By Caleb Calhoun
Nick Waterhouse, a master of the vintage R&B sound, will go to any lengths necessary to get the exact sound and feel he’s looking for. From hand-pressing his first album, to choosing a nomadic life-style during the recording of Holly, nothing gets in between his work and his commitment to excellence.
“You know, a lot of people set out to be a singer or a guitar player or make music videos or something,” he tells me early in our conversation, “but I have always been into a more holistic approach. So many people have this idea that it’s just their job to show up and sing and someone else organizes and records and it’s just not about that for me. For me it is all about honoring the intent I had in the first place.
While it might be easy to listen to his albums and assume that his bluesy, swinging, soulful sound is the product of slick studio executives, that narrative couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality is that every note on every record that Waterhouse has made to date is a culmination of thousands of hours of research and hard work. All that will be on display Wednesday for his show at The Mothlight.
“A lot of people think, ‘I’m going to make a vintage sounding record,’ so they just grab some vintage equipment, but that’s not how I work,” Waterhouse says.
“If you actually logged all of the hours of me reading archived interviews or trying to cross reference session notes, well…” he trails off.
He thinks for a moment and then offers this example. “There are so many things written about The Beatles, but it took me four years to find out who engineered one particular session. I ended up finding a book on Brooks Arthur and then I could read how he would put an Altec (salt-shaker) 633mic under the snare to catch the bleed from the drums,” he continues.
I could then estimate the size of the room he was in (at Bell Sound Studios) and know that it is maybe 25 feet wide with a 26 foot ceiling. I could use that to plan the acoustics for what I want to do and in the process learn more about what I like and what I am responding to.”
To say that this work pays off is an understatement. The more you listen to Waterhouse, the more clear it becomes that he has designed, engineered, and perfectly recorded every note. Never Twice, the album he is currently touring in support of is no exception. It’s his most complete work to date, stemming largely from the maturity and growth he has exhibited both in his songwriting and in the studio.
He went back to working with his original engineer, Mike McHugh, on this album. The combination of personal growth and the comfort level of working with familiar McHugh’s equipment set the tone for the album as a whole.
“Mike was my mentor as a kid and using his equipment is basically like going to my parents house and raiding the fridge. On the first record he was my training wheels. Now he is mainly there for the scientific stuff,” he says.
“Never Twice was like a renegade pirate radio reaction to the professional studio I worked in on Holly. I wasn’t necessarily trying to reconnect with my past but I wanted to build my own island rather than go to someone else’s mansion.”
Songs like “Stanyan Street” and “LA Turnaround” clearly reflect this mentality, while fans of his smoother, sexier music will be delighted by the 70’s styling of tunes such as “Straight Love Affair” and “Katchi.”
For those who aren’t fans yet, now is probably the right time to jump on the bandwagon. His album Never Twice is, for me, one of the most enjoyable albums of 2016. Like Kyle Craft’s Dolls of Highland, Greensky Bluegrass’s Shouted, Written Down, and Quoted, and Jane Kramer’s Carnival of Hopes, it is the kind of record that you put on repeat and leave running for weeks at a time.
It is also remarkable in the sense that, in the face of all of the adversity that professional musicians face, Waterhouse was brave enough to ante-up and make it happen his way once again.
“Follow your compulsions,” he says. “I don’t know if I am a bad gambler that keeps doubling down or what, but that is how it is for me every record. (I ask myself) what is Nicki’s dreamland and how do I achieve it. That is the thing that motivates every project.”
Nick Waterhouse will be playing with his band at The Mothlight theater on Wednesday, Dec 7. The cost is $12/15 and the music starts at 9pm.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.