Gloom Tunes is a column in which I talk to a musician about a piece of music that has had a positive effect on their life. Over forty million people suffer from anxiety and depression in the United States alone. I am one of them. When I was lost and didn’t know where to turn, I turned to music and art in an effort to take my mind off of itself. People need to find solace in something, and this is a place to talk about the art that helped you navigate the hard times.
I can’t think of a better album to discuss in our first iteration of Gloom Tunes than I Get Wet, by Andrew W.K.
What seems like pointless party songs are actually a completely earnest pledge for reality and positive attitude. I Get Wet is a triumph in a time of hyper-serious indie rock and holds special in the hearts of those who appreciate it. The songs have been used in advertisements, movies, and even video games. The album defined a very tiny era in the early 00s, with its loud major-key anthems and soaring harmonies. The music is fun and it doesn’t take itself seriously. As expected, some of the more art-driven critics responded with pure venom. “…About as empty as rock music gets, right down to the tinny, digitally processed tonebank noise that passes for ‘guitars,'” Ryan Schrieber said in his 0.6 Pitchfork review back in 2002. Evan Chakroff of Stylus Magazine called it a “worthless piece of rock-product, 35 minutes of glossy, overproduced tripe”, but concluded that “once these songs have pounded their way into your head, you can’t help but pay attention” and “if this is a joke, it’s a brilliant one.”
Nick Woods, frontman of the pop-punk powerhouse Direct Hit!, was one of these critics at one point.
“I mean, Ryan Schreiber had the same reaction I did at the time. You weren’t supposed to like that kind of music 15 years ago. Making art was serious business. And there are obviously very commercial influences in that album – gummy pop songwriting, Metallica, a hyper-masculine voice, pageantry… At the time, the people were rebelling against that kind of thing”.
Nick came around. Eventually.
Woods’ band can trace its roots back to the party jams of I Get Wet. “We leaned on gang vocals, melodic screaming, pop structures, and his vibe and attitude a lot when we were just starting out. We still do a lot of that now, but I feel like we’ve grown into our own sound a bit more.” Nick cites Andrew W.K., among other fun melodic bands such as The Ramones, for his fun and intelligent songwriting.
Direct Hit! is a band that I would describe as extraordinary. Extraordinary in a sense that I cannot fathom how their songs have a seemingly infinite amount of layers and yet, they move as quickly as they do. I see them once a year at a festival in Florida, known as The Fest. Every year, the audience transforms into a sea of sweat and screaming that will churn as long as it has to. Listening to their latest effort, Wasted Mind, it’s incredible to hear the pile-on vocals or the teeth shattering screams sang perfectly in time with pitch perfect harmonies. I would call Direct Hit! a fun band, though they often discuss serious topics in their songs – subject matter such as addiction, paranoia, and the apocalypse.
Social anxiety is recognized as a type of social phobia characterized by a fear of being negatively judged by others or a fear of public embarrassment due to impulsive actions “I’ve dealt with a certain amount of social anxiety my whole life, but I didn’t really start recognizing it until a few years ago.”
Nick, like many musicians, suffers from anxiety. Social anxiety is far more than not knowing what to do with your hands when you’re talking to someone at a party.
“I’ve had a hard time relating to other people. Which means I had, and still have, a hard time telling if I’m actually friends with new people or if I’m seeing something that’s not there, or if they’re taking advantage of me, or just complimenting me to get me to do something. So I’ve had a hard time making close friendships with a lot of people. Either because they don’t want the same and I don’t notice it, or because they’re being nice to me and I push them away.”
Like many adults living with a mental illness, you can trace patterns back to childhood and see it within your previous actions and interactions. “I’d snap at other kids on the playground a lot for stupid reasons. And on the other side, I had a tough time recognizing when someone was being really mean to me until the whole class was laughing in my face. I’ve always been really gullible and excitable. And that kind of spiraled at times, because other kids – or even adults, later in life – would poke fun to get a rise out of me, especially because I was really into music.”
When Woods was growing up, he was into the same dark and edgy rock music that much of us were into: “[when] I was in high school, the video for “Party Hard” was getting some play on MTV. I made fun of it a lot because I didn’t get it at the time, and because it was cool to hate on the radio and TRL and shit.” Emo rock is all good and fine. It has it’s place in the world. It all depends on your coping mechanisms.
“Andrew W.K. was the first to show me that music didn’t have to be so serious. That there was respite from the darkness we felt.”
Andrew W.K. seems to take musical sledgehammers to even the smallest of problems. He has what seems to be a manic approach in writing his music – it provides a tunnel vision of hope for depressed people. He’s a beacon of positivity and doesn’t want to think about the inverse. “…as we entered our teenage years and forgot how to have fun, were looking for something to connect with that showed empathy for the shitty way we felt. The party-on, positive attitude didn’t jibe right. So we went looking for something that felt more honest to us, regardless of whether it actually was or not. That dose of what felt like reality was helpful for me at the time. But just like emo and indie rock sucked all the fun out of my taste, Andrew W.K. was the first to start dripping it back in when I needed a pickup.” Nick went on to describe the moment that he fell in love with Andrew W.K., which I will present without breaks:
“I went with a couple friends to Summerfest one year, wearing our Thursday t-shirts or whatever, and we went to see him and his original band play as a joke. After spending the first few minutes making fun of everything that was going on onstage, we all found out that the obnoxious, jokey behavior we were exhibiting was in fact encouraged by all the people around us. Soon it became a thing where we weren’t laughing AT anyone, but WITH everyone. It slowly dawned on me that everyone was just laughing and stomping, and pumping their fists because they were having a great time, and weren’t taking themselves or the show seriously. It was my first real experience seeing live music like that where I didn’t feel like I had to act a certain way, and I could just be myself and have fun.”
I think that all it takes sometimes is a single moment of a song, a single drum fill, to vibrate in such a way, to permeate your skull for the rest of your life.
“The moment the bridge hits in “She Is Beautiful,” the ‘I ain’t got nothing to lose’ part, is maybe my favorite transition in any pop song. Maybe in any rock song.”
It is a very powerful moment in a very powerful song. It seems impossibly triumphant. Impossibly big.
“You listen to that whole tune, with its 800 downtuned guitars, and 800 cis males grunting away, and you don’t think there’s any way it can possibly raise the intensity or ridiculousness. Then that part just roundhouses you in the face and brings it to a whole new level. I imagine it’s what breaking through on DMT feels like. And it does it with fucking PIANO, you know? It’s not a ripping guitar solo, or some stupid chug breakdown. It’s a classical instrument. There have been so many times when I’ve been exercising, or driving in a car, or just drinking with my friends or something and that part hits, and I’ve just stopped whatever I’ve been doing to listen. It’s brought tears to my eyes, it’s made me turn up the speed on the treadmill, it’s made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, it’s made me punch the driver’s side head rest in front of me… Man. Yeah, that part.”
It took a long time, but critics – like teenage Nick Woods – eventually warmed up to I Get Wet as an album of ripper songs about being yourself and having a great time. NME included it on their retrospective list of “the best albums of 2001.” Rhapsody ranked the album at number two on “Rock’s Best Albums of the Decade”. Pitchfork ended up re-reviewing it on it’s tenth birthday, giving it an 8.6, eight points higher than it had initially received, while simultaneously adding it at #144 to their of the Top 200 Albums of the Decade list.
Woods interprets the history and sums it up in the reflection of his youth:
“…at the time I Get Wet came out, indie music in particular was going through such a self-important period. Everyone in my scene was writing about how shitty they felt, and about how their hearts were being torn from their chests, and autumn was blackness, and whatever. That’s all fine well and good, but Andrew W.K. was just such the opposite of that.”
“Being a teenager is just such a frustrating period – trying to figure out how to make yourself happy after you leave home, and you hate your parents, and you can’t figure out how to deal with the kind of feelings created by your changing body chemistry. There’s pressure from eighteen different angles. It all just sucks. And for teenagers, emo was really good as an identifier – the whole ‘oh good, someone out there feels just as bleak as me’ thing. But there was no ‘it gets better’ thing going on. There wasn’t anyone in pop music – at least from my vantage – who was saying ‘it sucks now, but check this shit out.’ You know? Andrew W.K. was the first to show me that music didn’t have to be so serious. That there was respite from the darkness we felt.”
Social anxiety can be a hard thing to break. It requires you to trust yourself when you have a hard time trusting anyone at all. This disorder causes people to avoid public situations and human contact to the point that normal life is rendered impossible. The way that Andrew W.K. pushed these songs into a world that wasn’t ready for them is reminiscent in tone to the attitude he puts across, and a method for defeating social anxiety. He did it at a time that this was too weird to exist. Being true to yourself, acting recklessly and unabashedly yourself, can possibly help you begin to conquer your social anxiety. It seemed to open Nick’s eyes to new ideas he didn’t think possible.
“It seemed to me to be very brave at the time to put out an album like that […] It seemed just so painfully uncool, but so honest at the same time. Maybe I just wasn’t in touch with pop music enough to see the forest from the trees. But to put out an album of major-key party anthems in a sea of swooped haircuts and black t-shirts meant a lot to me.”
Through music, we can all begin to cope with the problems that haunt us. I Get Wet is liquid Saturday night excitement that you can experience when you need it; a true triumph in a time when music took itself too seriously. When I asked Nick what album he’d be selecting for this piece, he had his answer immediately. We all have records that will stick with us forever, records that we can cling to in the hard times.
I asked Nick who he would recommend this album to.
“Someone who needs a break.”
Dollar Signs’ Dylan Wachman chats with musicians about the music that helped them navigate the hard times.