Nile Rodgers on Chic's Long-Awaited New Album: 'It's Absolutely Coming This Year'
In 2015, Nile Rodgers and his legendary act Chic was supposed to release its first album since 1992. Dubbed It’s About Time, its title would turn out to be an ironic one considering it’s been delayed since, with sudden passings and medical issues getting in the way. From his disco smashes with Chic ("Le Freak," "Good Times") to collaborations with David Bowie ("Let's Dance") and Madonna ("Like a Virgin") in the '80s and the more recent Hot 100 No. 2 hit "Get Lucky" with Pharrell and Daft Punk, the upcoming album is meant to be a reflection of his unique and evolving career.
Rodgers has been busy as of late, from getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year up to this past Grammy weekend where, thanks to his collaboration with luxury watch company Bulova, Rodgers helped unveil an Anniversary Timepiece for the ceremony’s 60th year. Billboard caught up with Rodgers backstage where he elaborated on It’s About Time’s lengthy delay, what exactly to expect, and how the loss of a string of close collaborators made an impact on him both personally and creatively.
It’s About Time was originally supposed to be released way back in 2015. What’s with the delay? Is it happening?
It’s so happening and it’s happening soon, within the next few months. What happened originally is that I released a single in 2015, and obviously when you release the first single it’s designed to start the momentum of the album. The music business, singles are like a trailer for a movie. At least that’s how I’ve always viewed it, and my album is the ‘film.’ It felt great performing it in England so many times, where we had a great tour that year with Duran Duran, and wanted to wait until the first few weeks of the year in 2016. Then Bowie passed away days into the year, and I was like ‘Whoa.’
I understand the album touches on your epic career and people you’ve created with. How did your epic collaboration with David Bowie come about?
This album is not just a reflection of my life, it celebrates it. It celebrates my great relationships and the wonderful turning points I’ve had, and Bowie was maybe the biggest turning point. Even though (our collaboration) was the beginning of the '80s, it was still all happening from the momentum of the first wave of Chic. There was this moment of experimentation after the whole ‘disco sucks’ thing, and we really suffered from that and never had another hit after having two number one records in 1979 on the Billboard pop charts. It forced me to search. During that period of searching and reorganization, I happened to run into David Bowie during this process. At the time, I had never stopped making records; I was making them throughout that entire period but nothing hit. At the same time, David was making records throughout that entire period, but just nothing hit with him. There were traffic records and his fans liked his music and our fans liked our music, but we didn’t have enough to break through like my earlier records had done. But somehow when Bowie and I got together it was the perfect storm. It was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I get to do this?’ It was amazing. And then what happened was, a reactivation in my life.
You’ve had a few reactivations.
It was so important, from Bowie to INXS. I met INXS pretty much the same way I met Bowie, pretty much the same way I met Madonna, pretty much the same way I met Duran Duran -- out at a club somewhere and you run into the person, talk and they say ‘I like you,’ I say ‘I like you’ and boom, we’re doing a record.
I’m assuming that’s how the best collaborations occur: organically, instead of a label slapping two artists together.
Well, my best collaborations are like that. I only have a handful that are not a result of me bumping into a person and liking them. When I say a handful, I’ve done hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tracks and almost everyone is a result of me meeting someone and going, ‘Man, you're cool! Let’s do something.’ Almost every one.
You’ve had a close relationship with a variety of heavy hitters who all passed away in a relatively short period of time.
So many people passed away were so close to me. Chris Cornell, Prince, Bowie -- those three in particular were incredible, because the same year David passed away, we had a New Year's Eve show and Prince and Bon Jovi came to our show. Prince was there because he moved to the Turks and Caicos after I started living down there.
They came to see you or they performed?
They came to see me. Prince said he was going to perform but then he wanted to wait until the summertime. It was a lot of people that I’ve known from the beginning of the year up until recently it. Even Chris Cornell, we’d been friends for maybe four or five years and it was a really unique friendship. We never did any music together, but we’d go out and talked a lot. I’d go see him play a bunch of times.
That has to give you a new perspective on life in general. Aside from thinking differently on personal terms, did it spur new avenues creatively?
I guess so, because it made me reflect on how thankful I am, which can come off a little tricky in a song. Typically our songs are loaded with double entendres and you don’t know what we’re talking about if you look at the frontal message, and that’s fine with me. But when people see the secondary message, which is actually the more spiritual message, I really love it when people call me and say, ‘I dissected the song and I think it’s really about this.’ I had different things to say, and it really affected me.
So then the album was supposed to come out last year.
Well, then I’m on tour with Earth, Wind and Fire and everything is going great when all of the sudden out of the clear blue sky I get E.coli poisoning. They didn’t want to treat it until they knew it was E.coli, so in the process of doing the imaging testing they find cancer, and it was my second bout of cancer. The doctors made me promise not to do any work for a certain amount of time, and you can't release a record without doing all of the gigging and promotion, because what we want to do is have a lot of live events to coincide with its release. Want to go and play it for people since we’re still old school. But I couldn’t go against doctor's orders, so it was like ‘Come on, already.’
So now, finally, do you have a specific release date?
I don’t have a specific release date, but it’s absolutely coming this year.
100 percent. The reason I don’t have a specific release date right now is because we’re looking at visuals and concepts with different video directors. This album is sort of like a musical compendium, if you will. It really taught me a lot. It’s me saying, ‘This is how I got here, I’m so appreciative, it’s so fun, this is how we do it and this is what I believe in.’