He might be thousands of miles away from sunny southern California, but 32-year-old Nick Waterhouse looks perfectly comfortable in a Whitechapel pub. It’s a comfortability that comes from the confidence in his latest record. His self-titled album combines his wealth of knowledge from a youth spent in the local record store, and the lessons learned from his three previous records. Nick Waterhouse‘s fourth album builds on a jazz and blues tradition stretching back to the 1950s but brings with it a 21st-century punchiness. Verge sat down in a cosy pub corner to pick his brain on his upcoming album.
“All of these records have felt last ditch, but this was the first one that didn’t feel that way,” he tells over a cold pint.
So you released Never Twice back in 2016 which you’ve said drew upon your time shifting around different parts of the US, living from place to place, crashing on mate’s couches. What kind of experiences went into putting this album together?
This record was appropriate ‘cause it’s the first time I’ve had an apartment in a really long time. I was transitioning back into stability and being settled in Los Angeles and writing a lot of this record in two familiar places. In LA I had gotten a room where I at least knew that I was settled and I was still doing a lot of bouncing to San Francisco but now when I was going up there it was to hang out and like a retreat almost.
This was a highly circumstantial record, and when I think about it every album is reacting to circumstance. The first record I was really reacting to what I would consider was an end of an era in San Francisco. Things were getting very expensive, a lot of the artists I knew were starting to leave. It was also a massive breakup album and this kind of personal apocalypse where I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Then the second record was reacting to being in this system of ‘entertainment’ almost, which is not what I was intending when I made the first one. The third was chaotic and floating, and this one I finally had a grasp on what my power was and what leverage I had. I knew who I could call and really believed in me, both player and recording-wise, and I really think some of the writing was informed by this notion of “ok I’m doubling down on this, and I know what I’m doing now.”
So you were able to plan it out and it had a better focus?
Yeah, and I knew I was making a bigger gamble on this record because I was actually self-funding this. This record was the first record since my first 45 that I was like, “I’m gonna pony up and pay all the players, the studio” and basically take any savings or income I had and use it to make something that felt bigger than even the last three records.
The album has a beautiful mixture of emotional peaks and valleys in it. You have some really swinging, punchy tracks as well as some slow, more reflective jams. How did you approach the assembly of the album in terms of putting the songs together?
It was really similar to the first and second records where I had a clear thematic conception. Not that there was any ‘story,’ but more the mood of it and where I wanted to start, hit a beat towards the middle and then finish. What’s really cool about the record, is that this sequence was really hard to come to. I heavily involved my good friend Matt Correia, the drummer for the Allah-Las; whose records I’ve produced. This was almost Matt’s sequence, we had this thing where you had to take to the floor and make your case and for weeks we went back and forth. Much before that, I would say the thematic and the feels that I wanted to hit, I have to make those decisions before I get in the studio because the way I’m recording is having 12 people on the clock, having the studio booked, having tape burning.
So you’ve released your first single, ‘Song For Winners’ just recently, what about the track stood out for you compared to the rest of the album?
‘Song For Winners’ was the first tune that I wrote for writing this record. I think it kind of identifies where I was at when I was anchoring into making the record. It’s this funny thing where it feels very new for me feel wise, but it connects back to this history of the bands that I’ve played in when I was a teenager. That song started very differently than it ended up feeling, it was much more swampy and more written like a Mose Allison tune and then once I started playing it with the band I was playing this guitar arpeggio that’s kind of country-bluesey. Then I immediately had a different rhythmic conception and had the rhythm section change up and then it became ‘oh there’s a lotta juice there’ and then it got really sort of rock and roll.
Yeah for me I found that particularly on ‘Never Twice’ there was a lot of brass, but here right on the second track the opening sequence really pulls you in with some slick guitar.
Yeah it’s very guitary, this was a very guitar oriented record if I think about the way that I wrote it. Especially on ‘Never Twice’ the instrument was the band, I was writing all these songs with the band in mind. There was an interesting year and half of ‘Never Twice’ being almost like a failed release. I went on tour but there were all these behind the scenes disasters so it kind of fell between the cracks. I was on this long tour where I had fans that were like “I didn’t know you have a new record out”, so what happened after that was things kind of kept dipping to where my manager was then sending me out on these tours where he was like “Well we can’t put you on a tour ‘cause we can’t afford to have all the players” so I think my brains started getting in this mode where all I have is the bare minimum.
Yeah, I think that’s what really makes it stand out compared to what you’ve done before. Along with the album release coming out on March 8th, you’re kicking off your European leg of the tour in Manchester. What motivated you to start on this side of the Atlantic?
Well, we have a really great natural momentum over here. Not to diminish it, but in America, it feels almost ‘workaday’ to play shows. It’s good here and I found it also helps with the psychology of starting a campaign somewhere that people are really excited to have anything new from you. So doing these dates just perfectly aligned with the timeline of what we were doing and we had a really wild show here in Manchester last time. So we’re gonna do that and then come down to London for Le Beat Bespoke which is this big mod, RnB weekender.
Well aside from finding success with the album, do you have any other major goals for 2019?
For 2019 I really want to finish a record that I started in 2017 with Jon Batiste, a piano player from New York City. We’re just about done and it needs mixing. I really want to collaborate with my favourite menswear designer Scott Fraser Simpson, who is here in London. We’re talking about designing a nice Cuban shirt together – and I just wanna be on the road with like a full 9 to 12 piece band. You’re really scrapping it out when you’re working at my level, making records with a lot happening on it. Then going out of the road with a 6 piece band is a challenge, so it’s about an ascent. I wanna get up to that spot where I can have everybody on stage doing it with me.
So where can I find more?
For now, you can listen to Nick Waterhouse‘s first single, ‘Song For Winners’ right now on Spotify, Apple Music, and Youtube. His full album ‘Nick Waterhouse’ will be hot on the shelves and out online on March 8th. Nick kicks off the European leg of his tour up north at Gorilla in Manchester on the 18th of the same month before cruising down to London for Le Beat Bespoke on March 21. You can check all his tour dates and stay up to date on all things Waterhouse via his Facebook and Instagram.
For more from this article’s lovely photographer, check out Piet Johnson.