The Conversation: Nile Rodgers, musician

'I used to fly to Paris for lunch – insane'

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The Independent Culture

Hello Nile, what are you up to?

I'm sitting at my kitchen table because I've just finished breakfast.

What did you have?

I had meatballs and gluten-free pasta and eggplant, or what you call aubergine.

Meatballs for breakfast?

You've gotta be kidding, it's amazing.

You're back in the spotlight because you worked with Daft Punk on their new album. How did that come about?

When Daft Punk approached me, it was innocent and an abstract concept, although it was clear as a bell to me. When I realised what they were attempting I thought, "That's so brave", because that's not what the world is listening to.

Everyone is aware of your work, but they're not necessarily aware of you. Some people don't even know you wrote "We Are Family".

A few years ago I was diagnosed with very aggressive cancer, and my future didn't look particularly rosy. I walked into this restaurant and I heard the music come on and thought, oh my God, my life was valid.

You worked with Bowie on "Let's Dance" and on Madonna's "Like a Virgin". Was there any pressure on you to get big hits?

The only pressure was the pressure I put upon myself. David said to me he wanted to make hits, which shocked me, as he hadn't had platinum singles. Did I know the album was going to be as big as it was? Absolutely not. When I signed the contract with Madonna, she had sold 750,000 units. I told the record company I could get a three million-seller and they were hysterical, on the floor laughing. And then we sold 21 million. I got a ridiculous deal, a huge, phenomenal-percentage deal.

Did that bankroll you for life?

I was already there before that because I had done Diana [Ross]'s album, Sister Sledge with "We Are Family" and "He's the Greatest Dancer", so our publishing catalogue kicks off about $20m a year. I'm a pretty simple guy; it's easy to live on half of that for the rest of your life.

You're not a yacht man, then?

No. Well, I was.

Did you own a yacht?

In my early days, I was pretty crazy.

Did you have yacht parties?

OK. Stop, stop, stop already, that was a long time ago. We were so insane. You think it's exotic to eat meatballs for breakfast? How about going to Paris on Concorde just for lunch? That's how ridiculous our lives were – but I've always been relatively grounded.

Were you poor growing up?

We were really poor. I've been working since I was a child. I worked cutting lawns, delivering newspapers, I was a telephone salesperson, I was a guitar repairman.

Your parents both took and dealt heroin; do you still love them?

They were fantastic. That was just our world, I didn't know anything other than the beatnik world. It was as if our reality was the real reality and other people's lives were bizarre to me. I learnt how to have good manners because when I was in their environment their parents didn't do what my parents did, and it was semi-uncomfortable to me. But I almost felt like a scientist or archaeologist, going on an adventure into normalcy.E

Chic featuring Nile Rodgers are headlining the main stage at the Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival in Birmingham's Moseley Park, tomorrow


Nile Rodgers, 60, is an American musician best known as a founding member of the band Chic. He's produced records for Madonna, Duran Duran and Diana Ross, and features on Daft Punk's No 1 single "Get Lucky"