|David Bowie, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Nile Rodgers|
"I walked in with Billy Idol at about 6am and Billy went "Fuckin 'ell, That's David Bowieeerrrrghh' and just vomited everywhere."
Click here to read Part I
Chic, Madonna, David Bowie, Diana Ross: name the legend and Nile Rodgers has probably worked with them. The most positive man in pop continues his chat with The G-Man below.
The G-Man: You've worked on soundtracks for eighties classics such as Gremlins and Coming to America: what is it that fascinates you about the movie world?
Nile Rodgers: I've never had a manager in my life so I got those films because the directors heard something about me and decided they wanted me and just tracked me down. I always wonder what would my career be like if I actually had a manager and somebody was getting big records and big films for me. Would I have done Celine Dion and Whitney Houston records 'cause everything I've done I've done on my own; Every record I've ever produced was because I met [the artist personally]: Bowie and Madonna in nightclubs, I met Duran Duran hanging out backstage opening for Blondie, I met INXS when I was visiting Hall & Oats. I mean everything I've done, I've done on my own. There was nobody in the background saying 'We should have lunch and my guy should meet your guy and this and that and so and so'.
As a matter of fact, those type of unions I almost turn them down unilaterally. I was introduced to The Rolling Stones by the record company and I didn't do the record. I wound up doing a Mick Jagger record later on because I met Mick. He and I became friends and I did that record just because he and I chose to do it. I've never had representation where a person is out getting records for me. I worked on Adam Lambert's record. I don't know if you know who he is but he's the American Idol guy and his record entered the American charts at number one and he's the first openly gay male to have a number one pop album. And I met him online! A great guy named Sam Sparro - who did a great record a couple of years ago, 'Black & Gold' - called me up and said 'Nile we got this funky track we'd like you to play on it' and that's all I need to hear. You got a funky track and you want me to play on it? Ok Cool, no problem!
Wow...would you say because it's more of an evolving organic friendship rather than plain old work there is a lot of friction removed from the equation?
Yeah, it's true because anytime that I've been sort of thrown in with the person it's never worked. Even though I got a Grammy with Jeff Beck and Record of the Year and all that stuff, the truth is that Jeff Beck was one of those meetings that wasn't organic. It didn't have that thing that Bowie had or Duran Duran had or records where I met people just naturally.
Now, the only person I've ever pursued in my life was Peter Gabriel. I've done maybe four or five different projects with Peter - in fact you mentioned one of them, Gremlins - and we never really got what I would consider a hit and Peter never blames it on me whereas most artists if I work with them and they don't get a hit, it's always my fault. I say 'You know Peter, it's weird. We've done so much work together and we've never had a hit' and you know what he says to me? He says 'That's because I never wrote a song that was great enough to be a hit with you'. He never blames it on me; He never says 'I don't want Nile to produce my records na na na', he doesn't do that whereas typically, if someone doesn't get a hit, it's ALWAYS my fault and if they get a hit, it's neeever because of me!(laughs). Believe me, I'm totally not complaining, it's just the nature of the beast.
That's amazing to hear Peter Gabriel's perspective.
He's a true gentleman. I know Keith Richards, Johnny Marr, Alison Moyet, Bowie: they're always anti-star stars, stars that are just wonderful people. David Bowie and I can sit down and talk about anything other than music for hours and hours and have the time of our lives. We can sit down and have a glass of tea and talk about anything in the world, is the universe shrinking or expanding, whatever and it's just wonderful. He's not preoccupied with being David Bowie.
Madonna - who I absolutely adore, I almost worship the ground she walks on because of her work ethic. Madonna was so driven that it actually used to make me feel uncomfortable. I used to think that nobody works harder than me...except her. She was just so charming and wonderful. Now I don't know if I'll ever hear the real story of who Madonna really is because she's become the perfect promotion machine, (which is a good thing in show-business don't get me wrong). It's just, as a super Madonna fan. I'm going 'Madonna, you're like the coolest person in the world'. If there's one person who has to walk this earth who doesn't have to prove to us that she's cool it's Madonna.
And when you were in the studio with Madonna, because of that work ethic, were you ever at loggerheads?
Yeah, that's normal that's my job. My job is to fight for my position and the artist's job is to fight for their position and somewhere in the middle of that becomes the great piece of work.
Madonna and I basically got along wonderfully but our big argument was over 'Like a Virgin' and 'Material Girl'. I said to her 'Material Girl' is a ten times better record than 'Like a Virgin' and she said 'That's because you don't know anything about being a woman losing your virginity.'
I said she was right about that (chuckles) but I certainly know great songs when I hear them. We went on this quest to prove each other wrong. In the end of course it's her record and it's going to be whatever she says but I played her record for this friend of mine who worked for Bette Midler and as soon as I played the record the woman looked and me and says 'Oh my God this record is going to number one for about six weeks'. This is a person whose opinion I highly regard and I just stopped fighting Madonna. This is something I don't get but I'm going to make the record as great as I can make it and we'll see where the chips fall. We made the record and Madonna was right. (short pause) Material girl is still a better song though!(laughs)
I'll trust you, Nile! David Bowie before that was a bit of a watershed album for you. How did you feel when he rang you up or was it just that you met on the night or whatever?
He and I met in an nightclub in an afterhours club. He was sitting there all by himself no bodyguard, no bullshit, nothing. By himself drinking orange juice in one of the coolest clubs in New York called The Continental which only opens at 5am. I walked in with Billy Idol, both of us pretty drunk at about 6am and Billy went (complete with highly entertaining impression of a British accent) "Fuckin 'ell, That's David Bowieeerrrrghh' and just vomited everywhere without breaking his stride. By the time he recovered and wiped his mouth I was already over talking to David about friends who lived in the same building like Luther Vandross, Carlos Alomar and all the young americans who I had known since they were kids and we were all on Sesame Street together. We started chatting and he told me about his love of jazz and from that moment on David and I were attached at the hip. In a matter of days he was calling me and I was flying to Switzerland.
What was it the two of you found in each other that turned out to be such a good partnership?
I think it was the love of jazz that sort of bonded us because we didn't talk about rock 'n' roll, we just talked about jazz in the middle of this weird club. That was the beginning of the sort of club-kids movement. It was the early 80s so everybody had pink hair and were half naked or they would have picture frames around their necks. It was really a cross between Donna-ism and theatre of the absurd. I mean it was just ridiculous and Bowie looked like the most normal guy in the place because I was pretty weird myself. He and I talked about jazz and when we finally made the record Let's Dance we had basically listened to tonnes and tonnes of jazz records.
As a matter of fact, with the song 'Lets Dance' we had been listening to Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn soundtrack going 'Baaa, baaa BA BO BA BO BA BO BA BO'. 'Let's Dance' goes 'Let's dance bip bip bip du don don don bip bip bip' and then I steal this line exactly 'BA BO BA BO BA BO'. I stole that right from Peter Gunn, note for note exactly (laughs). Because of my arranging and jazz background I was able to superimpose it and make it sound right. I mean when David heard me go 'Ba bo ba bo ba bo' knowing I lifted it right from Peter Gunne, he laughed his ass off. He was like 'That is brilliant'. That was before sampling and we weren't the kind of guys that would really sample; It was different - we come from a different school. What is it they say? Good composers borrow, great composers steal.(chuckles).
Jumping back to the present, your jamming sessions with Daft Punk sounded like a hell of a party. How do you constantly recreate yourself?
There is no recreation it's just who I am. There is constant musical chatter going on in my head and I'm never at a loss for a motif or riff to play because all I have to do is pick one. They are all in my head just sitting around. It's like I have musical schizophrenia and those voices don't tell me to do anything bad, at least not bad in the traditional sense-it might be bad in the musical sense but its not like the Son of Sam, it's not like a dog saying 'kill kill'. It's why girlfriends have always found it difficult to live with me because I must have the television on 24/7 to drown out the din of music that's playing in my head. She either lives in a different house that I own or a different bedroom. because I go to sleep in a brightly lit loud noisy room.
You've such an inspiring positive outlook on life do you have any fears concerning the future of music considering kids these days are surrounded by an eagerness for fame over talent everywhere or do you feel a diamond is always going to shine out of the rough?
Technology is always changing everything but art and music is an absolute necessity, we can't live without it. Musicians have always been traditionally been poor. We only started to become relatively well-off in the modern era. In the old days musicians and artists created because they were working for popes. Basically you did the job you were commissioned to do. You were poor and if that pope or that king or that benefactor died you were back on the streets and that's the life we lead. I just do this because I love it.
Life has taken you on all these adventures and twists and turns. Do you ever long for the quiet life or do you feel that this road was decided for you and you have no choice?
There's nothing quiet about my life because there's music always going on in my head. Maybe I have quiet moments on airplanes but that's about it. There's always a din either playing inside or outside of me that I recognise and I listen to it and try to grab a pattern out of it. Like if I hear air conditioning if I hear white noise or pink noise or the waves breaking on the ocean I always start composing, I can't help it.
Thanks again for your time Nile. Looking forward to seeing you at Liss Ard.
Please come back and say hello!
- Nile Rodgers and Chic play Liss Ard 2012, Saturday 4th August
- Liss Ard takes place in Skibberreen, 4th-5th August, 2012
- Visit www.lissardfestival.com for more details
- Nile Rodgers and Chic also play Button Factory (Dublin), Thursday 2nd August