Dance Hitmaker Fred Rister Details His Terminal Battle With Cancer & Emotional Last Single 'I Want A Miracle'
The Grammy-winner and longtime David Guetta collaborator has made the world dance for over three decades, and he's ready to do it one more time.
"I want a miracle, show me a sign/ 'Cause I don't feel ready now, to say goodbye." Those are the opening lyrics to Fred Rister's latest (and according to the artist, final) single "I Want A Miracle" alongside his career-spanning collaborators Sam Martin and Chris Willis.
Known best for iconic productions that have made the world dance for a generation -- Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling," Flo Rida's “Club Can’t Handle Me,” and "When Love Takes Over" with Kelly Rowland, among others -- Rister composed and produced almost all his celebrated gems with his great friend David Guetta. "That’s my greatest legacy in my work as a composer," he expresses of working with the French mega-producer.
Over the last 30 years, the Grammy-winning composer has battled cancer nine times, with countless remissions and relapses in between. "The one I am fighting this time around will be the last, since I know for sure; my days are numbered," he reveals.
Billboard Dance caught up with Rister, where he opened up about his emotional journey battling cancer, the power of still feeling alive and working with his longtime collaborators one final time.
After years of making the world dance, "I Want A Miracle" marks your final single. How are you feeling both artistically and emotionally?
The reason I’ve said this is my final single is because I’m afraid of death. If I were an artist touring around the world, it would be very complicated to deal with this situation, because of the exhaustion and physical pain that comes with it. As a composer, I have more flexibility. I spend a lot of time in my studio, searching for ideas for new songs, and I just stop when I don’t feel well.
Emotionally, it’s a bit of a roller coaster. I try to laugh as much as possible to keep me from thinking about the illness, but I also sometimes break down and cry. I don’t hold back, because I feel better afterwards.
The record is alongside your longtime friends and collaborators, Sam Martin and Chris Willis. What was a standout moment in the studio recording this song with them knowing it would be your last?
First of all, I want to thank, again and again, Mike Caren of APG & Warner Music Group. I really wanted to do this project with him. This was important to me; I’ve known Mike for so long. I sent him the song, and he immediately said “Yes! How can I help you?” He was amazing.
For this project, I wanted to work with my friends Sam Martin, Jason Evigan, and Chris Willis, because I love their work. I sent them the instrumental version, and they all said, “We love it! Let’s do it.” The recording sessions in the studio were spectacular, filled with deep emotions. I’ll never forget those sessions. We recorded in L.A. I wanted to fly Chris Willis out as well, but that turned out to be too complicated, so he recorded his vocals in his own studio. But I was working on this song always thinking this was not my last song.
If fans don't know, this is your last single because you are battling cancer. What has your personal journey been like from the time of diagnosis until now?
I was very sad, but I would always tell myself I was going to make it. Music has to be stronger than illness, whenever possible. I’ve overcome all my cancers up to now. Every time I’d go to the hospital for an operation, I would wake up after the procedure and tell myself, “I’ve made it, I’m still alive,” and all I would want to do is leave the hospital and go back to the studio to work.
This time around, the cancer I have is irreversible. The doctors told me I would need daily chemotherapy pills to survive, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. I followed the treatment for two years, and the tumors disappeared. As soon as I stopped the treatment, all the tumors returned a few months later.
If you don't mind me asking, what stage or process of the fight are you currently in?
I decided to stop all treatments about a year ago, to be able to lead a normal life, although I knew it would be a shorter one. I couldn’t stand the side effects anymore. It was a nightmare. I’m still alive, and I have no side effects. It’s a difficult situation, for my family and friends, as well as for me. You have to live through it to understand it. I try to stay positive, but it’s not always easy.
What was the moment that made you put music to the side? I can't even imagine how tough of a conversation that is to have with yourself.
I never really put music aside. Your head says “yes,” but your body says “no.” I didn’t want to have to step away from my keyboard, but sometimes after 30 minutes, I’d be exhausted to the point of falling asleep. I’d wanted to compose a song and donate all proceeds to cancer research for a long time, but I always told myself I would tackle it later.
I thought about it really hard before I decided to stop all medical treatments. I spoke about it with my wife, who said she would respect my decision. That’s when I finally got to work on and finish “I Want a Miracle.” For me, the miracle would be to cure this cancer without any medical treatment.
You'll be donating the track's proceeds from streaming and sales to cancer research, even partnering with Kidney Cancer Association. Will you be incorporating music therapy into your charitable and educational efforts?
Donating all proceeds from this song to cancer research is my way of helping the researchers try and find a solution to fight this terrible disease that has been killing millions of people throughout the world for decades. Music therapy is very effective when you’re sick, and not only for cancer. It can’t replace chemo or other medical treatments, but the benefits of music are exceptional and powerful: it soothes us, and can make us cry or relive good memories.
Cancer is a beast that affects many of us and the ones we love. Although you're suffering a terminal illness, what practices/rituals have you implemented on a daily basis?
I am terminally ill because I’ve decided to stop all medical treatments, to avoid all side effects. The human body is not designed to receive chemotherapy every day until you die. But I’m still standing and alive. All the medical treatments I’ve had during my previous cancers have enabled me to gain years of life. Being in the studio, composing songs, also helps me stay positive and forget I’m sick. I also do a lot of sophrology. I close my eyes and reminisce [about] beautiful moments of my life. It works well, even if it’s not for everyone.
While the single may be a farewell to your productions for now, what's been the proudest moment or aspect of your legacy throughout your illustrious career?
A farewell? I don’t want to believe it, even if one must acknowledge that that is the reality. I’ve been working with David Guetta for 12 years. Together we’ve composed songs that have become hits: “Love Is Gone” featuring Chris Willis, “When Love Takes Over” featuring Kelly Rowland, “Without You” featuring Usher, “I Gotta Feeling” for the Black Eyed Peas, “Club Can’t Handle Me” for Flo Rida, “Who’s That Chick” with Rihanna and so many others!
I’m proud of our work. All these magic hours spent in the studio or around the world, creating music, giving the best of us. David is like a brother to me, it’s a blessing to work with him, he’s such a huge star! That’s my greatest legacy in my work as a composer.
All proceeds from “I Want A Miracle” will be donated to the Kidney Cancer Association, with whom Rister's physician, Dr. Escudier, from the Gustave Roussy Institute, is affiliated. Listen to the track below and purchase it here.