Exclusive: Chic Reveals the Album Cover for ‘It’s About Time’

Exclusive: Chic Reveals the Album Cover for ‘It’s About Time’

Frontman Nile Rodgers sits down to talk about Chic's first album in over 25 years, the people that he's worked with, and the familiar yet futuristic album cover, debuting exclusively on V.

Frontman Nile Rodgers sits down to talk about Chic's first album in over 25 years, the people that he's worked with, and the familiar yet futuristic album cover, debuting exclusively on V.

Photography: Britt Lloyd

Text: Jake Viswanath

Chic has never gone away. Frontman Nile Rodgers and company have been making music with legendary collaborators, playing shows around the world, and just jamming out together consistently for the past four decades. But one look at their discography list on Wikipedia would indicate otherwise—the band hasn’t released their own studio album since 1992. But it’s about time that changed, and Chic knows that. 

Today, the band officially announces their first album in over 25 years, It’s About Time, possibly the most hilariously appropriate title for a record in recent history, and V has your exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the stunning album artwork. Shot by Britt Lloyd and creative directed by Greg Foley, the cover harkens back to the art for their self-titled debut album released in 1977, which starred supermodels Valentine Monnier and Alva Chinn front and center.

Left: 'Chic' album cover, 1977. Right: 'It's About Time' album cover, 2018

For the cover of Chic's debut, Rodgers explained, “we thought we could get supermodels on our cover to basically [outline] the concept of Chic, to say that we were going back in time to a period where music was all about the underclass coming up. It was all about Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. It was all about the prohibition era and the era of the big jazz bands. That’s why we weren’t on the cover. If you looked at a lot of the things from that era, they put popular people on their product until they became popular in and of themselves.”

Obviously, Rodgers is beyond the point of simple popularity, arguably approaching legend territory, so there’s no need to hide his or any of the band's faces on the cover of a highly anticipated record. But with the choice to reimagine the first album cover using two of today’s most influential models and pop culture figures, Duckie Thot and Jazzelle, he both revisits that same story and expands it. While still an homage to the beginning of Chic’s journey and the achievements that followed, more importantly, it’s a look toward what future generations will bring. “The idea of two friends having fun and being in the moment is timeless, but I felt it was important that this new image isn’t retro or even faux future," Foley says about the cover. "We’re just putting the elements together again today."

Perhaps Foley's re-working of the simplistic yet instantly recognizable Chic logo, from a fiery red to a sharper silver that will be foil-stamped and embossed on vinyl, embodies the specific nod to the future best—aside from the actual music of course. On June 22, the band will officially release the first single from It's About Time, "Till the World Falls", featuring Mura Masa, Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, and Cosha, four prominent talents that help to prove Chic’s knowledge of where we’re heading.

Below, Rodgers opens up about the creation of It’s About Time, why he decided to revisit his debut album for the cover art, and all of the amazing people he worked with along the way.

This album is finally happening. Does it feel real today, shooting the album cover?

This is the type of thing that makes it even more real, the sort of artistic and spiritual part that you feel while creating the music. I’m really old school so I look at albums as films. The story that this album was supposed to tell was one of my friendships and collaborations. Of course, I was thinking in terms of the artists and the way my life was before and after I met them. When I go back in time, I think about, of course, my original partner Bernard Edwards, and after that comes Bowie, Diana Ross, Madonna, Prince, and people like that. I started to write with that in mind. I had a whole release date set up, everything was great, things were going perfectly, and then Bowie passed away. We had set up this single, and every person that had ever sung on a Chic record was on that single. It was something that you wouldn’t know until I tell you but it was everyone.

That's amazing.

I got all the masters back, and I was able to put everyone in for a line. And because of today’s technology, I was able to manipulate the voices and put them in where I wanted them. It was as clean as a whistle. That was the foundation, and then I was going to come out with the next single and it was more in-depth and it was about Bowie. My life changed when I met Bowie. I had six failures in a row after having no failures. It was like all of my records were hits, and then all of a sudden all my records weren’t hits, and then all of a sudden I met David Bowie and all of my records were hits again.

He has that magic touch.

We had it together. So I was going to put it out but Bowie passed away right after the beginning of the year, a day or two before his birthday. Everything inside of me said [releasing it was] wrong, wrong, wrong. Then I had to revamp it. I said I could still do the same album and I recorded a lot of songs, but I decided, let me just think about it because the movie’s not finished until you shoot it. 

Another story that changed the album: [back in 2014], we went down to New Orleans and played at the Essence Festival. Prince had been threatening to come and play with us on stage for years. I would always go out on stage and announce him because we had his gear set up and he’s like, “I’m coming out tonight” and I would say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest,” and we couldn’t find him to save our lives. We’re at the Essence Festival, the place is packed and I’m not even going to announce him because I already made that mistake twice. All of a sudden, our drummer goes, “Jump jump jump!” and Prince comes out jumping but I don’t see him. So we’re all jumping and there’s a 30-decibel level of the crowd screaming and I look to the right and there’s Prince jumping with me.  He’s got his hands in the air and we play Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” and the whole place goes bananas. It was the most wonderful moment of my life. I saw him on my vacation just prior to that, and he always gives me advice, like, “Naw man, you play jazz great. You should put out a funk jazz album.” So I wrote this song called “Prince Said It”, and it was me bopping and the band would stop and we’d said “Prince said it” and we were using that as the beat. Then Prince passed away and I was like “This is crazy, this is too crazy.” Things are out in the universe saying that’s not the right film. I’m thinking, you’ve gone through so much, make it a little bit more personal. So I started to change the concept, rewrite some of the lyrics, focus it a different way, and then I started thinking that the greatest moment in my life was actually the very beginning because had that not happened, it wouldn’t have set me on this journey that is so wonderful. 

When we’re talking about the artwork, I’m trying to have lightning strike twice. So I said, “Let’s go back to the beginning and have the artwork represent the beginning.” Now, I don’t want to tell the end of the story, I want it to be rebooted. In the beginning, there was the question of, “Who are these guys? Are they shit? Are they cheap?” I wanted to create the same ambiguity that we had and see if we could strike the same place twice. Now, I can still pay homage to the people that have helped me along the way to get me to where I am. It’s in the music, it’s in the songs, it’s double entendre, but I get it.

Obviously this new cover is a reinterpretation of the original debut album from 1977. How did the idea for the original cover come about?

We put those two supermodels on our original cover. What was it saying about who our audience was? What were we saying about who the world was around us? The world that we had seen once before, but now it would be defined in our lifetime. It was the Buppie movement, the black urban professionals. These people that were starting to work on wall street. It was the beginning of the Oprah Winfrey’s, it was the beginning of the President Obama’s, it was the beginning of that. I grew up in this world that I thought was going to be absolutely utopian and beautiful. When we start to see these black people on the rise, we thought, “Why are we doing a cover that looks like a record cover?” Let’s do a cover that looks like a magazine.

What story do you think that this new, re-imagined image is telling today?

It tells the exact same story. In other words, if I were around Duckie’s age, I would be telling that story—it’s almost as if I get to live my life again. It’s almost as if I get to re-do whatever mistakes I made, and goddamn, I made lots of them. Then maybe I get a chance to get it right.

How do you think the music reflects the art? Did you take that music and modernize it for today, like with the artwork?

To a large extent, yes, because how could I not? I’ve learned so much. I’ve been recording for over the last 20 years with Lady Gaga, Avicii, Disclosure, Daft Punk–that’s going to rub off. That’s just how it is. I’m co-writing a song with the Black Eyed Peas that we will finish tonight and we have a blast. Last night I spoke to Teddy Riley for about two hours and it was just so amazing. I was explaining to him that Anderson.Pakk and I were in the studio one day just writing, and the next day, Bruno Mars came in and suggested some stuff that I would’ve never thought of in one million years, and we were killing it. Like Jesus Christ, I grew up in a totally different era, I would’ve never played on top of somebody else’s music, but it was incredible. So then after I learned from Bruno, I wrote a couple of songs that actually were playing along with other songs. I sent it to Teddy yesterday and he’s like, “Hey man, this reminds me of ‘Groove Me’.” I wrote that shit with “Groove Me” playing in the background. I had never done that until I met Bruno Mars.

It’s something very common now-a-days, especially on mixtapes. Do you think you’ve grown in your ability to adapt and try new things over the years?

I’ve always had that sense. One really super important jazz tutor said to me one day—I was out doing jazz gigs and he could tell I wasn’t really happy and he was like, “Hey man, what’s wrong?”, because I’m usually a pretty jovial, upbeat guy. I said, “Aw man, I have to go play this bullshit little boogalo gig tonight.” He said, “Bullshit? Every gig should make you happy.” I said, “Yeah I know the playlist and one of the songs that I have to play tonight is ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies.” He said, “Yeah, what’s wrong with that?” I said, “Man, its bullshit.” He said, “No, that record is number one and millions like it. The fact that you don’t like it, that’s ok, you can have your own opinion, but you can’t call it bullshit. Every composition that’s in the Top 40 is a great composition.” I said, “You call this a great composition?” He said “Absolutely.” It changed my whole way of thinking. He said, “Because it speaks to the souls of the million strangers.” I was fucked up when he said that. That’s when I decided what I wanted to do. I think that’s what all artists want to do, is speak to the soul of millions. You’re doing this so people can hear and experience your work. He just defined it. Two weeks later, I wrote my first song, I wrote “Everybody Dance”. 

You mentioned that you worked with Avicii. He was very talented, very innovative, and created a sound that many couldn’t replicate. How was it working with him?

I loved him. I said, “Listen, Tim is the best natural melody writer that I’ve met in my life,” and a lot of people got on my case because he was so young and so successful and they figured that he can’t be the real deal. I’ve been around Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, you name it. He is just a natural melody writer, and he doesn’t write the melody on piano, he writes it on technology. He just had a sort of genius that was, I didn’t even know how he did it. I would just stare at him and be like, “Wow, you look like a kid that’s putting building blocks to make a house.” After, we had the most beautiful melody and we would just kill it.

It was something else for sure, very sad to see him go.

He was such a nice guy. I’ve never heard him say an angry word. I’ve heard him say, “Why didn’t that guy like me?” I’d just be like, “Tim, you just gotta get used to that man.” That meant a lot to him too, he couldn’t understand why other DJ’s wouldn’t like him. He’s like, “I’m not even a DJ, I’m a record producer.” I said, “I know, that’s the cool thing about being called a DJ, you get to go out and do gigs and play your own songs for people.” He said it was amazing.

Is there one song in particular that you’re excited to put out? Is there one that you think people are going to react to well?

Yeah, we have about four or five that we think are going to do that. I think this record is going to be incredibly satisfying musically to people. This is the record I want to make. It’s not the record I’m making to be commercial. I make more money talking to you, just sitting here, with my royalties. Hailee Steinfeld is killing it. She walked in with complete confidence and I was like, “Hailee, this is a big vocal job, you gotta sing 40 or 50 tracks,” and she came in and killed it. It’s actually one of my favorite songs on the album, because between the guitar and her voice, at a certain point when we break down, it’s ridiculous.

I love that, two names you would never associate with each other coming together.

She’s killing it. Also, I had been hanging out in England and had been with so many English artists that were brand new, and with Disclosure, and one of my favorite artists is NAO. She kicks my ass. I was like, “I have to find her,” and I tracked her down. She had this incredible attitude of whatever you want, I’ll sing. We were in the studio all night long. Finally, I take a picture of Mura Masa, NAO, and myself out in front of Abbey Road at like five in the morning because we had been going all night. And then we wind up with a song called “Boogie All Night”. It's killing.

Credits: Video Harry Cauty Stylist Matthew Mazur Models Duckie Thot, Jazzelle Zanaughtti (New York Models),

UP NEXT

Gigi Hadid's Best Beauty Moments