photo: Rolling Stone
In 1975, Giorgio Moroder, the legendary producer and songwriter and one of the inventors of disco, created quite the stir (not to mention a dance floor juggernaut) when he convinced diva-in-training Donna Summer to record a marathon of moans for “Love to Love You Baby.”
Four decades later — after collaborating with Summer on her greatest hits, Debbie Harry on Blondie’s “Call Me,” and Irene Cara and Berlin’s Terri Nunn on the respective Oscar-winners “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” and “Take My Breath Away” — the 74-year-old is back and making music with some of the most celebrated female artists around.
For his first solo record in 30 years, scheduled for release by RCA this spring, Moroder is overseeing an assembly line of singers ranging from veteran canaries Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, and Kelis to more recently hatched songbirds such as Sia, Charli XCX, and Foxes. Meanwhile, Moroder says he still hopes to record with Lana Del Rey, and “later this week or early next” he’ll be hitting the studio with Lady Gaga.
And, to think: Moroder says he was “happily retired” until 2012, when Daft Punk approached him to record a spoken-word monologue about his career for their Grammy-winning album, Random Access Memories.
“I didn’t hear anything from them for almost a year, then they called and said, ‘Why don’t you come to the studio and let’s listen to the song?’” he recalls of the first time he heard the finished result, “Giorgio by Moroder.” “I heard myself talking about my life and the music, [and it] was kind of emotional. That’s when I seriously thought I could be back in the business.”
Two years later, Moroder — his hair and iconic mustache now a matching and dignified gray — is doing interviews in the New York City conference room of his new record label, Sony/RCA to promote his latest single, “Right Here Right Now” featuring Kylie Minogue, a follow-up to last November’s cheekily titled teaser track, “74 is the new 24.”
"Dance music doesn’t care where you live,” Moroder says. “It doesn’t care who your friends are. It doesn’t care how much money you make. It doesn’t care if your 74 or if you are 24.”
Apparently, neither do Kylie, Britney, Sia, Charli XCX, or any of the other artists who are lining up to work with Moroder. Although, the lovefest certainly seems to be mutual.
“Sia, I’ve always liked,” Moroder says. “One of the best, nicest songs ever is the ‘Titanium’ song [by David Guetta, featuring Sia], so I was thinking, ‘God! If she would do a song for me, for my album, would be great!’”
His wish was granted in the form of “Déjà Vu,” which, true to its name, sounds like an updated disco classic. “It was a very easy collaboration: I gave her the tracks with the melodies, and she did it all by herself. She didn’t want me to be in the studio. A few weeks later, I got the tapes with the finished song with her voice, the lyrics, even the mix.”
Every singer “was a different story,” Moroder says. For example, he and Kelis spent time together in person coming up with the melody for her contribution (the title of which is still under wraps). “That was probably the closest to the old way, where I would sit down with Donna Summer [with] a drum machine and a keyboard, and she would sing, or I would sing it to her and she would write the lyrics,” Moroder says.
But thanks to modern-day advances, many of the other singers would email him their vocal tracks. “It [loses] a little bit, but it takes a lot of pressure away,” Moroder says. “To record the vocal, it is always the most difficult part of the production, because you have to tell the singer: ‘No, do it this way.’ With Donna [Summer] it was easy, because I knew her from the very beginning, but some other singers, you’re kind of stressed out. Because let’s say, David Bowie” — with whom Moroder collaborated on 1982’s “Cat People (Putting on Fire)” — “I could not tell him, ‘David, that note is not good, can you change it?’”
Reflecting on Summer’s “I Feel Love,” a seminal track responsible for popularizing the synthesizer and for propelling electronic dance music into the mainstream, Moroder recalls: “At that time I wanted to do a concept album with Donna: one song of the ’50s, one of the ’60s, one like Motown, one of the ’70s, and one, ‘How could a future song sound?’” He later decided: “‘The only way to do that is to use a machine.’ So the whole song is done through a computer: the bassline, the high-hat, the snare, the sounds. I think one of the reasons why it was such a success was that on one hand, there was this mechanical drum, but on the other, there was the romantic voice of Donna: very ethereal. And what really made…the whole song [was] that driving bass line.”
Back in the present day, Moroder made a point of complimenting Britney Spears’s nearly unadorned vocals on her still-unfinished contribution, a cover of a quirky, late-’80s novelty hit that Spears herself suggested. (Sorry, but Moroder asked that we not reveal the name of the song… yet.) “I listened a lot to her latest songs, which were all a little… the voice was a little mechanical — so many effects,” he says. “While on this one, she’s basically without… a little delay, but no effects, no nothing. So it sounds really natural.”
Moroder plans to join Spears in the studio soon to finish the song, but not before meeting up with Lady Gaga in her Malibu compound to work on music for her upcoming record. Moroder — who recently remixed the Gaga and Tony Bennett track “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” — says Gaga expressed an interest in collaborating “the old way”: by sitting down and writing together at a piano.
But, says Moroder, “Often people say ‘Let’s do it,’ but they don’t. I’m still waiting for Lana Del Rey, who I met several times [and she said], ‘Yeah, let’s do it, let’s do it,’ and then she disappears. But with Lady, I think it’s going to happen.
“And maybe,” Moroder continues, “maybe if she’s very nice, and maybe if I have a good song, maybe she gives me a little song on my album too. I hope so.”