"Notorious" Duran Duran: Chatting with Andy Taylor

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"Notorious" Duran Duran: Chatting with Andy Taylor

By Courtney Grimes

For over a quarter of a century, the sounds of Duran Duran have helped shape the face of music. Since the beginning of their phenomenal musical conception, members Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and Roger Taylor have sold over 70 million albums, toured the world many times over, and set new standards for pop music and pop music videos. From being the first band to ever use live video feed on screens during concerts to being the first band to ever make a song available for downloading off the internet (“Electric Barbarella”), Duran Duran seemed to always be breaking new ground.

Duran Duran, named after a character in the sci-fi classic Barbarella, formed in Birmingham, England (1978), and within the first three years had already been deemed part of the “Second British Invasion” which hit America in the early ‘80s. With hits like “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Rio,” and “Reflex,” Duran Duran secured their place as a leader of America’s music scene.

After a much needed year off, the band reconvened to hit the studio in 1986. However, Roger Taylor informed his bandmates that he would not be returning, and would be taking another year off. Andy soon followed, and the original lineup of Duran Duran was gone. With new players in place, the band’s success continued for the next decade, until John made the decision to leave as well, in 1996.

Not until 2003 did the original “Fab Five” regroup to hone the obvious creative chemistry that existed between them. In the beginning of the next year, Duran Duran released their first album together in almost 20 years. Now with their latest release, Astronaut, the band is winning over yet another generation of rock lovers.

Guitarist Andy Taylor chatted from a tour stop in Prague about the upcoming Astronaut U.S. tour, singing in outer space, and drinking with Greenday.

CG: Tell me about the dynamic of the band and how it’s changed over the years.

AT: The dynamic of any band is actually sort of – it’s a personal thing. A lot of it is the dialogue you have between each other and how you get along as people. Although we’ve had our ups and downs, we’ve never actually had any really sort of fueled hatred of each other. We started as teenagers and grew up together and a lot of things changed. You just do everything together – everything that comes along with growing up. We get on and that’s the most important part of the dynamic. We appreciate each other. The day we stop arguing is the day we lose our passion. And even to control your environment you have to know when the other guy can take it and when you can shut up. But after 25 years of knowing each other, we’re pretty well aware of each other’s good bits and bad bits.

CG: How does it feel to know that your song, “Is There Something I Should Know,” was played on the space shuttle Opportunity, as inspiration to the astronauts?

AT: We’ve had a few space hits. They played “Hold Back the Rain” on the space shuttle too, and the only thing I’m happy about is that we’ve got an invitation to go see the next space shuttle takeoff. And getting an invitation to see something like that…it’s every boy’s dream! And if our music has got an invite to see that, then that’s totally cool.

CG: Tell me about your Gibsons.

AT: The one I love the most, it’s quite a light wood and it’s a 335 which has just got the greatest sort of….the hollow bodies are great. You can crank ‘em up and turn ‘em down and they’re really good because they’re really choppy because they’re jazz guitars. The balance of them - they ring better. So for funky stuff they work very well. I got a great Les Paul a couple years ago, which was a new one from the Custom Shop and sometimes you get ones with these pickups…it’s got a very cool sound to it. I’ve got another white Les Paul which is a little bit older – they’re a little less fat, but they’re a slightly more cutting tone. I use a 160 acoustic and they’re great for recording you can record them with shitty, old strings and they still sound good. It’s a John Lennon guitar.

CG: Do you use any special tunings or effects?

AT: Yeah, I mean you’ve got to use tunings. G tune, D tune, open E, they’re all so useful. But it’s dropping the bottom E to a D that gives you a lot more…sort of fatness. And G tunes are sort of useful for playing poppy, riffy songs – all major chords and all that sort of stuff. Open E – just big chords, you use a lot of that for recording. And then sometimes you just fuck about and see what you can do with it.

CG: Why did you want to learn how to play guitar?

AT: Where we grew up, when I go into music when I was a little kid – sort of six, seven, the Beatles had just made songs, singles were huge in the ‘60s. You’re talking about The Who, Jimi Hendrix – everything through my childhood and early teens, so music was just such a massive part of everyday life. This was before color television – our family used to listen to music a lot. So we had masses on stacks - all the original Elvis stuff and Jerry Lee Lewis. And older members of the family were musicians. Our family used to get together and sing - sing in harmony, sing in church. It’s sort of an inevitability – northern English towns – that’s where all the big bands came from in the U.K. Northern towns where it rains a lot and there’s nothing to do and everyone’s poor. There’s nothing else to do. So you were looking to get out and you’ve got this love of music and it might provide you with an escape.

CG: What was a “goosebump” moment for you since you have been with the band?

AT: The first show, just getting it together. So you’re like, “wow we’re really doing this.” Also when we played our first shows in Italy ever. The five of us had never played there and it’s a very, very big market for us. We’re so big over there it’s just crazier than it is in the U.K. or the U.S. We just went in this absolute sort of fever and it was outside and just amazing. It’s sort of when you hit those points, every bit of hard work and bullshit pays off. We played Budapest the other night – the first time we’ve been east in Europe. We’d go into places like Budapest and Prague and the other night it was Nick’s birthday. We were with Greenday and that was quite a night…
It’s good to have your band in good shape and good spirits. And on that basis, anything can happen.

CG: Is it hard for the band to continually change its sound to keep up with music trends? What keeps you inspired?

AT: Self indulgence. You make records for yourself. We always have to keep writing. We didn’t know we were writing hit songs, we just did what we felt good about. It’s not something you consciously do for the other side, you’ve got to fill your own ambition and your own motivation. You’ve got to do that and when you get to that point it’ll work. And it sounds how it sounds.

CG: Tell me about the upcoming U.S. Tour.

AT: We start in New Orleans…I know I have this written down somewhere…hang on…here we are. Ok, we start on the 13th of July and we do like, three weeks. Orlando on the 18th of July, the Orlando Philharmonic has about 12 songs arranged and we’re playing with them. And we’re playing in Chastain Park (Atlanta) and [the tour] is mainly Midwestern, southern stuff where we didn’t go last leg. But we somehow found our way to New York this tour, it’s our home away from home.

CG: If you could give one piece of advice to up-and-coming guitarists, what would it be?

AT: There’s nothing for a guitarist, or a bass player, you gotta play in a band, you gotta play live as much as you can. And if you get an idea in your head don’t say “I’ll deal with it later.” Record it, sing it, because it might be a little piece of genius that you didn’t realize you had. The one great thing from doing this that I have personally have gained is that my playing got better from playing hundreds of shows. You can train and practice as much as you want, but it’s only when you actually play live, I think, that it’s the most – it forces you to perform to your ultimate ability. Oh and train the chord on analog tape. You can go into ProTools later. Oh, and if you ever bump into Greenday be careful how much you drink with them.

Courtesy Gibson.com