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Madonna Interview : MOJO

Madonna fronts Chic, makes a splash, as recalled by Nile Rodgers

“I’d grown up around big stars and had just come off working with Diana Ross and David Bowie on Let’s Dance. So I was used to charismatic people. When Madonna came to my apartment to talk about working on Like A Virgin she was this new girl singer whose debut has sold in the thousands and I was the big-time record producer. But after we talked I thought: This could be the most special person I’ve ever met in my life. She was brilliant and focused. After she played me demos she flat out told me: “If you don’t love these songs, we can’t work together.”

Madonna - Mojo / March 2015

Madonna had conceived the whole of Like A Virgin in her head. I didn’t need to ask her questions about the impact of songs like Material Girl and Dress You Up because she was already there in her mind. I wasn’t sure about Like A Virgin as the lead single. She sat me down and said: ‘Nile, to a young girl losing your virginity is a big deal.’ She tapped into the hearts and minds of female youth culture. Madonna was their spokesperson.

Like A Virgin ended up being the last great Chic record; it’s Chic but with Madonna as our lead singer. If you look at the credits it’s clear she was working in my camp: it was my studio, my singer, my musicians, my engineer. I told her, if my band, with its pretty great rhythm section, plays these, no one will sound like you. She was convinced.

I thought I’d be her producer for life, the George Martin to her Beatles. But a contract dispute and the fact my girlfriend didn’t get on with Sean Penn conspired against us.”

Patrick Leonard on the emergence of Madonna: The Serious Artist

“When we started, it was her first tour [The Virgin Tour, 1985] and essentially she was open about not having done it before. I found her dead serious, but quite easy to work with. We started doing some writing during that tour, working on Love Makes The World Go Round [from True Blue, 1986], but I don’t know that there’s ever a plan. Y’know, there were questions about lyrics along the way and I always just said, Go for it and make it as real as possible. There’s no such thing as too real here.

My feelings when we were making Like A Prayer is we pretty much knew that the whole world was gonna hear this record and we should make a great record. But we still did the same thing of writing the songs relatively quickly. Oftentimes those songs weren’t resung. My agenda at the time was to try to make it as live as possible. We bumped the heads on that issue a lot. No one else was making records like that at that time with that much live performance. On Oh Father, I’m pretty sure that the record button got hit, like, four times. That’s all. But it was always a bit of celebration because it was so easy to find something cool.”

Stuart Price helmed Confessions On A Dance Floor, Madonna’s ’05 return to core values

“I did a remix for [Music and American Life producer] Mirwais in 2001 and when Madonna was looking for a live keyboard player he recommended me. I ended up playing on her Drowned World tour and working on some material for American Life, but it didn’t get used. I wanted her to sound like ‘Autechre with Madonna vocals’ and she wanted to be ‘Che Guevara with a busted-up acoustic guitar’.

Still, by the end of her next tour, Re-Invention, we started working on the music for a movie she was making with Luc Besson [Hello Suckers]. There was a ‘disco’ section in the film and the song we wrote came together really quickly. The writing was on the wall and it morphed into Confessions On A Dance Floor.

Confessions… made subliminal reference to her earliest records. While we were recording in my small studio loft, she’d talk about Mark Kamins spinning a reel-to-reel of what they’d just worked on when he’d DJ and having the windows open in Jellybean’s apartment and taxi sounds ending up in the background of Into The Groove. The album connected the girl who made these records to the spiritual mother that she’d become.

I think she enjoys working with DJs because she recognizes the framework: a little songwriting naivety mixed with focus on the simple hook, Madonna is all about making large, very digestible records. I think we were a good match musically. As a DJ I saw what would work at the clubs while as a performer Madonna was connected to dance music on a physical level, understanding what it takes to make people want to move.”

After the generic Hard Candy, Martin Solveig helped Madonna recharge on MDNA.

“She’d heard my songs Hello and Boys & Girls and saw qualities she wanted on MDNA: positive, happy songs that you could dance to. Madonna is extremely good at finding the middle point between herself and her producer and turning that into her own thing.

The overall vision around the album was creating tracks that would fit into the subsequent live show. I think from day one she had the movie of the show in her mind and if the songs we worked on fit that concept so much the better.

We did six or seven tracks and, by today’s standards, our studio collaboration was old school. Now it’s about people who have never met e-mailing different tracks to each other. MDNA was organic in comparison. It felt like we were two halves of the same band. The first track we worked on was Give Me All your Luvin’. I’d demoed it for her in a complete form but the first day I met her she told me: ‘I like this song but if we’re going to do it together we’re going to re-do it together too.’ We took everything out of the demo she didn’t like: the snare drum, the vocal and from that skeleton track we built a new song. Another track, Beautiful Killer, came out of our shared love of the French new wave film Le Samourai starring Alain Delon. When it came to the vocals I made her re-record the same part 20 or 25 times because the songs were a little out of her range. She didn’t enjoy it and nicknamed me ‘The Tyrant’! Which was funny – she has an english sense of humour – because I’m the exact opposite of a tyrant. She said I was the sweetest producer she’d ever worked with. Probably too sweet.”

Thomas Wesley Pentz – aka Diplo – on pushing the envelope, Madonna style

“I hadn’t really listened to her recent album but I knew her classic material. We wrote a lot of things – like, seven, eight songs together. She said, ‘Give me something crazy,’ and that’s when we made B*tch I’m Madonna. It’s just so weird and different. It’s hard to write a record like that from scratch. For me, when I produce records, I write demos and I remake them with different sounds and make them more crazy. But that started out a crazy record. She was just into it.

Her work ethic is crazy and also she’s a mother. I have a child too and we connected on that level. It was cool to see someone have that level of being a serious woman. Like, she’s a mother, and the same time she’s writing an album. I don’t think she sleeps.

Living For Love ended up being the fifteenth version of the song until it got perfect. There’s that level of pride in the music. She doesn’t have to do anything else really. But she does. It’s like, she’s already sold billions of records and she’s still treating this one as if it’s her first record. But she is Madonna and she is really there to make music and that’s the only thing she’s there to do.