Nile Rodgers on Chic's New Album, Playing 'Big Dance Parties' in 2017

Producer-guitarist says 2017 will be a "party year" with new album marking 40th anniversaries of Chic, Studio 54

Nile Rodgers previews w2017, including the new Chic album, 'It's About Time,' and concerts commemorating the band's 40th anniversary. Credit: Rob Ball/Redferns/Getty

Nile Rodgers was deep into the production It's About Time – the first Chic album in two decades – when he learned that Prince died. "We were really buddies," says Rodgers, adding with a laugh, "as buddy as you can be with Prince." After a string of personal losses since late 2015 – Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner and Lemmy – the news hit Rodgers particularly hard. He delayed the Chic LP, writing in a new blog post that it befit a more festive milieu; and a 40th anniversary in 2017 was the perfect occasion. 

"If we had put out the album last year, it would have been the 39th anniversary of Chic," Rodgers says. "No one gives a shit about 39 or 37 or 38. And I went, 'Wait a minute. 2017 is the 40th anniversary of Chic.' And then it hit me it was the 40th anniversary of Studio 54. No matter what bad stuff goes on in the world, it's just like your birthday, you still can celebrate and pay tribute to these anniversaries. The fact that it's 40 years later and we're still going strong. Our gigs are fun and great. It still feels the same as when we first started, other than the fact that my guitar feels heavier," Rodgers laughs.

Although all the songs for the album are written, Rodgers decided to hold off on finishing them until he's ready to release it. "I purposely didn't finish stuff off because there are a lot of artists who wanted to do features with us that we just didn't get to." He says the album will contain a joyful vibe, but with deeper lyrics. "We write happy songs and it's nice to tell people that we're happy, even if there's double entendre going on to reflect the times that we're living in," he says. "So on the surface, it's joyous. Underneath, when you listen to the lyrics, you may go, 'Oh, that's what they're really saying.'"

The Chic album – which will be accompanied by what Rodgers' blog post calls a "big surprise," though he is staying mum about ("It's pretty big," he says assuringly) – will contain 10 songs. Rodgers intended to keep it vinyl-length and continue what he calls the "old school" tradition of making the single the longest track on the LP, as he did on "Le Freak," "Good Times" and "Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)," as well as David Bowie's "Let's Dance," which Rodgers produced. "Every song is cut long, because we like to jam," he says. "When I'm editing, I purposely say, 'OK, this song is the one. This has got the bop. That's the long song.'"

Playing long, dance-oriented songs live is another piece of Rodgers' 2017 plan. He wants his concerts to evoke the nonstop-party feeling of Studio 54, the legendary nightclub that originally gave Chic a platform. "Studio 54 made a little band from New York internationally relevant," he says. "Before we were even a part of the Studio 54 inner circle, our music was blasting there every single night." His prime goal is to make the concerts "big dance parties" that are fun, romantic and even a little nostalgic.

"We plan to do VIP parties, after parties, in a crazy way like it was during the disco era, just party after party, gig after gig," he says. "I just want it to be a super celebratory year because I'm happy that I'm still walking this earth. I'm happy that I can still write songs. I'm happy that I still get hits. It just feels right to me to try and bring people the happiest experience we can."

Rodgers thinks the world at large could use some disco levity. "It just feels sort of like a dark time," he says. "Every time I turn on the news, it's like, man, Aleppo, the kids … it's crazy. There's no positive reinforcement of worldwide peace and fun. When we started, the Vietnam War ended, and all of a sudden, we were in this celebratory mode and celebratory pattern; we weren't at war with anybody. It's was all cool. Everything was great. And it didn't last very long, but it was happening like that during the late Seventies. I want to go back to that."

It also ties into a larger vision he has for his music. "It's like, 'How much negative stuff can you take?'" he says. "I feel like I'm at the breaking point. The only thing that counterbalances that much negativity is superimposing a massive amount of positivity. That's the only way the scales get even. You can't do just a little trickle; you've got to go all in. So [2017] is 'party year' for us. Like, big time. It's insane."