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Revenge Of The N.E.R.D.

Hardworking band comes into its own


In the studio, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams are the Neptunes, a Virginia Beach duo that started out under new-jack swing producer Teddy Riley's wing, trying to be "the R&B version of A Tribe Called Quest ... the new wave Earth, Wind & Fire with turntables and drum machines," says Hugo. Instead, they turned other artists -- from Jay-Z and Ludacris to Usher and Babyface to "N Sync and Britney Spears (nearly 20 platinum singles in all) -- on to a new wave of hip-hop production. Upcoming collaborations include Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Beyonce Knowles, among others, as well as developing artists on their Star Trak Arista imprint.

On stage, Hugo and Williams are two-thirds of N.E.R.D., backed by punchy crunchy funk band Spymob and joined by Shay. Having released their debut, In Search Of..., twice in the last year -- one version, a work of distinct Neptunes drum programming, in Europe, and the other, a muscular live meld in the studio with Spymob, here in the States -- the two music N.E.R.D.s take occasional time out of their busy production schedule to perform and promote, and provide interviews like this one.

Creative Loafing: Between you, Timbaland and Missy Elliott, Virginia's no slouch in the production team department. I know we got dirty water, but what's in yours that makes the scene so hot?

Chad Hugo: I think it's that we don't have a big scene here, and that enables people to perfect their craft. There are a lot of talented musicians. It's like a mini-Nashville; not a scene, just musicians. And we had the opportunity to tap into the scene. Plus, Virginia -- being in the middle of the East Coast -- has all the weather, from hottest summer to coldest winter. It's not as dreary as Seattle or sunny as Cali, so it affects us emotionally. We get the whole spectrum -- in our music, too.

Listening to the two versions of In Search Of... back to back, it's possible to hear the opposite ends of that spectrum. Was that originally what you wanted to do by having European and American versions of the album?

We didn't want American/European versions. We wanted what ended up as the "American version" to be our first album, an aspect of ourselves we could just get out, separate from the Neptunes, but [Virgin Records] got a hold of our blueprint and it got put out. We would have put out the "European version" as a remix album, maybe. From the start, we wanted to distinguish what we did as N.E.R.D. away from what we did as the Neptunes. People expect the Neptunes to have a drum machine/keyboard sound. We didn't want N.E.R.D. to be "the Neptunes project." We wanted it to make you visualize humans behind instruments.

By releasing your debut as N.E.R.D. instead of the Neptunes, were you consciously trying to downplay a celebrity producer image?

No, we've got no problem with celebrity. The Neptunes sound is dope to have -- to have that signature thing people come for. But to snipe everybody in the ear without them knowing is a good thing, too. As producers, you have the power to work with anybody every which way. We try to switch the sounds with different people. We'd work with Faith Hill and get a bunch of country musicians. It's our way of being the Wizard of Oz. We run shit from where you can't see us, switching up the styles. Ultimately I'd like it to be where you could turn on any station -- rock, R&B, country -- and know that the Neptunes did a lot, but not know what the Neptunes did.

N.E.R.D. will perform as part of the "Sprite Liquid Mix Tour" Friday, August 30, at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. The bill also features 311, Hoobastank, Jay-Z, Nappy Roots and more. Call 704-549-5555 for further details.

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