Roll out the red carpet
22 October, 2007
By Christopher Barrett
There seems to be no stopping Duran Duran with them having already performed at Live Earth and the Princess Diana memorial concert, there is a palpable air of excitement among the band about forthcoming new album Red Carpet Massacre. John Taylor and Nick Rhodes discuss the making of one of their strongest and most collaborative albums to date
"For me they have made the album of their career. It is fucking amazing! I think it will lead a whole new generation to appreciate Duran Duran."
AEG Live senior vice president Rob Hallet's enthusiasm in the run-up to the release of Duran Duran's new album Red Carpet Massacre, on November 13, is far from unique.
Having scrapped 14 songs that were originally to be released as a record entitled Reportage, the band turned to the production mastermind Timbaland and his team Nate 'Danja' Hills and Jimmy Douglass. The groove-infused results blend vintage Duran Duran with a beguiling modern electronic twist.
"We felt that the first album we had was a little downbeat for a Duran Duran album," says keyboard player and Duran Duran co-founder Nick Rhodes. "I think people look to us for humour and irony and a more uplifting take on what is going on in the world.
"We had made a record that was predominantly about the Iraq war, Afghanistan and what was going on around us; disillusionment with political powers. It was impossible to avoid, it was what we were thinking about at the time."
Having recorded Reportage themselves, the band presented it to their label. "They said 'We are hearing the second and third single but not the first'; it was a classic exchange," says Duran Duran's bassist and co-founder John Taylor.
With RCA suggesting that the band record a number of new songs with a producer, the band unanimously picked Timbaland to help carve out some more uplifting songs. "Everything he's touched, his work, is sublime," enthuses Taylor.
September 2006 saw Duran Duran reconvene in a New York studio for a one-week recording session with Timbaland. But guitarist Andy Taylor failed to show. Undeterred and with Justin Timberlake onboard to collaborate on a track - they had met when they received their lifetime achievement award from MTV and Timberlake later presented them with a lifetime achievement award at the Brit Awards in 2004 - the band set about recording three new songs that would prove an inspiration.
"We ended the week with a new sound and a feeling that we can do this," says Taylor. So instead of adding the three songs to Reportage, the remaining four members of Duran Duran decided to scrap the album and use the songs as the foundation for a new record driven by technology.
Rhodes was particularly pleased with the track Skin Divers. "That track was recorded at the point when we had been working for a few days with Timbaland and Nate and it came to the point when we said, 'Let's do something from scratch'. So we all just jammed in the studio and the sound that came out between the four of us, with Nate and Timbaland playing as well, was really something. I had never heard anything like that happening with us before. It was a really exciting moment and I think it is the perfect marriage of our sound and Timbaland's."
Following that session Duran Duran brought Hills and Douglass over to London and wrote the remainder of the album with them.
According to Rhodes, Andy Taylor's departure did not cause too much of a problem during the recording sessions. "We didn't use guitar in any of the writing sessions this time unless one of us played it. But when we had done the songs we brought in Dom Brown. He played all the guitars on the album and did a fine job he's really something. We had been using him for the live shows.
"There are guitars on almost all the tracks, but to me it's much more of a dance record. It feels like a very modern band record. If I was forming a new band now and had the option of creating a new sound, this is what I would have tried to do.
"The last time I felt a Duran Duran record was as accessible as this was The Wedding Album, which produced Ordinary World and Come Undone," says Rhodes. "This one meets a lot of criteria because we rebranded our original ideas to cross rock and dance music with electronics."
With the album complete Simon Le Bon and his wife Yasmin went to see Justin Timberlake perform in Birmingham. A few post-gig drinks later and the two songwriters had committed to collaborating on another track. Taking time out from the Manchester leg of his tour, Timberlake and Duran Duran spent 36 hours at Blueprint studios writing and recording Falling Down, the song that would become the lead single from Red Carpet Massacre.
Equally involved in Duran Duran's aesthetic delivery as the band's music, both Taylor and Rhodes have taken a hands-on approach to the album's artwork and the production design for the forthcoming Broadway stage shows. While Taylor has art directed the album and designed all the clothes for the band's tour, they have both been busy shooting footage for the tour's stage projections and Rhodes has shot the sleeve imagery for Red Carpet Massacre.
"I have always shot a lot of pictures, I take my camera everywhere with me and think of photography as a second career," says Rhodes. "I've got literally tens of thousands of images that I have collected from all over the world and they are very varied. But what I don't get to do very often is set up shoots, it is usually reportage. So the cover for Red Carpet Massacre was a lot of fun, John and I had discussed the vibe we wanted for the cover and we both concluded it was a fabulous, glamorous girl with something a little wrong; we wanted something to soften the title and bring out more of the irony.
"I was in France and I shot it all one late afternoon and managed to get the whole booklet out of it, I was very pleased. The girls on the cover are some Russian friends of mine who all look so fabulously glamorous that there seemed to be no point getting anyone else."
November 1 will see Duran Duran commence a two-week residency at New York's Barrymore Theatre on Broadway, before bringing the show to the UK.
According to Duran Duran's manager Wendy Laister, the show will feature a first act during which the band will perform Red Carpet Massacre in its entirety followed by a second half divided into two parts, one being "an electro set" the other featuring "all the classics and fan favourites that haven't been played for a while".
"We wanted to do a week in London's West End, but it's impossible," says Rhodes. "You can't find the theatres. We got lucky in New York, we found a theatre that had just been refurbished and was in between productions. We are desperately trying to find a suitable venue in the UK; I don't really feel comfortable launching the new album without having a British date in already. It's our home."
Laister states that Duran Duran is a "big international business, not just a record and touring business" and reveals that fans will also be treated to a comic book, feature film, a book of letters from fans and a documentary.
But for now Taylor is content that he and the band he helped launch almost 30 years ago have created one of the best albums of their long career.
"We feel that we have managed to make a record with a couple of the hip-hop world's greatest talents and made it work. It's a great pop record.
It drives people back to their original idea of the band; the fun, sexy, thrills and groovy shit to dance to when you've had a few. So much water has been under the bridge, this album takes you back to the ethos and spirit of the band when it arrived."
Courtesy Music World