When Stoli recently named Andrew W.K. “Professor of the Party,” the 35-year-old Michigander was pretty humbled. It’s not every day that a booze company just phones you up out of the blue, hands you an honorary degree in partying and tells you to run with it.
“The bizarre thing about being the ‘Professor of the Party’ is that you’re a student and a professor; you have a Ph.D., [and] you’re constantly re-earning it,” the rocker explained over some mid-afternoon liquids at Doc Holliday’s, one of his favorite NYC dives. The academic title goes along with a campaign the vodka brand is doing called ScenebyStoli, which kicked off on Avenue A in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood and will take AWK across the country, exploring locales that have pioneered the party throughout the decades.
We know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute. I party just as hard as this guy. Why isn’t Stoli hooking my ass up?” Hey, maybe they will one day. Just follow these simple steps: First, write a catchy album about partying hard in New York City that Pitchfork first pans and then recants years later (seriously, when does that ever happen?). Front it with a now-iconic photo of yourself bleeding out of your nostrils a la Little Mac on the ass-end of a run-in with Mike Tyson. Call it I Get Wet and watch as it cracks the Top 100 on the Billboard 200 album charts. Score a breakout Top 15 hit in the U.K. with ‘Party Hard,’ which has numerous second lives Stateside. Tour the world, get famous in Japan, marry an über-fit hottie, have a kid. Get a contract from Simon & Schuster to write a book tentatively entitled The Philosophy of Partying. Yup, that should just about do it.
“There was a student that got severe bloody noses in my elementary school just from dry weather. And it made a huge impact on me, because all of a sudden you’d look over, and this guy would have blood streaming out of his nose.”
Meantime, we thought ‘Party Hard’ would make the perfect addition to our growing Oral Hit-story series, because it’s not your average rock song: It’s equal parts Black Flag, Springsteen and White Zombie; it came out at the polar opposite of a partying sort of time in American history (see below); and it was largely assembled in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where the author is writing this story right now.
So without further adieu, here is Dr. W.K. talking ‘Party Hard.’ Which we highly recommend dusting off for New Year’s Eve…
Vodka strikes me as something you might brush your teeth with…
I’ve never officially brushed my teeth with it, but I have drunk it in the morning instead of brushing my teeth. Probably much to many other people’s dismay when they smelled my unbrushed-teeth breath. Vodka was always my favorite [liquor]; I don’t know if it was because it was clear or it mixed the best with things. Actually, I never tried any liquor until I was 21. The first time I ever drank alcohol out was on my birthday in Los Angeles, at 21, right before we made my first album, I Get Wet. And we drank vodka. So it was kind of ‘stick with what you started with.’
So this Stoli ‘Professor of the Party’ thing brings it all full circle.
I actually took it as a good omen when Stoli reached out to me to do this project. I don’t really know why I made this decision, but it was the vodka I always chose on my tour rider. I think because of the bottle. I liked the design, and it just seemed like it wasn’t really associated with anything.
Right, like, it’s not being chugged by Jimmy Page in any famous pictures.
It was it’s own thing. It wasn’t promoted to me to be for a certain kind of person or lifestyle.
‘Party Hard’ dropped in 2001, just a month after the terrorist attacks on September 11th. What was it like playing to NYC crowds so fresh off that awful day?
It was very confounding and confusing and it was every kind of emotion. There was this real sense of questioning, at least for me: Like, “What am I doing?” Because it made you reevaluate everything. It put everything into a painfully stark place, where your perspective was so shifted. It was almost like Judgment Day for your own self and your interests and pursuits, and I thought, ‘Does any of this even matter? Why am I even doing this?’
And then, shortly after, I actually felt more glad that I was doing this than anything else that I could be doing. Talk about needing to be cured and keep yourself going and have some kind of joy, [because] I could really devote myself to this with even more commitment. To question it was healthy, but then to come back and reaffirm that feeling happy is OK [was] maybe even more valuable.
Tell me about the recording process for ‘Party Hard.’ Which studio did you produce it at? Was there beer all over the control panel after it got cut?
So I was 21. No, there was never any… I don’t think most studios actually even allowed alcohol in the control rooms. Most of the people I worked with were very strict about not having alcohol. I think it made them feel like the people got tired. You used to have to work very long hours. But that really wasn’t an issue either way. For better or worse, all the songs on the album were recorded in many different studios. So it was never in just one place.
One of the best things about partying hard? Jumping high!
Did you do any of it in New York City?
Yes. I recorded the first versions of all those songs at my own studio here.
Where was it?
Oh, that’s where I live.
One of my favorite neighborhoods; that would have been in like ’98 or ’99. Jewel Street! Between Nassau and Norman. 65 Jewel Street. I love Greenpoint. It’s another neighborhood that’s managed to retain its spirit, as much as it’s changed in ways. The feeling I get when I walk around there is like… a part of yourself that you don’t always think about, but it’s always there.
I take it that isn’t real blood pouring out of your nose on the album cover…
Well, it’s not my blood.
…or had you just done a Scarface mountain of cocaine?
No, definitely, not that, but that was something that a lot of people actually thought. I thought a bloody nose is the most common injury—not even an injury. It’s the most common situation where people are around blood. [There was] a student that got severe bloody noses in my elementary school just from dry weather. And it made a huge impact on me, because all of a sudden you’d look over, and this guy would have blood streaming [out of his nose].
Actually, this is the first time I’m realizing how that’s probably where that whole idea even came from. This guy, Andy McClain. He was very fair, like, had white-blonde hair—not that that would necessarily have anything to do with getting bloody noses, but he seemed a bit delicate. Oh, he was hearty, but I think he was just sensitive. I don’t think he even noticed a lot of times when they would happen. And it was alarming when you see that. Clearly he wasn’t in pain, he wasn’t hurt, but it was striking, and I guess it really just stuck with me. So I wanted to make my first album cover have that feeling. I thought, ‘Do you know what? I’ve never seen anyone do a bloody nose picture. I’m going to make that my logo.’ And I just went with it. If you’re out there, Andy McClain, that was a huge inspiration.
What did you do with your first check from the record label… back when musicians were actually still sort of making decent money?
I got to experience the tail-end of that version of the record industry. The amount of money that we spent just making a music video was more than the amount you might get to make 10 albums and 10 videos combined right now. So that was interesting to see, for sure, and I’m thankful that I got to see that. It was also a bit painful, because we saw a lot of people we’d worked with lose their jobs or just whole companies being reduced from 200 people to 20 people.
KISS’ Gene Simmons recently said that rock is dead, and with a few key exceptions, I have to sort of agree with him. What’s your take on that?
Well, I heard about him saying this, and I didn’t hear the quote directly, but I’ve heard people asking about it. First of all, I have tremendous respect for Gene Simmons and love his work a great deal, but I find that he enjoys saying provocative statements and especially statements that might contradict Paul Stanley. Because I imagine Paul Stanley would never say that, and he probably believes very differently that rock and roll could never die. Which I almost wonder, deep down inside, if Gene truly believes, which is maybe even why he feels OK to say that, because he knows that maybe it’s not the case.
I also find it very hard to grapple with the statement being said by a man who’s still actively playing rock and roll. So if he was dead, then I could see him saying that. But of course, he couldn’t say that if he was dead. So there’s all kinds of bizarre contradictions in that. The only way that he could possibly say that rock and roll is dead—to me, he represents rock and roll in a very true way—[is if] he [were] to be dead. Therefore, he couldn’t say it.
I think it’s awesome that you have your actual email address on your website so fans can email you directly. What the hell happened to accessible rock stars?
Oh well, you know, my whole thing is partying, so the very nature of it is, it’s meant to be inviting, and I always liked it when I would encounter people or things that have that same quality. I wanted to feel like [my fans] wanted me to be part of what they were doing. It’s like we’re standing next to each other; we’re all on the same team, working for this feeling of excitement together, and I want to feel like I’m a part of their experience as much as they are of mine. I’m not detached from it or above or removed or they’re beneath. It’s all just one thing that we’re making together. And that certainly has been my experience. I couldn’t have done this by myself.