Interviews, News — October 15, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Interview: Nile Rodgers “I still make records the way I want to make records”

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One of the most prolific producers of a generation, Nile Rodgers talks exclusively to Music Weekly Asia about his audacious tour schedule, upcoming collaborations and what fans can look forward when he returns to Asia to perform at Neon Lights and Clockenflap festivals.

 

Nile Rodgers’ story seems like the stuff of fiction. Born in New York City to a family of drug addicted Bohemians, he grew up surrounded by Hollywood superstars and famous musicians. Over the years the youngster learnt and perfected a range of instruments before defining disco music with Chic, the band he co-founded with partner Bernard Edwards. As the disco’s momentum slowed Rodgers sidestepped into production and was soon working with Sister Sledge and legendary diva Diana Ross.

Across the next five decades, Nile Rodgers has sprinkled his magic touch across some of the most recognizable artists, having written, produced or performed alongside a who’s who of the entertainment industry. Rodgers’ deft touch resulted in some of the biggest hit records in the careers of artists like David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, Duran Duran, Madonna, INXS and Mick Jaggar; in many cases being the artists’ best-selling recordings.

 

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Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams came together for the biggest song of 2013 in “Get Lucky”.

 

Bursting into a new generation’s attention with ‘Get Lucky,’ Rodgers, along with Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk, were responsible for the biggest selling song of 2013. Making it even more of a phenomenal accomplishment is that the song was one of the first songs that the 63 year-old wrote after he was struck with the news he had developed an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

On July 29th of the same year, Rodgers tweeted that he had been given the all-clear by his doctor and was cancer free. Now ‘Get Lucky’ is sung in triumph, both a huge commercial success and a reminder of how fortunate he is to still be here. Describing when he performs the track live with Chic he says “It’s beautiful. I can’t tell you. It’s such a healing part of the show.”

 

 

After such a diagnosis many people might elect to wind down their schedule and concentrate on healing. Rodgers isn’t most people. He combatted his disease head-on, starting a cancer blog called ‘Walking on Planet C’ whilst cranking his touring and production schedule into overdrive.

“When I was diagnosed with aggressive cancer, I didn’t know when I was going to die. I wanted to go to as many places, I wanted to work with as many artists, I wanted to make as much music as I could before I died so I’d have something to leave behind. My father was a great musician and he never left anything behind. It broke my heart.”

 

“I didn’t know when I was going to die. I wanted to go to as many places, I wanted to work with as many artists, I wanted to make as much music as I could before I died so I’d have something to leave behind.”

 

Since that first piece of bad news, Rodgers has embarked on a relentless tour schedule that has seen Chic perform in almost every corner of the globe. In seemingly every moment in between he’s been spending time in the production studio, working with a slew of young artists as well as releasing new material with Duran Duran and releasing the first new Chic material in decades.

“To me, recording, be it a purely electronic and digital medium and digital environment, feels the same to me as when I’m working in a completely analogue environment because I think of music in terms of a linear composition as opposed to vertical.” He continues, ” I still make records the way I want to make records.”

 

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Nile Rodgers performing with Bernard Edwards in the 1990s

 

Inside the studio there is a simple set of criteria.”Every artist that I work with has to be someone that teaches me something and somebody that feels like I can teach them something. If we don’t learn from each other, if the respect isn’t mutual, it doesn’t work…  I do records with people that I meet and I know and I love.” The system obviously works but the results can also be quite unexpected. Describing one of his latest collaborations with Dutch EDM producer and DJ, Nicky Romero Rodgers explains:

“Yesterday I was working with Nicky and we were working on this concept of music, a dance music called The Trilogy and when we get to the second song. I think, ‘Oh shit, let’s call Chris Cornell,’ and he’d never thought of it. He’d never heard of Chris Cornell, and I said, ‘Dude, you know Soundgarden, Audioslave? He’s one of my best friends.’ Now this may or may not happen but this is how my mind works. I played some of the stuff for him and Nicky went ‘Whoah, this guy is fantastic.’ So I said fine, let me call him. So I called him up, I wrote a letter to him and we’ve spoken three or four times last night.” 

But Rodgers knows as well as anyone that success is never assured. “I’ve only known two songs in my life that I knew were going to be big hits.” Rodgers says, “I had a feeling “Get Lucky” would do well but I didn’t know it would be a hit. The only songs I knew would be a hit were “We are family” and a song by Chic, ‘Le Freak.’ I knew that would be a hit.” 

 

 

It seems Rodgers’ recent approach has been to spread his magic as wide as possible and he has been recently linked with some of the brightest stars in the industry. It was reported earlier in the year that Cara Delevigne was working with the prolific producer and when quizzed on other projects, Rodgers reels off a collection of Australian artists. “Kylie Minogue, Keith Urban, Hugh Jackman and Nervo are my main projects right now.” 

The Nervo single ‘The Other Boys, featuring Kylie Minogue on vocal duties, was released in late June and had moderate success, hitting No. 15 on the US dance charts. Keith Urban and Rodgers first crossed paths this February at a pre-Grammy party and there have been talks that the pair are collaborating on an EDM/country project. It’s the kind of project that sounds like lunacy if it were anyone but Rodgers behind the wheel.

Roger’s project with Hugh Jackman is still somewhat under wraps but the actor’s vocal talents in “Les Miserables” and “The Boy From Oz” are beyond dispute. If Jackman was ever looking to make a career transition from Wolverine to full-time musician, Rodgers is certainly the man to help make it happen.

 

“The only songs I knew would be a hit were “We are family” and a song by Chic, ‘Le Freak’. I knew that would be a hit.”

 

On stage Rodgers is a spectacle that has to be witnessed. Gliding through his impressive repertoire in his customary white suit, there are few performers that seem more at home in front of a crowd. Whether it’s in front of 200 people in Rome, which Rodgers says ” may have been one of the best Chic shows we’ve ever played” or performing to thousands at shows like Glastonbury, Chic’s live performances are a true spectacle. Thankfully fans in Asia won’t have to wait long to witness Chic’s majesty again. This November will see Chic return to Clockenflap as well as performing at Singapore’s latest boutique festival, Neon Lights.  “I like to play outdoor shows” Rodgers says, “because we feel at one with nature. It makes me feel like the people and the band are the same. Like we’re connected. We’re connected to the sky, to the earth, to the music… We play under the worst conditions, we play under the best conditions. We don’t care.”

 

 

Talking of playing at Clockenflap and Neon Lights festivals Rodgers explains “the thing about Asia is that we get to play songs that may not have been as popular in other parts of the world. Because my repertoire is pretty vast, there are songs that people know in Asia that nobody knows in America so we get to play those songs and make things really, really happening.” When reminiscing of the band’s previous performance at Clockenflap he enthuses “you could see that the band was so excited to be able to play songs that we don’t play in our Western set.”

Honestly Nile, it’s not just the band that are excited to see Chic’s return to Asian shores…
Bring on November!

 

See Nile Rodgers perform with Chic this November at the following festivals:

Neon Lights

Sat 28 – Sun 29 November
Fort Canning Green
Singapore
Tickets: $240 SGD (for 2 day pass)

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Clockenflap

Friday 27 – Sun 29 November
West Kowloon Cultural District
Hong Kong
Tickets from $1620 HKD (for 3 day pass)

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