Chic's Nile Rodgers reveals that in the wake of his cancer diagnosis, Get Lucky is the most special Number 1 of his career, plus he’s discovered a "lost Chic album".
Daft Punk collaborator Nile Rodgers has discovered a “lost Chic album” which he is intending to release more than 35 years after the pioneering disco band’s heyday. Talking to OfficialCharts.com, Rodgers has also revealed that he has been working with David Guetta and Avicii in recent weeks.
The collaborations have come in the wake of Rodgers’ hugely successfully collaboration with Daft Punk on Random Access Memories – which was recorded in the same studio where his classic Chic tunes were made. Rodgers (who appears as co-writer, producer and player on Random Access Memories, which is heading for Number 1 this week) says he is confident Get Lucky will be one a string of smash hits from the Daft Punk album.
“You never know how the audience is going to receive the work,” he says. “But, based on pure emotion and that feeling you get inside when something is working, I have a feeling that there are a couple more really big records on this album. It’s just such a wonderful artist package that I can’t believe it is going to begin and end with Get Lucky.”
In his conversation with OfficialCharts.com, Rodgers adds Get Lucky, which yesterday became the biggest selling single of 2013 so far, could be the most special Number 1 of his long career, coming in the wake of his diagnosis with cancer more than two years ago.
The legendary guitarist explains how the “lost Chic album” (as he describes it) features contributions from the late Bernard Edwards and gives early hints of the work he was later to do as co-producer and performer on David Bowie’s 1983 Let’s Dance album.
In the wake of Get Lucky, Nile Rodgers is also bringing his Chic line-up for headline gigs in the UK this summer, as well as appearances at Glastonbury and on the Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park line-up next month.
So Get Lucky is your sixth Number 1 in the UK. How does that feel?
“I am so honoured and completely blown away. It's an amazing thing to have happen. I'm honestly truly humbled, when I first heard about this, I was like are you kidding, Number 1? I'm truly honoured and thrilled.
“It is extraordinary. Whenever you work on music, whenever you write or produce, whatever I do, I always try and do the very best I can. You don't get it right every time, but every now and then it's right and it feels right.
“I don't want to sound corny, but sometimes it just feels cosmic and organic, the relationship between myself and Daft Punk was just so unbelievably right. So, the fact that it has gone to Number 1 is humbling, but at the same time not surprising. You know when something feels so perfect. The only barometer we get to judge things by are things like sales, you know something makes you feel good but you are not absolutely positive that it makes everyone else feel good. So this is pretty extraordinary and overwhelming to me.”
Get Lucky has had an incredible impact. Did it feel special when you were recording it?
“Holistically, it really did feel special. There is nothing about the experience of Get Lucky or Random Access Memories in general that was uncomfortable or anything like that. Everything was perfect, even to the point where that's the studio that we recorded Chic's first single in - Electric Lady, Jimi Hendrix's studio. I knew that studio before it was even a recording studio. When I was a child, I grew up in that neighbourhood, when it was a nightclub called Generation. When I walked into that studio, that was where I cut INXS's only Number 1 record Original Sin. I've cut tons of Number 1 records there.
“It was just so amazing to come home to Electric Lady and that's the cosmic part I'm trying to allude to. It really is that thing, that you go back to the studio where you cut your first hit record, you go back to a space that you knew before Hendrix even bought it, the place that you jammed, a place that I played in countless times as a kid. I walked into that same room over and over and over again. Then it becomes a recording studio that changes my life - and it continues to change my life even now. It's just too weird to just be coincidence.”
How does this current success with Daft Punk compare to the rest of your career highlights?
“I think this particular experience rates very high, because two years ago I was stricken with cancer just right out of the clear blue sky. I had no indication it was coming on, I was what is called asymptomatic and when they found it, it was diagnosed as incredibly aggressive. So I went from having no symptoms to ‘you can die any moment and you have to take this very seriously’. It just didn't make any sense, it was so completely insane. And from that moment I decided I was going to work as much as I could, play as many concerts, do as many records, because that's what I live for. I said to myself, if I had a reason to get up the next day, hopefully I'll get up the next day because I just love to do my job.
“Maybe this could feel more special than any other Number 1 record simply because of that. I was facing life and death issues and then to get something so rewarding as a Number 1 record is pretty amazing.”
Does your battle with cancer put Number 1 records into context?
“It really does. I have a statement I live by - the music never stops. And even though many of my partners have passed away, Bernard Edwards, Luther Vandross, Tony Thompson, from when Chic first started, when I was driving around this morning, I hit the radio and one of our songs came on. I had an ear to ear grin on my face and I thought, the guys are following me around. I said, ‘Guess what, another Number 1 record, man, unbelievable.’ So the music is timeless.
“And there is an added reward, because the sound of the record is retro, but still futuristic if you will. When we were doing the [Daft Punk] music videos, one of the kids who was dancing said, ‘We love this music, what do you call it?’ And I screamed out, ‘Disco!’ The whole place went ‘Yes!’ It was sort of funny in a strange way, because these are kids who were pretty young who weren't around when disco was happening.”
Are you surprised how influential your music and disco has become – especially when there was such a backlash against disco in the late '70s. Under the “disco sucks” campaign, people even came together to make bonfires out of disco albums.
“I’m completely surprised. I was surprised when they said that it sucked. I was so shocked that you could demonise an entire category of music like that. Of course there’s formulaic music in every genre. Are you telling me that when the ‘hair bands’ dominated rock and roll, that that wasn’t totally formulaic?
“Every genre has that type of thing, but with disco it was so vitriolic and hate-filled, it was shocking to me. I was like, ‘guys, this is music, this is art’. You don’t have to like it, that’s the whole point. Everyone has a different opinion. It seemed to me so racially motivated, so politically motivated, it was well beyond the music because I can guarantee you those people who were burning those records, they were guilty pleasures - half of them had to have them in the first place. They didn’t go and buy them to burn them. They had them at home.”
Does the fact that you music continues to be sampled today illustrate just how important the music you were making all those years ago was?
“Not only did it feel important to us at the time we were doing, it felt vital. We couldn’t live without what we were doing. We were drawn to the disco movement because it was open and inclusive. We were basically jazz fusion, R&B funk guys that had morphed into that because we were a rock band when we first started - but we couldn’t get a record deal because we were black. So we went into the jazz fusion area, because we thought that would be a little bit more open. But we still couldn’t get a record deal.
“Then when we started playing dance music, the very next thing we did made a lot of noise and netted us a record which went to Number 4 on the pop charts, so we went from complete obscurity to a Number 4 pop record."
And now you have a Number 1 single, and likely a Number 1 album this weekend. How did the Daft Punk collaboration come about?
“They basically came to my apartment in New York. We just talked conceptually about the record and music, which I thought was brilliant on their part because they didn’t want to do was paint me artistically into a corner. They didn’t want to say, ‘we’re going to do this or that’, or ‘we’re not going to do this or that.' They basically said 'we are going to make a record the way that records used to be made'. And I thought, well 'I certainly know how to do that'! And then when they said that to me, I started sharing secrets about how we used to make records in those days.
“And from that moment everything started to fall into place. They started to become incredibly inquisitive. I would tell them, no this is how you record that, you do this and do that first and you put this in the chain and you lay this down. You can hear in one of the collaborators videos, there’s a bit where Pharell is talking and you can hear me in the background mapping out the song on single note guitar. And when you put the mix together you can hear that single note guitar mapping is still in there. And that is the key to a lot of my ‘Nile Rodgers type’ of guitar parts. It’s two or three guitar parts at the same time, which is why I can never, really completely authentically replicate it when I’m playing live.”
The collaborative way Random Access Memories was recorded makes it sound is if you didn’t really hear the finished recordings until right at the end. Is that how it works?
“You pretty much hit the nail on the head. There was this concentrated period of writing and recording – very, very focused, fun, just music, music, music, music, music, music and a ton of ideas. Then they would take those ideas and take it to the next person and they get inspired and a bunch of music, music, music, music happens. And then it all gets put together and comes out as Get Lucky.”
What did you think when you finally heard the mixed recordings. It must have been like putting a film together – you only see the overall finished piece at the end. How was that?
“It’s amazing! It’s great that you compare it to a film because that’s exactly what it’s like. You put your heart and soul into every little thing you are doing as an actor, or whatever role u play, but you don’t see that until someone else pulls that together. So, you may do your absolute best job, but you don’t know all the other elements how they are going to fall in place. So you may flying at the highest high, but you are not really sure that it is all going to work out.
“They kept me informed of a lot of stuff that was going along, along the way, which was great. But, in a way I didn’t want to know too much, because the experience I had in the studio was wonderful and magical and if it never got any better than that, that would have been fine.
“Obviously, you always hope that the music you are making will do well, that people hear it and like it. But, I really go for the experience while I am recording, because that may be the best that ever happens. It may never get any better than that. So I try and make the recording process, the writing process, the conceptual process as much as fun as possible, because that may be it.”
Because of everything you have been through, it sounds as if you are enjoying your music now than ever before…
“I wouldn’t say ‘more’ than before, because music has always been vital to me. It’s always been the thing that has kept me going. As matter of fact, whenever I get down in the dumps, if I think about illness or anything, the first think I think about is well I got a guitar in that other room, I can always go over practice and start jamming. It always brings me back to being right side. And I say, as long as there is breath in my body and I wake up on this side of the dirt, everything is pretty good. As long as I have got music in my life. I’m terrified of the day when I won’t be able to create or play music. You have no idea how frightening that is to me.”
So, since recording the Daft Punk recordings, what have you been up?
If you looked at my career, I basically live in the record studio. And I have just finished a terrific record with a French artist called Etienne Daho. I have loved him for a long time.
“Last night I was working with David Guetta writing a song. It was unbelievable, we went until 2 in the morning, and Arthur Baker and Taylor Dayne popped by - it felt like it was if we were back in the '80s. And we laughed and said, ‘If this was the old days, we would take this rough mix and rush down to Paradise Garage and play it, see how it worked on the crowd before we finished the record.’
“I’ve been working with a super talented writer and producer Avicii. This guy is such a genius writer. We’ve already written three or four songs together and can’t get enough of each other. Oh and the absolute coolest thing is that I finally retrieved some music that I thought was lost, when I was getting my first solo record deal. Obviously, I had a lot of my Chic bandmates play on some songs that I was working on. So, I basically call it 'the lost Chic album', even though it’s really a Nile Rodgers record. Bernard Edwards, Tony Thompson, Alfa and Luci singing on it. They’re just demos, but they’re amazing. So now I get to jam with my best friends and I think that I’m going to complete these songs. They sound really good to me, after being tucked away in a vault for 35 years. I restored the tapes and they sound absolutely brilliant.”
That will be amazing to hear.
“What you really hear, if I finish this one song which is really cool, you can easily hear how Lets Dance was starting to evolve. In my autobiography, the closing line of the chapter when I mentioned meeting David Bowie, was that I had found the neighbourhood, but I hadn’t quite found the house. David Bowie helped me find the house.
“So, I was in this neighbourhood, I was looking for this groove but I hadn’t quite nailed it yet. And when I met Bowie, he listened to my fist solo album and he said to me if I could make a record half as good as that he’d be the happiest guy in the world. And on that solo album and some of these demos, you can hear that I was going for that staccato kind of groove that you can hear on Lets Dance. I hadn’t done anything kind of like that until Lets Dance but I was looking for it.
“There’s a very famous Chic song called Good Times. We had been looking for that walking bassline for years before we did Good Times. And we had tried it and tried it and it had never worked, until we did Good Times. “
You will be pleased to know that half of the Official Charts office has read your book [Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco and Destiny]. It really is amazing.
“Wow, that just makes me happier than anything. You just made my day. When you are in the pop business, you do stuff and you have hopes but you have no expectation. So I had a lot of hope but I didn’t really have any real expectations - I just wrote that book almost as a cleansing tool. So whenever I hear that someone read the book, it makes me really thrilled.
“Honestly, it was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, to give up those four years of my life to write that book. Of course I didn’t stop doing other stuff, I was writing while still maintaining my life, but my main focus for those four years was completing that book.”