Last week I interviewed musician and party philosopher Andrew WK. I've enjoyed his work for a long time and we had an interesting and lively discussion regarding the launch of his nonpolitical, political party: The Party Party. This interview has been edited for brevity.
MN: First of all, I wanted to say I saw you play back in 2003 or thereabouts?
AWK: Wow! OK
MN: It was great, I remember I rocked with you onstage for a moment then jumped off again.
AWK: You got up onstage?
MN: Yup, I rocked with you briefly and then jumped off again.
AWK: I appreciate you taking that risk and it sounds like you have very good crowd surfing etiquette in terms of getting up, having a moment of glory and continuing on.
MN: That was probably one of the last times I did that. I think at the time I was probably too old to do it. (laughs)
AWK: In my book you're never too old, but I understand you may have moved on to other ways of stage diving including mental stage diving. You can always dive off the cliff in your brain.
MN: Absolutely. To catch up those of who haven't heard about your nonpolitical, political party: Could you tell me the basics on The Party Party?
AWK: This was an idea that had been around in my mind thanks to the encouragement of my fellow partiers for quite some time now. During every election cycle there was a general atmosphere that encouraged some participation on my part. I would chime in with some party philosophy, but I never really took it any further than that for all sorts of very good reasons. This year it seemed like the conditions were right, the timing was right and destiny was calling. I can't explain it really other than that. I obey the will of the party gods and try to follow what they want me to do, and I think that between them and the desires of my fellow party people we were all looking for a version of this particular attitude. It's an attitude I think many of us have anyway, but sometimes it's nice to formalize the attitude into a cohesive organization. So I formed The Party Party.
MN: These ideas will be in the air and it will take the right moment to happen. I find this election cycle shrill. Every election cycle is shrill but this one particularly. I imagine you are sensing that as well.
AWK: No one is more shrill than I am when it comes to partying.
AWK: To some people's ears it's the opposite of shrill. It's the most soothing, it's the most transcendent kind of music. To that person who already identifies with this party philosophy, this partying mindset, this partying approach to life. As we were saying formalizing it into what we would think of as a political organization allowed us to apply that party philosophy into this political area where I think it could be very helpful. This is a nonpolitical political party. We don't have a political agenda. This is about tone and texture of what we are creating that the approach to existing political issues through. So I'm trying to basically improve our constitution, our personal individual attitudes rather so whatever side you may be on, whatever ideas you have you can approach with an empowered cheerful, enthusiasm, rather than pure dissension. We do ultimately have to figure out a way to get along. It may be the one thing that ultimately unifies us.
MN: I heard that you filed the paperwork with the State Department. How does that work? What is that paperwork like? I imagine anyone can form a party and do it.
AWK: That was the most daunting part of this process for me. That's the only thing that made me think twice before approaching a project like this: the bureaucracy, my lack of experience in the political realm, all the red tape, all the hoops I had to jump through, all the adversity you face doing anything that large. I don't think they (State Department) want something like this to happen and they make it very difficult to keep things like this from happening and possibly for good reason. I don't think it's all just to be mean, I think that you have to prove yourself and that's probably the most challenging part. This has been all made a lot easier for me because I knew this time that I couldn't do this alone. First I tried talking to some politically involved people that I met over the years, mostly through TV. They were very encouraging at times but didn't want to be involved directly. Then there are the people who are completely removed from the political industry, so I reached out through Playboy. I have some friends who work in the media department. I asked if they would be interested in backing this idea and they didn't hesitate for one second to get involved.
A lot of people would scoff at this idea, roll their eyes and say it's a distraction. This is not some new idea. The idea of confronting the sometimes-disillusioning world of politics with a party attitude. Sometimes absurdity calls for an absurd reaction and Playboy got right on board and they are the ones who did the heavy lifting as far as I'm concerned. It starts with the paperwork, all the research. They filmed that video and I think they did an incredible job. I got to say this on their behalf but they didn't ask for anything. They didn't put their logo on anything, they just believed. I get the sense from their investigative journalism, free speech tradition and they are American phenomena onto themselves, but I was moved that I had this partner in the beginning. Since we launched which was last Thursday. So it's only been exactly one week (at the time of this conversation) and the response has ben completely over the top. I didn't imagine this would be so big.
MN: Oh yeah it's blowing up.
AWK: Now we need to figure out where to go from here. Are we going to try and take it all the way? Even if the State Department rejects the application for whatever reason, the core value we tapped into here actually exists outside of the system. Maybe it will even be better because of that.
MN: Even if the State Department does reject the application, there no reason you can't reapply again with the help of a constitutional lawyer because of all the momentum you have it shouldn't be too hard to get one.
AWK: Absolutely. In the meantime we can apply this philosophy to everything we do. That's the whole thing. Because there is no political agenda, other than trying to be the best person you can be. People can still support whatever candidate they originally supported and do it from this position of The Party Party. I feel like the The Party Party can consume all other parties as much as it can exist on the periphery. This is not asking anyone to lose their identity, it is just trying to add more energy and power. Really it's trying to encourage us to engage more deeply. Some folks who criticized it said it was irresponsible, trying to pull the wool over people's eyes and convince them to disengage from politics when I feel it's the exact opposite. It's creating an empowering energy and cheerfulness. Rather than being irresponsible or trivial, I think that gives us sort of that renewed sense of optimism to help us dive back into the fray and go back to work.
MN: How many signatures do you need to get?
AWK: It depends on which state we try to file in first. A state like California requires about a hundred thousand. A state like Rhode Island its far fewer and that's just at the state level. That's just to participate in that state. In order to get to the federal level it's going to take a lot. It's especially daunting and overwhelming. That side of it continues to be discouraging to me. When we launched it, I didn't actually think it was going to be that hard. That's why there are not that many other political parties.
MN: It sounds incredibly discouraging.
AWK: I don't think it's helping anybody. I don't like these limitations. It seems very anti-American to me that we would keep each other tied down to these two main parties. A few have managed and that's very admirable to establish themselves alongside these boring red and blue binary dichotomies.
MN: In terms of practicality, let's suppose you get enough signatures. What would happen next? What would your role in it be? You don't appear to have some kind of presidential agenda or anything. If this did go all the way what do you picture it to be like? Have you thought that through at all?
AWK: No. I'm not happy I didn't think that through. I think that the whole launching of The Party Party is an invitation to the party and then see who would show up. We would figure out what to do together, rather than me coming up with an agenda it's something we would collaborate on together. That's something I appreciate very much because I don't know. I don't have all the answers.
MN: I was curious if you had an endgame if it did go that far and I know it's a crazy long shot.
AWK: That's where it begins to become something of a paradox. You're participating in this world that you're trying to subvert.
MN: Right. The outside starts to become the inside.
AWK: Exactly, and I think that a lot of times I apply to this to my work throughout: to go on the inside and to not be afraid of the inside in all kinds of established systems. Maybe for whatever reason in the political sphere or government, what we have to offer is better applied from the outside in, or maybe spiraling around it. I really feel like my best contribution is the atmosphere. That's what I can do for a party. I can't tell people how to party. I just want to create the conditions.
MN: In every political cycle there seems to be a prankster element and I don't get the vibe that this is a prank. One thinks of Hunter Thompson's campaign to become Sherriff in his town or when Deez Nuts ran in polls and turned out to be a 15 year old kid. You remember this?
AWK: Yeah of course, that was quite recent.
MN: I thought that was really funny. I think what's unique about this is that it seems genuine. I believe that and I'm sure many people believe that as well. It's not a prank and I think that's why it's getting traction.
AWK: There is content here. Anyone can sort of show up. Once you're there, what do you have to say? I don't have a particular political agenda to promote. The spirit here is the ultimate atmosphere for every person to become themselves. To fully realize themselves, to become self actualized and that ideally is exactly in line of the United States of America and the whole founding principle of liberty. We're not trying to reinvent anything. We're just trying to encourage a sprit that's been there all along.
MN: I just though of something and I don't know what the answer is. Maybe you do. When the democrat and republican parties were first formed why did they choose the word party? I may have to look that up if you don't know. I wonder if you're tapping into something old time American that's deep in our cultural lineage.
AWK: A friend of mine from high school who went on to become a philosophy professor explained to me recently that the original word was "parte" with an "e" and as you can imagine "partition" and there's a strange paradox with that. You're separating yourself from the larger group around a shared idea or shared quality and celebrating that to an extent but we think of parties as something we do together which has an inclusive aspect. You're separating yourself and also surrounding yourself with others. Ideally a country is its own party. We are already distinct and unique in the world amongst other nations. The United States goal is for all of us to party together.
MN: That's an interesting take on it.
AWK: Which is a big undertaking. Trying to party with the rest of the world should be the ultimate goal seems very daunting but how do we expect to get along with everybody if we can't get along here.
MN: Do you have any thoughts on the frontrunners in the 2016 election? On either side? Do you have any positions on any of them?
AWK: I think the whole phenomenon is encouraging and interesting in many ways, and discouraging in other ways. There are things I like about every single candidate including candidates that are no longer in the race. There are also things that I don't particularly relate to or identify with so much. I do really think people care about my opinions and there's so many people constantly voicing their opinions in that regard, which they should . I have nothing to add as you said, that shrill conversation. So I feel that what I have to add if anything is party spirit.
MN: That's fair.
MN: Lastly, is there any new music projects? What are you working on?
AWK: We got a new album coming out this summer. It's pretty exciting for me to be releasing a new record of party songs. I don't know when it will come out or anything like that. It's been in the works for several years and continues to be closer all the time.