A live performance from Nile Rodgers and his band Chic is enough reason to celebrate. But hanging with the man himself while lounging at the brand new Hard Rock Hotel on the glorious Spanish beaches of Ibiza? Talk about good times!
Rodgers won a Grammy last year for his collaboration with Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk on the mega-hit “Get Lucky”, but it’s not luck that’s earned him a career most artists can only dream about. His genre-blending hits like “Le Freak” and “Good Times” are dance floor standards, but the 61 year-old shows no signs of slowing down. Nile Rodgers is a man on a simple yet powerful mission: to bring to the masses good music, good clothes and good times!
The Hard Rock Hotel celebrated its grand opening last month, with Mr. Rodgers headlining the opening gala. We caught up with the funkmaster during a tune-infused stay that included grooving to personalized downloadable playlists as part of the “Sound of Your Stay” program. After getting thoroughly loostened up with a music-synced massage, we were ready to ask Nile about hits past, present and future…
How do you feel about performing in Ibiza, particularly at the Hard Rock Hotel grand opening. How is Ibiza inspiring to you as a musician?
Last year I actually found out a lot more about the legacy of artists and musicians in Ibiza. I was here and I called my friend Grace Jones, and she told me, “Aww I used to come there all the time…” I started to realize that it’s a very inspiring place for writing music. When I was here last time I wrote two songs that I eventually wound up bringing to Avicii and then he and I finished them. Then I actually wrote two other songs that I took to Carl Cox — I actually met Carl Cox here for the first time three years ago and he and I have written 15 songs together, so it’s crazy.
How do you feel about the music landscape in Ibiza? Do you think performing at the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza grand opening signifies a diversification or evolution of Ibiza’s music scene?
When it comes to music and predictions I hate to try to sound like I’m an authority because I’m definitely not. I do know that when we played here last year at a concert called Ibiza 123 we were one of the few live acts that played. It was mainly DJs and a live act or two each night, and there was a very special connection that we had to the crowd because we play dance music — even though we’re a live act, we play live dance music. And the appreciation factor was very very high, so I think that there’s something that feels natural. I like to think of my band Chic as the Grateful Dead of dance music. We never know what we’re gonna play from night to night, because I’ve done so many songs with different artists, but primarily I do dance music, so this seems like the right place for us, even though we’re not electronic-based.
What do you want everyone to take away from your performance?
What we believe in as a group — the Chic organization — is good music, good clothes, and good times. And that’s what we do. We just want people to have fun. Our music is designed to immediately give you a release, and then once you’ve delved deeper into the music you start to understand the hidden meanings behind our songs. But the overt feeling is just to have fun, mingle, have a good time, just let yourself go. We play because we love doing it and we want you to love us doing it for you. So, that’s it — we’re not complicated, unless you start to read our lyrics, but (laughter) superficially, we’re very simple, and that’s all we want. We want people to have a good time, have fun, never hurt anybody, always go home and go, “Man, that was the coolest night I’ve ever had.”
Do you feel that funk and disco are the predecessors to EDM (electronic dance music)? How do you think funk has influenced EDM? Do you see yourself at the forefront of that movement?
Every style that comes along, that can be definable, influences the next generation or the next style of music that can be definable. So funk, disco, gospel, all of those things that were the precursors to hip hop and rap and EDM, of course they influenced it. As a matter of fact you can listen to artists currently and everybody’s recycling music because that’s the stuff we all grew up with. Before there was disco, I was playing jazz and R&B. When I wrote my first disco record, Chic’s “Everybody Dance,” it was primarily a jazzy song that you could dance to, but people called it disco. I didn’t know that I was writing disco, I just wanted to write music that people could dance to, and I liked jazz so it came out like, “Everybody dance, doo doo doo clap your hands.” When people say they’re not influenced by somebody else they are lying. They’re trying to act like they’re completely original, but none of us are completely original. We always get ideas from other people. I’ve said a million times and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, the single greatest motivator when it comes to music is jealousy. Because when I hear a song that I didn’t write and I wish that I had written it, I somehow then keep that song in my head and I try and rewrite it, and it comes out as “Aww, freak out!” or whatever. But that’s what it is. We all borrow from each other. A great classical composer said, “Good composers borrow. Great composers steal.”
Is there a particular song that inspired you to write “Freak Out”?
Well, believe it or not, “Freak Out” happened to be a completely original idea. I wrote “Freak Out” or “Le Freak” as it’s properly called, because my partner Bernard Edwards and I were going to Studio 54 to meet Grace Jones and they wouldn’t let us in. They slammed the door in our faces and told us to, “Aww f off!” or “Aww, F–k off!” is what they actually said, and we started writing a song. And we were going, ” Aww, f–k off (intimates chords of song), f-ck Studio 54. F-ck off…” And Bernard said to me, “Aww, my man, you know this is happening.” And we turned that, because this was before hip hop so we couldn’t say the f-word, so we changed we changed it to freak off and that was terrible and eventually it became freak out, and that became the biggest-selling single in the history of Atlantic Records. We sold six million records in the United States alone, and probably around twelve to 14 million around that world. That’s a pretty damn big record.
You recently donated a guitar to the coveted Hard Rock archives. How does it feel to be a member of the Hard Rock family in that way? If you could place your guitar in any Hard Rock location, which one would you choose?
Well I’ve been part of the whole Hard Rock Café/Hotel scene sort of from the very beginning. I was actually called upon to be one of the early investors, but I didn’t do it. Oops! Before there was a Hard Rock they were just coming up with ideas, and I think it was Dan Aykroyd from Saturday Night Live who approached me, and I was like, “Eh, I don’t want to be in the cafe business, I’m a musician.” But I’ve played at various Hard Rocks all around the world, various Hard Rock cafes, I played the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas, which was amazing, I’ve played in Florida, I’ve played in Acapulco, so I don’t really care where my guitar is — I’d like it to be here in Ibiza. This is sort of a big moment for us to open the place, so let it stay here. I feel like I’m gonna probably come here for the rest of my life, so I’d like to walk in here and see it. I’ve given other pieces of memorabilia to the Hard Rock organization over the course of the years, but honestly it was probably in the ’80s and in those days I gave away a lot of stuff. I gave away cars and boats and… If we were partying and hanging out one night I would wake up the next day and go, “Where’s my car?” “Uh, you gave it to Joey Ramone last night.” “Really?!” You know, so, half of the stuff I don’t know where it is, but when it comes to memorabilia, as precious as this stuff is to me, I do like being able to feel like it’s preserved in an institution that has high regard for stuff that’s just… like Jeff Beck would say, a piece of wood, some metal and some strings — this magical thing that we somehow learn to make music with. So, it’s cool for me. It’s a good feeling. I’m not like freaking out about it, but it is cool.
You’ve had an extraordinary career that new artists — and some not so new ones — would be thrilled to achieve even in part. Is there anything that in your private moments you think to yourself, I still would like to accomplish musically?
The one thing that I want to do but I know I’ll never be able to do was produce a record, write a record, orchestrate a record for Miles Davis. Before he passed away he and I became friendly because we did a fashion shoot for the designer Issey Miyake, and we became buddies and we started going out every night, and he kept saying to me, “Nile. Nile. I want you to write me a mothef-ckin’ ‘Good Times’.” And you know, Miles Davis, his sense of humor was legendary. He was famous for sometimes being not a nice guy, but with me he was always a gentleman and we always had a great time, but I thought he was making fun of me so I would never do it. I was writing these fusion jazz songs, and every time I would submit it he would look at me and say, “Man, I can do that! I want you to write me a motherf–ckin’ ‘Good Times’! I can write a jazz song, I been writing them all my life.” And I never did it, and then after he passed away I looked at his last body of work and I saw that he was going after R&B dance music, I realized that he was serious. And I was brokenhearted because, what would that record have been like if I had actually taken him seriously and said ‘OK, now I want to write a commercial dance R&B record for Miles Davis’? What would I have done? I think of the records I’ve done with other great iconic personalities like David Bowie, doing “Let’s Dance”. I like doing records with people that you normally wouldn’t think could have dance records, and look at how big “Let’s Dance” was. What would that have been like? And I will go to my grave lamenting the fact that I never did that record and never took Miles seriously because I thought he joking, because we joked all the time. It’s heartbreaking actually.
Given your strong ties to Ibiza, what’s it like being here a headliner for a grand opening like this, in the dance music capital of the world?
For me to have my band Chic play the opening of a Hard Rock Hotel, it’s sort of bittersweet in a way because if I had invested I’d be playing at my own place! I have enough money so it’s alright. But it’s more than just being symbolic because of what it represents to the musical landscape, but it’s just cool. It’s really cool. I’m not the kind of person that makes a big deal about life and things being serious and heavy because I’ve been dealing with extremely severe cancer for the last three years of my life, so I just try and have the most fun possible. So tonight is symbolically cool, but just as a show, I’m going to pull out all the stops and have the best time I’ve ever had, and hopefully that will spill over into the crowd because I’m just happy to be alive and happy to here and once again, happy to be in Ibiza for the third year in a row. I don’t even know how everybody says it… there’s like all these different ways.
Nile Rodgers’ new compilation album, Disco Inferno, is available today! For more on the Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza and its summer lineup featuring Tinie Tempah, Jason Derulo, Ellie Goulding, Snoop Dogg and more go to hrhibiza.com.
[Photo: Hard Rock International and Palladium Hotel Group]