Excerpt from Article "DISCOTECH II: The Producer Is The Star" by Crispin Cioe, in High Fidelity magazine, September 1979, p: 136-39
".../../...Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, the writers/producers/players behind Chic and Sister Sledge, are one of the hottest production teams in the music business: Last year's Le Freak, by Chic, was a top selling single worldwide, and this year's We Are Family, by Sister Sledge, is following suit. Unlike many disco producers who started out as deejays, Edwards and Rodgers owe their phenomenal success largely to their prowess and experience as musicians. Playing bass and guitar, respectively, they perform on virtually every song they produce, so all their records feature a similarly infectious tight and funky groove. They first met in the early '70s, playing in rock and soul groups. (For a time, Rodgers was in the pit band at Harlem's Apollo Theater.) Gradually they began to test out their own ideas in various New York studios, but, Nile told me, "I had already been hanging around studios since I was a kid. In fact, I used to jam with Jimi Hendrix at Electric Lady studio in Greenwich Village."
By the time they landed a record deal with Atlantic in 1977, the duo had their basic production methods down pat. As Bernard explaines it, "We'll work out a tune at home and tape it there, ironing out all the different parts. Years ago Nile and I worked in a three-piece show band, where we had to cover all the different instrumental parts between us. So now, it's natural for us to hear all the parts of a song when we write it. Also, jamming at home first helps us lock into the groove before we take it to the studio. We get the same loose, good-time feeling we used to get as kids jamming in the basement. After we've worked out the tune we'll go into the Power Station, the studio where we record, and lay down tracks as soon as possible. Our engineer, Bob Clearmountain, gets our natural sound on tape. He's really a key part of our team."
I stopped by the Power Station, on Manhattan's west Side, to talk with Clearmountain about Chic. Bob, who has recently been working with Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter, got his start working for engineer Tony Bongiovi (who owns the Power Station) at another Manhattan studio, Mediasound. He believes part of the reason for the "natural" sound Bernard described is that "we use specially designed Pultec equalizers that have tubes, not transistors. All audio equipment distorts, but transistors distort in seconds and dissonant intervals, while tubes tend to distort in more consonant intervals, which gives thing's a 'warm' sound. With Chic, I go for a live sound recorded very cleanly for the modern disco thing. Bernard and Nile will rarely use all twenty-four tracks on their tunes, and we try to do as much live playing as possible."
Studio A, where Chic does most of its recording, is wood-paneled and octagonal. One of the two adjacent smaller glass-enclosed areas was set up for Chic's rhythm section with bass and guitar amps, keyboards (Fender Rhodes and clavinet) and amps, and a drum kit. Amps and drums were baffled with four-foot dividing walls, allowing Nile, Bernard, drummer Tony Thompson, and keyboardist Andy Schwartz maximum eye contact and communication. Bob explained that "I close-mike the instruments, with twelve to sixteen mikes on the drums alone so we get virtually no leakage. We also get a tight sound in the small room and they're playing live, with each other.
"Bernard and Nile work very fast in the studio with rhythm tracks. As I recall, the basic tracks for both the 'C'est Chic' and 'We Are Family' albums were cut in four days altogether. Le Freak took about two hours-the track we used for that was, I think, the fourth complete run-through. They never use a click-track [an isolated track of the song's beat, usually electronically derived] and rarely have to fix or change any notes in the track they decide to use."
For echo, the Power Station has both EMT reverberation plates and a live echo chamber, which is a back stairwell with a speaker on the bottom landing and two mikes (for stereo) at the top of the stairs. Clearmountain will frequently experiment to get new sounds for Chic: "To get the weird-sounding handclaps on Le Freak from the last album, I turned the tape itself upside down and recorded the claps through the echo chamber. Then when I turned the tape right side up for playback, the echo came immediately before the clap."
One afternoon I watched Bernard, Nile, and Bob record strings in Studio A. Eleven violins, four violas, and two cellos made up the section, led by violinist Gene Orloff. These were players who work together constantly on album dates, commercials, and film scores. Nile spent several hours getting them to phrase their parts properly. Unlike much of disco, Chic's sound uses strings as rhythmic devices, playing countermelodies with accents that closely follow Edwards' syncopated, punchy bass lines. While Nile conducted the strings, Bernard and Bob sat in the booth, checking the VU meters, commenting on phrasing and intonation, and cracking jokes. Gradually I began to understand their approach: They merge a loose and funkily precise rhythm section with stately strings and graceful female voices. This is the Chic production concept that has spun gold for all concerned.../../..."