Music’s Innovator Taps Into Middle America Work Ethic
By DONNA BALANCIA
Nick Waterhouse has a lot on his mind.
He writes songs, performs them, and produces and collaborates with notable musicians. He’s continually working the next lucrative avenue so he can keep the machine rolling.
And he’s doing it all while following his dreams.
The California-via-Midwest rhythm-and-blues rocker has a new record out called Never Twice. The record is the third strong album from a guy who is both creatively gifted and who is also a smart businessman.
“I’m a little more aware of that stuff than the average musician,” Waterhouse told CaliforniaRocker.com. “It’s a product of my upbringing. I have practical parents, non-artistic parents. It’s a constant war within me between being aware and having responsibility, and getting my ideas executed.”
The new album, Never Twice, released by Innovative Leisure is a collection of songs that reflect a lot that’s going on beneath the studied casual appearance Waterhouse sports. The tunes reflect an upbringing that blends the American experience with the roadmap of how to get where you want to go in life. He says the latest collection doesn’t have a theme per se, but instead the songs reflect the work Waterhouse has been doing for several years.
CHECK OUT NEVER TWICE HERE
“Making a record happens over time,” Waterhouse said. “With these songs there’s stuff as early as after Holly and and as recent as the last session before the album. Yes, I do my planning before I start recording but the hardest thing is scheduling space and equipment.”
Michael McHugh and Waterhouse Co-Produce
Michael McHugh co produces Never Twice with Waterhouse, Jazz musician Bob Kenmotsu is on flute, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello collaborator Ralph Carney plays sax, and Dr. Lonnie Smith protege Will Blades is on the organ. Leon Bridges is on the lead single “Katchi.”
Waterhouse has made a serious imprint on live music in a relatively short time. He recorded his first single, “Some Place,” in 2010 with a pickup group, the Turn-Keys. He has played — and still does play — with pals the Allah-Las, whom he produces. Time’s All Gone, his first album, was released on Innovative Leisure Records in 2012. His second album, Holly was released in 2014.
As for his latest work, one of the singles off the new album, “LA Turnaround” has been released on video, when director Laura Lynn pitched him.
CHECK OUT NICK WATERHOUSE VIDEO LA TURNAROUND
“‘LA Turnaround’ is a story about being worn out,” he said. “It’s not a literal narrative. Willie Nelson was talking about how these country singers would do a deadhead drive from Texas to LA.”
Nick Waterhouse ‘Never Twice’
The rest of the songs on Never Twice are upbeat and funky, with saxophone blaring, backup singers groovin and cymbals crashing. The beats and rowdy style may bely the romance that drives each of the songs. “Stanyan Street” tells of unrequited love from afar; “Katchi” is a rockin’ tune about a loving touch and “I Had Some” — complete with great vocals and a gritty urban feel to it — tells the story of the common problem: Nobody’s got dough.
The new record has the rough audio style Waterhouse is known for but as he continues his artistry is developing into a more sophisticated sound.
“It’s grown through working with great musicians,” Waterhouse said. “It’s nice to have them on the record. Sounds like the inside of my head. I produced and the engineer is the orginal engineer I’ve been working with, Mike McHugh. I learned how to record from him. He taught me about getting the sound I want. That’s the magic of making records, it’s like unfolding.”
Waterhouse says he’s all about the real experience and the collaborations, and his performance choices run the gamut. He collaborates with a range of musicians, like LA-area songstress Pearl Charles, or Paul Bergmann, whom he’s produced. His show at the Teragram Ballroom last year packed the house.
In addition to playing with today’s contemporaries we caught a show of his at the Observatory a couple of years back, where his band performed with both the renowned wild man King Khan and also the grande dame of demure, Ronnie Spector.
“I’m interested in music, I’m not that interested in making myself a star or an act,” Waterhouse said. “It’s not a matter of working with people who are so well-known, I work with people I like,” he said.
Big Band Style
His legacy-style music doesn’t stop at the sound and style of his music. He travels with a large band and he’s devoted to his team, sometimes to his financial detriment.
“I’ve had the odds against me in that I write music for a large ensemble and I get paid the same way a one- or two-person band gets paid,” he said. “I’m given the same value in the system – when you’re given a budget that’s the same as one guy with a computer, you seem expensive.”
Thus the commercial licensing.
He’s smart about his music. Likely he made more money from the Lexus CT commercial than many musicians make over the course of their years solely touring and selling merch. But again, he was smart and put his band front and center in the commercial, where viewers can see his band in action.
His songs have also been licensed for PlayStation games, he’s got the commercials, he’s toured Europe, and played festivals, but still maintains a down-to-earth manner.
“When you lose money the first couple of years touring, you learn you need to find a way to make it work,” he said. “Doing commercials is the way I keep going.”
Waterhouse advises that musicians who say “I’d never put my music in a commercial” may want to re-think that statement.
“I think every band that thinks that is incredibly naive because the entire music business is an affront to any artist,” he said. “I don’t want companies I object to, philosophically, to be using my music. But the corporations are the ones paying for the songs. It should be the music companies paying the artists. I don’t compromise in making my records. The record is the thing that matters.”
Emotional Connection = Success
Waterhouse said it’s the emotional connection to the song that drives the commercial success. He referenced a band whose superhit also hit TV commercials. When we saw Modern English, they remarked that “I’ll Melt With You” — used for many commercials — is “the song that pays the bills.”
“They were referring to having a top-40 hit,” Waterhouse said. “People have experiences with that song.”
He added that since the music industry changed the way it does business, smart musicians have to fend for themselves and that includes reaching out to corporate America.
“Corporations are not taking artists for granted,” he said. “Businesses have played into an artificial revolution because the music industry is giving away free music.”
Capturing A Disappearing Era
Waterhouse is subdued, but underneath there’s a lot of stuff going on. Yes he’s from Huntington Beach, but that comes by way of Illinois and Michigan where his parents lived before the family moved to Orange County. Even in his young years — he’s 30 — he’s seeing a way of life slip away and he doesn’t seem happy about it.
“My parents are from Illinois and Michigan and moved to an affordable beachside town,” he said. “Who wouldn’t love that? It was the way it was then. But that way of life is all gone now.”
What does he think of vinyl?
“It’s a great chemical compound,” Waterhouse jokes. “I make my records on tape, so it makes a lot of sense to press them on vinyl. It’s what I like. It’s like some people like mushrooms, or some people like leather.”
Nick Waterhouse on Tour
Waterhouse recently added Texas dates to his tour. Why Texas?
“It’s just real big,” he said. “I’ve played Texas and those markets are great. The difference between playing El Paso and Houston is like LA and Seattle. I love Austin and I love Texas in general. I have a Texan in my band, Johnny.
The renaissance player knows his sound sets him apart. And being the realist, he knows he’s committed to his throwback R and B style. It’s the rare aspect of his life that he can’t control. He’s different from all the others in at least the aspect that he values a different style of performance than many of the other bands today.
“I play blues-based music that’s a little beyond the language of independent rock, so to speak,” Waterhouse said. ” I’ve listened to rythm and blues Rock ‘N’ Roll my whole life. I didn’t choose it – it came along and influenced me. It’s the music that’s in my dreams.”