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05 Jun 2017

Out of Chaos Comes Success: Nick Waterhouse Talks About the Dramatic Recording Process for Recent Album 'Never Twice'

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Last fall, Nick Waterhouse released his latest album, Never Twice. It arguably marked a career high point: The album was a critical success, as Waterhouse’s retro ‘60s rock/R&B sound continued to evolve.

The Pappy and Harriet’s regular will return to Pioneertown for a show at 9 p.m., Friday, June 23.

During a recent phone interview, Waterhouse discussed the challenges, mishaps and frustrations in making Never Twice, an album that features a lot of new territory and different styles for him. In fact, Waterhouse said he almost abandoned the project altogether.

“This album marked the conclusion of five years of doing what I had been doing,” Waterhouse said. “The first record (Time’s All Gone, from 2012) was a live set with the gang who couldn’t shoot straight backing me. The second record (Holly, from 2014) was when I was trying to figure out my place in the recording world. The studio where I recorded my first record—that I thought I’d have forever—closed between the first and second records. Suddenly, I had all these tools at my disposal on the second record, and it was done in a cinematic kind of way.”

After Holly, Waterhouse wanted to find a studio similar to the one that had closed—something that was not easy. The process inspired Never Twice, and included bringing back Michael McHugh as his recording engineer.

“This record was a militant response to that (process) and going off the grid,” Waterhouse said. “I re-employed my mentor and engineer who taught me everything I knew, who I made my first record with. We worked together on this—and this was the first job he had gotten after getting out of jail after a few years. He’s somebody who is a practitioner of what has been made into an arcane art form. … There was a time when (a recording engineer’s) skills were prized and supported financially. … That stuff isn’t appealing to labels and distributors anymore, because it doesn’t offer them a huge net profit at the end of the day.”

The recording process of Never Twice was chaotic, to say the least. Things caught on fire. McHugh crashed Waterhouse’s van. And that’s just for starters.

“It was very complicated, and to be honest, on my end, a harebrained scheme that blew up in my face—and I made it out with singed hair and no eyebrows,” Waterhouse said. “I really assembled a dream team. I wrote out a list of people I wanted to work with to make the best-sounding record, and from the beginning, there was so much behind the scenes. The keys player I had rehearsed all these songs with, for months before we started to record, got offered a very big gig and is now in the band Dawes. … It forced me to create a new dynamic and bring in an organ player every day.

“During the sessions, Michael (McHugh) showed some early warning signs of what he was later diagnosed with, which was paranoid schizophrenia. That was quite insane—literally. We were in a room with a lot of equipment held together with chewing gum and paper clips, and it was chaotic and a circus-like atmosphere, and it all got done. But toward the end, it felt like I was going into ‘lost album’ territory, where I knew I had captured all these recordings and couldn’t finish the mixing. It felt like it was cursed.”

Nick Waterhouse is signed with Innovative Leisure Records, which puts him among some rather interesting acts, such as BADBADNOTGOOD, Hanni El Khatib, Bass Drum of Death and Classixx.

“I signed with them the first week they were established as a company, so I feel like I helped build the foundation for their brand,” Waterhouse said. “They were telling me their vision, and the two artists they had were me and Hanni. They were proprietors of this new Southern California eclecticism. I thought that made more sense to me than going with a heritage or retro-leaning label.”

I own some of Waterhouse’s recordings on both CD and vinyl—and I notice a definite difference in the music on each format. He explained why.

“A lot of contemporary vinyl is cut from the same digital files CDs are made with,” he said. “Now, I make my records on analog tape, and analog tape is a match to the final format of vinyl. I’m cutting my records with someone who I trust and deeply respect who cuts a lacquer straight from the tapes. The sound never goes through a computer. Mastering for a CD or digital-audio file is radically different than mastering for vinyl, and that might be the difference you hear between the two. I decided when I made my records that I was going to make my records as I saw them, and gear them toward format. So I sat with a different engineer for the vinyl, and another for the compact disc.”

Waterhouse has been in the business since 2010, when he released his first single, “Some Place.” He said he now feels as if he’s established himself and has shaken off the “nostalgia act” classification.

“Going on tour no longer feels like the sole goal of the trip is to try to make a good first impression on people,” he said. “Now it’s more … engaging the people who have wanted to be part of my world and have returned for at least two shows. Fans know what they’re getting when they come to see me. For the first year or two, I suffered from this in-the-box syndrome and being classified as ‘for fans of Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones.’ Now I think it’s more people who know me as having a body of work. They’re the ones who are singing along, and it’s really rewarding and helps me feed off the fans and welcome others in.”

Nick Waterhouse will perform with SadGirl at 9 p.m., Friday, June 23, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

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