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Giorgio Moroder on Britney, Sia, Charli: Inside His First Album in Decades

Italian disco pioneer explains how a Daft Punk tribute song led to a star-studded comeback.

Italian disco pioneer explains how a Daft Punk tribute song led to a star-studded comeback.

Seventy-four-year-old electronic-music legend Giorgio Moroder’s return surprises no one more than Moroder himself. “In the past 10 years, I did very little,” says the friendly, mustachioed producer, sitting in a conference room at his record label’s Manhattan office, recalling a recent point when he turned down an album deal “because I wasn’t that much interested.” He did write a theme for the 2008 Olympics, but beyond that, he had been keeping a low profile. “I played a lot of golf,” he says. “I was happy.”

Eventually, working alongside a pair of Frenchmen sparked a return to music. “Daft Punk are the reason why I am here,” the “I Feel Love” producer explains. After contributing to Random Access Memories‘ warbly dance-prog tribute “Giorgio by Moroder,” he booked his first-ever DJ gigs and found inspiration in the crowds. “I noticed that the audiences were so young, like 18 to 40,” he says. “I felt so young. I mean, I’m 74, but I still felt like part of this young generation. Some of those guys knew my songs and were not even born when they came out. It’s nice to hear a 20-year-old guy or girl sing along with the lyrics.”

Now, the disco pioneer is preparing to put out his first album in three decades this spring. The handful of songs Moroder shared with Rolling Stone suggest that it will be a decidedly contemporary-sounding dance record featuring guest appearances by Britney Spears, Sia, Charli XCX and Kylie Minogue, among others. Frosted with white hair and a still-bushy mustache, the disco innovator, who pronounces his name “George-O,” speaks and laughs with the same careful, captivating and infectious optimism that made his Daft Punk cameo so intriguing. His enthusiasm and curiosity belie his age.

Over the years, Moroder won three Oscars, two Grammys and four Golden Globes. Even after disco’s popularity waned, he sat behind the boards for hits like Irene Cara’s “Flashdance,” Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Blondie’s “Call Me,” the biggest record of 1980. As the decade progressed, however, opportunities outside music led him away from the control room, and he moved to New York to focus on art and live a life of opulence.

“I had a hundred ideas which I wanted to develop,” he says. “I studied two years of art and started doing some big neon paintings and computer-generated images. I built a car, the Cizeta-Moroder, with a 16-cylinder. Slowly, I got less interested in the music.” Even in quasi-retirement, Moroder enjoyed hearing some of his songs used as samples in rap (“I don’t mind, if they do it, as long as they pay”), especially the Scarface rips in Kanye West’s “Mercy” and Lil Wayne’s “On Fire.” 

As he sees it, the process of making an album has gotten easier over the years. Where the entire burden of a song would once fall on just him and, say, Donna Summer, there is now a team of collaborators willing to contribute different lyrics, hooks and melodies. He is most impressed by the fact that these elements are often added by people stationed in entirely different continents, then combined over the Internet.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” he says, “With Sia, I just gave her the tracks, which had a certain melody on it, and two-to-three weeks later she sent me the tapes with background vocals, mixed, and it’s not bad actually. It’s partially my melody, partially hers. It’s really fantastic.

“To go in with a singer and tell the singer how to sing, that’s always stress,” he continues. “Some people are so talented, it’s really difficult to tell them, ‘Do it this way.’ When I was working with David Bowie, who am I to tell him how to sing right? With a singer and composer like Sia, you don’t have to worry.”

For another track, Charli XCX gave Moroder a vocal a cappella, allowing him to find the chords and instrumentation for what became a fuzzy, catchy pop song. And he describes working with Kylie Minogue, whose Giorgio collaboration (the love song “Right Here, Right Now”) mellifluously transitions from burpy bass beat to heavenly chorus, as easy. “She’s a professional and such a great lady,” he says. “She’s a darling.”

Moroder was also surprised that one artist in particular – the most famous on the album – wanted to collaborate. “Britney came to my management company with the idea to do a particular song with me, which was interesting because usually it’s the other way, with the producer offering a song,” he says. Although he won’t say what song she picked (“the record company doesn’t want me to tell you”), he offered some clues: “Let’s say it’s a song which came out about 30 years ago as an a cappella, just a voice. If you can figure out what it is, I didn’t tell you.” (In the spirit of speculation, possibilities include “O Superman,” Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and the Flying Pickets’ cover of “Only You.”

“I think everybody we approached said yes,” he says of his collaborators, which also include Foxes and Mikki Ekko. “To my big surprise, acts like Sia or Britney were. . .” He pauses. “I was gone for 30 years, right? So I’m not somebody who has had a few hits a few years ago.”

One act that will not feature on the album is Daft Punk. “It would be like, ‘Oh, Giorgio is trying to get them back in,'” he says. “Pharrell wanted to do something, and with Pharrell, it would be different because it’s not Daft Punk. He said yes, but, time-wise, I think he doesn’t have one minute left in his life to do a song.” There was a point when he hoped to work with Lady Gaga, but now a potential collaboration might appear on her next album: “What a talent,” he says. “A great pianist, a great composer, lyricist – it’s going to be great.”

So far, Moroder has recorded about 15 songs, some of which are instrumental, and he estimates that about 12 tracks will make the final cut. An additional four to five songs will be reserved for what he calls the “luxury version.”

Other than a release date, the only detail still being worked out is the title. “I kind of thought it was 74 Is the New 24, but I don’t know what the record company is deciding,” he says. “I don’t know if that title would haunt me in the next few years. When the album comes out, I’m going to be 75.” He laughs and drops the pitch of his voice, mimicking the effect of his signature vocoder as he sings the hook for the would-be title track: “75 is the new. . .” He cracks up before he can finish the line.