Nile Rodgers’ biography reads like a Zelig-style history of pop culture since the ‘60s – when he was 15 he had a job cleaning Frank Sinatra’s Lear Jet; at 16 he jammed with Hendrix and dropped acid for the first time with Timothy Leary. While still a teenager he toured with the Sesame Street band and got an early break playing in the house band at the Apollo Theatre behind the likes of Screaming Jay Hawkins and Aretha Franklin. He produced Bowie’s Let’s Dance album and Madonna’s Like a Virgin.
He has worked with Clapton, Dylan, Michael Jackson, Prince, Robert Plant, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Bryan Ferry, The B-52s, David Lee Roth, Debbie Harry, Duran Duran and Mick Jagger (to name just a few). And, like every musician who was famous in the ‘80s, he performed at Live Aid.
Nile Rodgers bio-clip:
Despite all the inevitable name-dropping that comes when trying to discuss Rodgers’ career, the most important moment in his life was the moment in 1970 when Rodgers met bassist Bernard Edwards. The pair played on the New York scene in a series of bands including The Boiz and The Big Apple Band (not to be confused with Walter Murphy and The Big Apple Band who had a hit mixing disco with classical music on A Fifth of Beethoven ) but it was as Chic (and as the production team The Chic Organisation) that Rodgers and Edwards truly gelled and produced a string of hits that came to define the ‘disco’ sound of the ‘70s.
Envisioned as a “mesh of KISS’s anonymity with Roxy Music’s musical diversity and sexy cover-girl imagery”, Chic gave us classics including Good Times, Everybody Dance and Le Freak. The set-list for Rodgers’ Australian tour includes all the Chic classics you could hope for and plus collection of the hits he has worked on with INXS, Madonna, Bowie, Sister Sledge and Diana Ross.
There is plenty of ground to cover in an interview with Nile (so much so that he’s just published his biography Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco ), but the day that he spoke to FasterLouder Nile had been busy adding another chapter to his legend by spending the day working with Daft Punk on the follow up to their 2005 Human After All album. So obviously that’s where we started…
How did the collaboration with Daft Punk come together?
It’s funny I’ve known Daft Punk for some time now but we were never really close – we never got a chance to hang out with each other, we would just meet in passing. So today was the first chance we had to spend hour and hours and hours together and it was just so awesome.
Every track they played I just ran across the room and got my guitar and started playing and we were all dancing around my dining room having the time of our lives. It was something that was meant to be. It was interesting how Thomas [Bangalter] said to me “it’s funny Nile, it’s like we’ve completed the circle”. We’ve always just met, just had a moment to talk and then finally today we just said this is something that has to happen. It’s the thing that’s always happened my entire life. I meet an artist, we vibe and that vibe turns into magic.
So at this stage it’s just you and Daft Punk jamming? Or are you working on their new record?
We were just jamming at my house, but it’s gonna be proper and real. They came over to my today around breakfast time and it’s now evening I basically had to almost kick them out. We were having so much fun just in an informal setting that we decided to make it formal. And it’s very formal. It’s gonna be amazing.
The best projects I’ve ever been involved in have always been like that: we vibe on an artistic level first – same thing happened with me and Bowie and like Bowie they can speak in abstract terms and I know exactly what they’re talking about. So it was funny, at one point I said “you’ve been talking for two hours and you haven’t actually said exactly what you’re talking about, but I know what you mean.” It’s all the nuances of music and who a person is as an artist, concepts, where that concept is now in the arch of life all of that type of stuff which is what I really understand.
As an outsider to that sort of connection, could you give me an example of something you said to the guys from Daft Punk or that they said to you and how that translates into music?
Well I think I just did! For a person who’s not like that; who doesn’t think in that way. When true artists are speaking to me; when they’re describing something they can be describing something either linearly or horizontally or holistically. And I can always tell when they’re switching from one to the other. For me, those type of collaborations are the best.
Madonna was like that; Bowie is like that; Duran [Duran] was like that. Bernard Edwards, my long time partner, was like that. We could talk conceptually and I’d know what he’d mean. When they say that music is the universal language – you don’t need to actually speak the words of the song, you can talk about what that thing represents.
As a matter of fact, you know what Thomas said to me today which was phenomenal? He said to me that you can tell a story and it feels like a spotlight is shining on you when you pick up your guitar and without words you become the star. I knew exactly what he was talking about. I’d never thought that, but he says that’s what it feels like when you hear Nile Rodgers playing rhythm guitar; he’s talking to you without words. That’s a direct quote that’s exactly what he said to me.