Daft Punk: Together in electric dreams
What was it like to work on the year's biggest album? Six of the big-name collaborators on Daft Punk's record tell Marcus Barnes
Friday 17 May 2013
Giorgio Moroder (vocals)
They had three microphones. I said: “Why three microphones?” They said: “Well, when you tell the story when you're young, we have the Fifties/Sixties microphone, when you talk about the Seventies, it's the middle, and, when you talk about the future, it's the newest one.” I said: “Who's going to hear the difference?” The engineer said: “Nobody… but he [Thomas Bangalter] knows the difference!” So it was interesting to see that attention to detail. With all the expectations, it's not easy after what they did years ago, to come out with a new incredible album. That's not done in a few minutes, or in a few weeks.
Thomas [Bangalter] is the guy who talks – more so than Guy-Manuel [de Homem-Christo]. But then, when I spoke French with him [de Homem-Christo], he was also very talkative. Thomas is very well-spoken, very precise. Both are down-to-earth, no big egos. They behave like very nice humans and not at all like robots.
Nile Rodgers (lead guitar)
It was just normal. I was just recording as if it was 1980! It was the same thing as making a record like [David Bowie's] Let's Dance. I don't mean to make it sound so mundane but, in my world, that's what I aim to achieve – that simplicity of analogue, trying to recreate what I'm hearing in that room. I record everything direct and people wonder how I can have that kind of guitar sound without amps or anything like that and I say, “It's because I want it to sound like I'm sitting in the room right next to you playing my guitar”.
When we first met to discuss the album they didn't even play me any music, we just talked. When it comes to certain types of artists, talking about music is better than playing music – with Bowie, when we did Let's Dance, before we played any music, we talked for about a month. And, when it came to do the record, it only took 17 days from start to end, even mixed. That meant that, spiritually and artistically, we were so clear that all we had to do was go into the studio and execute all these ideas. My relationship to Daft Punk was similar to that – in Chic we called it DHM (Deep Hidden Meaning) – it's the thing that motivates us and gives us the clarity to do what we're doing.
It was a really romantic vision and thank God they had the patience to do this because this was a long, hard difficult process when the world has changed so much. It's become a short-cut world, the world of audio and electronic entertainment. These guys, they were willing to put in the work and go out of their way.
Pharrell Williams (vocals)
They're very specific and they know what they want to do and they know how they want to affect the world. They're robots, so they're going to have the best of equipment, the best technology; from the latest things to the most nostalgic of elements that all contribute to quality sound. You can't compare working with them to the other people I've worked with because they're humans and these are the robots; their approach is so much more expansive and unique. Their album is so incredible and, of course, a robot is going to get it right before a human does because they're programmed to be that way. What's interesting is that the robot's desire to be human makes them push a little bit harder... they're in an everlasting pursuit of becoming alive, so musically their search is so much deeper.
Chilly Gonzales (piano)
Through working with them I learned that a group can make an album that feels like a blockbuster movie, that the idea of futuristic is still subjective, that taking time to make something may not guarantee that people take the same time to understand something. Thomas and Guy-Manuel really seem to sincerely believe that music saves lives and changes people for the better. I think everyone who collaborated with them feels that as well. They work slowly and methodically, but never lose the joy of a new challenge, in this case “directing” live musicians they admired. As people they have a truly “complimentary” chemistry, so you understand why Daft Punk are a duo. Their career itself is a work of art, and making a “blockbuster” album was an option not many of us musicians have, so I respect their chutzpah.
Todd Edwards (vocals)
We were working in a master studio, the kind of place that I've only ever seen in magazines or on TV but never been exposed to in real-life – a massive mixing board, actually using reel-to-reel tape – using equipment that people don't turn to anymore because it's easier to use digital equipment. It was fascinating seeing how much attention to detail, as producers, they put into the sound effects. Things that you might think: “Is anyone going to notice? Are they going to be able to hear that?” They feel that it will be [heard] and maybe they're right. That subtle effect may just hit your ear in a subliminal way and give it that extra something that you just can't put your finger on.
They're very relaxed, and personal. I stayed at Thomas's place in LA and got to meet his family. They've been two of my best friends, because when I first moved to LA they made a real effort to take me out, they cared. Thomas gave me a laptop... he said the most beautiful thing, “it will make me feel good to know you're making good music”. What a kind-hearted man. They do art for the sake of art.
Paul Williams (vocals/songwriting)
It was like time travel to work with them because they were working at what is now the Hanson Studios, in Hollywood. Initially it was a studio built by Charlie Chaplin and it became A&M Records. I tell them, “that was my office for five years”. When I was a staff writer at A&M Records at the start of my career, that's where I worked. I wrote a song called “Big Country” in this studio and I got Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and all these guys to come sing on my record. Now I'm here 40 years later recording with Daft Punk at my age.
They handed me a bunch of music and I'm like “this is really beautiful”. We talked about the ideas and the characters. I went home and I sent them an email saying “I want to come in and sing something for you”. So I sang “Touch... I remember touch...” – and that's how we worked. They said “Touch” was the centrepiece of the album. They were considerate, modest, accessible and I never sensed the slightest element of “ego in control”. This was an open collaboration from the beginning. They chose their collaborators – I think I was the first – and then allowed us to breathe our art. Then they went away and returned with something astounding.
Daft Punk's 'Random Access Memories' is out on Monday
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