Nick Waterhouse will bring his band The Tarots to the White Rabbit Cabaret tonight. Before the show, we wanted to chat about his new album and tour across the country. The phone-connection-stars did not want to align, however; but we finally got Nick on the line for a conversation about being pegged as the "retro-soul guy."
NUVO: Hello! Hey! Nick — sorry, I lost you there.
Waterhouse: I think we’re in a dead zone.
NUVO: Oh, yeah — that’s possible.
Waterhouse:We’re out in Utah right now, so...
NUVO: Nice! It seems like a lot of Utah would kind of be a dead zone.
Waterhouse: That’s the impression I’m getting, but I’ve only been in Utah a little while. So I lost you when you were starting your last question.
NUVO: Sure. I saw on your Twitter the other day that your fall tour dates just went up. Is there anywhere in particular that you’re really excited about playing at?
Waterhouse: I’m just excited to play anywhere I haven’t played before and, you know, I’m always excited to go to New York. I’d never been to Nashville... I’d just never been many places. Every time there’s a performance, it’s a thrill to know there’s somebody out there in the world that’s interested. California is really big, so you can be an act in California and feel like you’ve conquered the world if you do well in San Francisco and L.A. and then play small gigs in between. I like seeing people that I’d never seen before.
NUVO: Very cool. I actually have a lot of friends and family up in New York, so I kind of know what you’re talking about with California being so big. New York is kind of the same way.
Waterhouse: [laughs] Yeah. It’s easy for people to get tunnel vision.
NUVO: Well it’s hard to stand out too, especially in places like that. If you say “I’m in a band," it’s like “Oh cool. Me too. And so are all 27 of these other dudes."
Waterhouse: Well, I think those are the times we live in too.
"I Can Only Give You Everything" by Nick Waterhouse
NUVO: Off of everything from your Time’s All Gone album, is there one song in particular that you really like when you’re doing these shows? That you get really into?
Waterhouse: Oh, to play? I think “Someplace” is always a cathartic thing. That’s just kind of my calling card. People kind of freak out at that one too [laughs]. That’s a tune that I pulled out all the stops for because I didn’t know if I was ever going to write a song again. I think “Say I Wanna Know” gets such a great response. That’s a song of the record that, like - I’m just so proud of that. From the production to the performance by the girls and the band. That’s just always how I wanted a song to sound. I think that depending on what the situation is... that’s a test though, really. I’m interested in a sound that’s maybe a little more subdued then even a lot of people expect. There’s all these preconceived conceptions that you can’t really help sometimes. Often, people will be like “Oh, it’s the retro-soul guy” [RECORDING STARTS TO BREAK UP, FOLLOWED SHORTLY BY DIAL TONE].
NUVO: Hey Nick, how’s it going man?
Waterhouse: Hey, it’s alright. Hoping we can get some steady reception on this one.
NUVO: I wanted to ask you —- last time, I’d started to lose you a little bit, but you’d started to talk about how people kind of have this preconceived notion of what kind of artist you are, or what you’re going to sound like. I was wondering if we could go back to that.
Waterhouse: Well, this is sort of something I’ve visited in the past. I’m a big proponent of approaching art with no context, and then delving into context once you have a sort of experiential relationship with it. So if you deal with it, and you dislike it, then you don’t need to dedicate anymore time to it. I think part of the issue with how people deal with things in this day and age (especially in the internet age) is this sort of “abbreviated, sound-byte attitude” towards something. It makes me think of Hollywood big-wigs in the '40s needed to have script readers tell them an entire movie. I was watching “In A Lonely Place” the other night, and I was thinking about that. How Bogart plays a big script writer and he’s like “Ah, I don’t have time to read this book. Somebody read it to me and tell me about it”. People can come to my shows, or they can just come to my work, and look at a picture of me or something. I don’t take those pictures.
You know, I make records; I don’t photograph myself. I don’t — that’s not me. That’s not what I was ever interested in, which is packaging myself. I was interested in something that was a little bit bigger than just playing a song. I think people can be confused and think they know what’s going on when they have no idea, you know? And I think it’s better to form an idea with me, or with my work, as opposed to forming it based on some superficial relationship or lines that are drawn, or press or media. They need to have a storyline, and so if I conveniently fit into a storyline and that suddenly frames everything that I do. So I think the shows are interesting, and I think it’s interesting too the way that I started out in San Francisco I wasn’t exactly playing... well, people didn’t know what to expect. That, I think, was the best way for people to experience it.
NUVO: Are you ever concerned that, as time goes by, you’ll inevitably fall into a typecast? Or do you think that what you’re doing is unique enough that it’ll shield you from that a little bit?
Waterhouse: I think that what’s actually going to happen is I’ll get further away from what people want to group me in with. It’s like, you have to prove yourself —- I understand that. You have to prove yourself. Maybe in a record or two it’ll stop being “Nick Waterhouse, the Retro-Soul Guy” and it’ll be “Nick Waterhouse." Like, “that’s a Nick Waterhouse sound." That sort of thing. And, yeah —- I feel like just because of the sort of... aesthetic trappings, the things that I’m influenced by, particularly what I am doing, it leads people to latch on to wanting to discuss influence only. Whereas they wouldn’t do that with other works; I’d say other people’s works are equally indebted to their influences. It’s like an easy shot -— a fish in a barrel situation, for people to go to quickly with me.
NUVO: You’ve got enough “retro” elements that people just start grabbing onto whatever they think of when they think of retro and start coming up with their own definitions.
Waterhouse: Yeah. My favorite was yesterday. Somebody from a radio station stupidly posted some shit on Instagram that was directed at me, and it was like, “Brandon Flowers from The Killers looked at your photo and said 'What is this? 1948?’ “. It’s like “Yeah man. 1948. That’s exactly what I sound like.”
"Time's All Gone" Live in San Francisco by Nick Waterhouse
NUVO: [laughs] That’s real clever, yeah.
Waterhouse: Yeah, I’m playing fucking Jimmy Webb songs. [laughs] I guess I’d rather live in 1948 than 1982, which seems to be where he’s residing.
NUVO: What kind of stuff have you really been listening to lately? I for one am always really interested to see what different people like right now.
Waterhouse: There’s this LP that I dug out by this guy named Don Sweete, he’s a pianist —- he was on Prestige. He’s kind of New York, straight ahead, and he was in a side band with Gerry Mulligan and those kind of guys, but he was in New York. So it’s kind of half way between this kind of cool school, bop, and - it’s just modern jazz. Lately... you know, it’s always great, my connection with Rookies (the record shop in San Francisco). Dick — he was always making these CD rips that are sort of like conceptual mixes of unreleased stuff off of 45s. He’s not high and mighty, so its got kind of a sense of humor. So he had one that was “Hot and Probably Heavy” which is all female vocals that are kind of burly, female soul vocals.
So I just picked up a bunch more of those (he had some really great new ones). What’s interesting there is I think those illustrate the short-sightedness of genre-fication. It’s 25 songs and they all have this kind of thread through them where it’s like “these all sound like different music”, but people would listen to it and be like “oh, cool — it’s a soul mix”. The latest one I’m really into is called “First Come, First Served," and it’s a deep southern.. it’s kinda got blues elements but its deep southern elements too and it’s all female vocals. It’s all these sort of mid-tempo ballads. And besides that, being on tour it’s stuff that are sort of standbys in my collection; a lot of King Cole Trio I’ve been revisiting again, Bill Evans, Lester Young. And then the Las Vegas Grind series that I never actually owned but everyone always told me my records sounded like. I’m visiting those, but I can take or leave a lot of those tunes though — they’re little too novelty.
NUVO: Cool. This Saturday you’re going to be playing at the White Rabbit Cabaret. Have you ever played in a cabaret before?
Waterhouse: No, I’m really curious [laughs]. I didn’t know if that was legitimately a cabaret or if that was just some creative license.
NUVO: No, it really is — they do burlesque and everything there.
Waterhouse: Oh wow.
NUVO: I don’t anticipate there being too much of that while you’re there, but who knows.
Waterhouse: [laughs] Maybe the spirit will move some regular and she’ll jump on stage, I don’t know. That’s kind of cool (speaking of “Las Vegas Grind”... ) [laughs]
NUVO: What’s the weirdest place that you’ve ever played a show before? You’ve pretty much been on tour for a while; is there anyplace that really stands out?
Waterhouse: You know, a local favorite was this basement in a really, really, low-grade Chinese bar in Chinatown in San Francisco called the Li Po Lounge. Famously, Anthony Bourdain just went there in a recent episode of his thing. That basement was so scuzzy and bizarre...
Waterhouse: I mean there’s that, and then there’s playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in their massive auditorium — it was like, 2,500 people — for the president of Switzerland and his wife sitting in the front row.
Waterhouse: That was like, really bizarre for me. That was weird, man. I had no idea what to make of that! [laughs]
NUVO: That’s big time.
Waterhouse: Yeah... yeah! That was massive, and it was kind of like “I don’t know how I got here, but I’m going to make the most of it," you know?
NUVO: Any plans to do stuff in Indy, or are you even going to have time for that? Is it pretty much the show, then back on the road or what?
Waterhouse: It’s the show and then we’re on the road. It’s tough when I’ve got a big band taking any time. Every hour is valuable around a tour, so we’re like in and out and on the way. I’d love to check it out, man. Like I said, I haven’t really been around. It’s good — we’re leaving Denver today. Never been there. Beautiful, kind of interesting city. Kind of looking forward to seeing St. Louis, to seeing Indy... These are all cities that I find really fascinating in the development in America too because they were kind of like “post-industrial”, “pre-war”, boom metropolitan areas. It’s not that they declined, it’s just from my U.S. History it seems like their development kind of freezes in time and then modern stuff gets built on top of it. I always love seeing the sort of unique personalities of different American cities. Their look; how people (or how city planers at the time maybe) foresaw the future and how it ended up being for them.
[Music] Rock, Roots