Pharrell Williams is a one-man show. He might have gotten lucky in the lottery of artistic genes, but none of his success has come the easy way. One of the hardest working music producers and creators on our generation, he continues to prove himself again and again.
A glimpse of his genius mind:
Forty years on this earth, 23 of them creating the type of music that has soundtracked house parties, breathless and fumbling late nights and slow cruises through the neighbourhood, Pharrell Williams is still, remarkably, nailing it.Two global hits in 2013, Get Lucky and Blurred Lines, netted him four Grammy Awards, including his second Producer Of The Year award; another party-starter, Happy, appeared on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack and won an Oscar nomination, and an award for its innovative 24-hour music video.But then there’s that hat and what it reveals about the taste-making gene Williams possesses. Reminiscent of Malcolm McLaren and the World’s Famous Supreme Team’s 1982 video for Buffalo Gals, it’s a Vivienne Westwood piece that first appeared on the shelves of the shop she and McLaren owned in London. Now tweeted, mocked and memed the world over, it’s almost as if Williams planned it, which he’ll assure you he didn’t, because nothing he does follows a plan so much as appears to him at the right moment, ready and willing to bring him success.That includes his new album, G I R L, his first solo project in eight years, which will probably fire our collective synapses far beyond 2014.
What are you looking for when an artist walks into your studio?
It is three things. It is, one, what they walk in saying they would like to do. It is also their energy they are naturally giving off. You know, whether it is a cab ride or it is an argument or something that they have on their mind. And then, third, it is the way that they actually sound and their vocal tone.
I always try to make sure that there is some interesting juxtaposition. So if your voice is like velvet and people are used to hearing you in things that would be conducive to a velvet voice, I would say, “Let’s try gravel music,” if that makes any sense. So there is some interesting alchemy there. And the magic is when you are able to marry those elements together.
Like, “Man, I didn’t know peanut butter and chocolate could go together.” Yeah, it is called a Reese’s Cup. But you would never know unless you tried it. So that is where I find the magic, in trying to blend different worlds together and mix it up.
In pairing and trying, there seems to be no fear of failure whatsoever.
Do you fear failure at all? Because looking at your track record, you seem to be very consistent from success to success.
The fear that maybe something isn’t working out. Maybe this track isn’t going to hit. Maybe that clothing line isn’t going to work. Do you think about it in those terms?
Yeah, I don’t even understand that. My mind can’t even process that.
And has it always been like that?
Yeah. When you love something, what are you scared of?
I suppose you are scared of negative reaction.
Well, if you are thinking about fame and success, yeah.
Check out the rest of this feature in the April 2014 issue of The Red Bulletin, the global monthly magazine. For access to the international issue, download the free app for iOS or Android now.
The March edition of The Red Bulletin is out today, March 11.
Below, watch a Red Bulletin video in which Pharrell and rider Nigel Sylvester talk about BMX culture and how it has influenced the Grammy-winning producer.