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N.E.R.D | Old Money, New Money
June 5, 2008, 9:44 am
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Heres N*E*R*D’s new Remix Magazine article. Thursday is quick post day.


Pharrell Williams strolls into the lounge at Electric Lady studios, plops down his skinny frame on a large leather sofa and begins a lengthy text-messaging session. Constantly multitasking, the vocalist, bucket drummer and producer extraordinaire busily e-chats with Madonna via his Blackberry while explaining what makes N.E.R.D different from he and partner Chad Hugo’s million-dollar-earning production alter ego, The Neptunes.

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“N.E.R.D is to the left because of its attitude,” Williams explains. “Aesthetically, it’s individual music, written from the perspective of the conscious. The songs all have this other look to them, a whole different feel. A lot of people might write ‘C’mon baby’ or ‘I want you tonight’ — we hear those things so much that we become desensitized and it no longer sounds like the way people really think. N.E.R.D is written the way a person really thinks versus conversation. More like a conversation with one’s self versus everyday sayings.”

Either a visionary sage/producer or a philosophical chatterbox, Williams talks in broad strokes, going to great pains to illuminate what he really thinks and what lies behind the Wizard of Oz-like facade that is N.E.R.D, and by extension, The Neptunes. When asked about the title of N.E.R.D’s third album, Seeing Sounds (Virgin, 2008), Williams can’t resist elaborating — to the left.

“Some people make music and they see things,” Williams explains, adjusting the red Billionaire Boys Club cap from one of his clothing lines (the other is called Ice Cream). “The condition is called synesthesia. It’s when one of your senses gets more information than what’s intended. When you hear, your ears send auditory images to your brain. But some people conjure [visual] images to the sound, as well. That’s synesthesia. An easy way to see if you’ve got it is if when you go in the shower, and your imagination goes crazy. Synesthesia is stimulated by sensory deprivation, like when the showerhead is making so much noise it blocks out everything else. Once the senses are blocked out, then your mind is free to run wild and think about whatever.

“Sure, my lyrics are inspired by synesthesia,” Williams adds. “You ask any great rapper or writer or musician, and they’ll tell you their craziest ideas come from the shower or the plane because in both places there is sensory deprivation.”


Seeing Sounds is an apt title for N.E.R.D’s third effort (after In Search Of… [Virgin, 2002] and Fly or DieSeeing SoundsHarlem Bush Music: Uhuru, Milestone, 1971]), the Rolling Stones (“Out of My Head”) and even Baltimore’s B-More dance scene (“Everybody Nose”). Recorded at South Beach Studios (Miami) and the Record Plant (L.A.), Seeing Sounds is marked by its sonically supercharged production ID. [Virgin, 2004]), a bold cross-pollination of many sounds and styles. Superpowered by the gleaming, energetic Pro Tools|HD-enabled production that is the Williams/Hugo/Neptunes trademark, references artists as diverse as Marvin Gaye (“Yea You,” inspired by tenor saxophonist Gary Bartz’s “Celestial Blues” [from Gary Bartz Ntu Troop’s

“That was natural for us because we felt like it was missing,” Williams says. “Fred Durst left it wide open. Remember ‘Nookie’? It’s been a minute since any of that energy has been around. Shay, can you name any records with that kind of energy?”

“Now?” asks Shay, N.E.R.D’s third member, who, when not answering questions, buries his head in his hands. “The last record I would say was the last Red Hot Chili Peppers album. That had a few joints up there that commanded you to go berserk and just mosh or punch the closest person to you in the face.”

“But those weren’t singles,” Williams corrects. “It’s been a minute since somebody like Fred gave you [the equivalent] of a can of Red Bull. ‘C’mon,’ I said to Andrew [Coleman, N.E.R.D’s engineer], you’ve heard those Beatles records. Let’s put the drums and bass on the right, keys in the middle, and the mothafucking guitar and backgrounds on the left. Let’s go!’ But Andrew said, ‘You don’t understand, those systems were different back then. If we do that, you’ll be in a club and all you will hear on one side of the club is drums and on the other side, just chords.’ So we couldn’t do that.”


MIA due to a bad cold, Chad Hugo later speaks on the phone from Cleveland. His take on Seeing Sounds is, as expected, more grounded in a production aesthetic.

Seeing Sounds is about going back to our roots,” Hugo says. “N.E.R.D was known for just laying down a groove and really digging in the sounds, raw. There weren’t too many layers this time; we brought in Spymob, the original band that worked on In Search Of…. Brent Paschke (guitar) and Eric Fawcett (drums) brought the funk from the original influences we had. Going from the classic rock to the ’70s funk swing sound, they captured what we did as far as programming and sonic sketching that we created for them to play over. It was just a matter of joining those elements.”

Williams and Hugo are masters at working in a variety of studios and production methods with everyone from Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears to Kelis, Jay-Z, Nelly, Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake, but the recording process for N.E.R.D is surprisingly simple. Typically, Williams arrives at the studio, ideas in full flower, and lays down both a beat (either programmed or played on an assortment of buckets) and vocals. Hugo picks it up from there.

“I would come on top and lay extra instrumentation,” Hugo says. “Then we fit it into the N.E.R.D context. With a live band, you would trade ideas on the spot. Our medium is recording; that is where we bounce ideas. We sit in a forum at the end of the night and go through ideas and sculpt, do the chiseling, and Pharrell might add more things on top, and we shape it. We sculpt it as a team.”


Hugo and Williams constructed Seeing Sounds‘ base tracks using a Korg 01/W as a sequencer triggering sounds from Korg Triton Extreme and Triton Pro synths. Additionally, Hugo worked in Access Virus TI, as well as Roland JV-1080, JV-2080, XV-5080, TR-808 and TR-909 synths and drum machines. After a round of hardcore bucket drumming, the guys typically added live drums and guitar to fatten individual sources.

“Pharrell programs with a Korg 01/W,” Coleman explains. “People laugh when they hear that, but that is the first keyboard that he learned to use the sequencer on. And he just hasn’t strayed away from it. He programs in the 01/W and triggers everything off the other synth modules. He might use some stock sounds in the 01 — the classic Neptunes sounds, the Clavinet sounds, some of the guitar sounds are stock old 01/W sounds. When I’m recording tracks, I will send MIDI beat clock from Pro Tools to the 01/W, and then that triggers everything else.”

But Coleman, who has worked with Madonna, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, assures that the guys are sometimes open to switching up gear in the studio. “As far as programmed drum sounds,” he says, “we used to use the Ensoniq ASR-10 religiously, but lately we use the Triton Extreme as the main drum sampler. Chad is a master sampler/chopper of breakbeats, so he will take old breakbeat records and cut up the snares and hi-hats and kicks. We will put them into the Extreme as he used to do with the ASR-10.”

The N.E.R.D recording template followed a pattern for Seeing Sounds: Williams’ drum programs and bucket bashing, vocal tracking, more synths courtesy Chad Hugo, live drumming and guitar, then further “chiseling” and “sculpting” in the band’s late-night roundtable “forums.”

“‘Yea You’ was created initially on the keyboard,” Shay explains. “Then Brent and Eric replayed it live, and Chad played the keys. That is how a lot of the pieces are created. First, we lay down ideas on keyboards, then we stencil what we want, then use different musicians to add color to what we want to convey.”

On “Some Day I’ll Laugh About It,” bass was programmed on the Triton Extreme, buckets added, followed by live guitar and more buckets. Hugo pulled up some old drum and bass samples from N.E.R.D’s early days for “Spazz” and “looped a snare to give it that stutter-y sound.”

Meanwhile, the raucous “Everybody Nose” began with Williams’ beat, which was inspired by a chance viewing of a rare video clip, shown to N.E.R.D by Missy Elliott.

“That starts with an acoustic bass patch off a Roland 5080,” Coleman explains from N.E.R.D’s home base (Hovercraft Studios) in Virginia Beach, Va. “The beat was all Pharrell; he programmed it on the Korg 01/W, and the drums came off the Triton Extreme. That was inspired by the Baltimore B-More sound. We were working with Missy Elliott, and she was talking about this dance she saw someone doing to B-More house music. She showed this video to Pharrell, and he lost his mind, the way these people were dancing and these crazy beats. Timbaland is scratching in there, too. The big Latin section is again, all Pharrell — all the same instruments; he just flipped the programming. The song is about girls doing cocaine in the bathroom. That is the breakdown in the middle, if you can imagine a girl who is totally coked out of her mind dancing and sweating. That is the Latin club explosion part, mostly programmed beats with some buckets.”

Hugo’s favorite track from Seeing Sounds is “Killjoy.” A heavy slab of Latin riff-rock matched with progressive funk, “Killjoy” is jammed full of fuzzy guitars and ends with the cryptic lyrics: “N.E.R.D film starring you and them — color provided by Seeing Sounds.”

“‘Killjoy’ was inspired by this song called ‘The Mexican,’” Hugo says. “It’s got this b-boy funk sound. Very gritty and raw but rock-ish, like we’re going to have a Krylon [b-boy] battle onstage when we play it. I am really into that track right now. [“The Mexican” was originally recorded by Brit rockers Babe Ruth in the early ’70s, then covered by Jellybean Benitez.] That breathing part is Shay on the human beatbox, panned in stereo. There are different layers of guitars, a little Clavinet, Virus synth on the swells and Pharrell playing Triton keyboard bass — it’s very James Brown-ish.” LINK.


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[…] unknown wrote an interesting post today on NERD | Old Money, New Money…Here’s a quick excerpt:Williams and Hugo are masters at running in a category of studios and production fashions with everyone from Gwen Stefani and Britney Impales to Kelis, Jay-Z, Nelly, Watch Dogg and Justin Timberlake, but the record process for Drip is … […]

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