An Afternoon With Nile Rodgers
Refreshed and reinvigorated
While Rodgers’ approach and style has gone in and out of fashion over the decades, there’s been a massive boost of interest in his work over the past year, with his contributions to Random Access Memories putting him in the spotlight again. Tong’s assertion at IMS was that Daft Punk called upon Rodgers’ experience, and in the process brought back an approach that had somewhat died in dance music. Real guitarists, real drummers, real everything.
“They came into my life, and brought me back to the world that I’ve always lived in,” Rodgers says of his work with Daft Punk.
And as it was succinctly put by Tong at IMS, “You’ve been fully embraced by the electronic community now.” It didn’t take long before Rodgers was spilling the beans on a wide host of collaborations he’s working on at the moment, with some of the names thrown around during the interview including Avicii, David Guetta, Disclosure and Chase and Status.
There might be a lot of animosity circulating about the ‘EDM’ phenomenon that’s blown up in the USA over the past few years, but this definitely isn’t reflected in Rodgers’ enthusiasm. In particular, he’s excited by his recent studio work with Avicii.
“My respect for him is just ridiculous. As a writer, as a partner, he allows me to be completely free in my ideas. You’d think he’d find it intimidating, but it’s exactly the opposite. He gets wrapped up in mixing it until 6am in the morning, where he’s there tearing it apart and making what I thought was crazy, into something really organised, wonderful, melodic and great. He’s probably one of my favourite songwriting partners in a long time, and that’s saying a lot.”
Talking about this work also led to some fascinating observations as to how Rodgers interacts with the continually evolving studio technology; considering that he’s a producer who largely still performs on his guitar. “It doesn’t change the way I compose, it changes the process in the studio,” Rodgers says of the technology. “When you see pictures of me and Avicii producing, he’s sitting there looking at a laptop, and I’m standing next to him playing riffs on a guitar. And then sometimes I’ll go through the console record right into his laptop,” he recalls.
“That process is really interesting, because imagine you’re playing with a partner, and he’s playing your part back to you? I can now even jam with myself. And what’s incredible about Avicii is that he’ll listen to audio files, in the same way that an artist looks at paint. It’s just another colour to him. I was playing a guitar part that I was sure was a funky lick, like in Get Lucky. And he made that shit the bassline! I was like whoa… I would have never have thought of that in a million years. So technology has changed the process… though I still play and compose on guitar or in my head.”
He also talked in-depth about his recent London studio sessions with Chase & Status. “We have enough material for two albums. Maybe three,” he confirmed. “What really kicked it off was they said, ‘let’s just start jamming’. I was like whoa, you just jumped into my world. We came up with a concept, and I said, let me just define the harmonic structure, and you guys can play the drum and bass over the top, which you do so unbelievably well… The next thing you know, we were recording everyday.”
When Rodgers was quizzed as to whether he listened to a lot of the new crossover dance acts like Disclosure, he quipped with a smile. “I’m gonna be working with Disclosure in a couple of days”. And some of the other revelations over the two hours was that he’s has been working in the studio with the prince of dance-pop himself David Guetta.
“The other day I wrote a groove with Guetta, and literally all I did was open my guitar case, the ideas started flowing and I was like ‘damn, turn on the recorder!’ And David went, ‘Whoa that’s incredible, that’s the most underground, cool thing I’ve ever heard. And I went, ‘Underground? David, that shit is pop,” he recalled, greeted by a roar of laughter from the audience.
Rodgers says it’s the collaborative process that continues to inspire him. “When you’re writing in the studio all by yourself, your ego can take over and you can think it’s great, just because you did it. But when you’re with somebody else who you respect, and they have input, it helps keep you right sized, and I think it helps you make better music, because that can help you take it to another level. Daft Punk certainly did a great job of doing that.”