Revenge Of The N*E*R*Ds

Get the latest from Beat

Revenge Of The N*E*R*Ds


N*E*R*D’s latest album Nothing is, as Pharrell’ asserts in an olfactory manner, different to the trio’s (which also includes bandmates Chad Hugo and Shay Haley) previous works., which is now stretching out to the better part of a decade’s worth of music

I mean you can smell N*E*R*D on it, but it is a whole different fragrance. It’s just coming from a whole different thing… there are remnants of what we do, but the most important part is that you’re hearing what sounds like timeless rock music.” That’s the philosophy that Pharrell, from genre-shifting US group N*E*R*D, is musing while discussing his band’s latest album, the evocatively, even somewhat-cosmically titled, Nothing . As well as being the group’s lead vocalist and producer – and all-round pop superstar – in recent times Pharrell has also delved into designing push-bikes and set up a website based on artistic philanthropy.

N*E*R*D’s latest album Nothing is, as Pharrell’ asserts in an olfactory manner, different to the trio’s (which also includes bandmates Chad Hugo and Shay Haley) previous works., which is now stretching out to the better part of a decade’s worth of music – their debut In Search Of (2002), Fly Or Die (2004) and Seeing Sounds (2008). While the Nothing’s opening track, the aptly-named Party People, has all the spunk and bravado of earlier N.E.RD tracks, there’s a depth and maturity in the rhythm that heralds something of a signature of Nothing.

This textural scope manifests in later tracks like first single Hot-n-Fun as the classic rock sound of the 1960s – a time when the bluesy sound of Robert Johnson had not been forgotten or overly-diluted. Pharrell discusses the aforementioned inference, actually expanding it further and hinting at the seminal ‘porn-music’ sound of those early Blaxploitation movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“You listen to it and you’re like ‘oh wow!’” he exclaims. “There’s strong rock riffs and interesting percussion like bongos and congas, and flutes and acoustic guitars and moogs,” he grins. “You know; it sounds like the late ‘60s right?” A rhetorical Pharell states happily.

It has been a long road to this point, however. Pharell and Hugo grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia on the east coast of the USA and became friends at a camp for gifted children. With both friends into skating, they formed their musical tastes on diet of Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Europe and Bon Jovi. Hot-n-Fun demonstrates the above mash of genres that that was the basis of Pharell and Hugo’s formative musical days. The song sits a top a bouncing bass line with Nelly Furtado harmonizing with a chorus of “Hot-n-Fun” before also offering a bridge from chorus back to verse where Furtado commentates on a hot and fun experience, (if you get what they’re alluding to), with this time Pharell offering the harmony. It’s the ideal ‘mature’ N*E*R*D track – fun, funky and irreverent, all with a side of humour.

Other guests on nothing include T.I on the aforementioned party track Party People but it almost seems as though on Nothing that Pharell, Hugo and Haley left the most ‘accessible’ tracks for the guests, while attaching their names – and only their names – to the songs on the album that were the greatest step away from the previous N*E*R*D sound. It’s them signposting their own musical growth, and it couldn’t be better.

The track I’ve Seen The Light / Inside Of Clouds features many of the instrumental elements synonymous with the US’s west coast sound of the 1960s folk/rock movement. Baritone saxophone with a female choir mirror its somber vicissitudes, giving the track the warm psychedelic colours that were also present in songs like Mamas And The Papas’ Monday Monday or even Simon & Garfunkel’s genre classic Scarborough Fair.

Pharell is all too happy to explain that N.E.R.D’s songwriting process is about as organic and natural as they come, inferring that the shift from their previous sound to this new styling on Nothing was not difficult at all. “You have an idea, you blueprint it, you try to find the appropriate sounds to match the colours and you make it!” triumphantly laughs the typical casual Pharell.

He also seeks to further demystify N*E*R*D’s recording process, with a certain momentum building in his voice, “It’s not really rocket science; you jam and when you find that moment you go back to that moment and make that moment play again!” he laughs.

However, in contrast to the overall retro musical tone of the record the album’s cover has touches of both contemporary aesthetics and relevant political themes. It features a side on profile shot of Pharell wearing an army helmet with three feathers – blue, red and white – sticking out of it. Pharell has previously explained that this design was inspired to show both peace – the feathers – and war – the helmet. It could also work as an allegory of the band’s musical output – one where cutting-edge musicianship and production techniques have collided with an undeniable pop aesthetic and appeal. Indeed, in becoming one of the most alluring and unique acts on the planet, they’ve not sacrificed any of their originality in pursuit of commercial success – it has found them by virtue of their talent.

This is no more obvious than with one song on Nothing that steps outside of their organic 1960s rock approach, the sexy, low-tempo track Hypnotize U that’s drenched in vintage synths and modulated beats. It comes as no surprise that this track was produced by special guests Daft Punk.

Despite all his success as a one third of N*E*R*D and a ridiculously prolific career as a producer and guest vocalist with a credits roll-call that is abounding in both fame and talent – Snoop Dogg, Clipse just to name a couple – Pharell also has a deeply philanthropic tone. This is evidenced by his setting up of that seeks to give exposure to young artists who don’t have a public platform for their work. The motivation to set this website up was driven by Pharell and the other N*E*R*D members being inundated at shows by young fans wanting to design N*E*R*D T-shirts – the magnitude and quality of the test patterns being shoved in front of Pharell was the final straw.

Another unexpected area of design that Pharell is involved in is bikes. He has designed a bike through New York bike company Brooklyn Machine Works. So enamored with the design and joy of riding one of these self-designed contraptions Pharell is tempted to do some riding when he comes to Australia and New Zealand for N*E*R*D’s upcoming tour over new years. He comments on the temptation of riding the bike around a new city with a casual, “Awww man, don’t make me ship one out there!” he laughs.

Pharell shares such a passion for his designer riding piece that in recent times he has riding in the lyrics of their debut single Lap Dance, saying “I’m just straight ill / Ridin’ my Brookyn down the street.”

For this year’s Pyramid Rock Festival and next year’s Summadayze – mind you, the festivals are only a day apart – N*E*R*D are sure to be a major draw card. This is not just for their string of hits that began in 2002 with the hip-hop rock crossover smash Rockstar (that made it to number 32 on the ARIA single’s charts) but also for their incredible hi-energy show that features Pharell and Haley on vocals, backed by a full band with Hugo on keyboards, saxophone and guitar.

Pharell discloses that the most important part of a N*E*R*D show is the osmosis between band and crowd. “Energy is number one,” he says of the key element to the N*E*R*D live show. “We gotta have energy, give people things that they won’t forget.”

He adds – as excitedly as this super-cool kid can get – “Yeah, the crowd actually gets us more pumped then we do [playing] on our own.”

Having released three acclaimed albums prior to Nothing it is put to Pharell whether the set will include much material from the new album, to which he confidently replies, “For sure we’re doing the new stuff, for sure; a lot of the new stuff.”

On the international festival circuit N*E*R*D have rightfully become known as the official party starters, a band that will get everyone jumping – as Pharell explains, quite literally. “It’s a great feeling when everyone knows all the words,” he says of getting up to play festivals. “You never get tired of that. I don’t know man; I get a rush out of seeing 50,000 people jumping. You know, 20,000, 30,000, 50,000, it is always fun.”

Being a nice guy Pharell then quickly includes ‘smaller venues’ in his hyperbole except it becomes apparent that N*E*R*D may have lost touch with what a small venue is. “The funny thing is you know, when we do smaller venues, we do like twenty five hundred, 3,000, 4,000, it’s good to see that too. I guess it is just good to see everybody jumping unison.”

Nothing could be closer to the truth, eh?

N*E*R*D play the PYRAMID ROCK FESTIVAL – alongside The Temper Trap, Arrested Development, Chromeo, Built To Spill, Xavier Rudd, Little Red, Mystery Jets, Midnight Juggernauts, Jebediah, Tumbleweed, Gyroscope, Lightspeed Champion, Basement Birds, Future Of The Left, Miami Horror, Operator Please, Born Ruffians, Shout Louds, Tiinnie Tempah, Glenn Richards, Oh Mercy, Urthboy and roughly a million other awesome bands – in Philip Island from December 29 to January 1. Tickets and info all from

They are also headlining SUMMADAYZE 2011 at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on January 1 – along with David Guetta, Armand Van Helden, Justuce, Dennis Ferrer, Erol Alkan, Yuksek, Miami Horror, Riva Starr, Tinnie Tempah, Claude Vonstroke, Dave Seaman and heaps more. Tickets and info from and

N*E*R*D’s awesome new album Nothing is out now through Universal.

*Thanks to ZM, ZM’s Jay & Flynny and