Nick Waterhouse has long been one of my favorite musicians, since first reading about him on Brooks Brothers’ blog ‘Of Rogues and Gentlemen’. After hearing his hit single “Some Place”, I instantly fell in love with his unique sound of classic Americana rhythm and blues. What separates Nick from the rest of the music industry is… well… everything. I challenge you to find a musician who sounds remotely similar to him. His unique mastery of rock and jazz has somehow transpired into this pre-war 1920s style swing music that resonates deep within your soul and fills you up with American spirit that normally isn’t prominent except on Memorial Day or the fourth of July. On top of that, he has a unique clothing style consisting of Oxford Cloth Button Down shirts, corduroy pants and cordovan shoes.
The way polo shirts and boat shoes have become fixtures on the American beaches of The Hamptons and Cape Cod, Nick Waterhouse is destined to become the next great thing to happen to our incredible and vibrant ivy styled, perfectly prep culture of beach bonfires and spring garden parties.
And, the way nostalgia from a forgotten time creeps up on you while listening to Waterhouse is in a way, like that feeling you had the first time you saw the ocean, the first time you stepped into Central Park or that time you took your Dad’s 1956 Jaguar XK140 roadster to the beach without asking. Sure you got in trouble, but that salty sea air as you drove up to the boardwalk with your arm around your first love was, well… worth it.
Nick Waterhouse is a flood of emotion, a breath of fresh air in an industry bogged down by meretricious celebrities catering to the mass population which just happens to be that annoying fifteen year old who lives down the street and got sick in your prize winning gardenias.
So imagine my excitement when I picked up the telephone last week and none other than Nick Waterhouse was on the line. Now, to put this into perspective, over the last month I’ve had the opportunity to interview Grammy nominee Trevor Guthrie, hip hop legend Kardinal Offishal, and jazz crooner Matt Dusk who played in Sinatra’s old room on the heart of the Las Vegas strip. While it was an honor to interview all of them, none gave me the star-struck, eyes-wide, goose-bumped tremors that I got while talking to Nick Waterhouse. To put it lightly, I was on cloud nine.
Talking about his childhood, growing up in a music-deprived home in the affluent community of Huntington Beach, California, Waterhouse talked about how his musical inspirations bloomed after being introduced to the legendary Ray Charles and Nat King Cole who took Waterhouse under their wings and introduced him to the who’s who of California’s music industry. Then fresh from his teenage years, Waterhouse had the opportunity to move to San Francisco where he spent his time working at the legendary Rooky Ricardo record shop and moonlighting as a disc jockey at night while valiantly studying literature and film.
“That was a big broadening of my horizons”, says Waterhouse. “By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had given up on becoming a musician so I fooled myself into making a 45”, he tells me.
“I didn’t have the career ambitions that other people I knew who wanted to be a musician had. I wasn’t treating it professionally, and I think that was kind of the trick”, says Waterhouse.
It turned out that Nick’s nonchalant attitude ended up becoming this perfect cocktail of all his influences. Not just the musical influences like Van Morrison, Bert Berns and John Lee Hooker, but producing, as well as the lifestyle influences he had from the group of friends he socialized with.
It was then that Nick had a chance encounter with sax musician Ira Raibon.
“He really got what I wanted”, Waterhouse tells me. “I mean, we cut the record in a day”.
As it turned out, it was the effort put in that day that launched his career and catapulted him into stardom across the United States and Europe.
Few people can call their debut single a hit, but because Waterhouse just recorded it for himself, rather than in hopes of becoming a star, he spent the extra time and money ensuring that all the details were taken care of.
Recorded at the Distillery Studio in California, his debut single “Some Place” was recorded, mixed, and mastered completely analog to lacquer, plated and finally hand-pressed. The labels were handset letterpress printed and today it’s one of few debut albums that fetches upwards of hundreds of dollars from collectors around the world.
“I had very little expectations and then it ended up taking off in Europe and at the same time there was all this attention on the internet, so after that, it became this perpetual motion machine and I sort of assembled this kind of rag-tag band to play a show related to the record, and that was the beginning of making my record Time’s All Gone”, Waterhouse tells me in his usual humble tone. “From there I think I’ve done eight European tours and seven North American tours working with a lot of different people”.
When I asked Nick what drove him to pull out all the stops for a debut single that most artists can barely gather a budget for, he explains it by saying “My thing was I recognized nobody had made anything I wanted or liked and a lot of the point of art is that the artist acknowledges that the world that they live in is not enough”. Brilliant.
So the question begged to be asked. With his second album “Holly” having hit shelves recently, I needed to know… “Who is Holly?”
“She’s a character”, Nick explains. “A novelist’s creation, an aggregate. She’s a little bit of me, but I don’t know which part”.
The Style of Waterhouse
When it comes to style icons in the music industry, Nick Waterhouse is one that can’t be overlooked. His superlative wardrobe choices stem from his years working at Brooks Brothers in San Francisco, first as a stock boy, before graduating into a sales position. Being from Gentleman’s Gazette, there wasn’t a hope I’d survive if my editor ever found out I didn’t ask about his style.
“I felt really liberated at a certain point in my life when I realized I could create anything I wanted to”, says Waterhouse. “I admit, I guess I have a conservative (style) for someone who’s creating something. I’m really into simplicity and craftsmanship, clean lines and an unpretentious style”.
“To me it’s (fashion) like it should be like a song. It should have some feeling to it. It should be soulful”, he says.
It became very evident that Nick didn’t require a lot of pressing or probing. As a journalist, you quickly come to realize that most people would rather have a root canal than speak to you, so it was refreshing to hear someone talk so passionately and free about their interests without constantly turning to their publicist to ask “is this okay to answer?”
“To know you’ve got something happening; I really love that feeling”, Waterhouse exclaims. “You walk a fine line before being obsessed with it. It’s a very American thing. It’s different from what the British or the Italians do and I love that”.
When I ask if he follows the trends, Waterhouse tells me “I leave that alone. It just causes too much anxiety”.
“I figured out something when I was a teenager, growing up in a strange, modern, image conscious culture where I wasn’t the handsomest or the geekiest or the coolest”, Waterhouse explains. “Those were the guys who were shopping at the time at department stores and I realized that it was a fools game so I created my own world and I recognized I could do a lot better if I created my own game and my own rules”, he continues.
Of course, I had to ask him about some of these game changers so I asked what his favorite items in his wardrobe were.
“I have a pair of loafers; high waist, slim corduroys; oxford button downs, and lately I’ve been on this kind of patterned shirt craze because I can’t really wear suits as much as I did when I was in San Francisco”, he tells me. “I’m really into this sort of subtle print. I don’t want to get too polynesian but I love this gentleman’s kind of west coast cool” he explains.
“Oh, and you can’t go wrong with a charcoal gray suit”.
One thing that really sparks my interest is when Nick tells me how some of his favorite things he’s managed to procure for under $10 whereas others are bespoke.
“I think that’s what’s fun about it for me”, says Waterhouse. “It’s really about being creative”.
One of his favorites which he’s currently attempting to have copied by a tailor is what he describes as a mid weight wool, very lightly natural shoulder sport coat made by Roos/Atkins department store around the mid 60s. “It’s a very faint stripe pattern that doesn’t look like stripes”, he remarks. “Almost like an optical illusion, it’s a very subtle kind of color. It has blue, brown, red and gray in it and I don’t know how it works but it’s phenomenal”.
Described by him as “the perfect sport coat”, he bought it for just $6 at the Salvation Army in San Francisco.
I asked Nick if his home echoed his personal style that has in a sense become a part of his public image as a recording artist. I was pleased to find out that it did.
“I love artists’ homes and people who put a little effort into their environment”, he says. “I was really fortunate to have a mentor who professionally furnished houses in San Francisco”.
A perfect match to his personality, Nick jokes by telling me that it’s not like you walk into his apartment and he’s living in an Ikea showroom.
“I always want to avoid cliches so it’s not intentionally eclectic but I’m not a mid century collector either. I think most people expect my apartment to look like a set from Mad Men. I’m really interested in timeless stuff so I have a great couch that’s a piece that could exist in the 1920s, 40s, 60s, or even now”, he tells me. “I have a great leather armchair that’s a vintage piece and a huge patterned rug with this modern geometric pattern on it”.
For those single women reading this, I of course had to ask about his dating life and you’ll be pleased to know that Nick is in fact single.
When I ask what he looks for in a partner, he tells me “she’s got to have good style. It doesn’t have to be my style, but I admire a woman with good style”. Of course, he also lists intelligence, humor, and openness among his top traits.
“I think there’s not a lot of women who share my taste but they need to be accepting of them”, he says.
Oh, and they must be ready to dance. That’s important to him.
As a final question, I had to throw in one of the oddballs that I’ve somehow become well known in the industry for asking. Since many women describe his music as wildly seductive, I asked him to compare his art to a sex position – something not typical of a Gentleman’s Gazette interview.
Shockingly he didn’t hang up.
After the laughter subsided, this is what he said…
“There’d definitely be a necktie tied around something…”
Of course, with an answer like that, we had to send him a Fort Belvedere tie for that response.
“I’ll be tying some lucky lady up with it”, Nick laughs.
Nick Waterhouse’s new album “Holly” is in stores now. Find it here.