Rather than attempting to act “cool” about this interview, I’m just going to lay it all out there. I am shamelessly obsessed with Andrew Wyatt. Beyond the fact that he’s the lead singer of Miike Snow, a band that’s solidified itself as part of the zeitgeist, and the fact that he’s a ludicrously talented guy who just wrote and recorded a stunning solo record with an entire goddamn orchestra, he’s just got a lot of worthwhile shit to say.
A handful of artists have told me that at one point or another they have “gone crazy.” Donald Cumming said it a couple months ago. No offense Donald, but your crazy has got nothing on Andrew Wyatt’s. Wyatt’s crazy took him out of the music industry for seven years. In fact, it nearly took him off the face of the earth. Now, a mostly sane Wyatt (and I mean that in a purely positive way) regards this wildly dark period with a sense of humor and a great deal of wisdom. One can assume that the complexity present in his debut solo album, Descender, is somehow a product of Wyatt overcoming a whole lot of crap many of us could not begin to comprehend. If you’re going to be in New York this Friday and orchestras and insanely beautiful music are your thing, I recommend checking out the first live performance of the album at Capitol Theatre (tickets here). I caught up with Wyatt at Bread on Spring Street about Descender, Miike Snow, and what it was like going completely insane.
Miike Snow is always touted as a Swedish band but you aren’t Swedish at all.
I think people just assumed it was Swedish because most of the band is Swedish. It was probably a bit more of a press point to harp on the fact that it was the guys who did Toxic [by Britney Spears].
Descender is quite a departure. When you were initially conceptualizing this album what was the general idea?
I think Miike Snow is awesome, but it’s very different from the music I had made before. Those guys have such an idiosyncratic production thing going. They’ll basically feed me the track and I’ll write the song to that. My friends are mostly visual artists. For my record, I felt like I wanted to make music that they would put on at home. With Miike Snow, I felt culturally it had objective value just because it became… a thing. Certain songs everybody knows and that was cool, because it was a new sounding thing that became part of the popular discourse.
When I was at a restaurant the other night “Animal” came on and I felt very nostalgic.
That’s cool. And that’s what I mean. It sort of had this power. I also fuck with that song and someday may go back and listen to it… but I would never listen to it now. I wanted to put out something that just had a warmth to it. Also there is just a continuously frustrating thing about being in a band. Me and Pontus from Miike Snow were just in LA and we wrote a killer fucking song, but I didn’t have the lyrics finished. So when I came back to New York, in the process of finishing the lyrics I discovered new chords that work under the same melody. But they’re different from the music that Pontus gave me. So I got really excited and I write an email saying “hey I finished the lyrics, it’s great, and here it is with alternate chords” and I’m totally jazzed and I send it off to him and… no response. And he’s one of my best friends. He probably doesn’t like the new chords and we’re probably actually going to end up doing it with the old chords and there’s something which is always hard about that.
How would you describe your album?
I heard this song when I was in Centre Pompidou when I was living in Paris. It was like this ’50s film score and I was like, I want to do something like that. It took me back to why I first wanted to get into music. I love that kind of shit, and I never thought I would be able to do that, but slowly these things became obvious to me. My buddy Mark Ronson was doing this thing in Prague with the orchestra and I asked him how much it costs once and it donned on me that I could probably afford to do that.
It was semi-affordable and they’re all really good. At least the string players are really good.
You gave yourself a really tight deadline to get this done.
I thought I gave myself enough time but I probably didn’t. I was literally writing the music up until the last day before I got to Prague. I was working literally sixteen hours a day.
The record is pretty cinematic. Does it tell a story?
I decoded Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. That and Low by David Bowie are my two favorite albums of all time. Hounds of Love chronicles a breakup. That’s not what Descender is about but it’s about looking at that area of my life and sort of analyzing it and talking about what’s going wrong, because there was a lot going wrong when I did that record. It’s a song-cycle; it starts off in one place and ends in another place and the sequence is important.
When Miike Snow started, you guys tried to maintain a certain amount of anonymity. But with this solo thing, you’re putting yourself out there. What are your thoughts on being famous?
I don’t know if I would want to be an iconic person. I like flexibility and freedom. Julian Casablancas could form a noise band. Julian could probably walk down the street. I have an Argentine friend I met when I was down there shooting the video and she was like, [in Argentinian accent] “You are famous! …But not too much.” She meant, “you’re not really famous but there are a lot of fucking photos of you on Google.” I guess the real answer is I don’t really care. I really care about the opportunities that I have and I think a lot of time if you’re too famous it takes away as many opportunities as it gives you.
If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing professionally?
Probably getting fired continuously. The only other job I’ve had besides this was I worked at a hotel in Colorado for many years, after I went crazy.
You went crazy?
Yeah. It’s funny that I’m putting my first solo record twenty-two years after I got my first record deal. I got my first record deal when I was nineteen with Capitol Records. Then I was on drugs and then I went crazy and then I took seven years off from doing music.
What did you do for seven years?
I worked at the same resort in Colorado. I started off as a lift operator. All you basically needed to do that was have a pulse. If you saw someone coming off the chairlift who looked like they were going to fall, you press stop. That was the entire job.
Is being a lift operator a good remedy for insanity?
No, definitely not. I was so depressed. That was a really dark period. Between 21, which was the year before going into the hospital when I was actively on drugs and suicidal. to after 22 when I got off drugs and was suicidal for the next two years and then the next five years when I was thinking I was going to go crazy every day. So for seven years in my 20s I was effectively out of music. During that time I did do a number of weird jobs and they were so easy that I would find them extremely boring. I think I would probably be a teacher. Sometimes I’ll be reading articles and I’ll see someone is a professor at a university and I’ll get a warm, excited feeling.
So if you were meant to put out a solo record 22 years ago, does this feel like redemption in a way?
A little bit, I’ve got to say. If I just made this one record I could live with that. A lot of people have got it a lot worse.
You could have been some a crazy bum on the streets of New York but you got your shit together.
I totally could have been. When the guys came to get me to take me to the hospital, it was my dad’s friend who was living in New York and had been crazy once. He was sent sort of unwisely because he wasn’t really the best example of what life can be post going crazy, he was actually a really sad dude. So he came to get me and I thought he was actually Satan. I told him he was Satan and I thought he was coming to capture me to bring me to the “bad place.” The hospital. I was very close to not going with him because I thought that was the bad place, not the good place where you’re gonna start getting better. It’s really fucked up.
I imagine that’s a pretty common perception for crazy people. They probably aren’t all particularly excited to be going to the hospital.
No, no they aren’t. But it’s actually the best thing you can do. I’m also not a medicated person and I haven’t been for decades. I was on something for the first year and then it was clear that whatever that psychosis was was just brought on by drugs, which is quite common actually: cocaine-induced psychosis. I haven’t done drugs in twenty years. I didn’t respond well to that shit.
That’s nuts that you were crazy.
It’s crazy that I was nuts. It’s bonkers that I was crazy. It’s kablooey that I was bonkers!
Photo by Sebastian Mlynarski.