Duran Duran: ‘We thought we were the kings of the world when we made Rio’
Drummer Roger Taylor says the band, whose long run of hits includes The Reflex, Is There Something I Should Know, Hungry Like the Wolf and Girls on Film, are “really looking forward” to the shows.
“The few shows we did last year I’ve got to say the audiences were incredible, particularly in Scarborough,” he says.
As Taylor notes, elaborate productions have always been Duran Duran’s “thing”, and they won’t be stinting on spectacle at these two concerts. “To have great visuals, great lights, great screens, we’ve always been very interested in the aesthetic side of the show, so these will be pretty stunning,” says the 62-year-old. “We’re just working on a new show right now, actually, with our lighting designer.”
With a set that includes songs from the band’s latest album, Future Past, which reached Number Three in the UK charts last autumn, as well as “all the classics”, it will be “a great show”, he believes.
Future Past has been widely hailed as a creative rebirth for the band, who formed in Birmingham in 1978, but Taylor suggests the process had begun with their 2011 album All You Need Is Now. “I think it goes back to (producer) Mark Ronson,” he says. “He was the first one who made us feel that we needed to make peace with ourselves.
“We’d been running down all these different avenues trying to reinvent the sound of the band, and Mark was the first one that came along and said, ‘You guys need to sound a bit more like yourselves. Why don’t you go back to the way you used to record and really get back to playing together as a band, so the rhythm section can really kick through?’
“Nick got a lot of his old analog synths out again at that point. So I think it was kind of like a journey of self-acceptance that started with Mark Ronson on All You Need Is Now and we reached the end of the journey with this record. I think it took us two or three albums to really capture the energy of those early records.”
This time they were aided by producer Erol Alkan, who brought “so much energy” to the project. “He knew that thing of getting back to your roots but also bringing it into the contemporary era,” Taylor says. “Erol had a lot of enthusiasm, he was a big fan of the 12-inches that we used to cut particularly and he really wanted to recapture the energy of those.”
Former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon also brought a different sensibility to the recording sessions. “Dom Brown had played on a couple of the records and John Frusciante came in as a little bit of an after-thought on the last record (Paper Gods) but it was great to have somebody from day one writing with us in the studio,” says Taylor. “He’s such a nice, humble guy, he fitted in really well, everything he played was very Duran appropriate, if you like, so I think that really shaped the record as well, having a guitar player in at the writing stage.”
In keeping with modern trends, Future Past features a wealth of guest artists such as rapper Ivorian Doll, Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Lo and the all-female Japanese rock band Chai. Again, Taylor thinks Duran Duran were ahead of the curve, recalling their 80s offshoot Arcadia. “It was one of the first albums that had featured artists on it. We had Sting on it, we had Grace Jones, Dave Gilmour came in to play with us, so we had that back in the 80s. But again, that’s something Mark Ronson pushed us towards because he’s got a very big telephone book and he can pick names out of that at will, apparently. So Mark got us back into that and I think it’s very much part of the modern way of making records.
“When you’ve been making records for as long as we have, I think it’s great to have new people coming in and younger energy. People have a different way of looking at things and bring a different sound to the record, so I think it’s been very important in the last few years.”
Working with Giorgio Moroder, the Italian ‘father of disco’, was the realisation of a long-held dream. “The first song we ever played together was I Feel Love,” Taylor remembers. “That was the opening song at the first gig at the Rum Runner. We’ve always been indebted to Giorgio, Planet Earth is pure Giorgio Moroder, and I believe that he wanted to work with us in the 80s and we wanted to work with him but we never managed to get in the same room together because life became so busy. You couldn’t even find time to work with Giorgio Moroder, but we finally got there and it was incredible. He’s a musical genius, he really knows about arrangements and how a song should build. The tracks we did with him were really quick, they all came together within a few days, so that was a great experience.”
Having seemingly retired from music in 1986, only to be tempted back to Duran Duran in 2001, Taylor believes his younger self would have been amused by the idea that he would be touring into his sixties. “It’s one of those things where you start off doing something,” he says. “I started playing the drums 50 years ago. It was just one of those off the cuff things, I saw somebody playing the drums on the TV. My dad had a variety of instruments and I think I kind of wanted to be a bit like him and play something, so I chose the drums, but who would have thought it would be the start of a career that would still be going today? If anything, if you’d have told my 12-year-old self that, I think he would have thought you were crazy, probably.
“It was an off the cuff thing. It wasn’t like someone who dreams of being a lawyer for ten years then they go to university to study and go to work for a law firm, it just happened purely by chance. I think some of the best things actually happen by chance.”
This year Duran Duran are marking the 40th anniversary of their landmark second album Rio, which transformed them into global superstars. Taylor remembers it being “quite an easy record to make”. “We made records over the years that have been very long, protracted experiences, we’ve got there in the end, but Rio I remember as being very quick and very easy to make because we were at that stage where we’d spent a lot of time together in the early days, we’d amassed a lot of material, we used some of it on the first record but then we had quite a lot ready for the second record.
“I think also we had got the wind under our tails, we’d had the first taste of success and the enthusiasm was just unbounded, and I think you can hear it in the record. There was this burst of youthful energy, we kind of thought we were the kings of the world at that point and I think it shows in the record. It’s quite bombastic in its own way and I think that’s what really appealed to the American audience.”
The band’s welcome in the US was reminiscent of the heady days of Beatlemania. Taylor says the fervour was “pretty crazy” to experience. “It was quite unexpected. We came from England where we were quite big at that time, we’d had Top 10 records, but when we got to America and they didn’t really know who we were, we were playing these little clubs all across America but then of course MTV happened and they started playing the videos.
“The next time we went back we were like, woah, what happened – who knew that suddenly we were the next big thing? And yes, it was quite an adjustment, because once the Americans get you, they get you lock, stock and barrel. We had this core teenage audience that was ready to rip us apart. You couldn’t leave your hotel because there were kids outside it every day. It had its high points but it was a lot to take on. It was certainly an intense experience.”
Bassist John Taylor recently suggested that the basic chemistry of Duran Duran was “four parts punk, three parts disco and three parts techno”. Roger Taylor cites the importance of glam rock heroes David Bowie and Roxy Music as well. “We grew up on those guys,” he says. “I don’t think we would be together if it wasn’t for Bowie and Roxy, there were the Superglue for us, if you like. That’s what bonded us together in those early days.
“Bowie and Roxy they always had great musicians. The Roxy Music band – Paul Thompson and Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay – were amazing musicians. Also Bowie always chose incredible musicians to play with, so we had incredible schooling from those two artists so that when we came together we had all picked up this style from those musicians, they were so important to us. Image-wise as well, they both had great aesthetics. To be a member of Duran Duran you had to have a bit of a look because the people who grew up on all had a very strong image.
“The same with punk as well. We were all into punk and that was as much about image as music. We’d all been through that and that was a big influence on us too.”
As one of the pioneers of music videos, the band saw them as much more than mere promo clips. Directors they worked with such as Russell Mulcahy and Godley and Creme turned them into a big-budget artform. “I think a lot of that was being in the right place at the right time,” Taylor reflects. “It was a period when people were setting up MTV and they had hours and hours of space to fill and there weren’t many people making videos back then. Also the UK didn’t have a hugely strong film industry at that point so you had all these immensely talented guys hanging around in Soho that were looking for work, and then video came along and they put all that incredible talent they had into making videos for us and Spandau and Ultravox, so that was a stroke of luck.
“We were always a very visual band and Simon (Le Bon) had a background in drama, so that helped as well. We just used to look distant in the window in the background, Simon was a bit of an actor, so that helped, and made us, I think.”
Throughout everything Duran Duran have maintained an internal democracy. Taylor believes it’s what has kept the four of them together for so many years. “It also keeps the egos in check,” he quips. “You’ve always got to answer to three other people so if you come up with this hare-brained scheme there are three other people who are ready to pull you back down to earth.
“It may not look like it on the outside, but we are all quite down to earth. The Midlands character is definitely part of our DNA still. People from Birmingham don’t let you get carried away with yourself, they’re very grounded, and I think that’s part of who we are, and it’s very important that we are a democracy. I think if we had one person who was the big ego I don’t think we’d be here today, we would have probably bitten the dust like many other bands.”
Duran Duran play at Castle Howard, near York, on June 17 and The Piece Hall, Halifax on July 5. duranduran.com