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Summer Guide: Party mindset

Andrew W.K. brings the motivational presence of You’re Not Alone to Rocklahoma

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Rocklahoma is always one of the biggest and best annual parties this state has to offer, but the annual Pryor rock pilgrimage shifts into a higher gear when party-life philosopher and metal maestro Andrew W.K. hits the stage.

W.K. (short for Wilkes-Krier), has had a presence on the national music scene since the early 2000s, breaking through with the 2001 hit single “Party Hard” and his debut album, I Get Wet. In recent years, he has kept busy touring with Black Sabbath as their opening metal DJ and traversing the country on a lecture tour, touting his metaphoric and self-awakening views on partying and the party lifestyle. He last spoke with Oklahoma Gazette ahead of his October lecture stop at Norman’s Opolis.

In the time since his last state appearance, W.K. has put out a new studio album — his first in nearly nine years. You’re Not Alone, released March 9, is part dramatic stadium rock and part quiet conjecture on the nature of the universe.

W.K. brings his new work to the state Friday during his Rocklahoma set. The festival can be found in Pryor at 1421 W. 450 Road.

The high-spirited humanist recently spoke with Gazette by phone during a tour stop in Florida, touching on his new album and the nature of motivation.

Oklahoma Gazette: You’re Not Alone has a lot of messages packed into it — a lot of general optimism. What does it feel like for you to have a full-length album out now with nine years between your last release and this one?

Andrew W.K.: Well, I hadn’t realized it had been that long, which is part of the reason why it did take that long. I have no concept of time. My sense of timeline has always been poor. I didn’t even have the order of the months memorized until I was probably 22 or 23 years old, and I’m not exaggerating. I remember what happened in life; I just don’t remember when it happened. … Fast forward to 2016, when someone pointed out to me the last full-length, straightforward studio rock album I had released was back in 2006, 10 years earlier; my jaw was on the floor, and I felt very shocked. It was sobering, humiliating and very motivating. I worked furiously over the next year and a half to get it all together.

But to be honest, I had been trying to record an album and set aside time over those 10 years, and it proved to be a futile exercise. Every time I would try to carve out a month to record, some incredible opportunity that I couldn’t say no to would come my way. It almost became comical near the end, where we had to carve out this space for me, because I’m only able to work in long, focused stretches. … There was a lot of touring through those years, and somehow, our efforts to record an album — it seemed like it was being thwarted by the party gods.

OKG: I love that you decided to name the album You’re Not Alone. There’s just something about those three words that is instantly comforting. Why did you decide it was important to give the album that name?

W.K.: The album-naming process has been a strange one for me, and this one was no different. With this album, there was never any hope in my mind of a throughline of meaning or message or consistent theme because there are recordings on there I had been working on since 2005. It was recorded in such a sporadic way — different studios over different years with huge bursts of effort occurring in short spans of time. …

The themes that emerged out of that — it was like coming out of a trance. I had no idea what I had done, in a sense. It wasn’t until I started giving it to other people to listen to, like my manager. …

My manager, after listening to a selection of songs that he had never heard, he had quite a strong reaction — probably the strongest reaction I’ve ever had him share with me on anything we’ve ever done together. He said the feeling that he got from listening to it was a feeling that he was not alone, that there was this benevolent, comforting presence and that he thought the album should just be bluntly called You’re Not Alone. It seemed obvious and generic but also something I would have never thought of. I thought it was so strange, and even though in my mind, I had all these doubts and second-guesses about it, as soon as he said it, I knew that was what it was going to be called, and I just accepted that.

OKG: I liked the inclusion of all the motivational speech snippets throughout the album. I’ve read that recording those little bits was an uncomfortable thing for you, and that sort of surprised me. What was that discomfort about?

W.K.: It was another idea that was presented to me by someone in my management, but I never would have thought of it. I thought about doing a motivational speech album of all motivational speeches. And of course, I’ve been working on a book and doing a motivational speech tour, so it was not the action itself but the contrast of putting that on an album where all the rest of the music is so dense and so layered and so heavily considered. It’s this wall of feeling that I’m trying to conjure up sonically and then have the exact opposite that was challenging for me to fathom, really. But then, I really enjoyed the contrast of it. I found one of the themes that emerged was the theme of polarities and contradictions and two sides to the same coin — good and bad, night and day.

OKG: A lot of people have called you a motivational figure. Who do you find motivational?

W.K.: Oh, there’s countless. I think motivation is a being unto itself. You’re looking to locate instances in which that being appears around you — in other people; in works of art; in books; in movies; in music, obviously. It can appear in mundane places. Sometimes it can come out of thin air — this pressure and sense of urgency that motivates you to take action. Wherever you can find that spirit of inertia, that spirit of propulsion, you’ve got to harness it, recognize it and seize it and ride it forward. There’s nothing worse than having that come over you and then letting it go or missing it — or even worse, feeling this incredible compulsion to act but then stifling it.

You can find that in amazing people, amazing quotes. I was watching Darkest Hour, the movie about Winston Churchill, on the airplane, and it ends with a quote that is incredibly motivating. He said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.’

OKG: That is a good one.

W.K.: It is, and that’s a unique brand of motivation, which is the motivation of perseverance, of tenacity, of commitment. It’s motivation spread out over a large amount of time rather than that initial burst of energy. There’s all these different ways to look for motivation and to get the type that you need for that particular moment and combine it with the principles that you hope to live by and move forward with.  

Summer festivals

Summer is a good time for live music in Oklahoma. Pack up your beach towels and picnic blankets and claim your spot somewhere out at one of these state music festivals.

Rocklahoma
Friday-Sunday
Pryor
rocklahoma.com

The state’s heaviest music festival has become a downright pilgrimage for fans of hard rock and heavy metal around the region. Camping and RVing is not only allowed but strongly encouraged for those who want to come away with the complete experience. Aside from a Friday performance by the aforementioned Andrew W.K., Rocklahoma’s 2018 headliners include A Perfect Circle, Godsmack and Poison. Also, don’t forget to vote for this year’s Miss Rocklahoma pageant winner, with finalists currently listed on the festival’s website.

Tallgrass Music Festival
May 31-June 2
Skiatook
tallgrassmusicfestival.com

Oklahoma’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is known far and wide as a beautiful hiking destination, but the wide-open prairie also serves as a beautiful backdrop for the Tallgrass Music Festival in nearby Skiatook. The festivities begin May 31 with free, open-stage picking. Scheduled bands for the following two days include locals like Steelwind and The Cleverlys, but also the nationally touring bluegrass talents of Special Consensus and The Baker Family.

Jazz in June
June 14-16
Norman
jazzinjune.org

This year, Jazz in June celebrates 35 memorable years with a lineup worthy of the occasion. Blues-rock guitarist Eric Gales headlines June 14 at Brookhaven Village. Gales has recorded numerous solo albums and has played with a wide scope of artists, including Carlos Santana and Three 6 Mafia. The dynamic, Tulsa-based father-son combo Ryan & Ryan Piano Duo performs June 15. Popular New York-based jazz-fusion quartet TAUK closes out the event June 16.

OMHOF Soul Fest
June 15-16
Muskogee
omhof.com

The upstart G Fest is sitting out 2018 after two years of bringing major Americana and country names to eastern Oklahoma, but Muskogee-based Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame (MHOF) is far from idle in its absence. Soul Fest is one of two music festivals the organization is putting together. (Latin Fest was held earlier this month in the same city.) An appearance by The Ohio Players — who recorded the three consecutive platinum albums Skin Tight, Fire and Honey between 1974 and ’75 — is not to be missed.

Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
July 11-15
Okemah
woodyfest.com

Any fan of great songwriting would be remiss to skip the annual Woody  Guthrie Folk Festival, affectionately known as WoodyFest. The internationally regarded gathering celebrates iconic Guthrie’s 106th birthday with its 21st edition. Musical guests this year include Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings, John Fullbright, Annie Guthrie, Johnny Irion, Jason Mraz, Ellis Paul, Cole Quest & the City Pickers, Joel Rafael, Willis Alan Ramsey Red Dirt Rangers, Carter Sampson, Turnpike Troubadours and Willie Watson.

AMP Fest
Aug. 25
Film Row (OKC)
ampfestokc.com

This all-day art and music festival celebrating the creative work of women returns for its third year in a new location. While the first two years were located near Automobile Alley, this year’s focus shifts to historic Film Row. AMP is an acronym for Art, Music and Power. While this year’s music lineup will not be revealed until June, past headliners have included powerhouse locals like all-woman garage rock quartet LCG & The X, the stargazing “existential rock” of The So Help Me’s and rapper Miillie Mesh.  

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