Giorgio Moroder talks Daft Punk, David Bowie, and golfing in BrooklynVegan interview
With "Giorgio by Moroder", an entirely new generation of fans had their first exposure to the man largely responsible for bringing the synth and electronica sounds to the forefront of commercial music. As a track on 2013’s acclaimed Random Access Memories album from Daft Punk, "Giorgio by Moroder" wasn’t an exercise in reviving a career as much as it was a reminder of how bands like Daft Punk and countless others wouldn’t exist were it not for the pioneering work of Giorgio Moroder. Born in 1940, the Italian native has spent the wealth of his life exploring and exceeding the boundaries of synthesized sound, working with such icons as David Bowie, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, and Blondie, to name only a few.
With last year’s Déjà Vu, Moroder returned from a 23-year-long break from creating music, offering unneeded but welcomed proof that age is of no consequence to ambition and creativity. At 75, Moroder’s passion and renowned positivist approach to music and life in general is a reprieve from the often jaded "meh" culture that assumes that all possibilities have been exhausted in music. In our recent conversation, Moroder was eager to disagree and also offer his perspective on his own life, career, and the incredible music he still creates.
You’ve been incredibly busy these past couple of years, Giorgio. What’s currently on your plate?
Well, right now I’m finishing a song which is probably my next single. It’s coming out in what I would think would be late April or early May. That’s one thing I’m doing with a friend of mine named Raney Shockne. I’m doing the music for a USA Network television series called Queen of the South. Then I’ll be doing some touring. I’ll be in Milan and Rome in about two or three weeks. I’ll be in Paris at the wonderful, old theater called Olympia, where I played with the musician Johnny Hallyday a long, long time ago. [Laughs.] So it’s incredible to go back there and not as a musician but as a performer. Then there are several other things like some commercials. I’m very busy right now, yes. [Laughs.]
Last year’s Dejavu was your first release in 23 years. What was your relationship to music in that time between?
I was still interested in music, but I had so many different things other than that that I was doing. Of course I started to play golf, and then I got lazy. [Laughs.] But when I started to DJ, which was a coincidence at the beginning, and then the big hit from the album with Daft Punk, and then everything changed again. Suddenly I got a lot of offers not only to DJ but to record. So basically I’m back to doing what I really like. [Laughs.]
Have you seen your perspective and even approach to music and the music industry change since you first became involved?
The record business is quite different now. In my days when I worked with Donna Summer and David Bowie and all of those artists, I had them in the studio, and we worked in the studio on each single track. Most of the time there was one producer for the whole album. Now it’s totally different. Every album has five, six, or even ten different producers, so the whole word of recording changed a lot. What used to be more personal isn’t so much now. You can do so much through the Internet. You send the tracks away like with Sia, I gave her the tracks with a certain melody and put a couple of lines in, and she sang it and the harmonies, sent it back, and it was basically done. It’s quite different now, but that’s how it is now.
It seems like technology would provide an enormous amount of possibilities but also a lot of obstacles as well. Is that something you’ve seen as well since getting back into creating music?
It’s really funny. It’s much easier now to find great sound when you’re talking about synthesizers. You have literally millions of great synthesizers, but then on the other hand, you’ve got too much stuff, and it takes an enormous amount of time to get the right kick because you have 200 kicks. You need to have a special thing, and it takes you days to find a little sound. So although everything is easier, it’s also more complicated, too. When I record an album with, say, Donna. We had my drummer, bass player, and guitarist, and keyboardist. We would do the tracks in two hours. The tracks were done, and maybe later we would edit them, but that was it. We had the sound of the drummer, which was basically most of the time the same. So it was much, much faster, and with some limitation because basically all drums sound like a drum. But now you’ve got thousands of different ways to make the drum sound with all the different loops. It’s great to have all those possibilities, but it’s a lot of research and trying out so many different things. I remember I was talking last year with my friend David Guetta about drums in the new recording and he said, "Look, the drums and the kicks that you had on the record six months ago you can’t use anymore. You have to go find something new, because after six months it’s outdated." Now, you have to research and find new things. I personally don’t have all of that music machinery and all that stuff. I’m a little limited. I just do my demos, and then I have my great musicians to do the tracks, and they then find some new bass sounds and drums and guitars. You have a lot of possibilities, but now you need so much time to find the right stuff for all of those possibilities.
So it’s much more complicated from every angle. Is that something you see as a possible distraction for artists wanting to experiment with new sounds today?
[Laughs.] I think everything is more complicated now. Guys like Skrillex and partially Diplo are great because they are quite advanced, or at least they are trying to find some new stuff that’s still commercial. There are not as many who are doing it, and especially not that many who are successful. I guess everybody now is trying to find a new sound, and hopefully get that great new sound which is going to last a few years. Unfortunately, I don’t know what that could be.
Looking at your origins in Italy and your own beginnings, what was it initially that drew you in so strongly to have that desire to make music?
I’m not saying unfortunately, but we lived in a very small town in Italy, and the only thing we had was radio. Once in a while if I was lucky when I was fourteen or fifteen, I would be able to buy some records but very limited. I would have to drive to another city to find them, so I was not really exposed too much to music unlike people now. But then I became a musician, and at least then I got to learn a little bit like how to play the bass. I had a great pianist who played with me who taught me so much. But when I was younger, the only thing was that radio, and I typically didn’t like the Italian or the German or whatever music, so I was fortunate enough sometimes to listen to an English radio station, and I think that influenced me quite a lot. That was a time when I was just listening to English music whenever I was able to get the station or my parents let me listen to it. [Laughs.] It was a slow learning process for me then, whereas now I have a son who is 26 who is listening to all kinds of music basically ten hours a day. [Laughs.] That stuff didn’t exist then, and especially not in that kind of environment where I was.
Was that limitation something that subconsciously guided you to experimentation and being sort of forced to create your own musical world?
I was listening to The Beatles and Elvis Presley and a lot of the black artists like The Platters and so many of those wonderful American acts, but then I became a musician myself, and that’s when you kind of concentrate more on what you’re playing. I wasn’t able to listen to too much anyway, so I really had no choice but to create what I could. I’m kind of what you call a "late bloomer" with popular music. [Laughs.] It was only when I was 27 or 28 when I decided to become a composer, and then I moved to Berlin. That’s when my life became kind of serious, and I said to myself – okay, now you have to listen to music, and you have to get serious and start working. I had a limited amount of money, and I had to survive. But that was good because that’s when my professional life started. I was always looking for new stuff from then on, so the synthesizers came out, and then Mr. Moog came out with his synthesizer, and I just thought, well, okay, this is my instrument.