A new N*E*R*D order

June 7, 2002


As half of the duo known as the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams is one of the most
in-demand producers in pop music today, with credits including Jay-Z, Janet
Jackson, the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.

In fact, our interview is scheduled and postponed three times to accommodate
his work on the new solo album by Justin Timberlake. The music of the 'N Sync
crooner couldn't be more different than that of N*E*R*D, Williams' own project
with his Neptunes partner, Chad Hugo. An acronym for "No One Ever Really
Dies," N*E*R*D makes some of the weirdest, most inventive, most psychedelic
hip-hop since De La Soul. 'N Sync makes ... well, 'N Sync music. But Williams
claims that juxtapositions like that aren't nearly as schizophrenic for him as
they are for some listeners.

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"That sort of makes it sound like we're special or different, and we're really not,
because the truth of the matter is that most people don't just listen to one
sound of music," he says during a break from the Timberlake sessions. "They
listen to many different kinds of music, and so we just make many different
kinds of music. You know what I mean? I can't speak for most musicians,
because they do what they do and they have reasons for what they do. But me
personally, I just like music, period."

Williams doesn't shy away from that adjective "psychedelic," but like many
musicians today, he considers it to be more of an open-minded, genre-blind
approach to songwriting and recording, rather than anything to do with drug use
or the '60s.

"When I was growing up, pop music was great music," he says. "In the '70s
and even toward the middle of the '80s, pop music was hot as a mother. ...
That's how it is over in Europe. A hot song is a hot song, whether it's rock or
pop or whatever. They only have one chart, and good music is good music. Pop
over there means it's popular because it's a good song. That's what it used to
mean here, but here it's become like the means of corporations making big
bucks. We have to change that a little bit."

How, then, does this super-producer define a good song?

"By the reaction," he says. "The reaction in someone's face, the body
language, that just lets you know that you've done something right. Also, if I
respond to it, than I know that other people will like it."

In addition to a fair amount of goofy between-tracks joking and a varied musical
palette ranging from funky analog synths to soulful horns to the sensuous
crooning of rising NeoSoul star Kelis, the recently released N*E*R*D album, "In
Search Of ... " boasts a poignant lyrical message about asserting one's

"A life soundtrack" is how the label bio describes the debut.

"Put in even simpler terms, it's just good high-school [stuff] and college [stuff],"
Williams says. "It's the [stuff] you go through while you're in high school or
college. And it's not black or white, it's everything--it's all those memories, all
those times, all those people, the different situations that we all went through."

As such, it's infinitely more ambitious than most of the albums that have made
the Neptunes famous as producers. How does Williams view the difference
between the role of artist and producer?

"When you make records for a lot of people, you have to make records you like
to hear them on and they would like to hear themselves on, but then push them
to a limit," he writes on the N*E*R*D Web site. "But when you're making
records for yourself, you already know who you are; you can go as far deep into
music as you can go without running into time. You can hold your breath for as
long as you can and then come up for air and then go dive into another part of
the pool, another part of life."

As for where the Neptunes are headed next, Williams says he'd love to produce
more country artists. "Faith Hill--and I really, really, really wanna work with
Bonnie Raitt," he says. Plus, he wouldn't mind working with Courtney Love. "I'd
be interested in hearing what it is that she wants to do, but me personally, I
would love to take her back to [singing], 'When they get what they want they
never want it again/Go on take everything take everything I want you to ... ' Tell
her to call me, man!"