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Interview with Nick Waterhouse – “Putting Together a Record Is a Lot Like a Heist Movie”

April 2, 2019

Music | by Dean Robinson


The man with the mid-century style and sound returns with his fourth solo record, self-titled Nick Waterhouse.

The latest record from the LA independent musician balances a timeless, 50s jazz club sound with modern day ideals and raw emotions. His scorched earth first single Song For Winners draws inspiration from British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Nina Simone, combining a feral R&B howl with elegant touches of club jazz and 60s soul. Basically, if you subscribe to the notion that music ain’t what it used to be, then the latest offering from this fine Californian gentleman is for you.

We grabbed a word with Nick before his London show recently… 

Since appearing in the likes of GQ and Mr Porter, you’ve become a bit of sartorial style icon. The Oxford shirts, penny loafers, horn-rimmed glasses – is there anyone you reference for your style inspiration?

Not really, what I like about those items is that they work on everybody that I’ve seen them on. I guess style icons are the people that those clothes weren’t made for, people like Max Roach, Sonny Clark and Buck Owens. I don’t fetishise their image or anything, but it was a natural look for me to gravitate towards – and I think it works well on me.

So, onto the music and your latest album Nick Waterhouse – why did you decide to self-title this one?

I decided to self-title it because I felt that this one was a proper introduction to me for everyone in the world. It’s a funny thing when you’re a young musician, you make some songs but you don’t expect they will be given close attention or dissected in much detail. I think so much of my first three records was this relentless energy from my first release, which was just a 45, and this was the first album I could put together as a showcase of who I am. I learned a lot over the last three albums, but you could buy this one and never have heard to me before.

Yeah, there’s a lot of the familiar traits of the classic ‘Nick Waterhouse sound’ but there’s also songs that feel a bit new and fresh. How would you say it’s different?

The new record is different in the sense that it is much more song orientated rather than performance orientated. My last record (Never Twice) was more about musicians and musicianship and writing songs as a listening experience whereas with this album, there is more of an arc and a tighter sensibility between all the songs. The focus is on me, my voice and the lyrics, but in my last record it was about the feeling and things like guitar solos – there were a lot of solos on the last record. It’s almost like the last record was a lot jazzier in a way, and this one is more singles orientated, a bit like my first album.

So, it’s a bit like your first solo record

Yeah, well I was talking to a really close friend that I confer with a lot and I take his input when it comes to sequencing and choosing songs because sometimes I’ll have like twenty songs that I have to narrow down to eleven. We were just thinking that Times All Gone was really ramshackle and making Holly was me trying to figure out how to be a producer with a lot of musicians and having a bigger studio. The third record was even more based on feeling and being with my band on the road. Now, I’m just applying everything at once but being able to like hold back on stuff and not going too far down into the rabbit hole following one thing or another.

You mentioned that your records are a bit like 45s. Is that the way you approach recording music – as if it’s a vinyl record with a two-sided listening experience?

No, I think that’s idiotic. I’m an independent artist with much more success than I would have ever expected but it’s still very low level and putting together a record for me it a lot like a heist movie. I’m scrambling to get everybody and everything together. I don’t have the liberty to think that way. The extent of my imagination with records is that I write each song to be a self-encapsulated thing. I also don’t believe in waste. I don’t believe in wasting time or tape or anybody else’s time. I want to make everything really count from top to tail, so when I come to make a record, I have an idea of an over arcing theme but no specific intention of like “by minute 16 of the album, this is what you’ll expect” I think that is what you should do after the record is made. It’s a like being a novelist – unless you’re an absolute dickhead you’re not going to publish your first draft so you take time to go back and edit it. Mabye then you won’t use the first third as maybe you think that the point you’re trying to make could be articulated more strongly. And you’re willing to re-write it and let go of your ego just to get the job done. I guess I don’t write for LPs but I write for 45s, as that’s how I listen and engage with music.

Is that why you chose to record your album at Electro Vox studios in LA, where the likes of Moon River and Mona Lisa were made?

Well it kinda’ chose me. It’s not an open-door place and I had been curios about it for years. I had a few things lined up but I chose it for two reasons: it’s room and the sound engineer. Both of those things mean way more than any vintage gear. Of course, they have great microphones but they don’t really have a lot of fancy old preamps which is what most people think. The room has such a unique sound – the ‘clap’ it makes when you hit a snare drum is so unique. And so many records I love have been made there too.

Nick Waterhouse guitar

You’re inspired by a lot of classic records but are there any current musicians out there you’d like to make a record with?

I really like Ben Pirani and his new record out called How Do I Talk To My Brother. He’s someone who’s exciting me right now but I wouldn’t say there’s anyone between the age of twenty and forty who’s getting me excited.

How about making an album with your good friends The Allah Las?

Well, we grew up together and we’re all a bunch older now so it’s a different thing. I really want to do a solo record with Matt from The Allah Las. I have this fantasy of producing him doing this kind-of Desire-era Bob Dylan meets Glen Campbell’s Witchita Alignment – which I think would be really cool.

Love to hear that Nick, make it happen!

I’m working on it.

In your latest video for Wreck The Rod, you embody a hilarious washed-up musician persona. What was the thinking behind that?

Well the director, Gilbert Trejo, called me one night and he started telling me about this idea he had for the video – which is the one we ended up doing. It’s hard to explain this but I do what I do which is fine and I have outward respect and tolerance for other people that make like eight-but dreamgaze-pop or whatever but in the industry I’m often faced with people who have little-to-no imagination. I remember working with one director who was like “ I know, let’s put you on an American Bandstand in 1964”

Wow.

Yeah exactly, it’s like man you’ve really put your thinking on there. What I liked about Gilbert is that he was like everyone wants to put you on a TV show in the 1960s, but what if I put you in the same universe but ten years later when you’re actually tired of this song and don’t want to be doing it anymore. It’s like a commentary on time periods and how people view ‘retro’ and also a commentary on the cruelty of the industry. Plus, I got to be put in prosthetics and made fat and sweaty – which is always a lot of fun. We used a drunk Normal Mailer on TV in the 1970s as a character reference.

Nick Waterhouse video

Do you have one song that turned you on to music?

Here Comes the Night by Them.

Great tune. What is it about that song in particular?

You could say it’s like a skeleton key to understating my whole career. I’ll check in on it every five-or-so years and it’ll make even more sense to me. I first heard it when I was like five years old and remember it being ‘the thing’ and then I was even more into it when I started playing the guitar. There’s a lot of heavy cross currents on that record. It’s a song written by Bert Burns who did all these RnB records who then came to London to work on all the British invasion stuff, then he makes this killer single which then tilted the course of Van Morrison’s career. There’s something about the chords, changes and how it’s played – it’s in minor key, it has time changes, it has a dotted quarter note and all this syncopation. It’s pre-funk influenced by Latin which ended up being everything I’m in to. And it’s an existential on lonely, dark songs – not like your typical love song from that era and it has a kind-of noir-ish thing going on. So yeah, my Mom used to play the greatest hits of Van Morrison and the first song on it is Here Comes the Night – which is the shit man, it’s my thing.

Nick is currently touring his latest album Nick Waterhouse, released under Innovative Leisure records.

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