It's not often that a musician holds a town-hall meeting.
Even less often is it to address rumors that he's not who he says he is—that he is an impostor of himself, not even manufactured, fake in the commercial, boy-band sense, but actually not a real man: the latest in a series of actors hired to play himself, literally everything about his name, identity, and presence, down to the last detail, not so much fabrication or concoction but trick.
That, however, is precisely what Andrew W.K. did last week at the Santos Party House, the split-level bar/concert venue he co-owns in Chinatown on Manhattan's Lower East Side, addressing 232 fans and curious observers seated in folding chairs before a small stage on the venue's wooden floor.
"Did you see the Tiger Woods press conference?" W.K. asked, backstage, about 15 minutes before he was scheduled to go on, thumbing nervously through his Blackberry in a small holding room. "That's what it's supposed to be" modeled on, he said. "Because it was very stoic."
As his assistant and a sound technician came in and out, taking directions for the event that was about to unfold, W.K. informed them that he was going to read a prepared statement before taking any questions.
"It's going to be awkward," he said.
And indeed it was.
W.K. staged this town hall, amid a recent wave of questions about his identity, on the day he was supposed to release his new double album, Close Calls with Brick Walls/Mother of Mankind, his first U.S. release in five years. But because of rumors that sprang up on music websites in late January that Andrew was not a continuous person but rather a series of different actors hired for the role, and because the double album's release was delayed a month by an issue with the CD casing, instead of a release party he held this meeting at Santos, open to the public (until it sold out) and dubbed "Ask Andrew W.K. Anything: A Night of Questions."
Andrew W.K. rose to prominence in 2001 with his breakout album, I Get Wet, featuring simple, guitar-, drum-, and organ-driven rock songs with lyrics almost exclusively about partying. (The album's first lyrics are, "It's time to party/Let's party/Hang out with yourself and have a crazy party/Hey you, let's party/Have a killer party and party," and it slides gloriously down the party hill from there.) He's hosted two TV shows: currently, a reality show on Cartoon Network called Destroy Build Destroy, in which teams compete to build machines out of the wreckage of explosions, and a 2004 series on MTV2 called Your Friend, Andrew W.K., in which Andrew answered letters from fans seeking advice and traveled to help them with problems.
In 2004, he fell out with a former associate, and a dispute ensued over who owned the rights to his name and image, and who should get credit for inventing it. As a result, W.K. couldn't release his own music in the U.S.—until now.
That development appears related to the new rash of speculation that W.K. is not a person, but instead a character played in public, on albums, and onstage by a series of actors. In recent years, he has performed free-form motivational lectures at universities, and it was during one of those speaking appearances, in London in 2008, that Andrew W.K. said himself, cryptically but directly, that he was literally not the same person that he was before.
"I'm actually not Andrew W.K.," he said. This video of the performance, uncomfortable to watch at times, spawned the current questions.
"I'm not the same guy that you may have seen from the I Get Wet album," he said nervously, offering it as a confession. "I'm not that same person, and I don't just mean that in a philosophical or conceptual way, it's not the same person at all. Do I look the same as that person?"
In an interview before that speaking engagement (included in the video clip above), W.K. told Tom Hannan of Britain's RockFeedback, "I thought it would be more interesting if my secret history was revealed after the fact rather than as a precursor."
"Andrew W.K. was created by a large group of people, almost a conference of people, and they met, and I was there, and we talked about how we could come up with something that would move people, and it was done in the spirit of commerce, it was done in the spirit of entertainment, which usually goes hand in hand with commerce, and I was auditioned alongside of many other people to fill this role of a great front man, a great performer," Andrew W.K. said on stage. The video was finally posted by RockFeedback in December, and that's when the rumors kicked into full gear.
Andrew would later recant, seemingly in panic. He tweeted, on Dec. 29, that he was "forced to say this stuff," and he posted a long statement to his website denying the conspiracies of his origin.
Exacerbating these rumors is the fact that Andrew W.K. says he made promises to former managers and producers that he would never reveal their names. He's given a series of interviews this year in which he hasn't been able to answer some straightforward questions about his identity. Speculation has mounted that Dave Grohl had something to do with creating him. Through it all, Andrew W.K. has insisted that he is a real person—and that it's not out of the ordinary for a musician to work with managers, producers, and creative partners in writing music and crafting an aesthetic.
"Yeah, a town hall," he told me a week and a half before the event, when I suggested to him over the phone, having heard about it, that the night could carry the feel of a political town-hall meeting.
"That's where I got the idea from, really...either at the White House press conferences, or press conferences in general, or athletic press conferences, but also those town-hall conferences where it was very open and it wasn't just limited to press people and people inside the inner circle, but that anybody could come and ask whatever they wanted," W.K. said. "I'm finding that being present is the most respectful and the best thing to do in a situation where someone has a question for you."
Before last Tuesday, Andrew W.K. had told me that he didn't know what to expect of the event—"I really don't know. I have no idea," he'd said—and last Tuesday night, minutes before he was scheduled to take the stage, it appeared he still didn't.
As the lights dimmed and Andrew came on stage, walking up to a lone chair in a lone spotlight, set up almost as if he was about to be interrogated—which, in a sense, he was—W.K. appeared, seeming quite nervous, and delivered his opening statement with many pauses and some apparent emotional difficulty.