If you ask Nick Waterhouse what category to place his gritty, energetic style of music he will give you a one-word answer: “None.” Since his emergence onto the music scene in 2010, he has been shoved into the tight, little corner frequently called “retro-soul” or “R&B throwback,” but he takes umbrage with those characterizations. “I just make music,” he tells me on the phone from his Los Angeles apartment. While Waterhouse takes inspiration from the organic style of '50s and '60s rhythm and blues, his debut album, Time’s All Gone, due out on May 1, also reflects contemporary jazz and rock and therefore combines modern and retro styles to create one which is entirely unique in the current musical culture.
Time’s All Gone strikes a deft balance between the frictioned, DIY sound of R&B’s golden era with current, more fluid, rock trends. Admittedly a product of his time, Waterhouse does not resist any of his influences, just the way people try to package them. “People get hung up on aesthetics,” says Waterhouse, who claims his goal is simply to make songs about his “real life.”
Waterhouse has been resisting categorization for a while now. Growing up surrounded by the emo-punk scene that dominated the Southern California landscape in the late-'90s/early-2000s,Waterhouse instead fixated on oldies, after his first girlfriend introduced him to the blues. He found the songs “weird, in a good way,” which suited him perfectly.
I Can Only Give You Everything by Nick Waterhouse
Waterhouse then served as his own mentor, working in a record store throughout high school, absorbing the eclectic interests of his co-workers as well as the vast array of music that filled the store’s shelves. After high school, he found himself in San Francisco, performing for two years with a jazz combo. Without the immediate success he was hoping for, Waterhouse took a leap of faith, putting out his own record, Some Place in the summer of 2010, which started the groundswell. The 45 sold out almost immediately. What followed were demands for a live show, so he put two friends to work on bass and drums and started playing at venues across San Francisco.
It took the perfect storm of miserable events to force Waterhouse to create Time’s All Gone. Contacted online by a “hustler” from New York, Waterhouse was promised a fully-funded session to create his album. With recording well under way, the money was noticeably absent. Desperate to finish, he spent his rent money, hustled to get three more sessions, and joined forces with independent label, Innovative Leisure to finish the album. All the while, he was playing three to four shows a month, working full time in an office, running the record label, Pres Records, and nursing a break-up to boot.
When the dust settled, Waterhouse had eleven songs showcasing his guttural yet smooth vocals, which defy his thin, unassuming physique and humble demeanor. Supporting his earnest voice on the album were deep brass horns, blustering percussions and sultry background female vocalists. Energetic and untamed, the raw emotion evidenced in every soulful track on Time’s All Gone communicates Waterhouse’s formidable yet triumphant personal story. Recording the album on open reel tape machines and vintage analog equipment only heightens each jolt of pressure, heartache, and passion.
To set matters straight, Waterhouse’s use of antiquated gadgets was not part of some cloying plan to establish authenticity. They were actually the only way Waterhouse knew how to record. He didn’t want the “segregated” modern sound, in which each instrument is recorded separately and then layered in post-production. He wanted to capture the spontaneity and inspiration that can only come from recording every instrument at once.
What his equipment captures, and what he injects into every track on Time’s All Gone, is what he finds missing from most artists today: danger. Music today, according to Waterhouse, lacks a sense of risk, improvisation, and is overcome with a fear to break from the conventional norms. Waterhouse’s songs are his way of “striking back at the world” that tries to push him into a tiny corner. And, while he’s the first to tell you that he doesn’t know what he is, Time’s All Gone proves what category Nick Waterhouse does belong in…his own.