EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: OBITUARY (AND ANDREW W.K.) DRUMMER DONALD TARDY SPEAKS OUT ABOUT THE ANDREW W.K. CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Before the curtain fell on 2009 a curious video surfaced on the website RockFeedback.com (possibly filmed a year ago? I’m not sure), in which Andrew W.K. flat out admitted that “Andrew W.K.” was essentially a character played by different people, of which he (the one doing the lecture in the video) was the second. Andrew W.K. conspiracy theories have been running amok on the Internet for years, but it’s a rabbit hole we’re all too willing to go down given how interesting the whole thing is.
Then, in the early days of 2010, the MetalSucks Mansion telegraph wire blew up with an offer we couldn’t refuse — Donald Tardy, drummer of death metal legends Obituary and on Andrew W.K.’s breakthrough album I Get Wet (and subsequent 2+ year touring cycle) wanted to go on record with us about Andrew.
Intrigued, we set up a phone interview with Donald, and this past Tuesday at 4pm Vince got on the horn to attempt to settle this debate once and for all. Is Andrew W.K. one person? Has he been played by multiple actors? Who is Steev Mike? Surely a man that had worked so close with Andrew would know the answers… or perhaps not. Our full chat, after the jump, and as a bonus, some photographs of the I Get Wet recording sessions from Tardy’s personal collection.
So we’re talking today to clear up some rumors regarding Andrew W.K.
Sure. I will do my best.
Alright. I guess the obvious starting place then is for you to explain your relationship with him.
Andrew approached me in 2000. I had no idea who he was. I actually received a letter in the mail with handwriting that was in pencil, and it was literally Andrew writing to me saying that Obituary was one of his favorite bands and that I was one of his favorite drummers. He had always been a fan of my band, and he wanted to see if I was interested in recording with him. As he put it in his letter to me “you’re one of my favorite drummers, and I need a drummer and I hope that you would be interested.” So he sent me his demo and stuff, and I heard it and was blown away by it. It was completely opposite of what I had been doing in my career, just his style of music. It was something interesting to me because it was the mirror opposite of death metal and what I did. It completely interested me, and he had a phone number that he added with that letter. I called it, and we were friends immediately.
Was he signed at that time or not yet?
He was not signed. I can’t remember the actual record label, but there was something small that he had, maybe some demos, and he was working with somebody at the time. He was not signed. I think one of the reasons he was reaching out to me is because I think he had interest from Island Def Jam, so he kind of said that he had songs and was ready to record an album and didn’t really have a band yet but he was getting signed to a record label. I think I was probably the first person that he reached out to to help him out with starting a band and getting the idea of recording his demo onto a real album and a real recording.
How old was Andrew around that time?
Man . . . that’s a good question. I guess he must have been about . . . I honestly don’t know. I would have to guess he was probably 25 year old dude? Not even. Maybe he was still a teenager. He might have been about 19 or 20 maybe. Honestly, I can’t remember because it was 10 years ago now. I think he might have been an 18 or 19 year old dude.
From what I heard in the past, I think that’s about right. At that early stage, how developed were his songs? Were they finished songs? Were they ones that eventually got on I Get Wet or were they sort of proto-versions of those songs? What exactly is the songwriting process for him and were you involved in that at all?
They were already developed songs for sure. That dude obviously has quite the mind, and he is very focused on what he wants and how he wants the songs. So when I heard the songs, they were what he considered demo songs, but there were already drums to them, vocals, lyrics and everything. What he came to me for, and what he asked me to do was simply drum-wise, was there anything that I could add flavor to? Was there anything I could put my 2 cents worth in and use my metal side to help? That’s exactly what we did. There were a couple of drum fills and stuff that I helped with to basically try and make the songs a little bit more tasty drum-wise. They were already developed songs. He already had a focus on what he wanted, and he was obviously already getting signed to a major record label because of those recordings. They were already 99% songs. I was just there to put a little metal drums on them and give him a little idea of what I would do to the songs if he was looking for someone to give him advice, and that’s exactly what he wanted.
Did you play drums on the entire album or just some of it?
I did on I Get Wet, [but] I recorded not the whole album. I flew to California with him to [I Get Wet producer] Scott Humphrey’s studio. We spent a weekend out there just kind of messing around and getting stuff set up. Then we recorded 3 or 4 songs drum-wise. I was only out there for a certain amount of time before I had to get back to Florida. In that time we recorded like 3 or 4 songs and then he took those songs and I think that actually helped him develop the actual drum sound that he wanted. He’s quite the drummer himself, and I think some of the songs he actually recorded himself on drums and the other ones he might have had help programming or another drummer — a studio drummer — actually helped finish the album. I was there for the beginning of it, and the beef (the main part of the recording on “Party Hard,” “She is Beautiful,” and I can’t really remember what other songs). Those days that I was out there are the time that I spent recording 4 of the songs with him.
This next question is kind of vague on purpose. There’s been some talk about how the whole concept of Andrew W.K. was something that was concocted in a boardroom or, at the very least, that it was worked on and developed by the record label. What do you know about that, if anything?
It’s weird to me, I guess, because in hindsight I understand why rumors start especially with Andrew. He wrote me a letter, and the next thing you know, we’re developing a band. It went from 0 to 100 m.p.h. in a split second. I understand why rumors would start because it went from nothing to absolutely playing in every corner of the globe, Saturday Night Live and Conan O’Brien. I understand that people would probably think that it was too easy for that to happen to with some kid from Detroit and from New York. I understand that. Andrew had the mind, ability, and the focus to make it happen, and that’s exactly why it happened so quickly, because he was so determined on what he wanted. He was so sure what he wanted from a band, an album, an idea, a concept, and especially the live show that we put on. It was all his idea. It’s weird that people say that it was something not real or that it was just a corporate thing that they put together. I don’t even know. I don’t read the internet stuff that much. If I had to clear anything up, it’s simply that he’s an amazing drummer, guitar player, piano player that already knew what he wanted. I was there to help him put a band together, and we made it happen. It happened so quickly that people had no choice but to say that there’s no way that that happened, and then the next thing they’re doing is playing on Saturday Night Live and Ozzfest and Warped Tour and stuff. It’s as real as real gets.
So just a quick side note here, just so I have all my facts straight: you toured with him on that album? And have you done anything with him since?
I toured for the first 3 years. We were the busiest band on the planet. I think in 2002, I think I was home for a total of 17 days that year, which was unbelievable. For the first 3 years of that project, I was the drummer and I did the Warped Tours with him, the Ozzfests, Saturday Night Live, we did Conan O’Brien twice, Carson Daly, all those. I was the drummer for the band at that time. I think it was a total of 3 years and almost 500 shows I think that I did with him.
Wow. You moving on or him moving on, was that his call or your call? When did your relationship end and how did it end?
It never ended, because I’m still great friends with him, and I would still help him out when it comes to new music and giving him ideas or thoughts that he would ask me for. My band, Obituary, got back together, and that was my baby for 20 years before anything. When Andrew wrote me in 2000, it happened to be that for 3 years Obituary kind of took a break (back in 1997 or 1998). In 2000 Andrew wrote me, and it was perfect timing for me because Obituary wasn’t doing anything, so I really focused on really helping him. Long story short, Obituary has been back together since 2004 now and has done 3 albums since then. It’s just that my plate is full with my band because I don’t like to do things only half-hearted. With Obituary, it’s a full time focus. We tour nonstop with Obituary. That’s unfortunately when Andrew had to find another drummer which was another friend of mine that was touring with us the whole time as my drum tech. He’s now Andrew’s drummer. His name is Rich Russo.
Okay, getting back to what we were talking about a minute ago, do you know anything about how Andrew’s record deal came together or how he was discovered?
I don’t know exactly how he got the record deal. I know he had many songs that were demoed out. I think he was even doing crazy things like playing coffee shops by himself with a keyboard. He was playing Starbucks type places and just weird coffee shops in New York and stuff. Somebody probably said to whoever, I think Lewis Largent [?] was his main A & R guy when he got signed. Somebody obviously pointed to him and said “somebody needs to check this dude out because he’s different than everybody.” I would have to guess that would have to be an idea of how it started.
Yeah. Okay. The next thing is, I guess you know why we’re here. There are all these crazy rumors, and who knows who started them, that “Andrew W.K.” has been played by different actors and that there are 2 different dudes. Like I mentioned before, as if there was some kind of creation like a Disney character or something. What’s your thought on that?
I don’t know. Andrew is a dude. He is a dude that I know. I think it’s when something happens so quickly and so successfully, people can’t accept that. That’s understandable especially when people don’t understand his talent and how focused he was and how the songs were already there long before he got signed. I can tell that he had many ideas and songs. He probably had 2 or 3 albums worth of music before anybody experienced who he was. When it explodes as quickly as it did, people can’t accept that so they probably just make up rumors. Let’s face it, he’s quite a charismatic kind of dude. He’s bigger than real life. You combine those two [things] with the success and people can’t understand it so they immediately think there has to be more to it. But he’s a dude. He’s a dude from New York that grew up in Detroit. He’s a metalhead, but he’s a phenomenal piano player. You combine those two [things] and what do you get? You get metal meets Meatloaf. It’s just songs that people don’t know how to write, he wrote way more catchy than it should have been and people just didn’t know what to think. It was unquestionable when you hear “Party Hard” and “She is Beautiful.” I was playing it for the singer of Six Feet Under, it was still a demo then, and he was like “oh my god, this is going to be a gold record the minute it comes out.” It was. The minute that people heard it, it was unquestionable that it was more catchy than anything. That’s where rumors start.
Who is Steev Mike?
Steev Mike is the one that I never met in person, but it’s a dude that Andrew really trusts, and it was a guy that always had his vision. He was there to guide Andrew when needed. When it came to, not necessarily the song itself, but to stay focused on how the concept should be and what the albums and the people need to hear from Andrew. I never got to meet him, but he was obviously always there and Andrew was always turning towards him for just staying focused on what these albums and what this concept should be.
Do you know for a fact that Steev Mike is a real person? Have you talked to him on a phone or heard his voice?
I have heard his voice, and it was in a conference with Andrew, but I never got to meet the dude. When I was in California, that was when it was when it was all started developing, and I had a conversation with him. He basically said the same thing that Andrew said: “It’s not anything but what Andrew believes.” A lot of people aren’t going to get it at first because it’s such catchy music, but it’s unquestionable that it’s music that people are going to love even if they don’t know what it’s supposed to be about. It’s just feel good music and it was an undeniable feeling when you heard these songs. They both knew from the get go that people are just going to love it even if they hate it.
So Andrew did this lecture, I don’t know if you heard about this or seen it, with the website called Rockfeedback. That was done in the U.K. I’m not sure whether it was done last month or a little bit longer ago, but in this lecture Andrew seemed to admit that he was basically one of a couple of actors that have played the part of Andrew W.K. I have a quote that I’m going to read to you here from that interview, and I want to know what you think about it. “I’m actually not Andrew W.K. I’m not the same guy that you may have seen from the I Get Wet album. I’m not that same person, and I just don’t mean that in a philosophical or conceptual way. It’s not the same person at all. Do I look the same as that person?”
Wow. I don’t even know how to start with that one.
Just so you know there’s been all sorts of internet comparisons of photos of Andrew from the I Get Wet album and photos of him more recently. Speaking from a personal level, he totally looks like a different dude.
It does not look like the same guy.
Huh. I have no idea. I never heard the interview or the lecture. I knew he was doing those, because I’m still friends with his drummer now, so he told me that Andrew had been doing motivational speeches for the past few years. I don’t know what to think about that. Andrew, to me, is a dude. He is nutty as ever. He’s as intelligent as anyone that I have ever met, and he likes to keep people on the balls of their feet. I don’t know how to . . . if Andrew actually was quoted as saying that, I don’t know. It would have been hard for me not to crack a smile if he was saying that with me in the room. To me, Andrew is Andrew and he’s a dude. He’s a good guitar player and an amazing piano player, and he is Andrew.
Another quote for you from the same lecture. “Andrew W.K. was created, and this is a bit of a confession, by a large group of people, almost a conference of people. They met, and I was there. We talked about how we could come up with something that could move people. It was done in the spirit of commerce. It was done in the spirit of entertainment which usually goes hand in hand with commerce. I was auditioned, alongside many other people, to fill this role of a great front man . . . a great performer. On one hand, it is a little scary to come back here and admit this here to you all that I may not be exactly who you thought I was, and that the guy who was first hired to do Andrew W.K. was a different person than the guy sitting here tonight. I’m the next person who is playing Andrew W.K.”
[Laughter] Wow. Then you know what? I’m fooled also.
Maybe that conference call . . . maybe all that happened before I met him in the year 2000 or maybe there were 2 dudes and I wasn’t even aware that they were pulling the wool over my eyes. I don’t really know. Once again, that dude is so intelligent, and he thinks a lot quicker than all of us on this planet. I think that’s his way of keeping people confused enough to be interested in anything but his music because his music is so undeniably catchy and well-written that maybe he wants people to think harder than they do when they hear it. I don’t really know.
Wasn’t there some kind of, and I apologize for not having all my facts straight here, but wasn’t there some kind of management dispute or fallout or record label issue at some point that prevented him from performing or releasing music in the U.S.?
Not to my knowledge, no.
I guess I should have looked into that a little more.
I’ve never heard of anything like that. As a band though, Andrew was the one that was signed to his record label. He had the management. We were hired help, so if there was something like that through management or when he left his first management, there could have been something that the band didn’t know that he simply didn’t inform us of. I was not aware of anything like that.
It’s just so crazy that he would say that stuff. Either it’s true or he’s just completely fucking with people. You can see if you watch this lecture, like you’re saying, he’s a really smart guy. He’s talking about this stuff in the same context as destiny and paradoxes and how to live your life in a more happy manner and all these things. Do you think it’s possible that he’s basically running with the rumors for the sake of drumming up press?
I don’t know. That seems like that could be part of it. Maybe he did something that I don’t even know about. Even though I was the first one on board, maybe he had a concept and they did have a plan that they didn’t even allow us to know about at the beginning of this whole thing. Maybe he did have something going on that I didn’t know. I was just a drummer in a band that took off, and we toured so much that we were so busy that there could have been a lot more going on and there probably was a lot more going on than what band members knew. We were hired help to live on the road and tour. When it came to his concept and ideas and the people behind it, it’s sometimes hard to see the fine lines when you are right there face to face with it.
I don’t know. That’s some whacky stuff.
It really is. Have you actually seen him in person since you were no longer the drummer?
Yeah. Obituary plays New York City, and Andrew always comes out. In fact the last time he came out, he actually got onstage and played the song “Slow Death” with us. There’s a cool tribal type beat to it. I remember when I recorded it, he loved it. I said “next time Obituary comes to town, you come out onstage and play.” He came out, and he played the floor toms with me. We played the tribal part of “Slow Death.” We’ve done that twice. The last time I played B.B. King’s, he came out and played drums with me.
When was that?
I’ve seen him every year that I go to New York City, I see him.
When was the most recent time?
That was September 2009.
Oh okay, so it was recently.
Oh it was recent. Absolutely.
At the very least, the dude who came out and played with you is the same dude who you’ve known all these years?
Yeah. With a hat on though. That was strange.
With a hat on?
I didn’t question it. Yeah with a hat on. Which was, you know, I didn’t question it because the dude’s wearing a baseball cap. I wear a baseball cap everyday, that’s just who I am. I’ve never seen Andrew wear a baseball cap, but when he came to the New York show . . . and I thought of course how me and my brother do when we play Obituary shows, especially when we go to South America, I tuck my hair up under my baseball cap when I have to walk through a crowd or if I’m simply going to a McDonald’s on the corner in Spain. I don’t want to be seen. So when I saw Andrew with a baseball cap on, I thought “you know what? It’s simply him probably having to walk into a B.B. King’s type club without getting demolished by kids with questions. He put on a hat and glasses and probably made it through the crowd.” That’s what I thought when I saw him. Of course when you see a friend with a baseball cap on, when you know he’s as popular as he is, that’s the first thing I thought, “dude, I do the same thing. I tuck my hair in my hat, and I can walk straight through a crowd in Mexico and nobody even knows who I am.” Compared to if my blond hair is down to my waist, dudes recognize me immediately.
Did you see him other than onstage when you played with him? Did you get to socialize with him backstage or anything?
Yeah. Oh yeah. He was hanging out with me even before the show.
So despite the hat, there’s no doubt that it was definitely the same dude you’ve known all this time?
There’s no way it was somebody else that kind of looks like him?
No. Even if he gained weight from steroids [or something], we still discussed the good times in the past and the funny things we would always say to each other. Dude wouldn’t know that unless you were there. In Japan, it’s hard for Japanese people to use the letter “L”. They can’t say “love” very well, so they say “rove”. Anytime we went to Japan — I went to Japan a lot with Andrew — everybody would start calling me “Donard” because it’s hard for Japanese people to say “Donald”. No one else but Andrew would remember that, so when he saw me — even if he had no hair or it didn’t look like Andrew because he lost weight or something — [he would call me “Donard.”]. You can’t make that kind of stuff up.
Right, definitely. It’s definitely a mystery. It’s one of those things I feel like once the rumors started, there’s almost no way of crushing them because there’s always going to be some conspiracy theorist or that person who is not sold.
Thank you so much for taking the time. Do you have anything else about Andrew or anything about Obituary?
Sure. The main thing for me was that I did enter this thing as a death metal drummer. Obituary is my band. It’s what I created when I was 15 years old. Andrew started creating his music when he was 15, so I know there is a serious love and devotion you have for music when you start at such a young age and you keep going for a decade. With Obituary it’s been 25 years. I understand that when people start bashing him or don’t give him credit for being one of the only people on the planet that can take a project from 0 to 1,000 m.p.h. in 5 minutes, it probably hurts when he sees people (and whether he wants to admit it or not) it’s got to hurt when you hear people saying that there’s no way that it’s real. On the other hand, it might only hurt for a split second, but then you realize that it just goes to show how well he put it together and how focused he was because people had no choice but to come up with rumors and start thinking of how not real it is. To me that’s a compliment, and I’ll tell him that the next time I talk to him. “If you’re worried about it, if anything, just think about it. It’s so good that people can’t accept it.” That’s all it boils down to for me.
Yeah. Well cool, man. Thanks a lot. This will definitely add some more fuel to the fire, I’m sure.
Cool, man. I hope I answered some things as well as I tried.
Next time I hope we’ll be able to rap about Obituary too because that’s definitely more in line with what our website is about.
That’s awesome. If there are people who are metal heads or Andrew heads and they’re interested, Obituary.cc is the website and it has all our future 2010 plans and we’re going to be playing everywhere. I hope that anyone that reads this article, if they want to come see some metal drumming, please come out. Just check out Obituary.cc, and they’ll definitely see what the plans are with us.