The Interrogator with Nicolas Vernhes

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Animal Collective. Deerhunter. War on Drugs. Wild Nothing. New York City producer and engineer Nicolas Vernhes has helped craft the sound for some of indie music’s most notable new and established outfits. From the Greenpoint studio he opened in 2000, Rare Book Room, Vernhes works to create some of the best tracks of decade, each imbued with a creeping signature sound that hard to quite put your finger on–it is both diminutive and grandiose, like a softly spoken whisper that sneaks up on you like sudden thunder. They are Big Songs for people who don’t like Big Songs, filled with dreams and reverb.

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A musician himself, Vernhes’ path to production started in 1995 with a Williamsburg studio space his then-band used to live, play, and record in. Gradually, Vernhes amassed a collection of equipment that allowed them to record their rehearsals with the fidelity of the hourly studios they couldn’t afford. Word got out, and musician friends began coming to Vernhes to record their own music. Within a few months, his skills as a producer were in demand and his interest in the band subsequently waned. Five years later, he closed up the original 6th Street studio to open the Greenpoint spot, where he remains today.

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Rare Book Room and Nicolas Vernhes represent an earlier vision of Brooklyn, one that becomes increasingly rare as the waterfront is further populated with condos and chain stores. The two are living proof that, at least historically, this was a place where artists could afford to grow, evolve, and–if you were good enough–succeed. Here, we talk to Vernhes about his own past, present, and future–one that includes pistachio milkshakes, city escapes, and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Place of residence:

I live in the neighborhood of Greenpoint in Brooklyn, New York.

Current occupation:

Recording engineer, record producer, mixer, extractor/midwife of semi-realized musical notions.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Alive and hopefully an adult.

Quote to live by:

“To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.” — Jean Genet

First job you ever had:

Scooping ice cream at Carvel in high school. I slurped on pistachio milkshakes all day long.

Least favorite part of your day:

Waking up and going to bed.

Windows down, the song you’re playing is:

Zig Zag Wanderer” by Captain Beefheart (Safe as Milk) or “Uptown Top Ranking” by Althea and Donna.

Three guilty pleasures:

Sorry, I need to hijack this one as my life is full of guilty pleasures; I propose three un-guilty pleasures (except maybe for the last one):

1. Turning off every computer/cell phone in the house and reading for hours, uninterrupted.
2. Walking around the neighborhood, untethered.
3. Turning on all the computers/cell phone and trying to digest hours of missed social media in five minutes or until head falls off.

If you had to watch one movie on repeat for eternity, what would it be?

Repo Man by Alex Cox

You have a million dollars to spend on art, you buy…

An isolated house on the beach where I stare up at the stars for hours on a nightly basis while making small circles in the sand. Or a large boat.

Plane, train or automobile for a road trip?

Car is the way to go. That’s the way to get lost.

What IS your favorite road trip?

I like going to my friend’s house at the end of Long Island and seeing the landscape go from brutal-urban-overbuilt-yet-still-somehow-decaying to vineyards on the water in less than 80 miles.

Personal travel ethos:

Leave everything behind–mostly that strange construct we call the self.

Drink of choice:

Early evening into night: wine, often red. After that, more wine, usually the same color as earlier or maybe switch to beer. And after that: tequila.

Beach house or tree house:

At this point, either. Just get me far away from New York City.

Where was the best meal you ever had and what was it?

I cook a lot and I feel I’ve made some amazing dishes, mostly by improvising based on whatever was in the fridge, but for restaurants, I once had omakase at 1 or 8 in Williamsburg, with an excellent white burgundy instead of sake, and in the company of a really good friend, which helps a lot. How can something so seemingly simple leave one at once dumbfounded and in ecstasy?

What is the best news you ever received?

“Do you want to do an interview?”

Who or what is largely overrated? Explain.

Nothing. I try hard not to pay attention to ratings of any kind, whether under or over, except when I’m out of town and then it’s hours on Yelp furiously trying to find the best tacos in San Diego.

Briefly describe the best concert you have ever gone to.

Siouxsie and the Banshees at Radio City in Manhattan. I was in high school, living an hour and a half away and came down for the show with a few friends. This was the mid-eighties so naturally we were all wearing black, trying to outspook each other. When we got there it was intense, as every one of the other 6000 people were also decked out for the show. Once inside it was pure magic, from the art deco interior to the phenomenal sound system pumping out all the early ‘80s Siouxsie we could handle. I’m not religious, but this was church.

Where do you go for inspiration, peace of mind?

Outside. Sometimes inside. The ocean always gets me.

Photos by Atisha Paulson

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, specializing in music, fashion, the arts, and culture, both high and low. Her work has been featured in Cereal, Lenny Letter, and more.