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Pharrell Williams lands the latest cover of PAPERMAG, with Shepard Fairey serving as November 2010′s Guest Editor. Aside from an editorial spread, Pharrell sits down with Shepard Fairey for an insightful interview spanning several different topics, including his history with skateboarding, collecting art, relationship with NIGO, Pepsi, bikes, outside ventures, and just about everything in between. An excerpt from the interview conducted by Shepard is offered below.
It’s great to see everything you’re doing now. You’re kicking ass. So I know you skated a lot when you were younger. That was a big thing for me, too; it was what opened my eyes to creative cultures. You grew up in Virginia Beach, which was a big skate town. Do you think it was skateboarding that initially got you into what you are into musically and artistically?
Yeah, because at the end of the day it attracted so many people of different cultures that you were bound to learn something from each other because you all have something cool in common, and that unified us as kids. And I thought it was amazing as a child that all my friends were so different, listening to all different kinds of music.
I’m a huge fan of your music but I want to learn a little bit more about how you evolved into the clothing, the art collecting, how you collaborated with FriendsWithYou, Louis Vuitton — how this evolved is what I’m really interested in.
To be honest, it’s about going from one lily pad to the next and just making sure you hop on the right ones. And it’s just important you do things that are exciting to you and that present a learning experience. I don’t ever want to do anything that I can’t learn from, so that’s why I always collaborate with the best: because I know they can teach me.
I’m curious about your relationship with [Bathing Ape designer/music producer] Nigo, who I feel is like the Japanese Warhol. In Japan, in terms of the crossover between commercial projects and high-end art, there are fewer boundaries. How did you get into what he was doing with the [clothing and shoe lines] Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream?
Well, he basically just gave me a shot. I came to his studio, he showed me some of his stuff, and I told him I wanted this, this and this. He told me to take it. I wore a lot of it, and finally he was like, “Hey, you wanna do your own line?” I was like, “Hell yeah,” and so the rest was history.
What do you consider yourself? A musician? A designer? Or just a general creative person?
I would just say, you know, just a kid with ideas.
You’re so humble! Tell me about your new project, Brooklyn Machine Works.
It’s this iconic bike company that’s over 10 years old, located out in Brooklyn. They do a lot of dope collaborations. We did one with Supreme. You should see if you like the bikes — we would love to do a collaboration with you. That would be crazy. Like you know, an apparel line.
Nice, nice, that would be totally fresh. I’ll check it out. So tell me about your art site through which you’re trying to showcase emerging artists, Artst.com.
We just felt like every time we come on stage, there is always some dope artist saying, “Hey, you know, check me out, let me direct your next video, let me design your next T-shirt.” So we created the site because we wanted to give them a platform so they could not only be
heard by us, but by the rest of the world as well. If you’re an artist, you can go on and find producers and someone to do your cover, someone to dress you for your shoot. I was just trying to provide a space for them to get visibility.
Is there anything you get out of it besides spreading the creativity? Like financially? A lot of people won’t do anything unless there’s going to be some sort of financial reward for them, but to me I figure if I don’t make money from spreading around the culture I care about, at least it creates more of an audience for things that I’m interested in. Being charitable with your time and your energy is tough when you’re spread thin.
Well, I don’t feel guilty about monetizing situations that are good. Like, there are tons of people in the world who are making billions who basically should be considered criminals. So if I’m doing something to help people, I don’t mind making money. Right now, we don’t do anything except just give exposure, but eventually we’ll build it into something that’s more like a business. We have some things in the works, but the most important thing to me is that these kids get the visibility that they deserve. They’re so fucking talented, you know?
One of my favorite Warhol quotes is, when he was asked about some of the objects he was making art about, Coca Cola, he said, “A Coke is a Coke, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking… Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” In your sculpture collaboration you did with Takashi Murakami, you included a bottle of Johnson & Johnson lotion and a Pepsi can. Do you actually prefer Pepsi? Or because you have an endorsement deal with Pepsi, did you feel like you had to put it in there?
No, no, I grew up on Pepsi. My mom and dad drink it. But other times when we’re in countries where there’s only Coke, I drink that, too.
The piece in its entirety can be read here.