- 55 Cadillac
- Format: CD Album
- Catalogue Number: SMM-3939
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: Skyscraper Music Maker
- Release Date: 7 September 2009
A jet-black ‘55 Cadillac Fleetwood, hard-bodied, sleek and gleaming. A Model D Steinway grand piano with a satin ebony lustre. Two disparate objects with one connecting principal: a man dressed in white.
"For his 5th album, 55 Cadillac, Andrew W.K., the iconic white clad-rocker best-known for performing physically-punishing, party-rocking anthems plays against type in the most dramatic fashion…with a recording of solo piano improvisations. The album is also Andrew’s first solo release on his new Skyscraper Music Maker imprint (a co-venture with the UK’s Cargo Records) and will be released simultaneously in a deluxe gatefold vinyl edition by Thurston Moore’s label Ecstatic Peace.
At first listen, 55 Cadillac seems as far removed as it could be from the brash, rousing and driving music that features on previous Andrew W.K. albums. Intimate, personal, unaccompanied and almost entirely unadorned, it features 8 freeform piano pieces that were composed at the same time that they were played and recorded. But 55 Cadillac is driving music too, albeit a very different kind.
This is not so much music to drive to-although it would certainly be not only possible but immensely-pleasurable and fun to listen to while operating a car - but music that embodies the experience of driving itself: the peculiar headspace one enters and the intuitive, mechanical mind/body interaction that occurs while doing so. It sounds the way the world might look as it passes by while sitting in a car, driving at the dead of night through unfamiliar terrain without a map: an experience that is as exhilarating, as it is strange and magical.
A classically-trained musician, Andrew has been playing piano since he was 4 years old - making this record was not so much a sharp left-turn in his musical career as a return to the instrument that he describes as ‘the root of my whole musical experience’. But then, since emerging in 2001 with his signature tune, “Party Hard”, and debut album, “I Get Wet’, Andrew W.K. has also delighted in confounding expectations.
As well as releasing three albums of his own material, he has recorded two albums of cover versions of hit Japanese pop songs, undertaken a tour of America as a motivational speaker, opened a popular downtown New York concert hall and nightclub, Santos Party House (in collaboration with artist Spencer Sweeney, architect Ron Castellano and nightclub impresario Larry Golden, and business mogul, Derek Ferguson) and, more recently, became the host of Cartoon Network’s live action show and destruction derby, Destroy Build Destroy. All this alongside solo shows and production work for psychedelic noise band Sightings and a Grammy award-nominated album for dub reggae pioneer, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
All these things, Andrew says, have been undertaken as part of a process of “shaking things up”, of engaging in something that feels “scary and risky or potentially humiliating and then charging towards all of those feelings. I realised it was way more fun to be uncomfortable and unsure and off-balance and thinking you’ve made a big mistake. That to me is more exciting.”
55 Cadillac is another step along that road. The car that features on the cover and the Steinway piano he plays were both purchased by Andrew and were, by his own admission, the most extravagant objects he has ever possessed. He acquired both around the same period. “I’d never stepped up and made that sort of commitment with that type of purchase,” says Andrew. “It was like buying a house. It was completely crazy and went against every previous instinct I had and that’s why I thought I should [purchase] it.”
Although, Andrew had planned to make an album of solo piano recordings for several years, the album itself was only realised after he had divested himself of both these objects. Yet, somehow, the connection between them lingered. The album was recorded in the winter of 2008 at the Cleveland, Ohio, house of fellow musician Baby Dee (whom Andrew has known and played with for several years, both as part of Current 93 and the group that played on Dee’s 2008 album, ‘Safe Inside The Day’). Dee inherited Andrew’s Steinway grand, when the latter moved to his Skyscraper Music Maker studio and label HQ in Manhattan and the instrument proved impractical to hike up the 39 floors.
Where Andrew has on average usually taken up to 2 years to compose, record, and refine the densely-layered production of previous albums, he recorded the entirety of 55 Cadillac in just one 2 hour session and edited those tapes down to the 8 tracks on the album. These recordings were used almost as is, without overdubs, save for the night drive sound effects and car engine noise that act as a linking device and lend the album an extra dimension.
At Baby Dee’s, Andrew sat down and played whatever came to his mind and through his fingers, without prior consideration or planning. “It felt to me like I was hanging by a thread the whole time, or I was about to fall off a cliff,” he says. A lot of times I was just trying to keep playing and keep this momentum going. I would play for as long as I could or as long as it seemed right and, most of the time, when I stopped that was that song.”
“It reminded me of when I would be playing at home when someone else was at home, whether they were in their own room or hanging out in the kitchen, or just in the house-that’s sort of what I wanted it to feel like for people to listen to. It seems like such a light, potentially throw-away approach to the music, but then it’s associated with this high production visual presentation.” And that begs the question, says Andrew, does one affect your experience of or inform the other?
The photographs that feature on the album artwork-taken by Andrew’s friend and sometime visual collaborator, Andrew Strasser-shine a different light on 55 Cadillac. Shot in one session at the dead of night in the parking garage where the car was being stored-the day after he had sold it to a new owner-the photographs reveal a car with its own very special character. And, for this, there is a reason.
On taking receipt of the car, Andrew discovered a deed of sale and an old photograph in the glove box that led him to conclude that the car had once been owned by a man called Dean Acheson-the photograph was of his wife. Acheson was the U.S. Secretary of State during Harry Truman’s presidency and is sometimes described as the ‘architect of the Cold War’.
“The way people reacted to this car,” says Andrew, “I’d never seen anything like it. People really freaked out when they saw it. They yelled stuff, smiled, honked their horns. People just got really excited. I never would have anticipated that. It was a constant magnet for all kinds of energy: positive energy, negative energy.”
In contrast, to the excitement that occurred when he drove it through the city, he says that almost every experience he had behind the wheel was a “white knuckle ride” that included numerous breakdowns and one freak mechanical failure that almost resulted in a catastrophic pile-up during rush hour traffic in midtown Manhattan-and was only averted by lightning quick reflexes. Looking back at it now, he says, “I think the car was haunted. It did seem like Dean Acheson was not very happy that I had this car. It was so difficult the whole time. It was a nightmare.”
But the experiences he had with the vehicle resulted in this record. “I claimed the car and I captured its soul, so I won,” Andrew concludes. “But I think the car would be proud.”
1) Begin The Engine
2) Seeing The Car
3) Night Driver
4) Central Park Cruiser
6) City Time
7) Car Nightmare