew W.K, the partying-hard bard of
beer commercials, is displaying his usual off-stage Zen focus and
relentless enthusiasm. In two hours, Mr. Wilkes-Krier will take the
stage at St. Andrew’s Hall and proceed to whip the sold-out
crowd into a sweat-soaked, frenzied glee like a longhaired, heavy
metal version of children’s singer Fred Penner.

But now W.K. is wound up himself about the release of his second
album, the earnest pop-metal party manifesto The Wolf.

The Ann Arbor-raised rocker claims to have no overriding
motivation behind naming his new album after the predatory canine.
Still the solitary animal seems a pretty apt metaphor for his solo
recording process. W.K. chose to record Prince-style, playing every
single instrument on his new LP, taking six full months and
sometimes 36 straight hours of recording to amass the
record’s heavily layered sound all by his lonesome (well,
engineer Ryan Boesch stuck around for most of it).

“None of it is jammed; everything has got to be really
specific, really exact,” he says with the same professed
earnestness as he says pretty much everything.

He relishes getting technical about his songwriting, poring over
tiny details of building his songs from simple chords pounded out
at the piano to stadium aspiring, 100-track epics. He becomes
overcome, gesturing wildly with a water bottle, humming with his
eyes closed, maniacally miming the particular chords as they stream
from the symphony living in his head.

“There’s only so many tracks you can mix at once, so
a lot of the stuff you’d have to piece together in
advance,” he says before explaining how the vocals of new
song “Totally Stupid” required 300 different takes to
build the swelling choral effects on the coda.

“I’m a big believer in computers. For this music
they’re essential. I don’t think they take away.
I’m not one of those people who think digital technology is
evil or that it’s ruining music.” He points to similar
swipes made at the electric guitar when it was first introduced as
proof cut-and-paste digital technology will survive its
naysayers.

W.K. swears that half a year was barely enough time to
meticulously build the album in his computer on ProTools, assembly
lining instruments for every song, one at a time.

“I really wanted to make a conveyer belt system. I
didn’t want to work for two weeks,” says W.K,
“only get one song done and go ‘Oh, there’s 12
more to go ….’”

“Drums took over a month and a half, the cymbals alone
were two weeks. I don’t take pride that I recorded everything
myself, it almost makes me kinda embarrassed,” he explains.
“I don’t have a principle like ‘I have to play
everything myself.’ That’s not the point; the point is
to make everything good.”

Despite the intricate and time-consuming process of layering
track upon track, A.W.K. maintains his music is “pretty
straightforward at its root; it comes from a very basic place. I
don’t want it to be a show-offy thing.”

Even on first listen, it is instantly clear that The Wolf
is primarily driven by keyboards. Which only makes sense
considering the little party animal was taking piano lessons at the
tender of age of five. He figured out how to pound out drum beats
from tapping out keyboard rhythm; he instinctively associates the
neck of a guitar with the sequence of keys. The piano is the basic
element of all his musical knowledge, so naturally his trusty
Roland SC880 keyboard builds, as he says, “the stock skeleton
on which everything else sits.”

Although W.K.’s frenzied keyboard work is mixed much
higher on The Wolf, especially compared to the crunching
guitar-based I Get Wet, the singer is quick to point out
that the new album contains much more complex and varied leads,
none of which came easily.

Having not played any bass or guitar in a long time, W.K. found
his fingers “torn to shreds” from hours of trying to
master the perfect riffs he imagined. They bleed for days
after.

Seems strange that a guy who records almost entirely alone would
claim that his singularly named new album is really about
celebrating the sense of community he’s been trying to foster
within his audience. But he always refers to it as “this
music,” never as “his” or “mine”
because he really doesn’t believe he owns it or has even
created it, only recognizes what he does as part of a communal
vision bigger than himself.

With his trademark big picture modesty, W.K. professes,
“The point of doing this is just to enjoy the experience of
listening to the melodies and at the same time it’s all those
things the first album was asking for; let’s get a party
going. Let’s do this, let’s do that, we’re going
to, we, us. And we found that so now it’s about celebrating
that unity.”

—Sept. 10, 2003

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