The ever-cagey super-producer speaks on his role as music consultant alongside his hero Hans Zimmer at the Academy Awards, his Billionaire Boys Club spinoff for women, and the work he put in on Jay-Z’s ode to his newborn daughter by Brad Wete. Talking to Pharrell Williams about uncompleted tasks is tough. It’s not that the Grammy-winning producer isn’t beaming with excitement about his role as the music consultant alongside film composer Hans Zimmer for the upcoming 84th Annual Academy Awards.
He just has cats to keep in the bag. The same goes for the female offshoot of his Billionaire Boys Club clothing line, his collaboration with designer Mark McNairy, and his forthcoming book chronicling his worldwide travels, Places & Spaces I’ve Been. Specifics on future projects are kept classified with C.I.A.-level secrecy. Still, GQ pried. While cruising to his Miami studio, Williams chatted about the Oscars, his newly adopted grunge look, and helping Jay-Z craft his daughter-dedicated cut “Glory.”
GQ: You and Hans Zimmer are the music consultants for the Oscars. What does that job entail?
Pharrell: We have to reinterpret some of the music for the nominees. We have to do other music as well that is at times new and original and at others borrowing from movie scenes.
GQ: The Academy producers could have hired some stiffs for this, but they picked you two for some much-needed variety. What will you guys do to put your stamp on it?
Pharrell: Well I can’t give but so much away. Because Hans and I have tried to keep it under wraps so that there’s literally no expectation and people are excited about the stuff we’re cooking. We’re thinking beyond the usual standards.
GQ: You worked with Hans on 2010’s Despicable Me. He’s a huge deal in the film and music world. What’s it like to hang and work with him again?
Pharrell: It’s an honor for me because I get to be mentored, creative, and credited for learning under the auspices of somebody like him. I’m always honored when he takes my direction and to have direction come from him. It’s really been this interesting collaborative thing. But for me, secretly, it’s still like school and I love it.
GQ: On Rick Ross’ Rich Forever mixtape you rap, “Black boy scoring his life/ I’m scoring the Oscars.” How excited are you for this opportunity—especially since you’re still essentially a music nerd from Virginia who made it big.
Pharrell: I’m just very thankful. And I say that a lot because that’s the most important message. I answer questions the best I can. But most of the answers usually feel the same. And that’s just me being very appreciative of the opportunity, because, like you said, I’m from Virginia Beach, VA. I’m glad that I can exhibit what we can do.
GQ: Academy rules won’t allow you to say what your current favorites are, but what are some of your choice Hans Zimmer-scored movies? He’s done plenty and won an Oscar for The Lion King.
Pharrell: The Dark Knight music was genius! I mean, Gladiator was great. Pirates [of the Caribbean] was great. But Dark Knight? That was, like, a whole different level of…
GQ: Film music?
GQ: Tell me about your upcoming travel book, Places & Spaces I’ve Been.
Pharrell: It’s just things and people that have moved me and inspired me around the world and that I am also honored to know.
GQ: You’re working on a new line of boots, right?
Pharrell: Yeah. We’re working on some boots for BBC [Billionaire Boys Club]. But I can’t really talk about it.
GQ: Well, speaking of BBC, you’re releasing a women’s line soon, BGC, right?
Pharrell: Yup! And it’s crazy!
GQ: Will there be much of a difference between the men’s and women’s line aside from sizing and maybe color schemes?
Pharrell: Again, I can’t give it away. Somebody else will do it. [Laughs] But it’s definitely us. It’s signature us. It’s awesome.
GQ: Is it still on target to come out this year?
Pharrell: It may be in the middle of ’13. But you’ll be seeing hints of it in the marketplace in 2012.
GQ: You’ve started a lot of fashion trends over the years. Are you aware of the latest that folks are adopting slowly but surely? Style guys are feeling your plaid-shirt-around-the-waist-for-no-reason look.
Pharrell: [Laughs] Uh, I guess I’m just having a ’90s grunge moment. And, like, is that the case? Is that what you’re seeing?
GQ: Yeah, I’ve actually had a conversation about it with some fashion editors, wondering if you ever actually wear the plaid shirt or if it’s just decoration.
Pharrell: Wow. That’s funny, man. I started going, like, grunge after the last N*E*R*D album, Nothing. [Asks assistant] Right? Wasn’t it right around then? And I did it a little around Seeing Sounds, too!
GQ: Are you working on any new music with N*E*R*D?
Pharrell: Not so much the N.E.R.D., because I’m in producer mode. But I’m definitely in the studio producing shit, though.
GQ: Lupe Fiasco recently announced that you’re working on an album together? You two and Kanye West were working on a project once upon a time, too, your crazy schedules interfered. Think this one will pan out?
Pharrell: I can’t talk about that. Lupe is my man and whatever we’re talking about we can’t really discuss and get into right now. We’re talking about some very interesting things.
GQ: Well, let’s talk about something that’s done and out now: Jay-Z’s “Glory.” You produced it. What did it mean to you to assist in making a song for Jay’s first born? It’s like rap’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Pharrell: Uh, that was awesome. But again, that was another covert operation.
GQ: Did you guys record that in the hours after his daughter was born or was it recorded in advance? Obviously, her first cries were added after she was born.
Pharrell: That was, uh… That was, um… Everything was by design. That’s all I’ll say.