Sitting down with The Guardian before the release of the new N.E.R.D. album, No_One Ever Really Dies, on December 15, Pharrell gave details about the sound of the album as well as the politically-charged lyrics (which Guardian writer Hattie Collins calls the band's most political and ambitious to date).
Pharrell explains that he drew sonic inspiration from a wide range of sources including Gang of Four, Alan Vega, and early electro. As we've already heard on the singles, he says the album's songs are full of unexpected turns: "You never quite know what’s going to happen next. I want you to be shocked and exhilarated."
Chad Hugo adds, "The impetus [to re-form] was Pharrell playing us some fantastic, like, cosmic synths. It felt good. Real positive."
Pharrell says that he felt a responsibility to get more serious after "Happy" and tackle more political topics in his music: "If not now, when? If not me, who?" He explains, "I don’t know if you’ve seen the news or who’s running my country but it’s a real fucking shit show. I’ve never seen such desperation in my life."
Explaining how the fatal shooting of Keith Scott by police in North Carolina inspired the Kendrick Lamar-featuring song "Don't Don't Do It," Pharrell says, "This was something I saw on the news. We have that crazy, crazy man [running the country] but also they have police that shoot unarmed black people the whole time. It rains and they shoot black people. I hid the story in something that’s so jubilant because that way you won’t miss the message."
Pharrell also touches on N.E.R.D. having a "dark time creatively" when they put out Nothing in 2010: "I mean look at the fucking title: Nothing. That’s when we started losing ourselves. The label wanted uptempo records and we acquiesced. I was super-depressed. It was a tough fucking time."
The group looks to be rebounding from those times, however. Pharrell explains, "It was tough but you need those times. When you fall, it’s not only how and when you get up, but it’s about really looking at yourself. It was a dark time, but I feel like we’re in the middle of the sun right now."
You can read the full interview on The Guardian here.