Hungry like the wolf
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon spoke to Garrett Bithell ahead of the band’s headline appearance at the V Festival.
The stats on Duran Duran are remarkable: a total of 70 million records sold, 18 American hit singles, 30 UK top 30 tunes, and a global presence that still guarantees them huge concert audiences on five continents. Songs such as ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, ‘Girls on Film’ and ‘Rio’ have become iconic pop-cultural beacons. Back in the ’80s, the band was almost a licence to print money.
It will perhaps come as a surprise then to discover that their latest album, Red Carpet Massacre, released late last year, was the byproduct of strong disapproval from their record company.
“It was quite a ride actually,” frontman Simon Le Bon tells SX. “We started making the album back in 2005 in San Francisco and we thought we’d finished it by May of 2006, so we took it to the record company.
“We’d made it ourselves, we didn’t have a producer really – it was very alternative, quite a spiky sounding album, quite political. We played it to them and they all sat there politely. Then they said ‘well it’s all very nice but it’s not really what we had in mind’, which was a bit of a shock to us.”
The bigwigs subsequently put them in the hands of widely-acclaimed producer Timbaland, but the road was set to get rockier still. Guitarist Andy Taylor never turned up to the studio.
“We tried to get hold of him but we couldn’t,” Simon says. “We ended up having to do a week’s work without him.
“Then we realised that we couldn’t, as we originally planned, just glue these new songs onto what we had before. They just didn’t fit and it seemed sensible to instead use them as the foundation for a whole new album.”
Along the way, they picked up Justin Timberlake, who collaborated with Simon on the lead single, ‘Falling Down’.
“Justin actually called up and said ‘listen, you can make a great record with Timbaland but if I’m involved you’ll make a record your fans like – one that won’t turn them off’. It seemed like a great plan.”
The finished product is an album that is bold and contemporary yet quintessentially Duran Duran – an impressive achievement for a band that has been around for the better part of three decades.
“That is the challenge,” Simon concurs. “It’s easy to do something different, but doing something that keeps your musical identity while finding new territory to discover is a challenge. I love the album. I think it’s a really strong set of songs.” Indeed the strength of their enduring appeal was exemplified by the following tour, which lasted almost two years.
But if we take a stroll down memory lane for a moment, Duran Duran certainly were not always so respected. After their eponymous debut album sold more than 2.5 million copies in 1981, they were incorrectly perceived by the rock media as poster-boys for a new generation of teeny boppers.
“At first we were a bit disconcerted,” Simon admits. “We didn’t like the idea and it wasn’t how we saw ourselves – we saw ourselves as an alternative club band.”
But if you can’t beat them, join them. Duran Duran soon realised that resisting the teeny bopper market was both futile and counter-productive.
“As soon as we experienced the actual power of that audience, as soon as we knew what it was like to stand in front of them at a concert, we realised that they were a very powerful group of people.
They’ve got their whole lives ahead of them, they make an awful lot of noise, they know what they want and they’re determined to get it. We realised these people would make us huge if we let them – so we did.”
Fast-forward to today and Duran Duran are headlining the V Festival with Queens of the Stone Age and Smashing Pumpkins. They are also sharing the stage with The Presets and Cut Copy, both arguably leaders in today’s ’80s revival. What does Simon, frontman of a band that perhaps reached its peak in ’80s, think of this curious trend?
“I think it’s really something,” he says. “You’re right, there is a strong ’80s revival – same as the ’70s revival and the ’60s revival. But I don’t see any ’90s revival happening! I mean, what would you pick on? There’s nothing there, there’s nothing to revive.
“What I like about the ’80s revival is that it illustrates the concentration of creativity and ideas that were around at the time.”
What can punters expect from Duran Duran’s set at the V Festival?
“Don’t expect anything,” Simon says. “Come with an open mind and bring your dancing shoes. Come dressed for a party, that’s what I’d say!”
Duran Duran play the V Festival – Sydney Centennial Park on March 29, Gold Coast Avica Resort on March 30, Melbourne Showgrounds on April 5 and Perth The Esplanade (City) on April 6. For tickets and details visit vfestival.com.au.
Courtesy SX News