1 From The Vault: Chad Hugo of NERD

If you came up to us and said you’ve always been the cool kid, we might look at you funny and think you’re probably as unique as a cardboard box. JUICE loves those who can proudly stand up straight on those skinny wobbly knees, roll up their pants higher and say “I’m a geek, and proud to be one!” You see, we are great believers in karma and in The Revenge of the Nerds – especially when they can blossom into either hot babes, dot com millionaires or a wicked band like NERD. As we patiently wait for the days to roll on by before Sunburst 2009, we thought you might like to get up close and personal with one of the crew, just like we did with NERD’s lead guitarist Chad Hugo. Here’s something we dug up way back when to keep you sated in the meantime. This interview first appeared in JUICE‘s July 2004 issue just about the time the collective released album Fly Or Die. Enjoys….

Pharrell has been your best mate for ages. Does that connection contribute to the work of NERD?
Well sometimes when we’re in the studio, we read each other’s minds, especially when we’re in a vibe or caught in a moment. It’s like ESP. People always look at us and they see the differences between him and I in the way we look. And then when they hear the music, they understand how our personalities balance out.

Did you ever think that relationship would take you this far?
All you can do is keep on doing what you’re doing. I never knew where I was headed, but I knew that I’d be always doing music—DJing, playing the sax, and learning how to record. There’s nothing else I wanted to do. Music just takes you to another world, you know?

At what point did you realise that, ‘Hold on, this could be really big!?’
Erm … last night?! (Laughs)

Okay, help us out here—NERD is still produced by The Neptunes, right?And The Neptunes are most of NERD, but it isn’t The Neptunes. This is kinda confusing…. Help us to make some sense of it.
When you say NERD, but produced by The Neptunes, it helps people understand that they are two totally different things. Cause what NERD is about and what The Neptunes is about is different. NERD is willing to explore and do different things musically. We have a lot more freedom being NERD as opposed to The Neptunes.

You guys seem big on synthesizers; you even carry them on the inside of The Neptunes Clones album sleeve.
It went with the whole theme of the album … we wanted it to go with our label Star Trak, which is a spacey and galactic sound. And synthesizers have always been like, a futuristic thing to me. It seemed really appropriate. I mean, would you rather we be carrying banjos in our hands? Or a saxophone? What would be better? A harmonica? (Laughs)

Yeah! Maracas would be great too! (Laughs)

Are synthesizer sounds reflective of your music?
Not really. It’s definitely a tool we like to use. But lately, we’ve been using a lot of live instrumentation. I like synthesizers, but I just don’t like the mechanical feel it gives sometimes. Maybe the next time I’ll use a dredging tool. (Laughs)

How long did it take to put Fly Or Die together?
Just a month or more, because we worked on the songs all the time. It’s easier being in the position that we have our own studio, and we have a studio on the bus, do a lot of e-mailing when we’re apart, and we always meet. So even though we’re on the move and in two different places at the same time, we always come back and connect and talk about the project. It was like that, and that’s how it got done.

Are the guitars and fast drums on Fly or Die representative of NERD’s new direction?
I actually learnt how to play the guitar and bass while I was recording so it’s hard to tell. An experienced player would probably think, ‘These guys are sloppy!’ (laughs), but we wanted to show people that it doesn’t matter. It’s about completing something. Who knows? Maybe the next album might be jazz. Or it might be eclectic … ideas are all about exploration.

Which is your favourite track in Fly or Die album?
I like ‘Wonderful Place’, because it reminds me of being a boy scout … (whistles) I just feel like goin’ fishin’ and whistling to that. And we want everyone to whistle to that too.

You were a boy scout?
I was a cub scout. I became a Webelo. It’s funny because they take you to the campsite and you learn how to cook potatoes underneath the ground and build fires and pee in the bush.

And you earned merit badges for that too, huh?
Yeah! (Laughs)

Fact File
Name NERD (No one Ever Really Dies).
Born Virginia USA (The trio went to junior high together)
Debut album In Search Of … (Virgin, 2001)
Little known fact Shay once performed on TOTP with a booger hanging from his nose; Chad is of Filipino descent; and Pharrell is a space freak. The NERD salute, as seen on the FOD album cover, was nicked from Spock on Star Trek.

Catch NERD at Sunburst Music Festival on Saturday 21 March 09 at Bukit Kiara Equestrian Club.

Interview Wayne Lee
Additional text Sueann Chong
Image EMI