BEVERLY HILLS - Pharrell refuses to write songs about himself, not because he's particularly shy or private.
"I'm a regular guy," he explains. "I don't find myself that interesting. I have the same story people have heard a million times."
There's nothing regular about this Cinderfella tale. On the heels of 2013's explosive success, Pharrell kicked off 2014 with four Grammy Awards, bringing his career total to seven. He won best producer and shared in the best album, best record and pop duo/group victories for his contribution to Get Lucky on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories.
Happy, his bouncy hit from Despicable Me 2, is up for an Oscar. He's co-composing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 soundtrack. And he's just wrapped up solo album G I R L, out March 3.
After years of noodling in studios to shape hits for everyone from Jay Z to Madonna, Pharrell has emerged as the industry's most impressive multi-hyphenate: rapper, singer, songwriter, producer, drummer, fashion designer, philanthropist. And hat enthusiast.
Today, at a suite in the Beverly Hilton hours before the star-packed Oscars nominees lunch, he's street natty in jeans, a gray sweater over a checked shirt and scribbled sneakers ("inside" and "out" on one, "I don't know" and "so what" on the other). He's also sporting the brown Vivienne Westwood "mountain" fedora that captivated Grammy watchers and drew comparisons to the Arby's logo and the millinery of Smokey Bear and Canadian Mounties.
Equally at ease in designer tuxes and skateboard shorts, Pharrell admits a weakness for Chanel, Lanvin, Mark McNairy, Céline and Commes des Garcons, but insists he has no fashion influences.
"If you asked me my favorite brand, I'd say individuality," says Pharrell, 40. "I consider myself an ordinary person and I get my style from everyday people. I'm a watcher of people on the street. It's about being comfortable."
Pharrell, anointed Esquire's 2005 best-dressed man in the world, co-founded clothing lines Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM and opened a boutique in New York. He's designed jewelry and accessories for Louis Vuitton and Moncler. Fashion, along with art, music and pop culture, is a key focus of his i am Other YouTube channel, launched in 2012.
Those pursuits have yet to steer him from a demanding musical agenda. A sought-after producer since he and Neptunes partner Chad Hugo began chiseling hits for stars ranging from Britney Spears and Mariah Carey to Kelis and Nelly, Pharrell saw his acclaim skyrocket with a recent flurry of matchups, including Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines.
As a producer, writer or collaborator, he's teamed with Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Maroon 5, Jennifer Lopez, Miley Cyrus, Usher and scores more.
Now Pharrell is producing Pharrell. The album is a follow-up to 2006's modest-selling In My Mind, his first stab at producing without Hugo.
"I never knew I had a solo career because I produce for other people," he says. "I never looked at myself as an artist."
G I R L, announced today with a 30-second trailer, arrives the day after the Oscars and includes the Happy single. He's revealing no other titles but is quick to characterize the songs.
"The good news is I'm not singing about me," Pharrell says. "I don't like bragging. It's not about me. It's dedicated to the fan base that put me here. It's about women, but not the perverse side. Sometimes my music has had a little perverse edge. The music is jubilant, festive and celebratory. I wanted it to feel urgent and visceral. It didn't make it on the album if it wasn't that."
Pharrell's recent history should aid his transition from studio guru to the solo spotlight, says Billboard senior correspondent Phil Gallo.
"Hits like Get Lucky and Happy certainly whet the appetite," Gallo says. "You can hum the work he's known for now. It's much more tangible than, 'Hey, he worked with Jay Z and Madonna.'
"And he's a groove guy. Because of his history as a drummer, his style is rhythmic. It's an elastic, human kind of rhythm. People's tastes are returning to more organic rhythms."
Pharrell is among "few recent artists who have broken through to all demographics," says Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of Sirius XM, where Blurred, Lucky and Happy enjoyed early and frequent rotation on multiple channels. On terrestrial radio, Happy is charting on seven formats.
"If the songs are there, the record will stand, and he'll get the benefit of the jet stream of everything he's done in the past," Greenstein says. "His stuff has credibility in core genres you'd expect, but it's also so uniquely catchy and pop-oriented that you have to play it in other places. He's as much a multi-dimensional threat as any artist out there. You can say artists from earlier generations were bigger, better, purer. The best of the past seems to have been assembled in this one guy."
Pharrell squirms at such praise. While confident and innovative, his steering principle seems to be humility. He describes most triumphs in terms of "we," referring to allies and assistants.
Producing effectively means "leaving my ego at the door and allowing the artist to shine so I can frame the picture," he says.
Likewise, he prefers partnerships to toiling alone.
"Otherwise, it's just my familiar energy," Pharrell says. "With someone else, there's new territory to learn from. I'm sponging everything I can. What makes a person tick? What hurts them? How can we share that with the world?"
He's encouraged by music's brighter direction.
"We're trying to push the feel-good," he says. "A lot of musicians are doing it. Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator, Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk, Lorde, London Grammar. There's a shift for sure. It's where society is going. We spent 15 years with the Internet building up, with people looking at tragic stuff in real time. A school being shot up, a crazy car chase, a diamond heist. The media made people think that's all they want to hear about. When people hear something that makes them feel good, it becomes interesting. I'm just happy to be a part of it."
What's next? Pharrell, a married father of a young son, would like to have a music-driven TV show and work with Prince and Eminem. But his plans are fluid.
"I'm somebody who takes advantage of the present moment," he says. "It's the only thing in this world where you can turn nothing into something. Just like music is the only thing that can fill up this entire room and never get in your way."