Giorgio Moroder is one of the true greats of disco and electronic music. Responsible for the futuristic backings to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” and “Love to Love You Baby,” Moroder redefined the music landscape in the ’70s via his Munich studio. Moroder has worked with plenty of other artists – his biggest hit remains his “Together in Electric Dreams” collaboration with Human League’s Phil Oakey – and includes soundtrack work for Hollywood films like Midnight Express and Top Gun. In advance of his appearance at the Red Bull Music Academy this year, we caught up yesterday with Moroder via phone for a brief thumbnail sketch of his career.
I find it interesting to hear that this upcoming Red Bull Music Academy show is your first DJing gig.
It is the first ever in America. I did one kind-of-a-DJ-thing for 12 minutes at a Louis Vuitton show last year. And then I did one DJ thing for Elton John in Cannes last year. But this will be the first one where I play an instrument – and some vocoder.
I think most people wouldn’t expect someone that has made such big dance hits to have never DJed before. You’ve said before that you didn’t even really go to clubs much in the ’70s.
I’m not really a night person.
That’s true. I got some offers a few years ago, but I didn’t really take them seriously. But it has developed quite a lot right now. It was a little bit by coincidence. I knew the head designer at Louis Vuitton, who asked me to DJ. And I did it, and I liked it. And there was a guy there that asked me to do the Elton John thing. So I said, “Oh, wow, it’s kind of getting serious now.” This time, though, I’m going to be trying to combine DJing and producing. I’d like to maybe do one gig per month and spend the rest of the time in the studio.
Why did you never go to clubs in the ’70s, for the most part?
Well, I did go to some clubs, but I’m not really a night person. I worked until 10, 11, 12 at night, and I was kind of tired. You hear all day long the same – well, not the same – but the heavy rhythm... I was happy to go home and relax. But sometimes, especially in Munich, if I had a new song I would take the tape to a friend of mine that was a DJ in a discotheque to see the reaction of the people.
I saw that you’ve been using SoundCloud over the past year or so to post some of your music. Can you talk about why you’re doing that?
To be honest, it’s not me that did it. [laughs] Somebody in my name, I don’t know how, is doing it. Not one record company is complaining, though. And I don’t own many of the masters, so... I’m happy it’s there. Those old songs don’t make any money anyway. (Or very little.) So it’s nice that people can listen to it. It’s not my making, but I’m happy that someone is doing it. They’ve found things that I haven’t listened to for the past 25 or 30 years!
I read recently that some of your early work is actually going to be reissued.
Yes, a British record label. I don’t know much about it, but they’re reissuing some really old stuff. I’m curious to hear what it is. I hope they pick the best ones.
Of that stuff – back before some of your biggest hits – what still stands out to you?
I had one great bubblegum song that I still like, “Looky, Looky.” I heard it a few days ago, and thought that it wasn’t a bad song. It became a hit in France and in Spain and Italy. And then there was “Son of My Father,” where, for the first time, I used a synthesizer. That was covered by a group called Chicory Tip, but my version made it the Top 40 in America.
I know that synthesizers back then were always a bit temperamental. Did you run into problems?
The Moog I was working with was constantly out-of-tune. It was really a pain to work with it. Obviously it had great sounds. But everything now is much easier. It’s always in tune, and you can play longer than a minute before you have to retune it.
One of the stories I’ve always heard about Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” was that the label boss, Neil Bogart, called you up after you sent him a three-minute version and asked you to make a much, much longer version. Why was that?
There are several stories out there, to be honest. And I don’t know the real one. He called me at 3 AM, and asked me to extend the song. He said that he had a party at his house and he was playing the single version and that people wanted to hear it over and over again. He thought that was a great idea – and so did I. That was the key element for the song to become a hit I think. I did the same thing on from From Here to Eternity, and it’s an interesting thing to have a song flow for 17, 18, 19 minutes that moves through different styles, but is still the same song.
You’re going to be featured on the new album by Daft Punk. Tell me about working with them.
It was great. I didn’t really work in the sense of being in the studio. They just asked me to talk about my life. So we sat down for three hours in the studio in Paris. They gave me the concept of the album, but not really anything about the song. I just heard it for the first time a few days ago, and I’m surprised at how well they integrate my voice with their music. They were very professional, very detail-oriented guys.
If you hear the bass on the first part of “Love to Love You Baby” soloed, it’s terrible.
I saw a video recently where you talked about how you were surprised at how detail-oriented they were.
Very. For example, the way they use a vocoder. It’s one of their main instruments, and – from what they told me – it takes them days and days to find the right sound, to find the right microphone. If you listen to the tape, there are so many little things... There are things that I heard the third time that I didn’t hear the first. They are perfectionists.
Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
No. I don’t care if there are... not major mistakes... but in “Take My Breath Away” for example, the sound of the bass was saved on a computer, but I lost it. I couldn’t find it again. So, basically, that song was something that I played. And I’m not a very good bass player. [laughs] That song has a lot of little things that were not well done. But it seemed to do OK.
Also on “Love to Love You Baby” if you hear the first part of it, the bass sounds good. But if you hear it soloed, it’s terrible. Absolutely terrible. Two weeks later we did the longer version and, in the meantime, the bass player learned the song better. So the bass in the second part is much better. If you hear it with all the other instruments, though, you don’t notice. It’s quite good.
Looking back on your career, is there anyone that you wish you had been able to work with?
I do remember that Sylvester Stallone, when he was making the third Rambo film, absolutely wanted a song with Bob Dylan. I wanted to work with him too, he’s such a legend. So I scored the song and Sylvester liked it. I presented it to Bob, and he was listening to it. I think he heard it seven or eight times, but he eventually said no. I don’t know why – maybe it wasn’t the right movie or song – but that was one of the artists that I wanted to work with. We never used it for anything else. It was done specifically for that scene and movie. He’s one of those artists that you think, well… if he doesn’t like it, it’s probably a bad song anyway.