Nile Rodgers is one of the hardest working musicians in the industry, racking up hit after hit with Chic as well as producing some of the most iconic artists of the last 40 years. Never seeming to lose touch, Nile has continued to collaborate with some of the most relevant artists of recent years. From David Bowie to Daft Punk, Rodgers brings a unique charisma to every track he records.

Obviously, Nile knows the importance of collaboration in the music industry and owes a lot to the artists that he has worked with over the years. Now, American Express is offering the chance to work one-on-one with Nile in their “Backed By” Initiative, which you can enter here (from June 12th – 25th). I talked to Nile about the initiative and some of his biggest career moments.


So, you’ve had an amazing last few years to say the least and you are promising an even bigger 2018. One of these big plans is this “Backed By” initiative. Can you explain what the winner is offered?

I’m not sure how crazy it might get. But certainly, at the starting level they’ll be with me here at Abbey Road. They’ll actually go on the road with me. I don’t know how many concerts and how many locations, but they’ll sit in on sessions and I’m believing they’ll be recording their own original material as well. That’s the thing we’re interested in, people who are passionate, people who are talented and skilled and really want to take it to the next level, really amplifying their message.

How’d you get involved in the initiative?

I believe it’s an offshoot of something that they had already started in the states. I had not seen the campaign in the states, but it just felt really fresh. I thought, "this was a really cool idea." I know that my career has been helped tremendously by other people backing me and just giving me so much knowledge. That I didn’t realise how it important it was until after the fact. You know once I was able to retrospectively sort of do a forensic check and say 'wow', had It not been with that person who taught me this I wouldn’t have been able to do that, this person introduced me to that one, this person actually showed me how to do this very specific part of recording that I still use to this very day. I can’t even tell you how many people have done this for me.

What do you tend to look for in a collaborator?

Passion is the main thing, because if a person is passionate and dedicated, somehow, I truly believe that’s what makes a real artist. The difference between being a techni-craft and an artist is something that I feel. I can tell when a person is good at what they do, a natural gift, but they don’t have the drive to really tell me the story. I’ll give you an example. When I first met Madonna, I didn’t think that she was extremely gifted per say as a vocalist. But that was the first time I saw her, after meeting with her two or three times, I thought to myself she might be one of the best artists I’ve ever met. Why did I believe that? Because her dedication was unlike anything I’ve experienced at that time. Meanwhile, I had already worked with Bowie, Duran Duran, INXS, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and Chic, but Madonna had something that was just almost off the charts. She really wanted to convey her message.

I remember saying to someone we were watching Madonna perform at the very first MTV awards. I was producing Mick Jagger at the time he was a friend of Jaggers and he goes, “Nile she’s all style and no substance “ and I looked at the guy and said “Style in Rock ‘n’ Roll, in the arts, is substance and that’s what we want” and even said to him “I wish you had half her style and then I could make a multi-platinum record with you” and to prove my point Madonna’s the biggest selling record of my life.

You have the long list of collaborators, is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you’d still like to?

I don’t actually think of it consciously, but I absolutely know they’ll come along. Because that’s how my life is, almost everyone I’ve worked with. 95% of the people are people I’ve happened to run into and we form some kind of bond right there on the spot and that turns into a project. Rarely am I called by someone that I don’t know. I’m not that guy. I always laugh and say, “Isn’t it strange that I’ve had so many hits, but no one ever calls me to do Beyoncé, when she’s happening. I didn’t get Madonna when she was happening. I got Madonna at the beginning of her career. I took Sister Sledge because I was offered the Rolling Stones, who were The Rolling Stones, but I also knew that I was quite opinionated about what I would have the Rolling Stones do. I couldn’t imagine at the early point in my career telling Keith Richards what to play on guitar.

You recently talked about your sessions with Daft Punk being a big turning point in your career, is there any other huge turning points you can recall?

That was big, but that wasn’t nearly as big as Bowie or as Diana Ross. Diana Ross was the first artist I ever worked with, so obviously that was a massive turning point. Sister Sledge was really huge because they were unknown. So, we took someone who was unknown and made one of the most important records of my career, We are Family. That album is pound-for-pound my best work. But if you just single out ‘We are Family,’ that alone is something I know will outlive me. It will become like ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ where kids will be singing that forever.

Nile went on to speak on the versatility of his career.

It’s really interesting, the other day this journalist pointed out something that made me feel great, but I had never thought of it. He played about 20 of my songs and asked: “Nile, what’s the one thing you notice” I didn’t really understand the point he was trying to make but he said, “none of them sound similar” he said. ‘Let’s Dance’ doesn’t sound anything like ‘He’s The Greatest Dancer.’ Even though so many of them have dance in the title. He said, "'Everybody Dance’ doesn’t sound like ‘Dance Dance Dance." They're all uniquely different types of compositions. When I sat there and analysed them technically I said, “Yeah you’re right” Something like Diana Ross’ ‘Upside Down’ is a very simple modulation from major to minor, but we make it sound complicated by doing a chromatic movement, up 3 semitones just to get to minor. By having that chromatic movement, it makes it interesting. These are technical things I’m thinking about at the time. I’m not consciously trying to make it different from any song I’ve done, I’m just trying to make any song as interesting as possible and to make to the story have a real beginning middle and end.

You have an incredible live reputation, in recent years playing sets at Coachella, Glastonbury, Bestival. How do you constantly keep live performances interesting for the audience and yourself?

Because we’re a completely live band, every show is different. We can do the same songs, but they’ll never sound alike. I’ve never played ‘Le Freak’ the same way twice. There’s a funny video online where I’m hearing ‘Get Lucky’ for the first time after it had become a record. I think it was Pete Tong who gives me a guitar and asks If I want to play along with him. I say sure, but I look like a deer in caught in the high beam of headlights. I’m stunned. Someone screamed out from the back of the room which was a big auditorium “It’s just four chords”. He couldn’t understand why I couldn’t play it. I looked at the guy and said, “That’s what you hear, you just hear 4 chords?” No wonder why people try and cover my songs they sound ridiculous to me. Because it's all the passing chords and the voice leading patterns within the four chords that makes the part. So, they just hear the regular parts for the guitar play. I’m hearing the patterns I’m playing and I’m like “Jesus! Give me a minute to figure this out.” You can see it, I’m completely perplexed, dumbfounded but after about five minutes I did it and I’m jamming along with the track. Of course, I know it’s four chords. Of course, I know the basic harmonic structure but it’s the interpretation of that harmonic structure that makes the guitar structure interesting to me.

That’s probably why there were so many dry, boring covers of 'Get Lucky' popping up on the internet when it came out.

Oh, it kills me. When I see cover bands try and play ‘Le Freak/ and I think, “that’s what you think the guitar part is?”. But I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable so I always let them play it. The other day they were giving me a big award and it was an incredible tribute. I felt incredible humility because it was a huge honour but then came time for the band to play my songs. I was so embarrassed, they were butchering the songs. They were playing everyone else’s songs relatively easy. Even though those other songs were complicated, but it’s the guitar movement that makes it more complicated. Someone pointed out that every record I produce I play on. Even if there’s two guitar players in the band, when I produce, there’s 3 guitar players in the band.

Do you have a favourite live venue or festival to play?

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite, they are all fun and challenging in different ways. A couple of months ago we played Coachella for the first time. It was challenging because America’s got this new wacky anti-immigration policy and the two acts who were supposed to play before us, they wouldn’t even let them come into the country. So, I’m in the rock n roll hall of fame and have sold countless records but I had to be an opening act in the middle of the afternoon. So, when we went out on stage there were only 40 people. Somebody filmed it and it started out as 40 but by the third song we had 120 thousand people and somebody thought we had staged that. Do you think we’re that clever? People come in when they’re gonna come in. We were the opening act at Coachella on the day Beyoncé was playing. But it wound up being amazing. It was so good because you watched it grow and it almost looked like time-lapse photography. It was like pouring water out of a picture into a glass and it filled up right in front of our eyes. It’s so funny that people would think it was staged. Do you think we’d want to walk out in front of forty people? But we’d play for forty like we would 40 thousand. For those forty, it was still our best show.

It was just announced that your new album It’s About Time is being released in September. How’s it been getting back in the studio with Chic after so long?

It’s wonderful. I’ve been recording this project for a very very long time and it’s not because I didn’t have the material. It because I look at albums as films. To me, an album is basically the world I see it at that moment in time. Even if it’s looking at it through a historical lens, I can look at history as if it’s current events. Every song I’ve ever written no matter what it may sound like to a person, it’s actually non-fiction, its all based on reality. On ‘Le Freak’ It started out a “fuck off” because they wouldn’t let us in studio 54 one night even though Grace Jones had invited us. So, the doorman said “Ahh Fuck off” so we went home and wrote that into a song. After we changed the lyrics to “Ahh Freak Out”. It wound up being the biggest song of my life.

There’s been a wave of disco revivalism in Indie and Electronic music recently, has this and your own recent collaborations affected the recording process of this album?

Of course, because I haven’t stopped recording. I only ever stopped recording for about 8 months when I went to drug rehab almost 24 years ago. The person who got me back into the music business was Michael Jackson. He called me up to work on an album History and I kept telling him no, the last place I wanted to be was in a recording studio. But he didn’t take no for an answer, we had been friends since 1973 and he talked me into coming to work on the album. I got into the studio and all of sudden I wasn’t afraid anymore. I didn’t think Just because I was in a recording studio I was gonna do drugs and drink. I did what Michael wanted me to play but he mainly wanted me to talk because he was looking for a friend. This was probably when he was going through all the weird stuff in his life. After Michael got me back into the studio, a friend passed away and we had to play his memorial. So, I had two events back-to-back that I couldn’t turn down. It made me remember this is what I wanted to do. Ever since then I’ve been recording almost every single day.

Nile Rodgers will be touring the U.K and Europe for the next few months. His new album It’s About Time - which features Anderson Paak, Disclosure, Craig David and many more - will be released September 7th on Virgin EMI.