In the run up to the Neon Lights festival on November 28 to 29, Marissa Trew spoke with musical legend Nile Rodgers about his involvement with Neon Lights, what never fails to inspire him and what he thinks of Singapore!
How did you get involved with Neon Lights?
Um, a phone call usually! The first thing they ask you is ‘what is your schedule like?’ and of course, I have a crazy, crazy, crazy schedule… and then trying to fit it all in.
Are there any Neon Lights acts in particular than stand out to you the most?
Trust me. I always make an effort to go around and meet all the acts that I can. I am particularly interested in meeting the newer acts because most of the older acts, well you know, I know a lot of them. But I go around and meet the newer acts because I know that in my life, my life was changed because… I just think that musicians have a certain altruism about them that they love to give, and I like to give and I like to receive. And many, many times, it’s the newer artists that give me something to listen to because I’ve been influenced by them and vice versa. They get influenced by me. It makes sense to me… that’s just how I live. It feels right to me.
When I see a really big star, I’ll say ‘hey man, how you doing?’ [laughs] When I see someone that’s new or they’re just coming along, I’ll go ‘woah man, how’d you guys think of it? What made you put your band together?’
Is it your first trip to Singapore?
Oh no… and hopefully it won’t be our last. We played in Singapore a couple of years ago and it was amazing. It was phenomenal. It was so many beautiful people having such a great time and what I thought was really amazing was that even after the concert was over and we were sort of walking down the street, there was a vibe… it was really great.
What are the first three things you would associate with Singapore?
The first thing, and I don’t mean it to be negative, but fantastic hotels. Really tall. Every hotel that I stayed in, I was on like the 75th floor, which was weird.
The people were very sweet to me, really nice. And to me that counts for a lot. When people are nice and they don’t know you and you can just sort of talk to them and make gestures and hang out, it’s great.
And one of the CEOs from one of the companies bought me a fender guitar that was like my guitar and it was beautiful. It was like ‘wow, this is such a nice present’. I couldn’t believe it. I have more guitars than anyone in the world! What did you need to bring me another guitar for? [laughs] But he gave it to me and it was from his heart, it was beautiful.
How many guitars do you have?
I don’t know… 200 or something? I dunno.
Your track record has spanned pretty much every musical genre under the sun. Is there any particular one that you’re fond of?
That’s a hard question to answer because right now I’m working on a classical piece, which is exciting to me because I haven’t done that, at least not to this degree, since coming to America and its fun. But would I say I like it more? I don’t know if I like it more, it’s just, it’s music, I don’t think I like more of a style than another. I probably do more rock music just because I know it and I know how to make those records better … because I’m a guitar player and I started out in a rock and roll band.
Right now, I’m playing with Keith Urban who’s primarily a country guitar player but believe me, we spent more time working on really interesting guitar sounds and almost as much time writing songs.
You’ve worked with so many big names in the industry. How did you keep the sound so diverse?
When I work with them, I sort of join with them. It’s almost like we form a new band together, so I become part of their sound. My sound becomes part of their sound, instead of me trying to make them sound like me. I want to bring out the best of them. There’s a famous American movie called Ben Hurr and one of the slaves on the ship is attached to an oar and Centurion comes down and says ‘you live to serve this ship. Row well, and live.’ So that’s what I do – I row well, and hopefully I live! I live to serve this ship. I don’t work with Lady Gaga so that she serves me, I work with Lady Gaga to serve Gaga! This is her point of view… even though she sang my song [laughs].
Every time I meet an artist that touches my heart, sometimes it just makes me stop. And I met this English artist named Lara Mvula… I was eating breakfast the other day and I was crying while eating breakfast. And I just tracked her down, and I called her and I said – I didn’t mean to embarrass her – I wanna live in the world of angels. I think she’s an angel, she’s amazing. Her voice is just pure magic.
She wrote me the next day and said ‘Nile, did I dream this or is this the truth?’ and I said ‘uh, no I think it was the truth’.
I work with Janelle Monae, and every time I work with her I say to myself ‘my God, I’m in the presence of a natural force, like a hurricane’. Like, how did you invent that? It has to come from someplace else, it’s just incredible.
Is there anything you felt you haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore musically?
Not that I’m sitting around worrying about! I have so much I have to catch up on.
When you travel, what kind of music do you tend to listen to?
Oh, I don’t listen to music when I travel. At all. I sleep. I don’t sleep very much and it’s the only chance that I get to sleep where nobody bothers me. I only sleep 3 hours a day and I have to grab those 3 hours whenever I can.
What happens after Neon Lights for you?
I don’t have the itinerary in front of my face but I believe that once I’m over in Asia, I’m staying there for a while… once I’m over in that part of the world, why not stay over there? It’s beautiful.
Do you have a favourite place on Earth?
That’s impossible to say because so many places are beautiful. I don’t think I have ever been to a place that I can remember where I said to myself ‘this is an ugly country, I wanna leave!’ When I go to a country, and I find that things aesthetically or visually look ugly, I look within the people. I’ll give you a perfect example. I was in the ghetto part of Venezuela and it was horrible. I was thinking to myself ‘how could people live like this?’ so I went and I started talking to people and I had so much fun. I cannot tell you. All I wanted to do was go back to Venezuela. It was so amazing. Same kind of thing happened when I went to Sao Paolo… and I had the best time ever. People there have a whole different spirit.
Will you be bringing your Fender Stratocaster?
It’s the only guitar I take.
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