w/Math the Band, Potty Mouth, Continuous Improvement, Hartford Party Starters Union DJs, April 19, 9 p.m., $20, Arch Street Tavern, 85 Arch St., Hartford, (860) 246-7610, archstreettavern.com.
We're well aware that Andrew W.K. perfected the art of the party long ago. But he's still waiting for the chance to flex his international diplomacy muscles: W.K. was asked by the U.S. State Department to serve as a cultural ambassador to Bahrain last year, only to have the rug pulled out from under him. It was a bloody nose for the irrepressible entertainer, but not a knockout. Starting in May, he'll tour the world with Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg, singing (you guessed it) Ramones songs. In between, he'll weave his Human Party Machine Solo Tour across the country, delivering his one-man, one-microphone, one-keyboard/drum machine message to the masses. He'll party, hard, at Arch Street Tavern in Hartford on April 19 with Math the Band, Potty Mouth, Continuous Improvement and the Hartford Party Starters Union DJs.
W.K. spoke to CT.com by phone about his upcoming show and recent experiences. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)
The Human Party Machine Solo Tour: this is the first venture of this sort for you in America, just you, a keyboard and a microphone.
And a drum machine. That's kinda built into the keyboard. Just to make it clear: the performance and the music is all very high energy. It's all my songs, just played electronic versions as opposed to rock band versions. I won't have a guitar up there or anything, and electronic drums instead of real drums. I've also done piano shows, where I've just played the piano with no accompaniment. This has all the hard-driving force that you hope for these songs. I've done solo tours in Australia and Canada, but never one in the U.S. with this many dates.
What attracts you to solo tours like this as opposed to bringing a band along?
I play with my band all the time. We just did a bunch of shows. I actually started before I had a band, of course, by playing solo shows. It's how the whole thing began. It's a certain feeling. It's more challenging to fill the stage and to carry the whole show. But what ends up happening is the whole room and everybody in the room, all the folks who have come to the party, I sort of feel like they become the band. It has this feeling almost like hanging out with a bunch of your friends, singing along to songs that you like. To me, it has a real sense of camaraderie and this circular feeling of the whole room exploding as a stage, versus when we play at concerts with a full band: there's more of a presentation to the crowd. This really, in terms of the party spirit of all the work that I do, this really communicates that party energy very clearly. There's an active participation-feeling for everybody. But I love concerts and solo shows. They both have their unique qualities.
The venue size goes along with that.
First of all, we chose to go to places we haven't played frequently, different towns I haven't been to in a long time. And bars, really. It's not a concert. It's a party, us hanging out together for the night and having as much fun as we possibly can with the soundtrack of this music to provide that energy. We try to choose more intimate places to really get that point across. The last time I played in Hartford was at the Wadsworth, maybe three years ago. The Hartford Party Starters was the organization that put it on. I could not believe that the museum would allow me to basically do what I do in front of hundreds of millions of dollars of artwork. Pretty unreal. I don't think I've ever done it again.
Do you prefer to alternate band and solo tours?
Sure. As an entertainer, it's important also to entertain yourself, to be entertained by your work. I just don't want it to become routine or predictable, especially for me, because eventually that trickles down into the audience. I always want to be what feels like a risk, or what doesn't seem like the easiest thing to do. I have good friends who approach their work more like a job or a routine, to pay bills, to be consistent, to keep it predictable and rote. That's perfectly fine. A lot of them have other interests. I have no other interests except partying.
I've been reading about your cancelled Middle East trip. I know you were still planning to go. How did you feel about that?
I felt very disappointed at first. And then, not angry, but very perplexed, emotionally perplexed by why they would cancel it. Everything had been booked. Everything was done. I was literally leaving in a few days. They told me to put it on my website. Someone just didn't like the looks of me or something. But in the end, I can't be too frustrated, because the point of a trip like that, if I had gone, is to create a dialogue, to engage people, to have people learn about the country of Bahrain, which maybe they don't know too much about or haven't heard of before. So I think them canceling the trip got more attention than if I had even gone. I think we succeeded in that we had a cultural exchange. It was just more of a psychic one than a physical one.
There's a book coming out about "I Get Wet" [W.K.'s 2001 major-label debut album]. Did the writer contact you at all?
Yeah, the writer [Phillip Crandall], he's amazing. I was completely humbled and shocked that anyone would write a book about anything involving me, let alone that album.
What do you think it is about that album that still has a hold on people?
I don't know. I wish I knew. I didn't expect to enjoy playing those songs more now than I did then, but that's what happened. It's still growing on me. I like the music even more now than when it first came out. I don't know exactly why that is. I can go up onstage feeling like I'm about to die, and then the minute the music kicks in, those rhythms and melodies, it's a perpetual power source.