Sarah J. Edwards joins N.E.R.D’s Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shae Haley for an enlightening and wide ranging conversation. The inspirational and creative visionaries reveal thoughts on the future of print and digital to signature dance moves, the appreciation of women and the aging process.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 2 Nø 10 print edition in 2009, this is an edited version.
Interview and Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Shot on location at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, London
We’ve invited Pharrell, Chad and Shae over to our favourite hidden and inspiring place in London, Elms Lesters Painting Rooms. We’re shooting the cover upstairs in one of its historic painting frames, Pharrell is trying to catch me out in his charming way.
I’ve got a nice shot of the gents lined up against a wall – I know, hardly rocket science or hugely creative – and as always literally before I take the picture, I check their faces. Pharrell, good. Chad, good. Shae, good. Take the shot and realise just as my eyes leave him, Pharrell has pulled the most hysterical face.
N*E*R*D are making a pit stop in London as part of their hectic and superhuman global promotional tour for Seeing Sounds. A recent example? One day, New York City, the next day Bern, Switzerland and the next Los Angeles. So, they are tired. However, as they liven up, the antics begin – which incidentally culminates in Pharrell doing the worst ever impression of me, of all time. His voice screeching out as a high-pitched and hilariously posh “Pharrell, if that’s how you hear me, it’s all over!” It’s all good-natured though, as this isn’t the first time we’ve worked together.
PERSONALITY, HABITS AND TRAITS
Chad: Uh huh.
Sarah: Please can you describe Shae and Pharrell by way of personality, habits and most notable traits?
Chad: [Pauses] Well... Entertaining. Very, very entertaining and they’re good friends. Very cool, determined and very disciplined.
Sarah: What about habits and notable traits? [to Pharrell and Shae] Please chip in and see if you agree or not.
Chad: We went through a lot of stuff when we were growing up, so it was weird... I wanted to be like them. Us three were like The Three Amigos and growing up, I started to associate myself with that. I wanted to be like them and be a part of the group. I was always trying to just be like them. Musically, that swagger. I was like some kid that had it easy back home. They had a lot of fun, they’d get into trouble a lot and I could go on and on with details, it’s just... [pauses, laughs, obviously had a vision of the past and loudly blurts out] It was just an amazing experience!
Sarah: Right, Shae, do you agree with that?
Shae: To an extent, yeah. Chad went to a different school from us. But outside of school we would work together, have jam sessions, create and cause turmoil at his crib. There was one story in particular, we used to hang out with... we had an old friend by the name of Tammy Lucas. We were on our way to Chad’s house one day to work on some music and Tammy was a lot older than us. She used to school us to the game; the music industry.
We met her through Teddy Riley. She was originally from Harlem, New York, but she moved to Virginia to work. So, anyway we all went over to Chad’s house one day and while driving [there], Pharrell and Tammy get into an argument, about something – I forget what exactly – and Tammy was furious. She was really upset, extremely upset and when she’s upset, she doesn’t care where she is. She don’t care, she has no respect for anyone.
So, Chad had a room over the garage, we’re walking through the garage and Tammy’s super loud and we’re like, ‘Yo, you gotta be quiet. Calm down.’ We make our way up to the room over the garage, which is Chad’s room where all the music equipment was and she’s screaming, she starts banging on Chad’s keyboard. Chad didn’t know what was going on, Chad wasn’t in the car with us so he’s like, ‘Yo, what’s going on? What’s going on?’ [adopts high pitched woman’s voice and shouts] ‘Chad! You just don’t understand! Pharrell? Pharrell’s an asshole.’ Durr dah durr dah dah. And he was like, ‘OK, but no banging on my keys.’ She was like [back in hysterical high voice, shouting] ‘Fuck, your keys! Fuck your keys, you don’t understand!’
[Pharrell starts laughing, a laugh that builds and builds while Shae continues] She was super upset, she was frustrated about a lot of things. She was upset with Pharrell. She was upset with Teddy. She was upset. She was the only girl in the crew. [Pharrell is now creasing up] So, of course being around a bunch of young kids, we’re not going to understand. She was in her 30’s and we were like teens. But she believed in us, you know, she thought that we were like super, super talented, so she starts banging on Chad’s keys and Chad snapped off. [Pharrell’s laugh has now built up to crescendo] So Chad started screaming really loud, and then Chad’s Dad came upstairs. Chad’s Dad... is classic.
He runs upstairs because he hears a lot of commotion and he’s like. [shouting abruptly] ‘Hey! What’s going on here?’ Looks at Tammy and she’s outraged and she doesn’t care, he was like [same voice] ‘You God damn bitch! Get out! Get out! Don’t bang on my son’s equipment.’ That’s what he kept saying over and over again, ‘Don’t you bang on my son’s equipment. You bitch.’ And that was the end of it, but that was the highlight. Me, Pharrell and one of our homeboys named Mike Etheridge, were all dying, uncontrollably. [Pharrell continues laughing] Chad is pissed, Tammy is pissed and Chad’s Dad is pissed. But us three? We were dying. And that’s it! That’s the end of that story.
Sarah: Wow. Shae, can you describe Pharrell’s sense of humour and how Chad handles it. [Pharrell carries on laughing]
Shae: Well, we’re all alike in a lot of ways. When it comes to sense of humour, sometimes he can take it a bit overboard and I get annoyed, but Chad [will come in] and just take it over, you know? So, it all depends. I’m the moody one out of the bunch, you know what I mean? So, when I don’t want to hear him repeat the same hook over and over again...like he’ll sing Earth, Wind and Fire The Reasons and he’ll sing it over and over and over again, and Chad’ll improv and they’ll create this whole big...this whole big... I can’t even describe it. It’s so annoying, but it’s classic. It’s classic.
DANCE MOVES & THE SPECIALS
“Well, we're all alike in a lot of ways. When it comes to sense of humour, sometimes he can take it a bit overboard and I get annoyed, but Chad [will come in] and just take it over, you know?”
Shae on Pharrell’s sense of humour and how Chad handles it
Sarah: Can you describe the thing that inspires you the most about Chad and Shae’s talents and their signature dance moves. Pharrell: Signature dance move?
Sarah: Yes, imagine if you looked across a room, you’d be like, that’s Chad because that’s what he does or that’s Shae because that’s what he does. You’ve got a new one of your own though, haven’t you?
Pharrell: I do?
Sarah: Yes, it’s sort of a running man meets rude boy. Kind of like The Special’s (skanking).
Pharrell: The Specials?
Sarah: You know that group The Specials?
Pharrell: Uh, uh.
Sarah: Very much like that. You know them?
Sarah: Really? Uh oh, you don’t know The Specials?! I’ve got to get you listening to The Specials.
Pharrell: I don’t know, when we get together we always make music that’s always magic. It’s a great meeting of the minds. A meeting of no expectations, but the meeting of sheer creativity. Shae, well he had a few signature moves on stage, that were pretty intense when we started N*E*R*D. With Chad, you just don’t know. He’s just... he’s pretty inventive with the things that he does. Sometimes it looks like it’s on purpose, sometimes it looks like it might be a mistake, but he’ll repeat it and after about four or five repetitions, you realise, ‘Oh! That’s a dance.’
Pharrell: ...that it’s a sequence of something and he makes it look so cool. He makes it look so easy. You try to do it and ahh... Chad’s like a multi-tasker, he can do everything, he can play, dance, sing.
LET THE GAME COMMENCE
Sarah: Do you want to take a card; use the word on it to incorporate it into a question to ask the other two.
Chad: Are you a shrink too?
Sarah: [Laughs] No! Classic.
Pharrell: OK, here’s my question. Are you guys annoyed by the amount of ‘science’ that I talk you guys to death with from watching the news?
Chad: You’re asking us?
Chad: Do we get what?
Chad: Oh, sometimes, but it’s good to open up a forum.
Shae: You’re a walking encyclopedia. What ‘environments’ do you enjoy the most?
Pharrell: The environment I like the most is... It’s not really an environment, it’s the mental dimension you go into when you’re watching a particular television show and for me that would be Discovery. That’s the environment I like the most. I mean, it sounds all you know, nice and sweet, but it’s really true. That or like the movie theatre. One of the two.
Sarah: Chad, have you got one?
Chad: Outdoors. The great outdoors.
Sarah: Oh, no, no for your question?
Chad: Oh! ‘Space.’ Space?
Pharrell: Which I think is a dope name for a kid. I think Space is dope. What do you think about ‘Time’?
Sarah: [To Chad] Did you ask your question?
Sally: [To Pharrell] What if it’s twins?
Pharrell: Twins would be dope named Space and Time. What I’m saying is, Time as a name though! Who wants to be named Brian?
Sally: This is true. I always have to think about the playground, because that can really shape someone.
Pharrell: I mean, do you want your kids playing with some kid named George?
Chad: [Having thought of his question] Do you guys like that show Pigs In Space?
Sarah: [Creasing up] Is that your question?
Sarah: [Laughs] I love it!
Chad: [Adopts voice of the TV Show intro] Pigs.... In... Space!
Sarah: [Laughs] This is old, isn’t it?
Chad: Yeah, it’s classic.
[Pharrell’s crescendo of laughs rolls up again]
Chad: The Muppets.
Sarah: [Laughs] Yeah! [To Shae] Do you like it?
Sarah: Next question. What do you think about the suggestions of live music overtaking recorded music? What do you think about that as a...
Pharrell: Everything goes in cycles.
PRINT VS. THE INTERNET
Sarah: Yeah, I think so. The same goes for... what do you think about print verses the internet?
Pharrell: I really feel sorry for print. I feel sorry for print because print at one point was a real true mark in evolution for mankind, before the printing press... Like, the printing press really sped up. It was the world’s first information highway, before that there were just telegrams and letters. And when the printing press came out, [it was] newspapers that really connected people in a way that they’d never been connected since maybe like the Tower of Babel, if you’re religious – in other religions and other cultures, there are very similar stories, but the printing press was the next thing. After that, the car was the next big thing in the industrial revolution, and then once the internet hit, it’s kind of like, that’s how it’s going to work now. Everything will be years and years faster. I mean it was just 50 years ago that there were microwaves and things like that and those were huge deals. And now we have things that you [could not have] imagined like GPS.
I think life will change tremendously in the next five years. You know, years ago it would take 10 to 15 years for something to change and before that it would take 25 to 30 years to change. In the next five years we’ll see incredible things, they have like nanocells that can go in and correct things about your health. They’ll put an injection into your blood stream that’ll repair your arteries. So it’s just...and the way that these doctors can correspond, you know? [snaps fingers] In a light second. [pauses] It’s going to change tremendously.
Sarah: So, it might sound kind of stupid, but what do you think about the fact live music was the original form, then it was recorded and live music has taken over in terms of business.
Pharrell: It will continue to change, I think holograms will be next... You’re laughing!
Sarah: I’m not laughing.
Chad: That’s a great name for a kid too.
Sarah: [For the record. Now, I laugh] It is?
Chad: [Raises voice as if to child] ‘Hey Holly, come here Hologram, come here.’ [tones down] How’s that?
Sarah: Hologram, Space and Time.
Pharrell: [Creasing up] ‘Come here, Holly!’
Chad: ‘Holly and Gram.’ ‘This is Holly, this is Gram.’ ‘Holly-Gram.’
Sarah: Can you pick a favourite city each and tell us something about it – that you don’t have at home – that you’d like to take with you, regardless of whether you could or not.
Pharrell: My two favourite places on earth are Paris and Tokyo.
Sarah: What would you take back with you? It can be completely radical. It can be impossible.
Pharrell: The word is enormity, right? [I nod] There’s an enormity and a huge abundance of historic preservation in Paris. And Tokyo is just like, it is a city that is represented by the people who are true connoisseurs of life and true collectors.
Shae: I would say Mykonos...
Pharrell: Where’s that?
Pharrell: You went? When did you go?
Shae: Three years ago.
Shae: It’s dope.
Pharrell: Greece is pretty serious too.
Sarah: [to Chad] Have you got one?
Chad: I like London.
Pharrell: There’s an interesting Jewish sub-culture in Greece. Some of the people who left the Promised Land...
Chad: [At the same time] I don’t know what I’d bring back.
Sarah: OK, do you want to do another of these cards? See if there are any more baby names?
Pharrell: Baby names?
Sarah: That’s what you were talking about!
Pharrell: I was just asking you!
Sarah: You were just saying these would make good names.
Pharrell: No, I’m just saying Space...
Sarah: I know, I just thought you could see if the next one would be a good name. [laughs] It might be terrible though. [the word is ‘scene’ – see below]. [To Chad] You want to go first?
Shae: I’ll go first. Do you guys miss ‘school’?
Pharrell: Yeah. I’m thinking about studying.
Shae: How about you, Chad?
Chad: I didn’t get a degree.
Pharrell: [Talking at the same time as Chad] Taking an online course or something. It would be interesting. And my question is [pauses]. Isn’t it interesting to be a part of a ‘scene’ and not be there?
Chad: To be part of the scene...
Pharrell: To have influence on certain scenes but to not actually physically partake in them. [pauses] It is for me, anyway. To make music, but to not necessarily hang out where it’s played. It’s interesting for me, I just wanted to know if it was interesting to you?
Chad: It’s definitely interesting.
Pharrell: It’s pretty cool. It’s a rhetorical question.
Sarah: [laughs] I was going to say it’s quite interesting for us because we meet people – it’s the same for you, but not obviously of the same scale – who read BLAG and have a certain interpretation of it that I’d never expect, or I wouldn’t imagine them to even know that it exists.
Sarah: So it can be really weird. You can think that person [pointing in one direction] would read BLAG, but they don’t even know what you’re talking about and vice-versa. So, it kind of goes on like that. It must happen with you a bit? You probably wouldn’t necessarily look for it on the same level that I would. I just find it interesting for us at our stage [how we are reaching people].
Pharrell: Yeah, I mean Jimmy Page walked up last night, I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m a huge fan.’ And he was like, ‘I love a lot of your work too.’ I was like, ‘What? That’s Jimmy Page!’
Sarah: I used to work for him.
Pharrell: You did?
Sarah: Yes. Let’s have another question. Chad, did you do yours?
Chad; Errr... What do you think about mind ‘travel’?
Pharrell: It happens to me every time I get in the shower or on a plane. It’s called imagination.
Shae: There’s no better high.
Sarah: I wanted to talk to you about women. I’m really interested in the male perspective of... Well, I don’t know if it’s my age or the way media is changing but, it just seems to be all about retouching and anti-aging. I was curious to find out your perspective on that, or if you even notice it and how it’s changed over the past few years? I guess we’re all a similar age and you see people aging, I wondered if you feel any pressure on it?
Shae: I honestly don’t see it as an issue.
Shae: I like older women. I like wrinkles. There’s something about it. It turns me on. I really do. I was just talking about this the other day. There’s something about older women, I don’t know what it is, but I really have got a true fetish for them. I think it’s their experience.
Sarah: Pharrell, how about you?
Pharrell: I think, you know, initially it’s some sort of cute aspect about a woman that gets my attention. What ultimately keeps my attention is her brain and interesting conversation, just her being more so of a conversational and educational [person.] That does it for me.
Shae: She’s talking about age.
Pharrell: I know, that’s what I’m saying.
Sarah: What is it about a woman that makes you respect them the most?
Pharrell: What, about women? There are so many things, they’re responsible for our being.
Sarah: What do you feel pressured by? I was just talking about some of the pressures I feel like I’m under. Is there anything that you didn’t expect to feel pressured by at your age?
Shae: Responsibilities. That’s a lot of pressure. Now, that I’m grown up.
Pharrell: Yeah, I’ma say I don’t see any pressure, but I do have a problem with growing up, because I don’t think you should have to. I think that as long as you do what you’re supposed to do and you handle your responsibilities, you know? I mean, no one can tell me that I can’t watch cartoons or no one can tell me that I can’t eat breakfast cereal all day. I guess this question is invalid, because I kind of live by my own rules.
Chad: Always pressured. There’s rules of society and there are people’s opinions that ultimately...
Sarah: [Laughing] I might finish at that. Wait, this is a good one, you can have it Shae [I hand him the ‘wish’ word card.]
Shae: What do you guys ‘wish’ for?
Pharrell: In terms of what?
Pharrell: I wish to open up more than one community resource centre. We’re currently working on one, our goal is to, you know, totally multi-populate those centres for kids as a place to go to and hone in, and cultivate their time and their talents. Just to continually conduct more scientific studies on the effects of music and more things that we can do with music than just simply listen. I think that there’s going to be... the same way that they have technology that is orally induced, I think that there’s going to be some sort of new form, in the next five years they’ll discover ways where sound can be used as medicine and deliver some sort of therapy, besides just tranquil stuff.