Pharrell Williams - Revisited

Pharrell Williams: “Who doesn’t like it when all the girls in the room scream?”


Collage: Sarah Szczesny

Sometimes it’s not easy to get the artist talking. Our own tireless man of letters Thomas Venker once had to learn this the hard way… for it turns out that if the interviewer is not all about rare records and weird samples, Pharrell Williams has, shall we say, a tendency to go on a deep and lasting journey into himself. But maybe he just knew on that 25th of October in 2005 that his about-to-drop solo debut „In My Mind“ wasn’t about to do “big box office numbers”. This early flop seems unthinkable in the light of his recent number-1-trilogy „Happy“, „Get Lucky“ and „Blurred Lines“, but maybe the seeds of that success were laid in the kaput-down of 2005? Enjoy this history lesson kids, and learn about the makings of a winner.

Pharrell Williams, our talk was planned to take place in a moving limo, but idea was canceled at short notice. Were your team mindful of your president (Bush Jnr.), who asked the people of America to save fuel?
Is it that what he said? We should save fuel? No, i just got a cold and it seems better to do it inside.

Listening to your catalogue of music so far, the huge variety of styles is obvious. Are you a person, who doesn’t like to get comfortable?
Yeah, there is so much potential what you could do with your life. You do not have to do the same thing over and over again. You never wanna get locked in one room, do you?

People say music journalists always want to be novelists. The same prejudice is out there regarding music producers wanting to get in front of the mic. Did you have the wish to be a popstar from day one?
Na, you can’t say it like that. I just woke up one morning and realized that i did four songs in between the sessions with other people. That’s when i thought: „Oh, shit, i think i gonna do an album.“

How did the stars react, when you left the classic producer role and suddenly did guest appearances on their songs and appearances in their video clips?
I did end up on different tracks cause i was demoing them. And then sometimes they wanted to keep it like this.

How does your The Neptunes- und N.E.R.D.-Partner Chad Hugo see your new tendency to be in the front row? He seems not to share this with you.
No, thats not his thing. He is married, he wants a cool, calm life.

You mean a married man is always more calm down and less ambitious?
His wife didn’t want him to be out there and wild. And he himself did not want this either. He wants to be a good husband and a good father. I comprehend that..


Collage: Sarah Szczesny

You’ve become known for confidently showing your beach body to the public – seems to cause quite a lot of screaming from the crowd…
That’s over now. Too many artists do it now. They do it on television all the time, i dont wanna be a part of that.

But you liked that feeling when all the girls screamed?
Who does not like it when all the girls in a room scream because of you?

In hiphop there is always a lof of discussion about sexism. In contrast to people like your friend Snoop Dog, who gets a lot of criticism, you seem to avoid it. How do you do that?

In hiphop there is always a lof of discussion about sexism. In contrast to people like your friend Snoop Dog, who gets a lot of criticism, you seem to avoid it. How do you do that?
I am not the guy who overplays on that. I am so much of a devil to be stigmatised.

You’ve been called a workaholic. Looking on your list of remixes, productions and own tracks as well as being part of the fashion and sneaker brand A Bathing Ape, there is no doubt ‘bout that. A lot of freelancers i know, keep on keeping on taking things on because they’re afraid to lose an opportunity. Do you think that way too?
I don’t think like that. I am a lucky guy, that I could do what I do and have fun with this. I’m just thinking about making good music.

Would you say you are a very emotional person in opposite to a very rational person?
Oh, shit– (there is a slight hiatus as Pharrell assesses the damage as cream has gone all over his trousers – and which has nearly drowned his phone). Sometimes I do calculate things rationally before I do them, most times I feel more like going through the fog.

When you look back on your catalogue: how happy are you with it? Do you ever argue with yourself regarding recordings, say if you remembered being a rush to get stuff done?
You always give have to have a perspective about what you did and what you shouldn’t have done. Chad and me do that too. I don’t regret anything. I had a lot of fun and I think I touched a lot of people with different songs.

Is there a song you think of as a total failure?
There are titles where I think, shit, I wish I would not have done that.

You work with such a broad array of artists. Is it always easy to take all of them seriously?
I do not really look at my life like that and also not on my work. It’s too objective for me. I just hook up with everybody and try to see them and me as a regular person.

Talking to the DFA-producers i got the story that when asked to work with Britney Spears they learned rather quickly that her world and their world did not really fit together. Has that ever happened on a collaboration for you?
Yeah. But you have to do what you have to do. In the name of the music, in the name of the art. Let’s try to make the good shit.

But not everything is art and sometimes you must know in the moment you produce a records that it will be soon history and not stay forever with us. Don’t you see some sessions just as a pay job?
No, that’s not on my bill. I just wanna make good music.

Has it been always like that?

Do you still have a lot of contact to the people from your home town, from your hood where you growed up?
Sure. I’m not there a lot, but I’m still in contact with them.

And could they relate to your life and you to theirs?
Probably not as there is too much going on in my life. They see only the glamour part in my life and not the hard work behind it.

Do you like talking about your music?
I prefer to leave the analysis of my music to others. I don’t wanna give this too much attention as it might stop my creativity.

How important are lyrics? Do you spend as much time on them as on the music?
I do not know how much time I spend on each of them – but I do spend time on them. In the end, both come fairly easily and they’re fun to me.


Collage: Sarah Szczesny

In the song „Young Girl / I Really Like You“, which you recorded together with Jay-Z, you ask your mother for understanding. Sounds to me as the song had quite a personal element?
Most guys date younger girls – but they ain’t talking about details in public.

What kind of details do you mean?
Well, the same ones as in every other relationship. Maybe there are certain problems which only come up cause of the difference of age. I don’t know.

So maybe it is based on your own experiences?
Yes, but my girlfriends only have been around seven or eight years younger as me.

If you could chose one artist to interview, whom would it be?
Tim Burton or Steven Spielberg. I like their work.

Both of them did follow their own vision for a long and diverse route – and made it to the top. How important is this feeling to be on the top of things for you?
I did not know where I would end up when i was a little boy. But of course I did imagine from the point on I wanted to be a musician that I wanna reach as many people as possible. This is the ultimative kick, not to produce for a small scene.


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