If you’ve listened to the radio in the past week, chances are, you’ve heard a Nile Rodgers song–and probably more than one. Besides co-writing and playing guitar on Daft Punk’s internationally chart-annihilating hit, “Get Lucky,” Rodgers has produced so many number one singles and albums in the last 30-plus years that his music and influence are inescapable. (A short list of the artists he’s worked with: Madonna, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, and his own band Chic, responsible for some of the most iconic dance tunes of the disco era.) This evening, he’s teaming up with hip-hop artist Q-Tip at two NYC events. The first is a small fundraiser co-hosted by Rodgers’ We Are Family Foundation at Cipriani’s, and the second (open to the public) is a gig at Output in Williamsburg, where Q-Tip and DJ Spinna will do a DJ tribute to Rodgers’ music, and Rodgers will perform on guitar.
Over the phone on Monday night, we spoke with Rodgers about the “Deep Hidden Meaning” of “Get Lucky,” his lifelong insomnia, and his Broadway-style musical (yes, you read that right) Double Time.
I’m curious about this philosophy that you have: “Deep Hidden Meaning,” or “DHM.” In your autobiography, you describe it as “understanding the song’s DNA and seeing it from many angles.” It seems to be the secret ingredient in all of your hits. Could you elaborate on that a little more?
It’s what I call understanding a song’s core truth. Once you understand its core truth, then you know when you’re telling the story or not, whether you’re telling the truth or lying. When I produce records, I always say that I make a record the same way you drive a car. You look down the road, and if the car is going straight, you don’t have to steer. So, if you know what you’re doing, you know that you’re headed in the right direction. But if you don’t know what the song’s core truth is, you don’t know when you’re violating its reality.
What would you say the Deep Hidden Meaning of “Get Lucky” is?
Well, it wasn’t even that deep. [Laughs.] It was how it all came together…I had met [Daft Punk] 16 years prior. It was, instantly, mutual admiration society because they had this great song, “Da Funk”, on their first record. I loved it a lot, and when we met, they told me how much they loved [my band] Chic and how influenced by Chic their music is… We tried to get together after that on two subsequent occasions, and it didn’t work out, for whatever reason. And it’s probably good that it didn’t work out because, by the time it did work out, they had already done the Tron soundtrack, and that was the first time they had ever gone into the studio with people–with real, live, human beings–and worked on a record. So [for this album] they’d decided they’d do a Daft Punk album, but now they would use humans.
One of the people who was interested in working with them was Pharrell Williams. They finally got together when Pharrell was in Paris, and they asked him, “What are you working on right now?”.He said, “Well, I’m actually working on these Nile Rodgers type of grooves.” And the guys from Daft Punk looked at each other and said, “Really? Well, listen to this.” And I had already written with them. I had already recorded. So [Pharrell] got lucky. He didn’t have to work on [the Nile Rodgers grooves] because, there it was. They just gave it right to him.So, in the case of the song “Get Lucky,” it was really perfect. I mean, it was one of those situations where everybody got lucky.
I’ve heard that you’ve written a musical called Double Time. Where is that in the development process?
I love that you brought it up because I just emailed [the book writer, John Walch] a little while ago saying how much I love it, how much I understand it and understand the characters.
I so believe in the show. I think it’s going to be a monster. People love the songs. Every reading we’ve had, people have been cracking up. We got a 20-minute standing ovation in Alabama at the Shakespeare Festival. They told us that they had never had a 20-minute standing ovation for anything.
You’ve been so prolific, yet you’re kind of an insomniac, right?
When I was younger, that’s what they sort of thought it was, but because I was always able to function, they didn’t really say that it was insomnia. They just said that I required less sleep. But it’s weird. Every now and then I do sleep, but it’s not a normal thing…I could exist many, many days and not sleep but an hour or a half hour.