Nile Rodgers was once a household name thanks to the mainstream success of his iconic disco group Chic and their multi-million-selling smashes "Le Freak" and "Good Times." When disco died, Rodgers didn't go away but simply stepped behind the curtain, helping shape classic albums by everyone from old Madonna to new Daft Punk.
In between, he produced hits for Diana Ross, David Bowie, B-52s, Duran Duran, Carly Simon, Sister Sledge, and the list goes all the way up to Swedish EDM star Avicii's upcoming album. But Rodgers work on Daft Punk's "Random Access Memories" album – including its song-of-the-summer "Get Lucky" and just-released follow-up single "Lose Yourself To Dance" – has got the producer's career once again partying like it's 1979.
When we call Rodgers at home, he's forgotten about our interview because he awoke at 5am and jumped right into the studio where he remained until our noon appointment. In between sandwich bites – he'd also forgotten to eat – he discussed returning to pop culture's dancefloor, what Daft Punk are like beneath their robot suits and bringing Chic back to the future.
So what were you working on?
This morning I'm working on one of my lost Chic tracks. I just got up all obsessed with it, just fooling around with it and getting to jam along with myself and my old bandmates was amazing. A little over a year ago, somebody from the Warner tape library got in contact and said 'I don’t think this stuff belongs to us.' When they sold the recording studio that Chic used to work at, The Power Station, everything that was labeled Chic just went to Warner. Long story short, I got a bunch of tapes back.
Did you know these songs were missing?
I forgot about them altogether.
Every now and then, somebody would remind me. The cool thing about the internet is somebody goes, "Hey, I bought this DVD or something and I heard this song, what is it" And I was like, "Oh, right, that's a song I wrote, I forgot about that."
Well, it's not like you have a short collection of credits.
I know, it's pretty insane.
Q&A continues after video slideshow
How does it feel to be this far past Chic's peak and be back to the top of the charts with Daft Punk?
It's an extraordinary thing. When I'm doing music, I always just try to have as much fun as possible, because I’m more aware than anybody that most music that comes out doesn't even recoup, let alone gets on the charts, let alone becomes a hit, let alone goes to number one.
I live in a world where I just wanna have as much fun making music as possible, 'cause that's maybe the greatest reward you're ever gonna get. You've seen my resume, I mean how many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs have I written and produced? I've had a lot of hits, but I've had to do hundreds to get those dozens, so to speak. So, all of those hundreds, I’m having a blast.
What was it like working with Daft Punk?
It's extraordinary to be part of the process, but – and I'm not trying to downplay it – the fact is that I just did what I normally do. That's my regular life. They called me up and said, "Hey man, you wanna come and play on a song?" That's how it started. I said "Sure, you know, why not?" I do this all the time, I play on songs all the time.
So they came over to my apartment and explained the sort of holistic concept about the record that they were working on, and then they hit me with a wonderful abstract directive, which was: "Act like the Internet never existed." That means that everything you play has to be a sort of workaround, like you're being held back by the technology, as opposed to being helped by it. That means your performance has to be pretty pristine, 'cause that’s what the record's gotta be.
So I concentrated on coming up with what I would consider a near perfect groove for whatever song we were working on – and then that one song turned into "Oh, wow, that was great, let's do another one!" And then we did another one, and they were like "Man, that was amazing, let's do another one!" I was like, "Dudes, I have another life." So we wound up doing three songs, but I had to get back to my normal life. We might still be recording in the studio if we just kept going.
You also did "Lose Yourself to Dance" and "Give Life Back to Music," both of which also hearken back to the disco days. Were you surprised they're hits in 2013?
I have so much respect for Daft Punk for them taking this huge risk because I think they felt somewhere in their heart that it was the right thing to do – but believe me, they were not sure, nobody is absolutely sure that it's gonna resonate with the public.
The public only ever sees them as robots. Are they just normal dudes?
For me, everybody is a normal – even the weirdest of the weird are normal to me. And they may say the same thing about me: "Nile is the weirdest guy we've ever worked with, but he's really normal to us."