Entertainment & Arts

Nile Rodgers: It's About Time

Nile Rodgers Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nile Rodgers says the new Chic album is about "time-travelling"

As a producer he's worked with artists as diverse as David Bowie, Disclosure, Madonna and Daft Punk, but now Chic's Nile Rodgers has his sights set on another hit record of his own.

Chic were responsible for some of Disco's most enduring hits: Le Freak, Everybody Dance, We Are Family and Good Times to name but a few.

And Nile Rodgers is confident he can recreate the dancefloor magic with the band's new track I'll Be There, their first single in 23 years.

"This is real disco," Rodgers tells the BBC. "This is our form of disco, which never sounded like Giorgio Moroder, never sounded like the Village People, never sounded like anyone else. Chic's disco was uniquely ours."

I'll Be There is the first track from the band's forthcoming album, It's About Time, which Rodgers is currently piecing together from a box of "lost Chic tapes" - featuring the original members of the band, of whom Rodgers is the only surviving member.

"I'm rather proud of it," says the musician. "It's music that no one's ever heard before. I wanted to make sure that the music we used was all original stuff, even though there was a riff that we had played before, I just wrote a song on top of it."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rodgers on stage at last year's Grammy Awards, collecting an award for Get Lucky with Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk

The single is a tribute to Rodgers' producing and song-writing partner, Bernard Edwards, who died in 1996 shortly after Chic came off stage from a gig in Japan.

In fact, the whole album is written as if he was "having a conversation with Bernard".

"Trying to explain that 'life has gone on and you woke up 20 years later and this is what the world is like,'" says Rodgers. "'So you have to view it through my lens and I have to view it through your lens.'"

'Deep hidden meaning'

Rodgers says writing the album was "emotional", but also "refreshing".

"I was purging, I was cleansing and I was having dialogue."

Unsurprisingly, given its title It's About Time, the album's "deep hidden meaning that every Chic song has" - is the passing of the years.

"Every song is about time. And time-travelling. Time defines everything - the quality of our relationships, the style of music that we're doing," says Rodgers.

And the 62-year-old is only too aware of how precious time can be. Back in 2010 he was told he had "extremely aggressive cancer" and, while he is now in remission, he has vowed to devote as much of the time he has left as possible to making music.

There's been no shortage of artists queuing up to share the studio with him. Having helped Daft Punk create one of 2013's biggest tracks, the Grammy Award-winning Get Lucky, he's since teamed up with artists including Disclosure, Sam Smith and Avicii.

Image caption Chic performed their legendary live show at Glastonbury in 2013
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Elton John and Rodgers at Elton's 2015 Oscars party

He says he's assembled a mind-blowing team to record the vocals on a four-part harmony song called Queen. Elton John, Miley Cyrus, Chaka Khan and Janelle Monae will feature on the "pretty lullaby", which we can expect to sound "like Crosby, Stills and Nash meets Chic".

The guest list includes some lesser-known names, too.

Rodgers has just written a track with Dutch producer Nicky Romero and Nervo - an Australian DJ and songwriting duo who are twin sisters - which is "absurd! So good it's crazy".

He calls another new song, with Irish-born, Manchester-based DJ and producer Krystal Klear and Steely Dan's Michael McDonald, 63, "ridiculous".

"With any composer, it's the stuff that you're working on right now that you like the most," admits the musician.

"I'm really proud of those tracks. And in the scope of [the album] it makes sense. You have a track that I wrote with Krystal Klear - Declan [Lennon] was like 20 years old - and Michael is probably older than me, but you hear it and it all makes sense."

Scheduled for a July release, the album should also feature "some stuff recorded in Sweden at Abba's studio Polar", which shut its doors in 2004 but counts Chic as "the official last band" to have graced its mixing desk.

'I'll be there'

Having produced stars from Sister Sledge to Duran Duran and been a regular at legendary New York club Studio 54, Rodgers is rarely short of an anecdote, but with such fascinating stories the name-dropping never feels ungracious.

There's the time he dreamt up the Diana Ross hit I'm Coming Out, after coming face-to face-with several transvestites dressed as the star in a nightclub toilet.

Or when he turned Bowie's Let's Dance from a folk song into the classic 1980s chart-topper.

He also revels in telling the story of how Elton John booked Chic for his annual Oscars party last month, then joined them on stage.

"Elton is awesome. I've played with Elton 20 times but I've never played with him in Chic - he was killing it. It was like, 'you should be in my band forever!' He was perfect."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Elton John and Miley Cyrus (left) will feature on a Chic track penned by Rodgers (centre), along with Chaka Khan and Janelle Monae (right)

The story that accompanies Rodgers' new single I'll Be There is tinged with sadness though.

"I have a lyric that says, 'I don't want to live in the past but it's a nice place to visit, and if you come along, I'll be there.'

"I'll be there are the first words that I said to Bernard when I actually realised that he was dead. My brain wouldn't accept the reality. I was screaming at him, I was shaking him.

"At that moment I broke down crying and said: 'Okay, I'll be there for you in death, the way you were there for me in life.'

"Now that's not to sound like this is a morbid dark song," he laughs. "This is a disco song and it's real happy."

Because of the track's "deep hidden meaning" Rodgers wanted to be sure he did something special to mark its release. As a self-confessed "science guy", he picked this Friday, 20 March, as the release date - coinciding with the vernal equinox, when we're set to have a partial solar eclipse.

The release even has its own hashtag, #CHIClipse. That night the band will also kick off their tour with the first of two dates at London's Roundhouse.

"I don't know what day any of my records came out, ever, but I'll remember this one for the rest of my life. Because people on their way to work in the morning, all of a sudden it's going to get dark! It's like, 'woah! What's going on?'.

"I wanted to do something that's memorable."

Chic featuring Nile Rodgers start a UK tour at London's Roundhouse on 20 March, and play the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park with Kylie and Grace Jones on 21 June.

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