The Right Note: An interview with Nick Waterhouse

Nick Waterhouse’s retro style and soulful sound take rock & roll back to its roots.  His debut LP, Time’s All Gone, mixes classic rhythm & blues with jazz and soul music. The result is a collection of original songs with a uniquely American sound, rooted in the past while remaining undeniably of the moment.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Nick regarding his style, his music and his early days, when he worked for Brooks Brothers.

Brooks Brothers: You actually worked for Brooks Brothers. Did your time with us inform your style?

Nick Waterhouse: I would say so. While working on my bachelors, living in San Francisco, I was hired by Brooks Brothers as a stock boy and eventually worked my way up to a salesman. I took whatever knowledge I could from my co-workers. I worked with a lot of people who had been with the company for a long time and I received a lot of exposure to the brand’s heritage. I combined all that with my own youthful idea of what style was.

BB: Have you always felt drawn to a retro look?

NW: When I was fourteen or fifteen I remember reading about British mods and all their talk about the originals or the greats, they didn’t want British covers of American R&B, they wanted the real thing, and they felt the same way about their clothes. It was all about the Ivy League collar. There was a famous quote about the collar roll, “from ten paces away you can tell what kind of shirt the guy was wearing,” and that to me was such a kind of cool secret society.

“I bought my first shirt from Brooks when I was seventeen. It was a pink oxford button-down and it was a really big deal.”

BB: Who are some of your personal style icons? Have you incorporated any of their signature looks into your own wardrobe?

NW: My personal style icons include everyone from poet Frank O’Hara to Barney Kessel. A lot of the guitarists and sidemen I saw in recording session photos from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s- but also people like Art Blakey. Obviously Miles Davis, but mostly for his Andover period. My taste runs the board; I like the idea of these progressive and creative individuals that were in, what is considered, more conservative dress. For example, Warhol wore Brooks Brothers shirts for years and years and years.

BB: Do you feel like your approach to music is mirrored in the way you dress?

NW: I don’t really see any boundaries between one and the other. I chase after what inspires me, in order to figure out my own work. You shouldn’t really mess with classics. Ezra Pound famously said, “Make It New,” but he stuck to traditional formatting – he’s still presenting words on a page. To me, natural shoulder, well-fitting menswear, is the same as the twelve-tone scale. It never really goes away and it’s more about what you’re bringing to variations on a theme, like jazz.

What it really comes down to, is that, I’m always going to do what I like to do, and whenever that rubs up against any sort of fashionable moment, I just feel excitement.

“To me, Brooks Brothers is like baseball. It’s a culture export. Individuals all over the world love it. It’s uniquely American, and different countries, different people are attracted to it for their own reasons.”