By Brian Ives
Every time I interview Nile Rodgers, I’m amazed by how quickly the time goes by, and that I only get to a fraction of my questions. There are always new things to discover about his incredible history: there’s always another story about working with Diana Ross or David Bowie or Madonna or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
But the man always has a ton of projects going on, and that’s more true now than ever. Since returning to the zeitgeist via his collaborations with Daft Punk on their GRAMMY winning Random Access Memories album, he’s been busier than ever, having spent time in the studio with country, EDM and pop artists.
We spoke to him about all of his upcoming projects, including the Freak Out Let’s Dance Festival, taking place in Riverhead, New York on August 4-5. Rodgers is the curator and will perform with Chic; other acts on the bill include Beck, Duran Duran, Q-Tip, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Chaka Khan and Keith Urban, among others. (Buy tickets here)
Then, there’s also the next Chic album, which will be their first since 1992. The album has been in the works since 2010, when Rodgers got a box of tapes with unfinished Chic sessions, featuring now-deceased members of the group, including basssist Bernard Edwards and one-time singer Luther Vandross. Those tapes made up the nucleus of the album, which doesn’t have a release date yet.
We talked to him about all of the above, as well as his relationship with Duran Duran, his love of Nashville and country music, his love of ’60s psychedelic music, and that time he produced Bob Dylan covering Johnny Cash. But first, there’s the matter of his health: Rodgers is a cancer survivor, who wrote about his experiences in his Planet C blog.
How are you feeling today?
I actually feel great. Music seems to be my therapy. Because I’m so ensconced, or drowning, in musical projects right now. These deadlines give me energy. I have to do this, so I don’t let people down. I just finished Duran Duran’s album, I’m going in with Beck, I’m in right now with Keith Urban, Paloma Faith, I just finished with Kylie Minogue, Jake Shears, Nervo, Nicky Romero, it’s just been record after record after record. So, every morning when I wake up, I have a job to do.
Music changed my life. When I was diagnosed with cancer, it really hit me that my life on this planet is quite finite. So I just said, “OK, I’m going to do everything to take my mind off cancer.” I wanted to put everything I had into my art, for as long as I could. And the first thing I did was “Get Lucky,” around that time. That put me on a path to working and gigging more. The doctors were unclear about my diagnosis, which made me unclear. But I thought, “Here’s what I know: I can write songs and play guitar, that’s what I’m gonna do.” Now, I’m what they call “cancer-free.” But I look at it like this: the day before I was diagnosed, I was “cancer-free.” I don’t celebrate, and I don’t lament. It is what it is.
Now, this feels like my normal life. The only difference is, prior to having cancer, I had the bravado of a youngster who didn’t think about the finality of life. But I’ve done more live gigs recently than I’ve ever done. That’s the thing that’s felt like a lot. I also wrote an autobiography that took four years, I am now writing two Broadway shows, that takes a lot of time, but I can do all of this because I only sleep two to three hours a night and I’ve done that since I was five and a half years old!
You’ve often tweeted about your insomnia.
It’s funny, someone said to me the other day that my very first tweet was complaining about sleep. And I looked at my tweet from the other night, and I said, “Same as it ever was.”