Working with Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Madonna or Justin Timberlake? Awesome. Working on “Despicable Me?” Priceless.
Just ask producer/artist Pharrell Williams. The multiple Grammy winner composed the score and wrote four tracks for the new 3-D animated feature starring Steve Carell. Additionally, he co-wrote a track with Robin Thicke.
Pharrell spoke with Hitfix about “Despicable Me,” his cartoon habit and working with Jay-Z. Plus, he tries to convince us why the bikini clad girls in the new N.E.R.D. video for “Hot ‘N Fun" are liberated.
You give Jack Johnson credit for inspiring you to do “Despicable Me.” How so?
He did the “Curious George” soundtrack and I was so envious of what he’d done, it was so amazing. I was like, “Man, I want that opportunity,” so when I got it, I just seized the moment as much as I could.
What did you think when you first saw footage from “Despicable Me?”
I was blown away and I couldn’t believe I’d gotten the opportunity, so I just worked really hard because I’m a huge kid myself. There’s plenty of times when I’m blessed to be at home and if I’m up late at night, I’ll go eat breakfast cereal at 2 a.m. in the morning, right? Go turn on Boomerang, the vintage cartoon network. That is a fun time for me…I don’t know how to grow up. I haven’t figured it out yet.
“Fun Fun Fun” has this wonderful ’70s lighthearted vibe and plays during an amusement park scene. Were you looking at the footage when you wrote it?
I just imagined what would feel good if you’re up in the air, whatever miles per hour that you travel when you’re doing that. What that felt like.
And it comes to you that easily?
Well, one thing leads to another. It’s not so fast.
The “Despicable Me” theme has some very different elements than a usual theme. What did you want to convey with that?
I wanted to push that experience a little bit better and push the envelope and the experience on a film that you love by hearing something that you love too. You just wouldn’t expect to hear a Steely Dan melody or chord progression in the world of animation. That’s why I wanted to do it. I wanted to challenge what people would do typically.
You worked with Heitor Pereira on the score. What did you learn about instrumentation that you didn’t know before?
If anything, I got to learn feel. I got to learn more about allowing the moment to talk to you and tell you what to do because I’ve known that, but it’s always been, “yes, you must express it in one of five different ways of expression.” With a film, it has no walls, no parameters. You just have to be very honest with what you give.
What do you want to do next? You’re a huge “Star Trek” fan. Do you want to do a live action movie?
If given the opportunity I’ll seize it.
That sounds very low key.
No, I’m very aggressive about it. It’s just that I don’t like to talk so much about what I’m about to do.But I’m very excited and I’m very thankful for this opportunity because it has just opened so many doors that I didn’t know existed.
Does this mean that you have something that you’re not willing to tell us yet?
(slowly says) Yeeeessss.
Does this mean there’s another movie project lined up?
Well, I don’t want to say so much.
I believe that just happened when you were asked about working with Jay-Z. You said you were sworn to confidentiality.
Yeah. The bigger the artist, the more they don’t want you to talk.
The new N.E.R.D. album, “Nothing” comes out Sept. 7.
It’s very inspired by everything that’s been going on in the world. The last time people had a lot to talk about was in the early '70s and I’d say that’s where we are now. Our album has a really hippie, revolutionary feel to it.
The video for “Hot ‘N Fun" may have a hippie vibe, but you’re surrounded by scantily-clad, beautiful women of all shapes and sizes. That’s a nice perq of being a rock star.
You know what? We want to liberate the women.
Really? Tell me how you’re doing that?
Because we want you to appreciate yourself for yourself and not an industry standard. So it’s not that you can’t wear those nice clothes, just know that you’re a beautiful person, foremost, without them and they don’t make you better necessarily. Once you know that and you know that you’re the cream of the crop and that you’re important to everyone’s existence, then it’s fine for you have those clothes and you’ll actually love wearing those clothes even more, but don’t let those clothes make you feel encouraged or discouraged. They’re just clothes. While we really love that and I love how they look on women, in a flash you could have none of that on and be just as gorgeous, if not better.
That’s very interesting coming from a man who runs a clothing line.
Quincy Jones recently talked about how he was concerned that today's new producers are no longer learning how to produce like he and his generation did. Is that a valid concern?
Yeah, it’s a valid concern, but the business is changing. Unfortunately, people are caring more about the technology and less about the content. To Quincy’s point, there has to be equal consideration given to both because content is nothing without technology and technology has no purpose without content.
Whom are you dying to work with?
Eminem. I think GaGa could be interested. There’s a lot of people.
I last saw you at a Springsteen concert. What about the Boss?
He’s interesting. I would love to. I can’t imagine that he’d want to or could envision what we do, but I’d love to work with him. I like working with challenging people across the board.
You can hear Pharrell's work on the big screen this Friday when "Despicable Me" opens in theaters nationwide.
Are you excited about N.E.R.D.'s new album?