It's hard to believe that given as in demand as music producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo are as the Neptunes that they can still find time to put out a new album for their N*E*R*D project. But somehow Pharell, Chad, and fellow band member Shae Haley have managed to put together their fourth studio album entitled Nothing which is out November 2nd.
The inspiration for the album title comes from the fact that the group all together scrapped their last record and started from scratch. For this bands forthcoming release the group took inspiration from classic rock acts like Moody Blues, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, America and the Doors to put together that is a little bit more rock heavy. Unlike previous efforts, for Nothing the band enlisted the help of some outside producers like Daft Punk. The resulting collaborations and influences create another eclectic record from the trio.
Currently the group is opening up for the Gorillaz on their Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour in support of their latest effort. We caught up with Pharrell and Shae just after their set last night at Comerica Theatre to discuss touring with the Gorillaz, their new record, commercialism, and the new Tron movie soundtrack.
Up on the Sun: How did you guys get hooked up with the Gorillaz for this tour?
Pharrell Williams: Damon reached out and we were like yes. There was not even a question. To me the Gorillaz are the quintessential band, because they kind of don't really...doesn't really matter like where things are pop music wise.
UOTS: Any chance of a collaboration down the road?
PW: We were doing a couple of things.
UOTS: For the new album you had mentioned on stage that you for the first time you enlisted the help of some outside producers. What made you guys want to work with outside producers?
PW: Well, we had talked about it and then we bumped in to Daft Punk, which we did the remix to "Harder, Faster, Stronger" like ten years ago, so bumping in to them was kinda like, "damn man, it's been so long." They were playing us the Tron album and we were playing them the N*E*R*D album and they were talking about all the songs they loved on this album. We're just really excited about it, it's really cool.
UOTS: Was it difficult for you, as a producer, to let go of that creative control?
PW: Well, no, it was all good. It was fun. Super fun.
UOTS: What did you think of the Tron soundtrack?
PW: The Tron album is incredible.
UOTS: You dedicated one of the songs in your set to people who have been bullied. Is that an issue you feel strongly about?
PW: With this album we tried to make songs that were really human friendly and not neccessarily just to party. And that's a hard road to go to because a lot of those songs are not like...you know for the demo we used the Moody Blues, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and America and the Doors as inspiration, so this generation doesn't understand that. So for us, it's kind of like an uphill battle with radio, because they want 808s and rapping and stuff like that and instead we wanted to make a record that was a social commentary for all the things that's going on in the world. So that's why the album sounds the way it does.
UOTS: You can definitely hear the rock influences in this album. What made you guys want to do a more rock heavy album?
PW: If you listen to all the N*E*R*D albums they all have their own respective sound. The first one was this big, eclectic thing that was all over the place. The second one was more indieish but with jazzy accords, the third one was kind of like very programmed and all this angst, electro sounding stuff with guitars and harder drums and with this album we just went straight classic rock.
UOTS: You had also mentioned one of the new songs on the album is about commericialism. It's an interesting topic with you having a clothing line and record company.
PW: I love it. Don't think I don't love commercialism. If there wasn't such thing as commercialism I couldn't sell my record, couldn't sell my clothes.
UOTS: So is the song more pro-commercialism or anti-commercialism?
PW: No, it's just taking a look at the way we as consumers, the way we feel the need to buy. That's all. But, by the way, I'm apart of it. That's how I sell my records, that's how I sell my clothes. I'm just saying we need to take an objective look at those things. It's not a judgement, it's just when people look back on America twenty years from now we just wanted to give an accurate report of everything that was going on.
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UOTS: With the video for "Help Me," you guys tackle a lot of social issues. Was it your intention to be more socially conscious with this record?
PW: Yeah, but without preaching. It's like I said, if you listen to an America album it's just peaceful and just feels good.
Shae Haley: A lot of those songs weren't calculated, we just did what we felt. The music demanded a certain vibe, a certain type of energy. So once the sound started to develop we would brainstorm, go out to the studio and that's where it led us. We didn't go into this album thinking that we wanted to send a certain message it just magically happened.
PW: In the same sense that when you get dressed in the morning, you get dressed on where you're going and what you're doing but it's not like you're trying to make a statement. There are people who do that but those aren't the people we hang out with. We just kind of get dressed and do what we do.