In a conversation at Del Posto in New York, the artist and master collaborator discussed what he looks for in cocreators such as Madonna and Daft Punk. And he revealed how Rush Limbaugh taught him to think more about sustainability.
Pharrell, at Tuesday's Innovation Uncensored New York dinner at Del Posto with Fast Company's Editorial Director, Digital, Tyler Gray (left) and, in the front row, Live Nation Network President Russell Wallach. Pharrell talked about the creative trade-off in successful collaborations: "I may not know a lot about the field, but I know I may have a decent idea. So it's an interesting trade: I kind of get paid to learn how to really do it and to bring an interesting slant to whatever their existing business is."
Fast Company Editor in Chief Bob Safian with model and founder of lemlem Liya Kebede (left) and Fast Company writer and author Nicole LaPorte (right).
Pharrell on choosing collaborators: "When I'm choosing a collaborator, it's usually because I feel like, beyond what they're teaching me, when there are things that I don't understand, I'll trust them. I'll say, 'Okay. You know better than I do.' "
Pharrell with Tyler Gray and Fast Company Publisher Christine Osekoski. Pharrell: "When everything looks the same, that means there's a huge earthquake coming of change and difference. And the ones that survive are the ones who are blueprinting it."
Pharrell on the time he made Madonna cry during a 2007 recording session for her 2008 album Hard Candy: "I still don't understand why she shared this story.... M is a great person and so talented, and has had this amazing journey that's still going. It was just one of things that was just like ... who can piss the farthest? I was just like, listen, you can't talk to me that way. But I didn't say that. It was being articulated through my responses. I was being stern back. Because [I was saying] I respect the hell out of you guys. I think you're the greatest, but like, you know... Eventually I realized, yes, they are supposed to talk to me like that."
Pharrell on his recent collaboration with Daft Punk in Paris, recording the song "Get Lucky," one of two songs he sings on the French duo's forthcoming album Random Access Memories. The single has topped charts domestically and internationally and set a record for listens on Spotify: "My usual process is just to pace around the studio ... and either the melody comes first or the words ... then sort of deciphering the feeling of the melody.... I had to interpret the feeling of the song, the feeling of the melody, and it just felt like, okay, this is about the relentless pursuit of some action late at night. And that's where 'Get Lucky' came from. A lot of time when people want to hear this music, it's in pursuit of some action. So the thing was, I was like, you know what, I want to humble it down and really be human about it and not be the tough guy with 30 bottles of champagne that he will never drink that night, but be more human. You know what?--there's a slight bit of insecurity for me. I don't know if this is going to happen for me. I want to get ... lucky. The music's live and the lyrics are more human, and it's not as angular as the EDM stuff, not as synthetic. It's all so refreshing and I wanted to make sure lyrically and melodically it was a match."
Pharrell with Fast Company Associate Publisher, Sales and Marketing, Amie Deutch.
Pharrell and photographer Nicky Digital. Later, Pharrell talked about how he got involved with Bionic Yarn, which turns waste plastic into material for clothing. A pair of jeans reuses seven water bottles worth of plastic. A hoodie uses 12. Pharrell said he was partly inspired by a rant from right-wing pundit Rush Limbaugh, who accused Pharrell of being a hypocrite for playing an Earth Day celebration while enjoying private flights and fast cars. "I'm like, 'Why is he attacking me? What did I do?' But if I look at what he was saying, if I look at the criticism, it's like, well, yeah, okay, my carbon footprint is probably off the charts, so let me involve myself with something that will give me sort of like a balance." With Bionic Yarn he subsequently landed deals with large corporate partners to make fabric from the recycled material. "That was so I could rest at night. I took a private flight, okay, but we just did this huge collaboration, and we did all of the denim for two weeks for Gap in Japan.... It was kind of like, alright, Rush."
Man of the World: Fast Company columnist and How To Be Black author Baratunde Thurston.