When Pharrell Williams appeared alongside Jay-Z in a commercial for the latter’s album, ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’, it was hard to resist the thought that Pharrell was everywhere – and that’s no exaggeration. Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’, the infectious megahit that Williams helped produce, and for which he sang vocals, was just two months old, still at the peak of its ubiquitousness. Williams’s crooning of ‘I’m up all night to get lucky’ could be heard just about anywhere and everywhere.
Williams went Hollywood, too. He co-wrote the soundtrack for the hit animated film ‘Despicable Me’, and he was one of the guys pounding on the drums in that epic Hans Zimmer score when Superman first took flight in last summer’s ‘Man of Steel’.
Of course, Williams has been collaborating with music’s biggest stars – from Britney Spears to Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg to Justin Timberlake – for over a decade, ever since he and childhood friend Chad Hugo formed the production duo The Neptunes, and he’s appeared prominently in megahit songs before (most famously 2005’s ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, with Snoop Dogg) but never before has he been at the forefront of this many things at once.
In 2003, his solo releases, group outings and production work accounted for a staggering 43% of all music on American radio. To date, 137 singles have sold more than one million copies in the UK – Pharrell has two, and they both came this summer.
And that’s just the music. Last year also saw Williams designing a down jacket for French fashion label Moncler and teaming up with internet giant eBay for an online venture involving celebrity-curated collections. Indeed, Pharrell Williams is everywhere. We chat with him about penning chart-toppers and collaborating with music royalty.
Your brand Billionaire Boys Club turns ten this year. What originally made you want to start the brand, and how did your pairing with partner/producer Nigo come about?
I started Billionaire Boys Club because I felt there was a void in the market place. When I went to Japan for the first time and met Nigo I knew he was the right person to help me make it a reality. We discussed the idea and that same night Sk8thing had graphic designs to show us. To this day we still use those graphics, which are now iconic to the brand.
Tell us about your partnership with Jay Z and Billionaire Boys Club in 2011: what is his involvement in the creative process? Do you and he have similar ideas and tastes?
Jay and I are friends. He’s been very supportive of the brand since we started so it was the perfect fit for us to partner up as we’re growing our business. He really lets me be creative and lets me do what I want. That being said, we do look at things the same way and have similar tastes, which is why he trusts me.
Do you think the music industry has changed since you first launched with The Neptunes/ N*E*R*D boys in the ’90s? If you knew then what you know now, would you go about taking on the industry in the same way?
Music, just like everything else, changes all the time, but it’s in cycles and everything comes back around. I can’t say that I haven’t changed, but I would never put out bad music regardless of what’s popular. I just focus on making good music.
The Neptunes’ older sound was really futuristic and electronic. Your new sound is more organic and retro: did you make a shift in sound intentionally?
No. This is all part of growing musically and always pushing myself to keep making better music.
You’ve always been big on collaborations, from Gwen Stefani to Daft Punk; what is it about collaboration that you enjoy so much? What do you look for in a collaborator?
My job as a producer is to collaborate with artists so I’ve been doing it my whole career. I enjoy it or I would have needed to find another job. As far as what I look for, it always comes down to talent.
Tell us about your recent collaboration with Daft Punk: how did it come about? And, as an artist and producer in your own right, how did building the tracks work as a collaboration?
We have known each other since our days at Virgin Records and always discussed working on some music together. I remixed some music for them early on and they did the same for us. A couple of years ago they produced a song for N*E*R*D and that led us to talk about me appearing on their new album. They asked me to come to Paris where we recorded the two songs; it was that simple. When you really respect someone’s work it makes for a much easier collaboration.