N*E*R*D x GlobalGrind Interview
Because of his stature in the music industry and celebrity world, N*E*R*D will always be perceived as Pharrell’s group, but upon closer look, there really is no captain. N*E*R*D, like most good music groups, is a collective force, whose leaders only functions as such off the stage. On stage and on record, one gets the feeling Pharrell as a solo artist would struggle for credibility if it not for the help of his partners Chad Hugo and Shay Haley. So even though Pharrell is the loudest one in the bunch, it’s all for the sake of the group. After all, the soft spoken Shay and the even softer spoken Chad aren’t going to be the ones to get all the cult-like attention they’ve garnered throughout the years.
The Pharrell as spokesperson role was still in full effect when Shay and he sat down on the phone with GlobalGrind to discuss their oft-delayed next album, Nothing. Though it took place weeks before the album’s initial September release, Nothing has been pushed back again until sometime late in the Fall. But over the summer, the Nelly Furtado assisted first single, “Hot-N-Fun” was one of the season’s more underrated club hits and since the interview, the group has announced a joint tour with electro-pop-rock band The Gorillaz beginning October 6. GlobalGrind talked with N*E*R*D about their new album, the video for “Hot-N-Fun” and what they did about Nothing.
GlobalGrind: Not to start off non-music related, but what were you all wearing in the “Hot-N-Fun” video?
Pharrell: You know what? It’s a movement, believe it or not. You know, if you gotta go to war, then you wear military gear, know what I’m saying? So it’s just kinda matching the feeling of what we tryin’ to do, and right now we just feel like it’s a sign of the times. Everything’s changing right now around us, and we’re not sure that everyone’s picking it up. But you know, we just made a bunch of songs on the album, that kinda illustrate that, just kinda telling everyone like “Hey, everything’s changing, everything’s changing around you.” We just decided to have that conversation. It’s like a movie, the movies about like having it basically, speaking in metaphor, like having a conversation with women, and we were just talking about like the world, and how its changing, and where it’s headed. And in that conversation, when you hear that song, when you hear the texture of our lyrics, of the sound, this is what it matches, the clothes match the beat.
GlobalGrind: Well, explain the album title, Nothing? What’s that mean?
Pharrell: Well, I’m not sure if you know, but for the last year and a half, we’ve been working on the album, which we originally called Instant Gratification. Throughout that process, we experimented with a lot of different sounds. We tried, incorporating, you know, members into the group, and for whatever reason, it didn’t necessarily fit. We didn’t feel 100% comfortable with what we were doing. It was great, we felt comfortable on stage, you know, as far as, with Rhea, but we felt like, you know, we needed to go back to the core, and start all over. And that’s what we did. We spent a year and a half, creating new material, came out with over 20 records, got rid of them all and started with Nothing. You know, when you dedicate so much time and energy to a product and you scrap it and start from ground zero, we thought there would be no better name than to call it Nothing.
GlobalGrind: There was an interview where I heard you all use the term “Flower Power” to describe the album, and that’s one of those psychedellic type references, what is it about that era that inspired this album?
Pharrell: You know, life with different kinds of people is cyclical, in America especially,we see the same things every 10-20 years, every two decades almost. Something resurfaces, but in a different carnation. Again, we are back at that point, as Americans, where we have to make some real critical decisions, there’s a lot going on. While there’s so much improvement and so many new achievements going on in the world, there’s also a lotta mishaps and haphazardness, and you’re just back at that point. Like if you think about the early 70s, they just got over Civil Rights. There was the wars, drugs, just so much going on. And the government just couldn’t keep up with the people, and music dictated everything, so we felt like, man, that’s what we are right now. There was two things that pushed me individually to make me feel that way: Being around Rhea, we were working around her and the band, it made me realize, this is the core of what we do, like it affects women in a certain way, and dudes like it cause if its not a crowd surfer moment or mosh pit moment, or super crazy dudes having fun at the club or at the festival, her being in that, sort of brought us back there, and made me look back at my life and look at what was going on at existence at the time, and there was all these crazy things going on. You look up and there’s oil spills, there’s just so much going on. And then, actually working with Hans Zimmer, he had all these sounds. I came across some TV Western sounds and Iwas like Man, this takes me back to…wait a minute, that’s exactly what’s going on. So it’s funny you ask that question because that’s exactly what’s going on, its just a new version of it. The oppression is just in other areas. And now I feel that my culture has figured out that it’s not a black or white thing, it was a distraction, a classist thing. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to see, all the dirtiest neighborhoods ever are being brought up and they are shipping the people out and cleaning those places out. And now you see it ain’t a black or white thing, that part has changed. There’s still racism in America, don’t get it twisted. The Tea Party signs alone were some of the most racist things you ever seen, it’s a joke but they are serious. There’s that, but the racism has changed, the ecology of our biosphere, our environment, those issues, have actually gotten worse. Now people are off the nuclear thing because they know that properly harnessed, the nuclear thing, if they are correct about it, doesn’t have to be as dangerous as the Chernobyl situations. But man, it’ll show, it may help us with the holes in the ozone layer and the greenhouse gases that were bound to happen. I’m skipping all over the place but my point to you is man, there’s probably a hundred more issues where that comes from. And we are happy because we just see that now it’s funny because me and Shay were having a conversation about fashion, but if you look everyone’s going there not just us. Like if you look in the magazines, everyone’s onto “flower power,” and if they’re not, they’re just living like yester-year. It just pushed us to that place, and musically, we just tried to make that album. Now, a lotta the records I’ve made as of recent are uptempo, and I don’t wanna get away from the most important thing, because to me, a lot of that stuff is gonna die within the next year, its over, its been done, everything sounds alike. But if you listen to our album, it definitely takes you to a place of freedom, just to be who you are as an individual, black, white, Puerto Rican, gay, straight, fat, skinny, alien, half human, whatever the hell you are, this album just celebrates existence and remembering humanity and feeling good. Slowly but surely, there’s foreign aromas in the air, things that have never lived at an N*E*R*D show, people feel comfortable doing because we’re like Look, this is your living environment.
GlobalGrind: That’s a heavy statement. Are these types of conversations you have before you go into the studio, Shay?
Shay: As far as the song direction, that wasn’t a conversation we had prior to working. It just sort of happen, as the album starts to formulate, there’s a cohesive sound and undeniable vision, so I mean, over time, once you are 3-4 songs into the album, you start to brainstorm with your colleagues. Bounce ideas off each other to find a more distinct, innovative direction, and that’s when we decided we should take this hippie direction. Me describing it will not give it justice. It’s one of those albums you have to hear. The sound and subject matter will paint such a vivid picture, you will understand the message we are trying to get across.
GlobalGrind: But do you feel today’s listener is turning to music to play the role that it did in the lives of people back in the 1970’s? Is the audience today turning to musicians for social commentary and even social guidance to a degree?
Pharrell: I think radio has turned into a business, but that’s ok. We’re fine with that. That business has been really good to me in many ways. Its all good, there’s room for everyone under the sun.
Shay: Overall though, I think people listen to music. I think the first thin they grab is the music, then they listen to the lyrics, but yeah I think overall, people definitely pay attention to music and the content. A lot of people who love a lot of the music today, love it because they can identify with it.
Pharrell: I think we are still thinking about the people. And that could be a fault, but I don’t think we do it for any other reason than the people, thanks to Waheeda (WhyPR).