That dancing dog from Britain’s Got Talent aside, nobody works harder than Pharrell Williams in the world of entertainment right now. Under his producer alias ‘The Neptunes’, he and ex-school buddy Chad Hugo have crafted multi-platinum hit after hit for an impressive roster of stars such as Madonna (Hard Candy), Britney (I’m A Slave 4 U) and Snoop (Drop It Like It’s Hot). On top of that, the 35-year-old Christian from Virginia Beach runs fashion label Billionaire Boys Club, nurses an acclaimed solo career, and is planning a move into directing movies. As we hook up with Pharrell, you can tell from the croak in his voice that he’s weary. But a day off is not coming any time soon – he’s just “got the band back together”. And as N¤E¤R¤D, the super-group formed of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and rapper Shae Haley, return with their third album (Seeing Sounds), we sit down with all three members for an exclusive chat.
Madonna recently said you made her cry. What did you do to her?
Pharrell: I just said some really nasty stuff, I guess. And yeah, she cried. She cried for a long time actually. To be honest, I can’t believe she told someone about it. The whole situation was quite intense. It’s totally weird to make Madonna sob, but even stranger when she tells everyone, “Pharrell Made Me Cry.”
Chad: Hang on. What? You made Madonna cry? Why haven’t I heard about this?
P: I didn’t tell you? I totally made her cry. Like a baby. I had to get her a towel. We were alone recording the album and she kept talking a lot of rubbish, so I shouted a lot of rubbish and she started crying her eyes out.
What do you do to stop Madonna crying once she’s started?
Shae: Good question. Did you hug her? Did you get any hug action from Madonna?
P: No, man. It was no time for any of that stuff – it was full-on war. I tell you what, Madonna is one mean lady. She’s a little baby tiger cub on the inside but outside she’s as tough as anything. Once you’re fighting with her you can’t let your guard down, she’d beat your a*s to a pulp. She could definitely beat me up. But you know, making Madonna cry has just cemented our relationship. We’re tight now. Seriously tight. She’s probably the best person I’ve ever collaborated with.
C: Two things. One, I can’t believe you made Madonna cry. Two, I can’t believe everyone knows about it but me.
What other strange celebrity encounters have you had lately?
C: We were backstage at our gig the other night and Lionel Richie was sat there, just relaxing. No matter where you are in the world, you’re never quite ready to see Lionel Richie hanging out with his buddies.
P: To be fair, we’re on tour with Lupe [Fiasco] and Kanye at the moment, and he could have just as easily have been there to see them.
C: What I like about Richie is, it was our show, but we still couldn’t get close to him.
S: Lionel Richie was at our show? I knew about Madonna crying, but not this.
It’s been three years since your last album – why the wait?
C: Three years? Nah.
P: Two years.
C: It’s been a week at most.
P: Seriously, we’ve been quite busy in that time. I can’t remember more than maybe four days off in those three years. The word “rest” just isn’t in our vocabulary. There’s been side project after side project. When we got a spare moment we had a quick sleep, watched TV, then flew to Miami to begin this album.
The new single, Everyone Nose, has a drum and bass feel. Were you inspired by that very British scene?
P: Yeah, totally. It’s pretty much a tiny underground scene in the US, but I love a lot of British drum and bass. I went to a really wild club in Bristol a few months ago, and that was a crazy night. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was great. I love Bristol.
The single also hints at drug use…
C: Look, we’re in the entertainment business. We’re not about promoting drugs. It’s just a song. It’s entertainment, you can read into it what you like, and it’s quite easy to do that.
You’re playing UK dates, including festivals. How do you find the UK crowds in general?
P: Great, most of the time. There are some fantastic women in Britain.
S: But it’s not always cool. We did some gig with David Bowie and that was a strange one. Those Bowie people did not like our music. I’m telling you those Bowie folks aren’t into N¤E¤R¤D one little bit. They were throwing rubbish at us from everywhere – big, ugly bottles and fruit. You’d think that kind of thing would fire you up, until you’re actually on stage dodging shoes. It was ugly.
What’s your favourite thing about the UK apart from the “friendly” people?
P: That one week of sunshine you get a year. What’s with all that rain? No wonder people are angry here.
C: What I like most about the UK is the Jamaican food. There’s a restaurant in London called Mr Jerk, and I sweat the second the plane hits British ground. I just can’t stop thinking about that place.
You’ve said you’re not doing this new record for the money – do you have a point to make with it?
C: Are we not doing it for the money any more? I thought it was for the money?
Guys? Money, money, money? Are we not getting paid or something?
S: Ignore him. We’re doing this record for the love of making music. And for the women.
P: Shae! Honestly. For the women? Please.
You didn’t just say that did you?
C: Brilliant, Shae.
P: As much as I can’t believe Shae just said he made this album for the women, I guess he kind of has a point. Making a record for that reason is nothing to be ashamed of. Some of the greatest rock albums ever recorded were made to get laid.
Do you get embarrassed by the female attention you receive at gigs?
P: Shae gets the best groupies. I’ve seen Shae sat on a couch after a show in little more than a towel as these beautiful groupie girls literally fan him. It’s like something out of Roman times, these women with big ferns keeping him cool. All he needs is some grapes for them to feed him and he’d be made.
C: Pharrell’s assistant, Mick, gets the worst groupies. The ones who drink too much and have no teeth end up with the assistant.
P: But he’s happy with that. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kanye’s got his own online travel agency – is there any area of business you’d like to get into next?
P: I don’t know. There’s a lot in the pipeline. Too much to even think about right now. Hang on, what’s that smell?
C: It smells like burning. But, more to the point, where has Shae gone? Is something on fire? Help! Help! Fire! Fire, dude! I think Shae is in some kind of trouble. Shae!
S: Hold tight, I’m OK. It’s just my homeboy over there. He has some issues. He smells like a dead deer and the whole stink is causing me problems with this interview situation. I think he’s trying to burn away the smell.
C: Oh man, we better move on. This is too weird. Next question.
Pharrell and Chad – you work together as The Neptunes. Is it like being married?
P: Yeah, we can get on each other’s nerves, but not as much as you’d think. The problem is Chad borrows your stuff and then leaves it in, say, Salt Lake City. The other week I lent him my phone charger, he totally lost it and then tried to charge my phone by hooking it up to the battery on the tour bus.
S: He’s got through six passports. Who has six passports? The government now think Chad is a terrorist. We had to smuggle him into Canada yesterday. He’s an illegal immigrant right now.
How did you manage to smuggle him across the border?
P: On the bus. We had to hide him in a bag and put him in the luggage compartment with all our smelly clothes.
C: It was dark and lonely down there. But it just makes me want to lose more passports. Whoever’s now got mine won’t have to sneak across borders in the belly of a bus.
Pharrell, you sing about your stalker on the new album. How close do you think she is right now?
S: She’s probably right here somewhere. That b*tch is crazy.
P: Oh, hang on. My b*tch is crazy but Chad’s stalker is the real dangerous one. Tell them what your stalker is going to do to you Chad. Chad’s going to go quiet now. Go on, tell them about your crazy-a*s stalker.
C: I don’t have a stalker. Why stalk me when you can stalk Pharrell? He’s the man with the psycho. All I get is fans with sweaty hands.
P: That’s actually worse. I hate having to meet a fan who’s got all sweaty with excitement to meet you. You’ve got to shake their hand with all that palm juice. Nasty.