Life and death circumstances have been responsible for delays in Chic‘s next album, but Nile Rodgers sees a release of It’s About Time, the group’s first new album since 1992, looming sooner rather than later.
“I’m trying to come up with the exact right date that artistically and spiritually fits the narrative of the album,” Rodgers, recipient of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Award for Musical Excellence this year, tells Billboard. That narrative has changed during the past few years, however, as Rodgers has been immersed in making the album.
Six years ago, the artist-producer was diagnosed with “extremely aggressive” prostate cancer, which set an initial tone for what Chic would do next. “I wanted to make a record that shows what you do with the time you have left, or what you do with the time you spent on this Earth,” Rodgers recalls. “Of course, that’s my inner story. The outer story to people could be funny; It could be, ‘Jesus Christ, it’s about time you put out a record!’ But the deep hidden meaning for the record, for me, was, ‘What do I do with the time I have left on this Earth?'”
Rodgers’ subsequent recovery changed the music’s course. “Everything changed,” he says. “My frame of mind changed. I became more positive, and the record got super-positive. It became this really fun, celebratory record, which is what Chic records are about.” Then other events — notably the deaths of friends such as David Bowie and Prince — spun Rodgers in yet another direction; he even decided to can a “sort of really cute little ditty” called “Prince Said It” because “it felt like the wrong thing to do after he passed away, even though it’s a great song.”
Rodgers still hasn’t determined a final date for It’s About Time‘s release, and he’s combing through “so many songs” that he’s worked on — including collaborations with Lady Gaga, Elton John, Miguel, Janelle Monáe, Disclosure and Anderson.Paak, among others. “I’ve been doing this one album for such a long time,” Rodgers acknowledges. “It’s very reminiscent of Daft Punk‘s last album [Random Access Memories] that I worked on. They had been working on it for eight years before I walked into the studio and we did ‘Get Lucky.’ But this record has to be true to the story arc that is Chic, even though times have changed.”
Rodgers is not planning to preview any of the new material when Chic hits the road July 12 for a summer tour with Earth, Wind & Fire — “It would be wrong or us to do that and not play a whole bunch of hits,” he explains — but he is excited about being out with his old friends.
“First of all, we as people love and respect each other so much,” says Rodgers, who co-produced EWF singer Philip Bailey‘s Inside Out in 1986. “Last year we played together and the vibe was so magical; it was pouring rain and nobody left, you just saw thousands of dancing umbrellas and ponchos. And we were like, ‘Whoa, we gotta do this all the time ’cause this is incredible!’ So Philip came up with the concept of celebrating the 40th anniversary of Studio 54, and to just basically think of our Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire tour as a big, gigantic disco party. It’s gonna be great.”