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Andrew W.K. on Firing a Tank, Working With Kids

This Saturday night sees the premiere of Cartoon Network’s Destroy Build Destroy, the first-ever reality-competition show (as far as we’re aware) that combines junior-high-school students; huge, fiery explosions; and rock star, motivational speaker, and nightclub impresario Andrew W.K. as host. Each week, two teams of children are tasked with destroying an object (usually using explosives) and fashioning the debris into something new; then, the group with the winning design gets to blow up the losers’ creation. Though Andrew assures us that all safety precautions were followed, we’ve seen the first episode and can assure you that it’s still lots of fun. We spoke with him by phone yesterday about the show and his upcoming musical plans.

So, in the promo, are those actually kids firing rocket launchers?
I would have to look at that clip more closely. The show has the most stringent safety precautions you could possibly take. And that was another amazing aspect — getting to see how you make an explosion like that. I’d never seen anything like that. It shakes the whole ground. You can feel the heat from the flames 500 feet away.

But are kids actually firing rocket launchers on the show?
No, no, the kids do not. I don’t know exactly which clip you’re talking about, but the kids don’t get to handle any of the explosives. They get to detonate them and launch them, but they don’t actually get to touch any of the explosives because I guess they would die.

So what are the safety precautions?
There’s a fire chief and a full fire brigade, with a truck and a hose with water, and there’s a police presence, there’s medics, and an ambulance. There are pyrotechnics experts and additional safety experts. We stand behind these explosive barricades, so that we don’t get burned or hit by the shrapnel. We wear earplugs, because it’s extremely loud. I didn’t expect it to be that loud. I thought me being used to recording at high volume and playing shows … it’s a different kind of loud.

We saw the first episode and everything seemed totally safe — except the part where a kid had to throw a bowling ball through a wall, and it kept flying back at him …
Fortunately, everyone was very safe and was operating at such a high level. And we just had good luck. I think teenagers go bowling all the time and they handle the ball pretty well, just throwing it down the bowling alley. So throwing it through a wall just seems a bit more fun. Not much different.

How old are these kids? They’re all very intelligent-seeming for their age …
It’s primarily between 13 and 15. These kids are handpicked because they’re the best and the brightest, and they want to compete, and they understand what they’re doing. Most of all, though, they’re interested in explosions. That’s kinda what it all comes down to. But I was blown away. I thought, am I just out of touch or are kids just getting smarter, or are these just genius kids? That was the first time I’d spent that much time around a 13-year-old person since I was 13.

Was there one experience on the show that was your favorite?
Making this show was epic. Everyone — the kids, the builders, the crew — everyone put so much energy into making this TV show. At the end of it, it’s pretty emotional. Some of those races were really as intense as any sporting event I’ve ever been to. I didn’t think I was going to care about who wins or loses — I was crazy. When you’re out there watching all these people put their heart and soul into making this stuff, it really gets emotional. I never would’ve seen myself getting choked up, but it happened on the last show we filmed. Probably the most exciting moment for me, though, personally, was when I got to ride — and fire — the Russian World War II–era tank and blow up a losing team’s creation.

Where do you actually get a tank? Was it on loan from the military?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I was under the impression it was all just through the wonderful world of Hollywood and that we could get anything. If the military gave us stuff to use, that would be pretty interesting. That would be very nice of them.

I wonder if this is appropriate to bring up or if it’s relevant or … but, I was here on 9/11, and for years after that, whenever there would be a big boom outside or sirens would go by, it triggered something in me that I couldn’t control that was still resonating off of that experience. And I felt like, personally, for me, getting to be around these explosions was a way to make that disappear a little bit. And again, take apart, deconstruct these scary weapons and these frightening experiences like a bomb going off and being able to be excited about it. I don’t know what that means in the long run or the big picture, if we’re preparing ourselves for something or preparing to join up with something or preparing to fight against something, but I think it’s only good to be able to fathom and withstand that intense, destructive power.

What’s up next for you?
I’m very excited about this record label I started in May, Skyscraper Music Maker. The roster is ABC — A for Andrew W.K. and Aleister X, B for Bad Brilliance, and C for Cherie Lily. The first release I’m putting out of my own music is a solo piano album — spontaneous, improvised, instrumental piano — called 55 Cadillac. It comes out the first week in September. We’ve already released a promotional CD, it’s a mix tape, called DAMN! The Mixtape Vol. 1 and that has a whole variety of artists and people I’ve been working with. I teamed up with another producer named B.Rock and he brought in a bunch of artists that he’s been working with, and it’s an assortment. Like a radio station from another dimension.

Andrew W.K. on Firing a Tank, Working With Kids