Pharrell on Music, Movies and Discovering 'Happy'

The Oscar-nominated man of the moment talks about creating sounds for the cinema.

Pharrell at Holy Ship!!!
© Erik Voake

Pharrell Williams is not only riding high with multiple Grammys, hit records and hat auctions, but he’s also in line for an Academy Award after his song 'Happy,' from the movie 'Despicable Me 2,' was nominated for Best Song.

The bonifide EGOT threat will appear in the next World of Red Bull spot, airing March 3, which will feature a song from his upcoming album 'G I R L,' out the same day.

Recently, he explained to us the difference between working on his solo material and writing for film, and why it took nine tries before coming up with 'Happy.'

On working on movie soundtracks…

"You’re invited into a different world when you’re making music for a film. The director, the writer, the actors’ interpretation of what the character should be -- all of that groundwork is already set.

"So unlike just creating music out of nowhere for whatever reason, when you’re in a studio with an artist for their project, there’s already a set melody, there’s already a set intention. For the most part it’s about being creatively harmonious to that original impetus."

On being part of the filmmaking process…

"The more you can interact with the people who are already working on the film, the more it is a collaborative effort and the more you get to learn. So it’s cool, because I get to, you know, collide with different energy – energy that’s foreign from what I would do every day.

"I enjoy it all, because again as you encounter people they have their own energy, they have their own desires and things that they want to get done. Those things usually end up being a very interesting experiential lesson for me. So I enjoy it."

On the allure of the visual…

"Film has the advantage of playing with two senses, whereas music is just auditory. That’s why the business of music has had such a slump, because they always thought it was in the song first. But you know, as the paradigm is shifting, everybody is starting to realise that kids want a visual. That’s why YouTube gets more audience than any radio station collectively."

On how film can shape the song…

"Film gives you two different senses. With music, some of it is left to your imagination. With film there’s a curated direction by the point of view of the director and the music that’s under it. Those two are working in concert to take you to a place that the director has intended."

Pharrell at Holy Ship!!!
Pharrell© Erik Voake

On taking direction…

"When I had the awesome opportunity to work on 'Despicable Me,' I had to listen. As much as I felt like, ‘Oh, you know, I can make songs,' they had a direction. They knew what they wanted. And in that process, I learned more about reaching more people and just opening songs up."

On discovering 'Happy'…

"I swore I had it nine times in a row, nine different songs for that one little scene. It took nine times to get it through my head that I needed to be open and realize, ‘Okay, yeah. ['Despicable Me 2' main character] Gru was a mad guy in the first one. He is happy now.’ So how do you write a song about somebody being happy and just having a relentless mood about it? And then the song came."