He's created hit songs for himself, others, and his band. He's also collaborated with a diverse mix of talent from Jay-Z to Gwen Stefani, and has his own clothing lines Ice Cream and Billionaire Boys Club. Talk to Pharrell Williams for five minutes, and you'll instantly understand his need to work with others, push himself and expand his repertoire. It all comes down to his perception of "the American Dream," and how he chooses to lives it.
"When you read about it in the press, it's the house with the picket fence, the wife, the 2 ½ kids, two cars, and the pursuit of that but it's flawed," the Neptunes producer and frontman of N.E.R.D. explained. "It's based on having something, not chasing something. Most successful people will tell you it's not what's in the bank, it's the journey making it."
That sort of explains Williams' journey. Doesn't it? The singer, producer, fashion designer, and Huffington Post fan (he notes his "Kidult.com" site aspires to follow the HP model: "tell it like it is."), has owned the world of pop and hip hop since joining forces with Chad Hugo in the late 1990s to form one-half of the Neptunes. Never satisfied with the status quo, he spent the 2000s establishing himself as a solo artist and drummer/singer for hip-rock group N.E.R.D. He's chosen to dive right into this decade.
Williams penned and produced four tracks for the Despicable Me soundtrack ("Minions Mambo" is a personal favorite, as is a track with Robin Thicke), and this September, he and N.E.R.D. will release their fourth studio album ironically titled Nothing.
What was it about Despicable Me that made you want to create original tunes for its soundtrack?
I'm a huge fan of animation. I've always loved cartoons and I never let it go even when it was not in vogue to talk about cartoons. I've always loved the way I feel when I watch them, so you can only imagine what a dream come true this film at the forefront of 3D technology was for me. When given the opportunity, I jumped on it.
I love collaborations, and I love to be the smallest guy in the room. Working with Universal and Illumination Entertaiment, [composer] Hans Zimmer, I was literally the peon in the room. I prefer it that way. I want to learn, and if you want to learn you surround yourself with people who know what to do so you can absorb everything.
Despicable Me is actually a wonderful film, but there's a lot of crap movies out there. Did you realize it'd actually be a good film before signing on?
When you get involved with people who are the best at what they do, [you know.] They've made incredible movies that have changed the lives of children: Ice Age, Horton Hears a Who?... The Simpsons film. It's incredible. [Despicable Me] has got a great storyline to it, a great moral to it, and it explains it clearly. The visuals are super vivid.
Would you ever develop your own cartoon since you love the medium so much?
Yeah, we have a couple things in semi-development we're waiting for...
Maybe you could do a voice over?
I'd love to... I would certainly entertain any voice over opportunity in any kind of animation and concept.
What's your favorite animated movie and character of all time?
The Incredibles was huge for me. I also loved Ice Age. Of course, you can never go wrong with Bart [Simpson]. Bart is pretty funny, but in The Simpsons, it's always been Homer for me.
I realize you're promoting the Despicable Me soundtrack, but the latest from N.E.R.D. is right around the corner -- care to divulge any info on the upcoming album?
Working on Despicable Me expanded my mind. The opportunity to work with Hans Zimmer and seeing posters on his wall of spaghetti westerns, made me think. I thought of Ennio Morricone's sound, and wanted that to [blend] with N.E.R.D and it went from there. It ends up sounding very Doors, America, Crosby, Stills, & Nash and Neil Young influenced. There's a bit of Queen. I have to consider the world and not one small party of people making an album. It might sound one way to someone than it does to another. We're really putting our hearts into Nothing.
You know... there are technical advancements in the world as much as there are technical failures. Oils spills are a technical failure. We're failing the planet, but then you have hopeful advancements like the iPad. Thank god Steve Jobs was smart enough to let us know the machine wouldn't take over the biggest kinesthetic: the ability to feel. That's what makes us human. In the middle of the N.E.R.D. song "Hot n' Fun," I say "people don't want to think anymore, they want to feel." I think Nothing pinches people in the rat race and says "look up, you're a human being. Don't think about anything. Just dance."
And that goes back to your take on the American Dream. People are so focused on everything around them that they can't take time to appreciate life and the ride, right?
We need to redefine the American Dream. It's the ability to chase what you want to do. When you die, you can't take the fruit, but you can take the growth of the process.