LOS ANGELES (CN) – “This the last place I want to be right now,” Pharrell Williams testified Wednesday as he described his “love” for Marvin Gaye, while battling Gaye’s family in a copyright case involving his song “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.”
Williams, professionally known as Pharrell, arrived shortly after noon at the federal courtroom with his entourage and took the stand a little over two hours later.
During direct examination, his attorney Howard E. King asked: “Do you like Marvin Gaye?”
“I love him,” Pharrell said.
“This is the last place I want to be right now,” Pharrell added. “I grew up with his music, along with other artists on Motown.”
King asked his client if he had perhaps “subconsciously” used “Got to Give It Up.”
“No,” Pharrell said. “If I had any doubt, we would have contacted our musicologist. It’s the fair, just and right thing to do.”
In 2013, Robin Thicke, 31, and his “Blurred Lines” co-creators Pharrell, 41, and rapper T.I. (Clifford Harris), 34, sued Marvin Gaye’s family in Federal Court for a declaration that they had not infringed copyright on the Motown artist’s 1977 single, “Got to Give It Up.”
The artists filed the lawsuit pre-emptively just months after the single’s release, after legal threats from the Gaye family.
In response, Frankie Christian Gaye, Nona Marvisa Gaye and Marvin Gaye III filed counterclaims. Their allegations targeted both “Blurred Lines” and Thicke’s “Love After War,” the lead single from his 2011 album of the same name.
The Gaye family claims “Love After War” infringed upon Gaye’s 1976 single “After the Dance.”
On the second day of trial, the Gayes’ attorney Richard Busch had played a testy video deposition with Pharrell, in which the producer frequently stonewalled the attorney and refused to answer his questions.
During his appearances in court, Pharrell has frequently appeared stone-faced, in stark contrast to Thicke, also in court Wednesday, who has been all smiles.
On the witness stand, Pharrell spoke of his dismay at the adversarial nature of the deposition.
“I felt like I was coming to the deposition to resolve something … to put this behind us,” he said. “I felt like he was purposefully trying to get a rise out of me. I pride myself on being a peaceful person, so it was uncomfortable for me.”
Pharrell said that his parents often played music when he was growing up, and that his interest in music grew as he moved from place to place as a youngster. He took up drumming in junior high school.
The Grammy award winner provided some behind-the-scenes details on the making “Blurred Lines,” which according to court filings was recorded on the afternoon of June 27, 2012, before its release the following March.
Pharrell said he used Logic Pro software on an Apple computer at the Glenwood Place Studio in Burbank, creating the song in little under an hour after “surfing around,” creating a drum track and “trying to find chords that felt good.”
“It’s not unusual for me,” Pharrell said of his speedy process. “But there’s times when it’s not so fast.”
The musician and producer, as it turned out, was multitasking when he created the song.
In addition to Thicke, who came in later in the evening to lay down his vocals, Pharrell was working with Miley Cyrus in one room and rapper Earl Sweatshirt in another.
Pharrell said that the countrified nature of his work with Sweatshirt and Cyrus influenced his approach to “Blurred Lines.”
“My mind was already on that yodely, bluegrassy thing,” he said.
Thicke insisted during trial that he had overplayed his contribution to the song after it propelled his career into the stratosphere. He testified that he was drunk and on Vicodin when the song was recorded and that Pharrell had come up with track.
“The biggest hit of my career was written by somebody else, and I was jealous and wanted credit,” Thicke said. “I felt that it was a little white lie that wouldn’t hurt his career but boosted mine.”
Pharrell was more magnanimous.
While he wrote the lyrics, there was some “back and forth” with Thicke, the producer said, calling him a performer who has that “special thing.”
“I’m not one of those people who fights over who did what,” Pharrell told the jury.
He denied that they had channeled or even mentioned Gaye when they recorded the track, and his statements to the contrary in media interviews about the song were made in hindsight, he said.
“We bopped and danced to it,” Pharrell said of the recording session with Thicke. “It was a cool night.”
Busch was less interested in reliving past glories and more interested in similarities between the songs.
Several audio snippets comparing elements of the two songs were played in court during Pharrell’s hour-long testimony. Busch repeatedly asked if he could detect the similarities.
After hearing the snippets, Pharrell said sound editing made elements of bass and keyboard sound similar.
“I noticed that our song has been pitched up,” Pharrell said after one snippet was played. He said that if the pitch of the music is adjusted: “You can make anything fit.”
Pharrell also took issue with another track that Busch played, comparing the keyboard parts of the two songs.
After Busch asked him if the two tracks sounded alike, Pharrell replied: “They don’t. They sound like you’re using the same instrument, the Rhodes [piano].”
The producer said that while Gaye’s keyboard track was clear and “effervescent,” the Blurred Lines track was “staccato.”
“You should play them the same way,” Pharrell said.
“Isn’t it true that you agree that ‘Blurred Lines’ evokes the feel of ‘Got to Give It Up’?” Busch asked.
“The feel – not infringement,” Pharrell said.
During the trial, musicologist and experts from both sides have deconstructed, debated and dissected the two songs.
On the second day of trial, Thicke sang and played piano at the witness stand, running through a medley of tunes that included “No Woman, No Cry,” “Let It Be,” and “With or Without You.”
He played the songs to demonstrate that he could seamlessly match several music styles into a single composition, undermining the defense’s assertion that “Blurred Lines” was a rip-off of Gaye’s composition.
Musicologists have also taken to the keyboard to demonstrate how the songs are – or are not – alike.
The jury has heard “Blurred Lines” numerous times. But Gaye’s original recording has been conspicuously and controversially absent.
U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt barred admission of Gaye’s recording because he concluded it contained elements unprotected under copyright law. The judge said that only an edited and re-recorded version, based on the protected elements of Gaye’s registered sheet music, could be played to the jury.
As a result, the five women and three men of the jury have listened to a version of “Got to Give It Up” re-recorded with session musicians, so they can consider chords, melodies and lyrics of the sheet music.
Two years ago, Thicke appeared to make no bones about where the inspiration for the song had come from.
In a May 2013 interview with GQ magazine, Thicke said that “Got to Give It Up” was on his mind when he recorded the hit.
“Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up,'” Thicke said in the interview. “I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.'”
Busch seized on those comment and others to make the case that Thicke and Pharrell had revised their comments to suit their legal position.
“None of the after-the-fact excuses make any sense,” Busch told the jury during opening arguments. “In their first story in this case, they did not deny [the similarities] at all. It was only later that they changed their story.”
The stakes of the contest are high. The Gaye family estimates that “Blurred Lines” revenue is close to $40 million. They want a share of profits.
On Tuesday, Kronstadt read from accounting statements that broke down how much the celebrities had made from the hit song.
Of the $16.6 million in “Blurred Lines” profits, Thicke earned $5.6 million in artist and publishing royalties, Pharrell $5.1 million in producer and publishing royalties, and T.I. got $704,000. The rest went to the record companies behind the platinum single: Interscope, UMG Distribution and Star Trak.
Closing arguments were expected Thursday.
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