N*E*R*D Interview: Living in the moment with Pharrell Williams and Shae Haley

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We had the privilege of meeting with two-thirds of the musical genius behind N*E*R*D as Pharrell Williams and Shae Haley hit up the Viejas Arena as part of the ‘Escape to Plastic Beach’ World Tour with the Gorillaz. Their highly anticipated fourth studio album, Nothing, comes out today, November 2, 2010.

From the popularity of their first single “Hot N’ Fun,” featuring Grammy-winning artist Nelly Furtado, as well as experiencing their live performance last Thursday, N*E*R*D’s near decade of rampant success is no fluke. After an energizing opening set, including the mesmerizing follow-up single “Hypnotize U” as well as the hit that started it all “Lapdance,” the incredibly talented, and surprisingly humble, Williams and Haley welcomed us backstage to band’s dressing room for a quick interview surrounded by a handful of their friends and colleagues.

SD Entertainer Magazine: How did you guys approach your fourth studio album Nothing differently than the others?

Haley: High. High off of life.

What’s your favorite part of making an album and the whole process?

Williams: My favorite part of making music is… Moving people. Being a positive reinforcement.

What’s your creative process like when you’re in the studio?

Williams: It depends. We used to do a lot of jamming… Just jamming or capturing the moment. For the past couple of years or so it has been like something where we sit down and focus… I don’t like that.

What do you prefer?

Williams: Jamming. Because that’s when like the crazy—Do you hear that great music? Do you know who’s playing that music next door? De La Soul. They’re so rad.—That doesn’t answer your question though. It’s just when you jam, it’s more freestyle, so different things come out that you wouldn’t expect because it’s all improvisation and you’re sort of chasing a moment versus a structured, you know shooting for something, having a target.

What’s your craziest or favorite fan moment so far?

Williams: Oh, those always get better and better, man. Ya know. Because you’re just with like cool kids that like you’ve had some sort of impression on. No matter what’s going on in your life, you make somebody else’s day. And your fans are good people, like they’re real, they’re genuine… When they approach you and say they like you, they really like you. It’s pure, and that is something I’m really thankful for because you know our music, the music that Chad, Shae and I make, could just be something that’s local in Virginia and then we’re passing and handing them out on tapes, or CDs, or getting traded online, but that’s not what it is. That’s not what’s happening there. People are really buying our music. And so like we put our pure heart into to, and then it gets purely received and it’s purely reciprocated. Nothing’s better than that. Ya know, some kid walks up and says to you “’Run to the Sun’ got me through my college years.”

I do remember this: There was a kid that really liked N*E*R*D and got into like a bad car accident. They looked in the deck and like our song was on and it was like his favorite song, so they played it at his funeral and his sister came and told us about it. It was an amazing story.

How do you spend your free time on the road?

Williams: Ya know. Daytime, you stop at some local place to see what the food is like. Usually I just defer straight to just Mcdonald’s. And then if it’s past—[Pharrell interjects with a resounding “YOOOOOUUUU!” in company with the entertainment next door]—I had to do that. I love when he do that—But then there’s like a Walmart run like past 2 o’clock. We all go in there and get on the little carts and just drive around.

Are there any spots you like to hit up when you’re in San Diego? Like Phil’s BBQ or Hodad’s?

Williams: Why do they call it that? It’s like ‘Hey! Hey! What you doing?! Aye, come here boy…Hol’ dat!’

Finally, Giants or Rangers?

Williams: Giants or Rangers… Lone rangers I know, and the giant stone sculptures on Easter Island. I have no idea what that is. I know what the World Series is. It’s the series of the world… I don’t know anything about sports.

Having the opportunity to not only meet, but also speak with such an admirable and successful music group such as N*E*R*D, was absolutely surreal in itself. Then, to find out that the Hip Hop legends De La Soul were performing in the next room was completely and utterly mind-blowing.

Living in the moment, high off of life, seems to be what N*E*R*D is all about, a philosophy and energy that spreads to those around them. Pharrell Williams and Shae Haley truly invest themselves in their music and art in order to provide the “pure” experience to their audiences, legitimately earning the praise and popularity.

Nothing debuts Tuesday, November 2, 2010. Check out the music video for their first single “Hot N’ Fun” below:

Photo courtesy of Justine Sabado.

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