Nick Waterhouse: In The Nick of Time
A young rocker out and about in Los Angeles at 10 am may be an odd sighting, akin perhaps to seeing a polar bear in the sweaty Congo, but nevertheless here is 25 year old Nick Waterhouse, approaching a downtown diner on a sunny weekday morning to discuss his new album, Time's All Gone (Innovative Leisure, 2012). Looking as though he's just jumped from the pages of GQ (specifically the June 2012 issue), with a crisp new short-sleeved shirt tucked tightly into his firm fitting dress trousers, along with plastic framed glasses and businessman's shined leather shoes and neatly placed wristwatch, he takes a seat and greets his hosts. To the unsuspecting, Waterhouse might seem to have been headed to an accountants position in one of the many high rises that dot the congested cityscape or perhaps a government clerk's desk job, yet at this date Los Angeles is still part of America and in America not all is what it first appears to be.
A pile of metal apparently stacked in the distance is actually the Frank Ghery-designed concert hall. A flophouse motel in West Hollywood once passed for The Doors' Jim Morrison's digs. And a large pothole in the midst of the city's streets is actually the La Brea tar pits, which still spew forth their rank, primordial stew into the contemporary Los Angeles atmosphere. Here, too, Waterhouse is a musician who defies simple categorizations. In his case, with a degree in literature, it is literally and quite figuratively impossible to read a book by its cover.
"So much of the attention that's been given [regarding Time's All Gone] is about the influences," says Waterhouse, "but I feel the scrutiny of influence is never as strong on people that have a different sound. The record, those tunes, the subject matter, that's my emotional and spiritual art. And all that is actually intertwined with what actually happened in my life. It's an attempt to communicate something beyond language, and that's what I've always loved about music; that it was a way to communicate something deeper."
Raised in Huntington Beach, California, Waterhouse was fortunate enough to recognize his calling at an early age and became involved in the local music scene. Soon he was spotted round about town with guitar in hand heading towards school gymnasiums and bowling alleys fronting dance bands with edgy punk ambitions. It was after one particularly furious set that the teenager was approached by someone on the punk scene and told, "You outta cut a 45, you guys sound like The Animals!" Like keys that would open a graffiti-coated leaden door to another world, these words were to bring Waterhouse, still a teenager at this time, a mere seven blocks from his parents home to a recording studio named The Distillery. And like a truck load of potatoes or a burlap sack heaping with Midwestern corn, the young man underwent a process that after all of its twists and turns, heat and sweat, and ups and downs would produce an end product as clear and strong as a well-honed handmade premium Vodka.
"I started hangin' out at The Distillery when I was a teenager and later in my life I realized that that place is about as real as it gets compared to other studio environments. Like, it's lawless in there! People don't go in there and fuckin' play X Box in between songs and do coke and have girls come and hang out. It's just a place where you go to work and it's kinda like you're in a cave and sometimes it's like, when I made this record, comin' out of that cave was real hard. It's like [Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 film] Das Boot-you're down there and you're plummin' serious depths"
With The Distillery's army surplus filing cabinets, army grade microphones, green hued walls, dimly lit tight quarters and brimming with vintage analog equipment, it looked like a bomb -proof military bunker and proved to be a proper training ground for the budding musician. Working alongside studio owner, mentor, and the album's engineer, Mike Mchugh, Waterhouse learned the ins and outs of the recording process with all the knob turning, mike placement, meter reading and plain hard work that would transform him into a gifted producer who would one day fashion not only his own album in this environment, but also that of his fellow Innovative Leisure stable mates, The Allah Lahs.
Looking back, it all seems to have been preordained, for as Waterhouse delved into the eternal rhythms of American roots music at a very tender age, lying in wait for him was the pulsating, funky heart deep within the core of his local neighborhood studio, namely the soundboard yanked out of the legendary Muscle Shoals Alabama recording center and subsequently transplanted into the waiting corpse of Costa Mesa's Distillery.