The 33 1/3 Author Q&A: Phillip Crandall

PhillipCrandallOver the next few months, we’ll be profiling the authors of the eighteen forthcoming 33 1/3 titles here on the blog so you can get to know them, their writing, and what kind of twisted soul chooses to think about just one album for months at a time.

Next Up: Phillip Crandall is a South Floridian and longtime music writer, particularly of oral histories. He’s also in a band called There’s Gonna Be Girls There, and every day, he wakes up believing the Chicago Cubs are going to win that day (poor guy). Of the experience working on a 33 1/3 about Andrew W.K.’s 2001 party rock album I Get Wet, he says, “It’s been extremely moving and incredibly rewarding, but when I look back at it, sappy-me is probably going to remember most fondly my wife announcing halfway through that she was pregnant with our first child. So there’ll be that, and then the memories of me cranking party music for two ever-expanding bellies: hers, with what’s destined to be the most awesome child ever, and mine, with comfort-tacos and carbonated caffeine.”

Phillip is a former editor for FHM Magazine. His freelance writing has appeared in ESPN The Magazine, Maxim, and whatever other publications at which his scattered friends have taken up shop. His book about Andrew W.K. will, of course, be about PARTYING, but also chronicles Mr. WK’s evolution and examines how his inviting, inclusive lyrics create the ultimate shared experience between artist and audience.

What, in particular, drew you to writing about this album?
Phillip Crandall: The simplest answer is that I Get Wet is still the most fun I’ve ever experienced in an album, and as a lover of fun, I wanted to be its loudest shouter. It almost sounds selfish as I type it out, but it’s the only answer that doesn’t read like rationalization or an apology for passion here. There’s an indescribable joy that fills my heart and floods my head whenever I hear those melodies; it overtakes me even now, just a few days since I’ve handed in the manuscript and capped off a near-year of it being my everyday soundtrack. Fortunately for readers, this book isn’t about my quest for those elusive adjectives; I simply can’t imagine undertaking a project like this without that overwhelming passion and those bewildered feelings serving as fuel.

Describe for us the process of coming up with and pitching your 33 1/3. Did anything surprise you? Did you start with one idea and end up with another?
PC: I have a friend in Buffalo who likes to say, “When the history of (insert thing) is written … and it will be written…” When I inserted I Get Wet as that thing, that sentence could only be completed around those feelings of joy. Throughout the project, I felt beholden and respectful to how that joy played in my heart and how it might manifest in the hearts of my fellow listeners. I wanted to make this book a call-to-arms celebration, not some personal essay or stoic deconstruction. I Get Wet always felt like a complete, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-awesome-parts album, and my earliest interest wasn’t to dissect those individual songs, but to look at how Andrew W.K. created its overall essence. To me, that meant focusing on:
a) where this artist came from musically and how he evolved to this point, because most people hearing his debut in 2002 had no idea where he had beamed in from;
b) how the polished intensity of so many singular-sounding melodic forces was honed and captured; and
c) how the text’s most overarching vibe–PARTY–was more than a vapid YOLO sentiment.

One of the first things I ever read about Andrew was a Rolling Stone article where he said he put thousands of hours into creating I Get Wet so it wouldn’t sound like there had been thousands of hours of work put into creating it. I was fascinated with the idea that these awesomely loud, seemingly simple, carefree anthems were crafted by someone actually showing pride in the effort and labor behind them. It was the absolute opposite of detached, cynical jadedness … and I loved it! Then when I saw him live that summer and his between-song messages were so positive and inspiring, that passion-for-action was beyond contagious and encompassing. In no way did his album capture what music felt like at that time (or any time since), and the context Andrew W.K. created within his tiny vacuum was more life-affirming and possibility-creating than I could ever hope for.

His music became deeply personal in the best possible way–everything he sang and said had a purposeful vagueness that kept each message from feeling time-stamped or alienating–and writing about my connection to those messages here feels particularly odd because there are so few of these expressed feelings in the actual book. Besides portions where I painted a bit of necessary author-context and provided narration as I follow a couple recommendations and rabbit holes, I’m no more a part of this story than any (biased) curator would be. That was one strong principle I held from the beginning: if Andrew wasn’t making I Get Wet or the surrounding experience blatantly about himself, who am I to make its accompaniment about me?

In the end, I think this book will be seen as an introduction to an artist, the making of what was certainly his most popular art piece, and the all-out, all-unique, often-odd spirit and philosophies driving both. Going into this project, I had absolutely no idea how utterly fascinating Andrew The Artist was. It’s as if I proposed a book on some German physicist because I liked how punchy his relativity formula was, and then I got to write about Einstein.

I was fascinated with the idea that these awesomely loud, seemingly simple, carefree anthems were crafted by someone actually showing pride in the effort and labor behind them. It was the absolute opposite of detached, cynical jadedness.

Who did you reach out to during the writing process? Why?
PC: Andrew, those who grew up with Andrew, those whose name appeared in I Get Wet‘s liner notes … everyone! I ended up speaking to so many wonderful, generous people, and I spent all other waking moments trying to get in touch with the next one. Part of that comes from me craving every detail and every version of any story out there, because there’s only fun to be found going that route. The other part of that comes from some of the shade that was thrown around years later about exactly who and who was not involved in the making of this album. I fundamentally didn’t want this shade to be a distraction to the music if it didn’t need to be, and as I had hoped, the principal players addressed the most essential questions almost immediately, as well as provided insights to even the more trivial sub-topics. For this project, talking to those involved seemed like the most natural thing in the world, and it paid off incredibly!

What 33 1/3s have you read? Which are your favourites? Why?
PC: I’ve probably read a dozen, the last being Chocolate and Cheese. During an intense nautical phase in my life, I had pitched a Ween 33 1/3 book in the same proposal-cycle that Hank Shteamer pitched his book, and I thought he ended up creating the perfect complement to that album–Ween in all its behind-the-brownness glory, without any author interference. Initially, it was the exact treatment I hoped to give I Get Wet. The authors for all of my favorite 33 1/3s tended to minimize themselves and their backgrounds, which is why it was so incredibly frustrating (though entirely necessary) when I had to go first-person-singular in my series entry. Restraint was practiced with each few-and-far-between instance, though. In the first instance, I briefly mentioned sprinting to my car as soon as the video credits for “Party Hard” rolled and I saw who the artist was. What I didn’t mention was that it couldn’t have been more than a week after the album was released, yet the only copy of I Get Wet that my local store had was pre-owned and marked-down. That means someone had already listened to it, deemed it expendable, and gone to the trouble of selling it back, which I saw then as an amazing sign that I’d love it, and which I see now as a perfect (though too personal) encapsulation for the polarized opinions that have followed Andrew and his music ever since.

The other part of that first-exposure story I can justify noting here is that I ran into an eventual 33 1/3 author on my way to the cash register. He was my former editor at our school paper, and today, consistently proves himself to be the greatest music writer and critic of our generation. That fact would be completely intimidating to me as a writer if he wasn’t such a rad friend. I actually only reminded him of that in-store coincidence recently, but I doubt he remembers because in the same conversation–in an attempt to praise his 33 1/3 book further–I kinda admitted his band-of-choice wasn’t an all-time favorite of mine, and he literally turned around and walked away. Passion is just the best!

What was your first concert?
PC: I have a distinct memory of my dad carrying me through a crowd when I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. There was no music yet, but the lights had just dropped and I remember the swelling sound of people shouting. Those shouts seemed to be directed at the very thing we were heading toward; it’s an intensely weird, pre-show buzz that still awakens every sense in my body to this day. Soon enough, the shouts were swallowed up by massive, unforgiving guitar. This is where the memory is probably colored by my life since, though, because that band was Holland (which my Uncle Tommy was the singer for and which guitar-deity Michael Angelo Batio was a guitarist in) and the song must have been something from his Little Monsters album, which I’ve listened to more than any other human on the planet. I was recently talking to Tommy about my favorite song from that album — “Wake Up the Neighborhood,” which a segment of this readership may recognize from the party-invasion scene in [the 1985 film] Girls Just Wanna Have Fun — and he referred to it as “cartoon metal.” You really need to hear Tommy’s impression of a cranky neighbor at the end of the song to understand why he’d call it that, but the foundation that song laid in my psyche is probably of huge note here. It has a killer guitar line, an anthemic chorus good for all ages and all time, and it will absolutely appear on the soundtrack to the film about the making of this book about the I Get Wet album.

How do you listen to your music at home: vinyl, CD, or MP3? Why?
PC: Don’t forget cassettes! Fortunately, my home is equipped for all four formats, so I don’t really think about or–as a previously interviewed author awesomely put it–“fetishize the format.” If the question was narrowed down to how I’d listen to something that’s represented in each of those formats (like, in my collection, Elvis Costello’s Get Happy! or Weezer’s Blue Album), it would appear that I listen to the format popular at the time of the release, regardless of how I was introduced to it. I listen to Costello’s album on vinyl, even though I owned it on CD first. And with Weezer, I tend to spin the CD, even though I had it on tape first. Just as a quick defense for MP3s: some beloved bands like The Stink only release music in that format, and since I have to have “Fancy Debutante” handy at any moment, MP3s are absolutely invaluable. I can hang in any sound-quality conversation one wants to engage in, but I cannot deny or dismiss the awesome convenience of burnt CDs or MP3 players–and that convenience goes for the artist sharing his or her work or a listener having the opportunity to enjoy it.

Name a lyric from the album you’re writing about that encapsulates either a) the album itself, b) your experience in hearing the album for the first time, or c) your experience writing about the album, so far.
PC: I guess “Hey you, let’s party” covers the first two sub-questions. Unfortunately for those who place weight and worthiness on a song’s lyrics—or, further, expect someone who works with the written word to be as passionate about an individual song’s text–I’m not a Lyric Larry. Unless a line is obnoxiously alliterative, uniquely rhymed, repeated ad nauseam, or simply hilarious to sing, it rarely registers as anything beyond being a rhythmic or timbre tool for the song. That proclivity spans all genres of music, but I think it serves I Get Wet well. For me, an I Get Wet line-reading comes down to two words found across many of the songs. The first one is obvious; the second, less so, but just as vital. My lyric selection above doesn’t give that word away, but it speaks to the delicate, powerful sentiment.
Next Up: S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer on They Might Be Giants’ Flood. Stay tuned.

0 thoughts on “The 33 1/3 Author Q&A: Phillip Crandall”

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  4. Reblogged this on SONIC GEOGRAPHY and commented:
    I have an entry coming soon about Gainesville and punk rock for your Floridians by birth and at heart. A large component of what made Gainesville the crux of such a vibrant movement was a heavy concentration of cheap rents, a transient atmosphere that removed the burden of permanence, and (you probably guessed it) the explosive house parties where bands like Radon and Spoke spoke of radon (as it emanated into the FL punks’ lungs in clouds of sweat). There are a few academic studies of mosh pits and the spatial dynamics of private, DIY spaces out in the ether, but nothing could adequately prepare us for the firey world of Andrew W.K. So, let’s put the social science aside and hear from Phillip Crandall, whose volume on “I Get Wet” is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the 33 1/3 series.

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