Nick Waterhouse: the "Ivy" interview.
J’ai longtemps hésité avant de poster cette interview en anglais. A vrai dire, ce serait une première exceptionnelle, tout comme l’est l’interview en question que m’a accordée Nick Waterhouse. Si vous ne connaissez pas, il va falloir vous remuer les oreilles. Ok, son premier EP vinyl "Some Place" s’est vendu comme des petits pains, et à part en claquant des sommes mirobolantes sur Ebay, peu de chances de choper une copie originale. Heureusement, son EP "Is That Clear" est toujours dispo, puis il y a Youtube. Et encore plus heureusement, le bonhomme est actuellement en tournée en Europe. Eh ouais, le nouveau roi du R&B –non, pas celui des gros bouls qui remuent sur les beats de Timbaland, mais le vrai Rythm&Blues né à la fin des 1940’s– va bientôt passer chez vous pour promouvoir son premier album. Après des dates à Berlin et Londres, entre autres, il débarque à Paris jeudi 8 mars, dans l’antre de David Lynch: le Silencio. Mal nommé pour l’occasion, parce que ça va balancer sévère à la basse, à la guitare au saxo et à la batterie. Originaire de San Francisco, Waterhouse a bercé dès l’enfance dans les 1960’s et tout ce qui va avec la jeunesse de l’époque: jazz, rock, R&B, lifestyle et évidemment, les vêtements. Car Nick, qui n’est pas plus âgé que moi, ne se déplace pas sans son oxford-shirt, ses Alden et ses blazers narrow lapels/natural shoulders. Un puriste, un passionné? Pas vraiment: en fait Nick donne l’impression de s’être gouré d’époque. A aucun moment il n’a l’air d’être un de ces pauvres ringards tombés dans la marmite Ivy il y a 5 ans (comme moi, par exemple), mais il vit pour et avec lui, depuis sa naissance. Bon, quand même il a une adresse e-mail, sinon ce serait une merde sans nom de passer par la Pan Am pour s’envoyer du courrier. Il kiffe mon blog, je kiffe son son (oui, Véronique. J’y ai pensé aussi.) et après avoir discuté chiffons ("Hey, elle vient d’où ta pullover shirt? Je veux la même! – Ouais mais seulement si tu me dis où t’as chopé tes godasses"), on s’est décidés à faire une interview en bonne et due forme: en anglais, pour ne rien perdre de l’authenticité des propos de Nick Waterhouse, et en musique! Et si cette chute d’intro ridicule ne vous troue pas le fion, l’interview va s’en charger.
Nick, when did you start playing music?
I began performing in a group at age 14, and have done that off and on for the last decade. Though my first ‘real’ shows were when I was 16-19, I hadn’t really started playing again until this time last year – December. I self-produced and put out ‘Some Place’ in the summer of 2010 and that, I would say, is the first time I took myself seriously as a music-maker.
A lot of new bands play electro-pop, electronica, folk, and you decide to play original R&B. Is it a kind of choice you’ve made or did you come to that music naturally?
I’d say it came naturally. I follow what makes my ears and my mind and my eyes happy. Just like the clothes. If I get interested in something, I really don’t question it too much and develop my own tastes in spite of any period or dogma. I’d say there were times it was definitely difficult to be so enamored with a certain strain of music that wasn’t really ‘in step’ with the rest of the world.
What did you first discover about this era: music or clothes?
The music came first, but I didn’t realize it at the time. It was stuff like John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison & Them, Atlantic Records soul stuff, that I was hearing when I was really young, and then as I grew older I started seeing photos of artists. It was when I was 14 I started to get really interested in clothes and culture. I was always a big reader, just totally lost in books, so when I went to the library I started reading as much as I could about whatever subject came to mind as a ten year old – eventually you read stuff about Jazz, or the Rolling Stones, or about Muddy Waters, or about Sam Cooke, and there’s a little paragraph with something like ‘He was turned-out in skinny lapel jackets, with polished almond toe shoes, and started wearing knit tops and jivey sport coats.. etc etc" and it’s like – What does that LOOK like?? A lot was left to the imagination.
How do you work to reproduce this old-school and natural song from the 1960’s?
Man, I see it as like – there is this vocabulary, right, and you just learn how to conjugate and what a sentence is, and you learn the slang, and then you apply those things without rewriting someone else’s words. You’re speaking your own ideas. I think that’s the trick – you never get hung up trying to rewrite someone else’s work, you’ll always get caught. I don’t think of what I am doing as a 1960’s song, and maybe that’s why so many people tell me it sounds so ‘authentic’.. I am not sitting around trying to recreate the drum sound at Stax, or play a Sun Records guitar lead. I just set up the sand box and then play in it… Good equipment and technique is like clothes, you need to be comfortable in ‘em otherwise you look like someone pretending.
You’re a pure Ivy Look guy. A style that is more linked to jazz. What’s so important in the link between music and style?
I never like labels nor subculture type of stuff, but the Ivy Look as it’s called is definitely something close to my heart. I think the trick is never to do something just because you’re ‘supposed to’. A lot of the appeal of this stuff came from people I idolized as a kid, and I in turn developed a personal relationship through my own experience with it — I saw photos of people like Mose Allison, Barney Kessel, Georgie Fame, Sam Cooke, Sonny Clark as a teenager and thought they looked the coolest – didn’t matter what kind of music they played. I found myself cutting away things that didn’t work or were too over the top year by year and by university (appropriately enough) I had settled on really hip basics – weejuns, trim slacks, button downs and slim sack jackets and suits. I worked at Brooks Brothers from age 19-22, but I worked there because I wanted to get my wardrobe, not ’cause I’m into all that brahmin men’s club kinda stuff.
I definitely listen to a lot of Jazz and actually see more of a connection with jazz and R&B than most people do. A lot of folks would be surprised that I am listening to the King Cole Trio, Lester Young, and Bill Evans more than I am James Brown or Muddy Waters. A lot of those jazz players were the secret heroes of Rhythm & Blues and "Soul" records – session players backing people like Solomon Burke. Connie Kay of the Modern Jazz Quarter playing with Ray Charles. And it went the other way, too – all the R&B guys idolized jazz players. For me it’s the same as my music – I rank buying my first 45 (‘Green Onions’) with buying my first Brooks Bros. Button Down. It’s all stuff that isn’t disposable and is borne out of good design for use.. you can either be real esoteric with it or you can just enjoy it on a surface level and it gives you something back.
What makes the Ivy Look, and the music that comes along, so exciting for you?
It’s just under-the-radar hip. Little details, certain fits. It’s tough because in America it’s the baseline for godawful business casual so you can’t wear certain things. I see it as similar to ‘Oldies’ formatting here in the US. The Big Chill = Billowy blue oxford shirt + Dockers khakis. You gotta find the good stuff, or take away all the cultural baggage and ‘re-appreciate’ what the original take on that thing was. It’s how I can listen to a tune like ‘My Guy’ and not think of it as old-folks music. Ivy style is kind of like music, it just pleases me, looks right when it’s right.
Ivy Look came from the East Coast and was adopted by all artists and actors of the West Coast at the end of the 1950s. Considering that East Coast is invaded by multicolor preppy stuffs since the end of the 1970s, do you think the purest Ivy Look is still at home in California?
I’d say in California you see it less, but when you do it’s sort of like finding those Japanese soldiers on little islands in the Pacific – they don’t know the war’s over. California’s interesting because you get so much choice. So if someone’s wearing this kind of stuff out here, they made the effort, or they are REALLY coming from tradition. In San Francisco, there’s pockets of it, a couple hip music guys really doing it. It’s strange because it’s so big here. I don’t really come across too many young people in Los Angeles wearing it, unless it’s a fashion guy – Band of Outsiders, Thom Browne, etc. in Barney’s really pushed some of the look into groups of people you wouldn’t see it before. It was funny to see my gay fashionista friends picking up uni-stripe button downs and grosgrain watch straps for lots of money, but still exciting because it gets it out there.
Where do you find your clothes?
Mostly great thrift shops. Most of my age group (18-25) that these shops are geared towards aren’t really dying to find an Arrow BD with a 3rd button on the collar or a swelled-edge Clipper Craft jacket, so those items are priced really low while trend-oriented stuff is the high priced movers. I remember getting a stack of vintage madras button downs for $12 a piece at this place, where it was filed in the ’90’s grunge flannel’ section. I also tend to hit bigger charity donation places like Salvation Armies, flea markets, etc. There’s still brick and mortar places like Brooks Brothers, Allen Edmonds, Alden, and up ’til this year I was buying from great small boutiques like Union Made in San Francisco. I like independent shops like I like independent record labels. They aren’t so homogenous and present a unique experience you can only get in one place.
What’s the basic Ivy Look for you, the essentials that every man should have in his wardrobe?
1 pair oxblood or dark brown penny loafers, a couple of button down shirts with the RIGHT collar (like golidlocks, they’re all too small or too big or the buttons are in a funny place from so many these days), same with the trousers – the RIGHT waist height (why so much low-rise?) but slim, a good sport coat that you can wear like a pair of jeans, a few silk knit ties, a repp stripe or two, and the rest you can fill in the blanks yourself. You want to be tweedy, be tweedy, you want to wear a suit, get yourself some good muted colored wools..
Your schedule for the next months (releases, dates in Europe, …)?
I’ll be playing a few select dates on the West Coast in the new year and finishing up producing the Allah-Las debut LP, then heading to Europe for a string of dates March 1 – 12. After that, I’ll be headed to South By Southwest, then throughout the States for my first string of dates in North America. My album, Time’s All Gone, hits in April 2012. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you in France!
Thanks Nick for the interview, and enjoy Europe!
Pictures: all rights reserved Starline Social Club (color) and Jason Rosete (black&white).