By George A. Paul
New Wave is back in vogue. I know youve heard it all before. This time, its really true as rock groups are once again crafting fun and danceable, synth pop-leaning tunes. Fortunately, the original members of pioneering British band Duran Duran (vocalist Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor) are back to show everyone how its done.
Astronaut, the reunited groups first studio album since 1983s Seven and the Ragged Tiger, features some tight, funky jams (Taste the Summer), block rockin beat excursions (Want You More, Nice) and haunting ballads in trademark Duran Duran fashion (Finest Hour). Former Chic leader Nile Rodgers (The Wild Boys, Notorious), Don Gilmore (Linkin Park) and Dallas Austin (Madonna, TLC) all lent production assistance. A new compilation, Singles Box Vol. 2 (1986-1995), is in stores now.
Rhodes founded the Birmingham quintet in 1978 and manned the soundboard for Dandy Warhols 2003 disc Welcome to the Monkey House. He squeezed in a brief phone chat with me before heading out to the Virgin Megastore in Hollywood, where a thousand fans turned up for an album signing.
This reunion came about in a single day back in 2000. Were you surprised how quickly the other guys signed on when the idea was first brought up?
Not really. I knew John and Simon were interested. So it was really down to Andy and Roger. Part of me was skeptical, thinking, Are they ready for it? Another part of me felt that the timing seemed right for all of us. If we were ever going to do it, now would be the time. And they felt the same way.
Did it take awhile to get reacquainted with everyones playing styles again?
It took about 10 minutes theres something about the chemistry with five of us in a room that brings out some kind of bizarre magic. You cant really put your finger on why. Its almost immediate when we start writing.
Tell me about the process you went through to make Astronaut.
We worked for a long time on this one. Never mind the 15-year buildup and going into the studio. Its actually taken us a three-year period to write, record and mix all the songs to physically get to this point has been quite a journey.
Was it less stressful in the studio compared to the early 80s, when the band was on an endless treadmill?
We had plenty of time because we funded it ourselves and we didnt have a label. We set our own agenda and basically kept writing until there was enough material. Then we sought out a record label, which proved to be a lot harder than wed imagined.
You ended up doing some low-key gigs first.
Yeah, we decided to get the live show back up to speed. Thats really what [got us signed]. Once we were onstage in front of an audience again and saw the reaction, we thought, Yeah, this is why we do it!
On Astronaut, youve managed to revisit the classic Duran Duran sound while making it fresh at the same time. Was that hard to achieve?
Not really. We didnt want this to sound like a parody of the early stuff. Duran Duran has always been about technology and production and being cutting edge.
Nowadays, more alt-rock artists are citing Duran Duran as an influence. Are you pleased to see the band finally getting its props?
You know what really pleases me? The bands mentioning us are really great and unique: the Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters, The Faint theyve all got a personality and character of their own. And they all write their own stuff when we were growing up listening to Bowie, T-Rex, Roxy Music, Kraftwerk and then punk rock, it was about having an edge, having style, an attitude and writing great songs.
Which of Duran Durans previous albums have withstood the test of time?
The first two and The Wedding Album are probably the strongest ones, aside from the new one. Having said that, I listened to [1997s] Medazzaland about a year ago and I was fascinated to find things Id temporarily forgotten wed done. Undergoing Treatment is incredibly unique. I like it when we go out there and experiment a little more.
Since youve signed a multi-album deal with Epic Records, will we see some more experiments in the future?
Its amazing where we can go with the lineup we have now. Because the sound is so distinctive and recognizable as Duran Duran, we can make a hip-hop sounding single or do something more ambient or electronic and it still sounds like us. We intend to spread our wings as far as we can over the next few years.
On the web: www.duranduran.com
Courtesy Mean Streets Magazine and online, http://mag.meanstreet.com/article.php?article_id=311&issue_id=60