Published Oct 24, 2010Given the influential hand he's played in countless hip-hop, R&B and pop records over the last 15 years or so, many would think that Pharrell Williams, one half of the Neptunes production team ― and on this day in a downtown Toronto hotel, one third of the group N*E*R*D ― possesses a magic hit formula. According to him though, this reasoning couldn't be further than the truth and the making of N*E*R*D's fourth album Nothing seems to bear this out.
The album came into being after another record that Williams completed with fellow N*E*R*D members Chad Hugo and Shay Haley was abandoned. "It was cool but it was good," says Williams, reflecting on the doomed Instant Gratification sessions. "It just wasn't pushing the envelope as much as we do. For whatever reason we like being a bit ahead of ourselves, which is why I think our fans have been dedicated in the ways that they have. That album was good; it just wasn't good enough so we scrapped it and we started all over with nothing. And that's why we named the new album that."
The scrapped record was made with Rhea, a vocalist from Pickering, Ontario who is no longer in the group. Williams is quick to address rumours she was kicked out and asserts he is working on a record with her group Jealous Lover. "She's had a lot of hurdles," Williams says. "[She's] basically been through Vietnam, man, in trying to put a record out." Starting over isn't that radical or unusual for any musician, but it is intriguing that Williams' revisions have taken place so publicly. The fact that Williams' own solo record In My Mind was overhauled in collaboration with ?uestlove of the Roots after receiving a mixed critical reception, and N*E*R*D's critically acclaimed 2001 debut In Search Of... was also completely re-recorded after its initial release with a live band, gives credence to a perfectionist streak.
Half-jokingly, Haley confirms this when asked about when a record is finished. "When the label tells you [that] you have a week," Haley says. "That's when you know. We work up until hours before we have to turn the record in." What N*E*R*D handed in at the deadline builds on the synthesis of rock, hip-hop and R&B that the trio are known for and, despite a collaboration with Daft Punk, it notably sports a nostalgic twist. "It has a lot of textures of the '60s and the early '70s; Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Doors, all the while with 808s under it, so it's like some Inglorious Basterds music," says Williams describing Nothing.
If Williams sounds confident about the latest N*E*R*D project, it's because he's "salivating" about music again. "There are so many different sounds that I'm wishing to hear and I'm not, and that's how it happened for me when I first started and this is kinda like my third wind," says Williams. "And [in] both the first and second [wind] it was all about well, damn, 'I wish somebody would make this' and so that's what I would do. I would make what I wish I could hear and it's gotten back there now."