Q & A with N.E.R.D.'s Pharrell Williams
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Originally published in Time Out Chicago Magazine | 10.14.10
This week N.E.R.D. dropped a batch of remixes for their collaboration with Daft Punk, "Hypnotize You." Whereas the last batch—Boyz Noise, Hot Chip, Yeasayer and Nero remixes of "Hot-n-Fun"—failed to leave much of an impression, this one squarely hit the mark. The big room electro jocks can take their pick of Alex Metric's poppy squarewave workout and Nero's epic tech-step. Those with something deeper in mind have Dirty South and Pete Tong's hypnotic rerubs. All in all, and as with the original, it's something for the club that the DJ can get down with too.
Prior to the release of N.E.R.D.'s latest LP, Nothing, I had the opportunity to speak with Pharrell about the record, his work with Daft Punk and his various other world-changing endeavors. You could call him a mogul. Alongside N.E.R.D., he's one half of Grammy-winning production duo the Neptunes and he oversees an empire on top of that. When not cutting tracks with superstars like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg, he’s collaborating on clothing line Billionaire Boys Club, designing tank chairs and scoring Despicable Me.
Here's an excerpt from our conversation:
Joshua P. Ferguson: You guys enlisted Daft Punk to produce “Hypnotize U.” As prolific producers in your own right, it must’ve been interesting to let someone else do the job.
Pharell Williams: It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. I was just like, man, we gotta put this on. That song is kind of like the future. The album serves as a kind of timeless thing, and that’s something that lives in the future.
JPF: Listening to other tracks on Nothing, I do hear a futuristic twist on ’50s rock & roll, jazz and even gospel. Is that a nostalgia thing?
PW: We definitely wanted to use a lot of vintage sounds to make new songs—Crosby, Stills & Nash, America, the Moody Blues, the Doors. We tried to make songs that feel like they should have been on some of their albums, but with the N*E*R*D twist, with like an 808 under it and shit.
JPF: One person it recalls is Mark Ronson. He has a similar style.
PW: He heard it, and he was really kind. He sang it a lot of cool praises.
JPF: Other praise that often comes your way is the media’s portrayal of you as a modern-day renaissance man.
PW: I don’t pay attention to that. I know it’s a compliment, but it’s not who you are, man, it’s what you do. What you do makes you who you are. Who you think you are, you’re not.
If you're in the Chicago area, NERO is making their debut appearance in the city at Subterranean this Saturday, Dec 4.
Here's a download link to the Nero remix of N.E.R.D.'s "Hypnotize You"