FITA Magazine Vol. I / Invisible Atlas

Nick Waterhouse
The New Fitzgerald

Interview by Francisco Teles da Gama

Photograph © Jared Chambers

Nick Waterhouse was born in 1986 in Santa Ana, California, always accompanied by the rhythm of the blues and literature. His next album reflects these experiences, telling us a bit of his story and paying homage to The Great Gatsby, a work published in 1925. Today it is Waterhouse who takes inspiration from Fitzgerald to present us with Promenade Blue, but once it was this writer who was guided by Allain-Fournier and his only novel Le Grand Meaulnes. In this context the composer is also a writer covered with ingenuity and genius, ready to surprise the vast audience that is waiting expectantly for the release of the new album.

    From a young age he learned to play the guitar and felt influenced by the rock music of the 1960s. In San Francisco he found his role of prominence in the music industry, releasing in 2012 his first album Time’s All Gone, perhaps in reference to the passage of the best period in music history. This album brought such indisputable hits that are still present today in the best radio charts, Some Place is one of those cases. From this point on, everything would change in the life of this artist. Two years were enough to create another set of catchy songs, reminiscent of the jazz traces that revolutionized the 1920s and 30s. Holly translates into a search for the nostalgic characteristics of the previous work with a rhythmic and danceable spirit.

    In 2016 would appear the album Never Twice, toasted by the famous song Katchi, played with the artist Leon Bridges. We cannot forget melodies like Tracy, which make us stand up and twirl, in a frenetic dance. The eponymous album was shown to the public in 2019 and consolidated the talent of this composer.

    We still hope that one day he will publish a book worthy of the best writers of the 1920s. Until then we talked with him and unraveled more about his intellect and references.

When did you realize that music was your future?

I don’t think that I recognized it at the time, but I realized music was my future the first afternoon my father pulled out his turntable and old receiver from the garage. We wired it up in my room and I put headphones on and sat until the sun started setting through the blinds. I was just turning LP after LP over, listening again and again. Feeling focused, totally lost, and not like I was any place except in the space of the songs. I had a similar feeling when I was given an entree by chance to the studio I would later produce my first songs out of - it was like possibilities only greeted me, not boundaries.

Photograph © Jared Chambers

In your musical and lyrical composition, we can see the marked influence of Jazz, Blues, and Rock of the 1950s. Which bands and singers inspired you the most?

Bands and singers — it’s the patchwork of all those things but they stretch both back and forward from the 1950s. I believe the reality is the pinnacle of un-conscious performance and common language and technology probably occurred around the 1950’s and 60’s. There was less of a struggle for honesty, I think, simply because even the sophisticated market-driven means of making records was still incredibly naive compared to even the average individual with an internet connection now. People like Leiber & Stoller, Mose Allison, Dan Penn, Bert Berns, Steve Cropper — they helped me understand and orient my voice in relation to the musicians and artists they worked with or covered. Which means everyone from Duke Ellington to Lowman Pauling (5 Royales) to Howlin’ Wolf to Mabel John or Big Mama Thornton or Pete Guitar Lewis... I have moved in concentric circles around that which moved me. Musically I come from a non-linear or period specific influence: I have always struggled articulating what hearing independent youth music - like punk or independent rock or even hip hop and dance music of my childhood radio combined with the likes of Devo, Stevie Wonder, Depeche Mode, Herbie Hancock, or John Lee Hooker as the doorway to hearing sound... then growing in my teenage years into stacks of 45s - blues, jazz, rock & roll and the like - rather than individual artists catalogs as the world at large was trying to sell products or legacies. I write from THAT place, the place of making a single song or record, because to be honest, the economy of all of it - framework, form, idiosyncrasy - makes the composition even feel possible to me.

Photograph © Jared Chambers
There is a time travel when we hear your brilliant songs. We notice the echoes of distant places as in the songs Old Place and Some Place. Do you have a fascination for immortalizing a time and style when you sing?

It’s less a time and style than it is a feeling — I am never actively attempting to replicate. I make allusions. In a way I may be more honest as an artist than what I have heard lauded as innovative. I think innovation is a real thing in music, but that there are myriad levels to that. I am trying, at least in my own work, to arrive at a place and feeling (another place — outside space and time) that may be triggered by aspects that feel like time travel to a listener. But really it’s that I’m trying to make you, the listener, feel an... impression. Something poetic. That puts you inside the song, which, yes - is influenced by the music I referred to before. So perhaps it feels as if you’re in another time and style as those textures, rhythms, allusions all conjure up something unfamiliar to you but very familiar to me.

You recently created a clothing brand named after you. Does this clothing help, even more, to show your world and the charm for a whole different era?

Really I should hope the clothing is charming, but rather than convey an era I see it more as a means to... make something I do not see in the world. It’s very strange as I worked in record shops and vintage clothing shops since I was of age to work. I recall, long before everything could be found on the internet, how precious it was to find some shirt that had a certain cut or collar on it. Not as an object or of any materialist or status reason but because it was crafted so well or had a feeling to it. It’s a lot like my music — It’s both a bit of a craft and expression, and I don’t intend to be anachronistic but rather make something I’m not getting elsewhere, and maybe other people want the same.

It is clear that literature plays an important role in the writing of your songs, like the preponderance that Francis Scott Fitzgerald has on your new album. Which authors have helped you to find such a unique style?

Fitzgerald, while an inescapable influence, is more of the subject of my bio writer’s speculation about my new record — the people who really influenced me might be more of the novelists that were on ei- ther side of modernism: Joyce, with his moments of shattering elucidation, or Celine or Miller or Kafka, and poets like Hart Crane and the Eliot / Pound mind meld, or Americans with a bit of anarchy, humor, and profundity like Patchen, Williams, Rexroth, O’Hara, Ferlinghetti likely reveal themselves more in my lyrics than F Scott. I did live in North Beach for a long and formative period (age 18-25) and was as influenced by all that just as much as I was the records. As a matter of fact, the tune ‘Vincentine’ on the new album is a musical reimagining of a Wallace Stevens poem... I see my lyrics and compose them for the page, really — much more than hearing them singsongs at first I see them on paper.

Photograph © Jared Chambers

Have you thought about publishing a novel? You could go back to the 1920s literary style of Ernest Hemingway, Evelyn Waugh, or P. G. Wodehouse.

I really have - whether I’ve got the ability is a whole other question. Funny thing is I have many journals in much the style you describe - I try to write ‘to myself’ in the least adorned or florid way possible as to communicate only moments, senses, but also try to articulate the richness of human relationships, little profiles, conversations. I suppose Waugh did rub off on me in that sense. I was gifted that by an overeager suitor in San Francisco when I was working as a very lean and cherry-cheeked stock boy selling dress shirts.

In these new times, we accompanied your Instagram Lives showing some vinyl records from your collection. It was interesting to spend quarantine discovering old songs that are still so new. What was the first album to integrate your collection?

Doing the streams as a radio show was an incredibly novel and rewarding experience for me, and a lot like my career, was mostly my own means of trying to coax myself into performing in the system without being disingenuous... I rationalized it as a means by which I could also just get to know my library again and expose people to that which they may not have heard before, or even heard connections between songs. I also honestly miss the spontaneity of radio as it’s been phased out in favor of play listing and streaming set blocks of music. The first album - I’m not sure I understand the question but the first records I purchased with my own earned income were at age 15 - two 45s: “Green Onions” by Booker T & The MGs and “Mohair Sam” by Charlie Rich.

Your new album Promenade Blue will be out in April and the expectation is high. Listening through the single Place Names, can we expect a more introspective album?

I think that all my material has been both much more personal and much more universal than most may hear. This album really is just like another attempt at my own form of poetry - finding beauty or meaning in words and how they fall in the meter, and hoping they resonate with another person out in the world. Promenade Blue attempts to square the circle between my own experiences, an artist like Johnny Guitar Watson or The Robins, and the bridge between them and a Wallace Stevens or Frank O’Hara.

Photograph © Promenade Blue, Nick Waterhouse

How did you manage to produce a new album during this period of uncertainty?

With incredible care and the talents of others at their peak; Every recording I make is a documentation more than artifice, in that it is performed by a group of people in the room and engineered by a skilled but small crew. That documentation is the conjuring of both my idea as a song, and what the record I hope can become through this portal built around it. This really is a documentation - cut right before the global effects of a virus, and mixed as lockdowns began - of a place and time that could never happen again. Just like a poem.

The interview to Nick Waterhouse was published on pages 46 to 51 in Timeless Notes chapter of FITA Magazine Vol. I / Invisible Atlas dedicated to the city of Venice.
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FITA Magazine

International Arts Magazine
Yearly Publication in Volumes
︎︎︎ Vol. I / Invisible Atlas / Venice
︎︎︎ Vol. II / Garden Constellation / Lisbon
︎︎︎ Vol. III / Star Portraits / London
︎︎︎ Vol. IV / Time Travel / Berlin

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