Nick Waterhouse

Indie soul man Nick Waterhouse doesn’t mince any words about recording in the same room where Nirvana made “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and where more than a hundred gold-certified records from the likes of the Grateful Dead, Tom Petty and Elton John were created.

“Yeah, I don’t really care about the history of that place,” the 28-year-old Los Angeles crooner-songwriter-producer — and performer at the 2014 Phono del Sol Music Festival — said of the building formerly known as Sound City Studios.

Some might find that statement odd, coming from a musician who’s reinventing rhythm and blues, jazz and surf-tinged rock that was inspired by his love of music from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Part of that is due to the musician looking forward rather than to the past for inspiration. Another part has to do with what led Waterhouse to the studio now known as Fairfax Recordings and owner-producer Kevin Augunas — “I like what (he’s) done with it” — to record his 2014 album, Holly.

After concluding the tour for his critically acclaimed 2012 debut album, Time’s All Gone (on Innovative Leisure, which is co-owned by former San Franciscan Hanni El Khatib), an exhausted Waterhouse returned to find that the studio where he recorded it, as well as his breakthrough 2010 single, “Some Place,” had been shuttered.

The all-analog Distillery, in Costa Mesa, was home to a burgeoning independent music scene that included Burger Records and the likes of Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin and Cold War Kids.

The SoCal native, who briefly called San Francisco home while attending San Francisco State University, dealt with the news by taking a week-long trip to the Bay to clear his head. When he returned, he wrote Holly.

“(The Distillery) was a profound loss,” he said. “This record is sort of elegiac in that sense because something had to die so something else could be born.”

While Holly is a collection of 10 songs — seven original and three covers — that can stand on their own, the album narratively tells the story of a woman who is murdered at the end of the day. Waterhouse, a fan of literary and cinematic noir, has called the album his Mulholland Drive.

“It’s a record that follows some of the emotional geography of a young person in the city these days,” he said, evasively. “It gets really dull if you have a piece of art overly explained. I wanted to create an atmosphere that felt a lot like some of the books I’ve always loved by David Goodis and Ray Chandler."

The material is dark, with themes of helplessness, sexual obsession, addiction and suicide. But not all of the material is personal, and parts of it included the difficulties that his friends were experiencing at the time. He has no plans to reveal which is which.

“People want to immediately put these things on me,” he said.

The covers, “Let It Come Down” by jazz singer Mose Allison, “Sleeping Pills” by drummer Isaac Holt and “It. No. 3” by Ty Segall, were included to help tell the narrative arc of the overarching story, depicting the environment the characters are in.

“I think selecting material by writers can be as big a statement as writing your own lyrics, and that comes from...jazz and rhythm and blues, which is often about doing songs not written by yourself,” he said. “Our generation is sort of raised with this cult of special snowflake, unique delusions of singer-songwriters only being the purest, truest art. I dug all these tunes, and I really felt them. Sometimes you can feel someone else’s song more than the songwriter who wrote them.”

Waterhouse didn’t just want the mood of the album to be dark. He wanted more nuances. And he especially didn’t want the record to come off as an “exercise” but a work free of sarcasm; a musical reincarnation of some of his favorite films, such as Dark Passage, Criss Cross and Chinatown.

“I wanted it to feel like a Robert Mitchum film – world-weary,” he said.

Chinatown is a particular “North Star” to Waterhouse, helping him find starting points on multiple occasions. The film, a neo-noir, does a great job of using old techniques to create something new, which is his goal for his music.

“Within this world of...contemporary rhythm and blues music, so many people dictate their success on how well they replicate something, and I was never interested in that,” he said. “I still struggle with whether I’m doing it the right way. By the right way, I mean the right way to say something, not the right way to recreate a Chuck Berry record, which I think is what a lot of people think the goal is.”

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

Tags: ,