Nick Waterhouse

Editor’s Note: Nick Waterhouse is a local musician taking part in a revitalization of soul and R&B music here in the Bay Area. Nick Waterhouse and The Tarohs feat. The Naturells play tonight at Slim’s. Also performing are the Allah-Lahs and DJ Carnita from Hard French. Check out our exclusive interview with Nick below.

The Soul and R&B resurgence of the last few years in the form of dance parties starting with 1964, and now Oldies Night, Lost and Found, Hard French, and others are nothing novel. San Franciscans have had a pan-generational love affair with Soul and R&B music for decades now. The City by the Bay was home to Sly and the Family Stone, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Darondo, and others who have come and gone, along with the throngs of transients, leaving behind relics of a bygone era — namely vinyl records for young collectors to rediscover. DJs like Nick Waterhouse, Primo, and Lucky have all contributed to this second renaissance, of sorts, while rejecting the false sense of nostalgia that comes with a theme party. “It makes non-subculture people more comfortable getting to the core of what’s great about the records instead of the cultural baggage that goes with it,” observes Waterhouse.

For the San Francisco-based devotee to the old school, it’s always been about the music and nothing more — whether DJing, composing, producing records for his label Pres Records, recording at the Distillery, or performing with his live band, The Tarohs, and his back-up singers, The Naturelles.

Embracing cyberspace as a means of convenience, I chatted with him via email about his love of music, his obsession with analog recording, and what is on the horizon for Pres Records.

As a youngster “obsessed with radio”, Waterhouse (like most of us, for better or for worse) was exposed to his parents’ music at an early age. “My parents were always playing stuff like John Lee Hooker, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and the like. I had a healthy dose of rock and roll and punk rock music being born in the late 80’s in Southern California.” After playing trumpet for a while as a kid “I switched to electric guitar to play rock & roll, tracing influences and following my ears, it all just headed towards something for me.”

Though an obvious fan of R&B heavyweights like Ray Charles, Waterhouse prefers to cite the more quietly significant music legends like Mose Allison, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Bert Burns, and Arthur Alexander as especially important to his musical upbringing. Far more than the sum of his influences, Waterhouse makes music that can simultaneously pummel you with visceral fuzz and grit while making you double over and hurt so good — a far cry from some of the R&B churned out of the cheese mill these days, slick and over produced. This ain’t no guilty pleasure, folks. Nor is it a “role-play thing to go and dance” to either. It’s simply good music, with a warmth and intensity rarely heard these days.

Waterhouse’s dreams of starting his own label began with a 10th grade school report about Stax Records, the Memphis label responsible for bringing us such national treasures as Otis Redding and William Bell. But it took frustration with “Pro-tools garbage” that his friends and label-mates the Allah-Lahs and he decided to record their own records, and so Pres Records was born.

Why the commitment to analog recording? “First, because the records I really like were recorded this way. This is not all that unusual and has nothing to do with being ‘retro’.” Fair enough. And it certainly helps that he grew up down the street from the Distillery, Costa Mesa, California’s all-tube-and-transistor recording studio that has cut tape for the Black Lips and Calexico. And, he ads, it just sounds good. “The vibrations of an analog recording are a physical sensation that vibrates human ears. Digital sound waves, no matter how precise, are a wave converted to numbers, converted back to a wave, and lose frequencies we may not notice consciously.” Now that’s just science.

The recordings are live, using “the right mix between truth and trickey” and an authentic Dan Flickenger sound board from the old Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Its new home at the Ditillery has zero computers, so everything goes “straight from the tape to the lacquer.” For a laundry list of equipment used, the curious can look here.

Waterhouse’s first release, “Some Place” b/w “That Place,” recorded with the Turn Keys and featuring Ira Raibon of the Fabulous Souls on sax, is sadly out of print but recently sold for over $200 on ebay. However, the strapped-for-cash and digitally-inclined folk can find a collection of singles from the LA label Innovative Leisure on iTunes.

His upcoming LP, expected to hit shelves early next spring, was recorded in manic bursts between travels from SF to Costa Mesa and back again, and was scheduled around shows with the Tarohs. “There were times of total peak intensity and times of exhaustion. Just crazy, rabbit-hole moments in the studio with no windows and you don’t know if it’s night or day.” Of course, his back-up singers, the Naturelles, figure prominently, as do Ira Raibon, Ty Segall, and members of the Allah-Lahs.