From the first note you’ll hear, it shouldn’t be hard to tell that Nick Waterhouse is not of this era.
Too many critics fall into the trap of categorizing the Huntington Beach native as an R&B artist, while these same writers will make the inevitable Mayer Hawthorne comparison. While both musicians are white and record and perform black music, the craftsmanship that goes into Waterhouse’s recipe is unique.
Ahead of Waterhouse’s performance on Thursday, Aug. 22, as part of the 29th Annual Twilight Concerts at the Santa Monica Pier presented by MySpace, understand he’s not some one-hit wonder. Among musicians, the color of a fellow artist is irrelevant and becomes even less so considering Waterhouse’s stellar 2012 debut album “Time’s All Gone” is really, really good. It is absolutely vintage, with a 1950s-60s feel. While the social and business landscape of those decades was dramatically different from today’s, Waterhouse holds that era near and dear. Having absorbed Ray Charles, Roy Head and Little Willie John growing up, it’s natural for him to bring a big-band brass section, bluesy saxophones, jazz drums and backup singers together on a track. It’s his taste in music.
Never mind the fact that the old soul that is Nick Waterhouse is just 25. In an L.A. Weekly profile two years ago, writer Kristina Benson visited his studio in Costa Mesa and found an “angel-faced, starched-shirted, vintage glasses-sporting” kid who “stepped out of the honor roll page in your parents’ high school yearbook.” He was 24 then and had just started the first recording session for his debut EP on Silverlake-based indie label Innovative Leisure, home to rocker Hanni El Khatib.
The label’s co-founder, Jamie Strong — who Angelenos should instantly associate with Stones Throw and Do Over parties — became a Waterhouse fan from the first time he saw him perform. “When you see an artist live, that’s when you can tell whether or not they have it … Nick nailed it from the first note,” Strong told the Weekly in 2011. “No one knew who he was but everyone was so into it, dancing and just having fun. It was the real deal.”
Fellow “throwback musicians,” as the writer Benson calls them, have gravitated to Waterhouse, whom she calls a “rock & roll scholar who commands up to a dozen musicians onstage beside him with the authority of a seasoned bandleader.” Waterhouse is the opposite of tech-savvy producers of today. His studio features vintage analog equipment and he records using open-reel tape machines.
On “I Can Only Give You Everything,” Waterhouse eerily evokes Amy Winehouse’s style. His official bio couldn’t be more correct when it states he is a musician who is “moving forward into the past.” That’s at his essence as he marches to the beat of drums from five decades ago, re-imagining and re-creating the sounds of New Orleans, Motown and Memphis. He doesn’t need to call in Pharrell Williams or Timbaland. Appreciating his music means appreciating American music. That’s the description he himself prefers as a man of few words.
It seems Waterhouse doesn’t care to elaborate about his music, opting to describe it as “it is what it is.” It’s safe to say he isn’t being coy. His intention is to be appreciated for his skill in recording and performing timeless music that carries with it a significant, historic legacy. In other words, he innovates by being a preservationist. Now that takes soul.