On The Move
David Nathan talks to Nile Rodgers, co-founder of the fabulously successful Chic whose new album is being tipped as another world-beater
WITH no disrespect intended to our artistic colleagues, it's somewhat unusual to be able to conduct interviews at any time before 11.00am — and most don't start until 12.00! Irrelevant? Not really, because the energy and vitality that are at the core of Chic is symptomatic when we conduct our phone rap with group co-founder, co-leader, co-producer, co-writer and co-arranger Nile Rodgers.
It's 10.00am and the previous day, Nile was busy dealing with a photo session for the next Chic album and, he says, started "writing songs for some of our upcoming projects" the same evening. He has a full day ahead on the morning we call and the very next day, he's leaving with the group for what promises to be a marathon, spectacular four month nationwide tour which will actually conclude in Europe.
The answer to our first question is somewhat predictable. What have you been doing, we enquire gingerly. "Working real hard!" is Nile's jovial response. "We're in the midst of working on the third Chic album and this one is definitely going to be the best! Our single, "The Good Times" is out now and the album should follow in a couple of weeks. I can honestly say it's the most powerful, most artistic, most commercial album we've done — if that's possible!"
In more explicit terms, Nile states: "Harmonically, it's the most complex and yet melodically, it's the most simple. We've got "My Feet Keep Dancing" which is definitely going to be a biggie, "Warm Summer Night" which has a Latin feel, the uptempo "Forbidden Lover" and "You Fooled Around" and a real emotional gem, "When You Hear This Song, Will You Cry?" — naturally a ballad."
Nile could be forgiven for sounding confident about the prospects for succes for the group's third album — but anyone looking at the group's sales to date can hardly feel he's being conservative in his estimates. Chic's second album is double platinum and the singles from the album, "Le Freak", and "I Want Your Love" are respectively double and single platinum!
"I didn't believe "I Want Your Love" would do that well as a second single from the album but I'm delighted," states Nile. In fact, sources estimate that the third Chic album is likely to surpass all previous figures and reach stratospheric heights in platinum units — one comment intimated that quintiple platinum (5 million copies) wouldn't be impossible! Nile laughs: "We'll be quite happy if we can maintain the level we've reached, believe me!"
Chic's current nationwide tour is taking them more and more to outside venues, Nile reports. "We like to play anyway — but we've found that sometimes we haven't been getting the people who buy our records because white people won't come to 'black' shows and black people won't come to 'white' shows — which is all absurd. By playing outdoor concerts, in parks, we get everyone!
"Sure, we'll be doing selected indoor concerts too — we've got Roseland in New York during July and we will be part of the Kool Jazz Festival playing dates with different acts."
Amazingly, Chic will be finishing off their album whilst they are on the road! "Sure, it sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it's the only way we can get it all done. We finished rhythm tracks, backgrounds and sweetening (strings and horns) but we've got to add on the lead vocals whilst we're touring. It will mean flying tapes back and forth across country which is gonna be real nutsy!"
On top of that, the group will be preparing for their next upcoming projects with other acts. "We'll be doing the Sister Sledge album, a single on Norma Jean as a prelude to her next album and an album on a European artist, Sheila B. Devotion. Basically, we'll be writing the material between now and August and then we'll start recording during that month. It will mean flying back to New York as often as possible to complete the projects whilst we're still on the road but it's got to be done!"
All of which is what happens when you happen to be one of the hottest production teams around — which led us to enquire when exactly Nile and Bernard get to write the material for their own Chic album.
"We just took the time off and locked it up by going to the Bahamas, Miami and Los Angeles and getting away — it was the only way. But as you can see from the tour we've got to do, we can't exactly do that so we'll just have to do it in whatever spare moments we have!"
With the enormous success of Sister Sledge, we wondered who Nile and Bernard would like to work with as other projects. "There are three people in particular — Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Mick Jagger!" Interesting combinations, no doubt if the musical marriages can be arranged. But Nile feels confident that the team have proven their own musical integrity through their work thus far.
"For me, artistic fulfillment came when we did tracks like "Savoir Faire" and "Sao Paolo" because it allowed me to stretch out and do something different. That's why working with any of those three artists would be a challenge to our artistic capabilities."
Certainly, Chic have managed to combine art and commerciality in all their music. To what does Nile attribute the group's golden (or should it be platinum) touch?
"I really don't know!" is the initial response until he comments, "I think it's probably that we consciously respond to giving people music that's fun, that they like. If we thought we were doing a song that the people wouldn't like, we wouldn't do it!
"But staying in touch? Well, that's certainly not because we listen to the radio or buy records! In fact, we seldom do either. My record collection stretches mostly to people like Judy Garland, Cab Callaway and Fats Waller! Perhaps it's the element of fun that was in those people's music that comes through in ours. For instance, we start out the new album with the question, "Is everybody happy?" and that kind of reflects what we want our music to be: happy music for the people."
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.