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Pharrell on the New N.E.R.D. Album: ‘Like the Doors Meets America’

At last night's N.E.R.D. show at Irving Plaza, currently the band's only North American date in the run-up to the release of September's Nothing, we caught up with Pharrell Williams backstage. While Chad Hugo, his bandmate and partner in inactive production super-duo the Neptunes, sat next to him quietly, Williams sold us on the album: “We wanted to make it like a lifestyle. Lifestyle music. [And] girls can get freaky to it.” Also, somehow: “Most of the album is like the Doors meets America.” (He's not joking, we don't think.) And whatever happened to Rhea, we asked, a female vocalist the band briefly added — à la the pre-megafame Black Eyed Peas and Fergie — before returning to the original lineup? “We experimented with it. That was our first batch of records, and it was good, but wasn’t good enough, and we were like, ‘Naw, let’s not do this.’” There's no bad blood. "Rhea's still featured in certain places on the record, but the members of N.E.R.D. are Shay [Haley], Chad, and myself.”

The Neptunes produced a ridiculous number of hits throughout the early part of this decade, often with Pharrell himself out front on the chorus. Which leads to two questions: Why the pause in producing? And why hasn't N.E.R.D. ever found the kind of chart success Pharrell and Hugo have repeatedly helped others achieve? On the first, Pharrell says: “I didn’t want to keep producing the same stuff. With Nothing, I’m back to producing a whole bunch of new sounds, and it took a minute for something to dawn on me, to hit me.” And for the second question? “I always go too creative on myself,” Pharrell says, “and subject my band members to my wanting to forge the new path. For pop, there’s a process. It’s got to go through so a 6-year-old can get it like a 60-year-old. Our album now, if you fuck with N.E.R.D., you will love it, but it’s different juxtaposed to your average pop act, like your Jay Sean. It’s just too real.”

Photo: Getty Images