Leap of faith
Collegial Duran Duran produces classic reunion album
By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
October 21, 2004
Had Duran Duran actually sat down and tried to figure out a strategy for a reunion of its classic lineup, it simply never would have happened, says guitarist Andy Taylor.
The egos, the scheduling, the hassle and the "who made YOU boss?" attitude would have doomed it before they set foot in a room together.
Instead, a flurry of phone calls in a 24-hour period got everyone to believe that they'd somehow make it work.
"We couldn't sit down and debate about how everyone felt. They just had to feel good about taking that leap of faith," Taylor says from his home in London. While still fresh in many minds because of their hits in the '80s and '90s, the original lineup, incredibly, hasn't made a studio album together since 1983.
It was more than just agreeing to work together; it was an exploration of whether they still had any musical curiosity left in them, any ambition to do something new.
"The next leap of faith is are you still ambitiously thinking? Does this occupy a lot of time in your mind? Do you still listen to music, checking stuff out? Do you still have ideas? Does everyone have the space to being completely committed to making a record?"
As it turns out, yes they did. Taylor, singer Simon LeBon, bassist John Taylor, keyboard player Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor all had one thing in common - none of them was signed to a record contract at the moment.
So instead of agents and managers and record companies, they were able to deal with just each other.
"The reason we were able to get together was that none of us was contracted or trapped or caught in any circumstances. We had a completely clean slate, each one of us. That freedom made us empower ourselves and get hold of everything we do. We own our music publishing, which is a huge thing for a band to have," he says.
"We were financially viable enough as individuals to carry the thing. There was no A&R pressure, no management pressure to 'Come on, let's get out there quick and grab it.' "
Instead, fans will find the new album, Astronaut, sounding like classic Duran Duran, yet not dated. Sunrise is the first single and it took off on radio (a passing resemblance to their early hit The Reflex surely didn't hurt).
While they weren't exactly critics' darlings the first time around, bands such as No Doubt, the Dandy Warhols and others have cited Duran Duran's influence on their work.
"The irony of it is that . . . now the critics' darlings cite us as an influence. It took a long time to come back around," Taylor says.
After deciding to go for it, the band went to the south of France - "big house, set up a studio, get a cook, a load of dancing girls," Taylor jokes.
"When you're younger it's aspiring to get to London, to get in the right studio to get the sounds. When you're older, it's getting out of Dodge so you can get some space and go hang out in clubs at night and party a little, have freedom, and there you are back in this little gang. We gotta play together, we gotta pull together, we gotta eat together. You put yourself in those circumstances that are inspiring."
As the sessions for Astronaut moved forward, they began setting up the business apparatus around it to make a reunion viable.
"A smash-and-grab would have been easy. Go out, do the tour, clean up on the nostalgia and see ya later. We had it completely the other way around. It was creative reasons to inspire us and keep this thing going."
They found being a little older and wiser was a help in the studio.
"When we got into the playing together bit, 'familiar' is the easiest word to use. It's as simple as that. It was just very familiar. All of these things that your memory bank has, including just how to communicate with each other, started to fire up again. It was quite strange, really. It was like something you left and never really consciously went back into that frame of mind and thinking," he says.
Was it like the cliche of slipping on a comfortable old shoe?
"Even in comfortable shoes, if you walk too far you get blisters," Taylor says with a laugh. "Now you know how far to go. You all walk in each other's shoes, but you know how far to go with each other. That's something that you've probably processed many times in your mind - where you did it right and where you did it wrong. We have a fairly hard respect now for where the boundaries are, where we can and can't go with each other."
They knew the biggest boundary would be an organizational one. No one member of the band needed this project, and all five are songwriters. Nile Rodgers, Dallas Austin and Don Gilmore all took turns behind the mixing board, honing the band's songs.
"I don't think many bands write material in the way we do - it's absolutely five, and everything is considered on five different levels," Taylor says. It's as equal and democratic a band as it could possibly be, which creates its own set of problems.
"When you start an album you need someone to galvanize and focus everyone's attention. 'Today we're starting at 11 a.m. and we're going to do this.'
"That's another reason you need a producer. No one guy in the band can go 'Hey, I'm gonna call you all and wake you up in the morning and you're all going to go in the studio.' It's like (forget) you, who died and made you boss? A producer is a referee and a schedule setter."
Tour will rock with hits of old
Duran Duran's comeback is more than just the new album Astronaut. A full U.S. tour will launch Feb. 10 in Miami, says Andy Taylor.
And the hits of old have staying power, he was delighted to learn.
"We knew it had stayed on the radio. You're aware of these things. It was the reaction (earlier this year) that we got when we played live, which was just as hysterical as it has always been," he says.
The time Taylor and others weren't in the band yielded some hits, such as Ordinary World, but he has no problem playing those songs live.
"We really DO have to play Ordinary World, but it's cool, it's a nice song. Let me try to make it a little bit of my own," he says.
"If there was something that someone really didn't want to play, no one would push them. I quite enjoy playing some of that stuff. It's interesting to make everything work, including 20-odd years of guitar sounds, including stuff you didn't (write). It's a challenge."
Mark Brown is the pop music writer. Courtesy Rocky Mountain News