Nick Rhodes On New Stuff And Nipples
You may have seen it done before, where the history of the Earth is condensed into 100 years. In the framework, first life struggled ashore only after 80 years, and man walked on the moon 45 seconds ago. That kind of thing.
Duran Duran is coming out to Australia very shortly as part of the V Festival, and in accordance with the theme, the concert would be only a sneeze in the ocean, when compared against the grand scale of the band's achievements.
Theirs is a career that encompasses the lifetime of many, influencing the evolution of not only genres but eras. And it is a concept that mere statistics do not adequately convey ... to cite 70 million records sold worldwide is a bit like examining the chemical composition of early life forms: it kind of misses the point.
Instead, Duran Duran has been an ever-present force that has forged new ground and consistently evolved to produce music, art, and - oh yes, fashion! - that people the world over have loved and continue to love. That's the evocative side of science, boys and girls.
As would be expected by this kind of talent, Duran Duran promises to put on a spectacular show, regardless of any scales that might be applied to it. This is a band for which each performance; each artistic exploration, takes on as much importance as that their first vinyl, or first groundbreaking downloadable track.
And local enthusiasm for the band's upcoming appearance at V Festival must be matched only by the band's own excitement at returning to the antipodes and making a giant V-shaped volcano on the live music scene, as well as kicking off a new world tour.
We were lucky enough to catch Nick Rhodes just prior to boarding the plane, and got to quiz him about success, evolution, scandal, technology and the upcoming V Festival.
MTV: You're an iconic band with a daunting list of achievements - what has been the one constant in your music, the whole way along?
MTV: (laughing) Do you care to elaborate?
Nick: The thing is, if you really want to have a career, you have to be able to understand not only how things change in your own lives, but how things change in the business you're in as well. It's been a turbulent industry in the past few decades. But throughout, a simple thing remains, that the best songs will always be the best songs.
MTV: Does this mean that you've always known from the start which songs would be successful?
Nick: Absolutely not. You can never second-guess what the public will like, or the radio stations will play. We've often been surprised by the success of a song, which went further than our expectations of it; or on the converse, the lesser success of other songs which we thought would be commercially popular.
MTV: Is it something, then, that in hindsight becomes apparent, in that you feel, for a certain song, that it could never have been any other way?
Nick: No, no. People make decisions for their own reasons. It's very easy to blame someone else if, for example, a song that you thought would go well doesn't go well, but it's a pointless exercise. The success of a song is alchemy.
MTV: It's said you were originally influenced by music such as soul music, the 1970s New York underground, glam bands and art pop. What do you find yourself being influenced by in today's musical environment?
Nick: We aren't very influenced by new music any more. A lot of it is rehashed versions of what's gone before, and we are already familiar with the originals; with rock music in particular. And because we feel that we've now heard most things, it seems that there's not a lot of new things guitars can do...there's blues, funk, pop ...of course, I still love the guitar, so there's always a new tune, but stylistically we feel there's no surprises.
However, I can qualify that from the new music we've heard, we did very much like Timbaland, and that was why we asked if he would work with us. It was an interesting combination. He came from a very different background, musically, to us. And working with Nate [Hills] was inspirational. So while the guitar's been explored, I feel that there's still a lot of innovation to be done with new mediums, such as synthesizers.
MTV: In addition to your recent collaborations with Timbaland, Justin Timberlake and Nate Hills, you've played and collaborated with very respected figures in the last two and a half decades. Who has been your all-time favourite to work with?
Nick: We actually haven't collaborated with a lot of people in the length of time we've been in the industry. But we worked with a Brasilian composer by the name of Milton Nascimento in the early 90s on a song called Breath After Breath, which we really enjoyed.
With Nate Hills, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, when the opportunity came along, we thought it was just the time to give our sound an injection of something new. And when they came into the studio, it was electric; it seemed to work; we were all very excited about it. I am actually very proud to have produced a record this modern; this "switched-in" to what is going on. I'm very pleased with it. We are not the type of band that likes to sound the same for year after year. We don't really care about whether something is a commercial success or not; we don't work to a formula. We're more of an art school project.
MTV: Do you think it is this that has led to the phenomena that appears to have recurred quite often in your career, being that just when your music appears to have slumped, you periodically surge back and do amazingly well?
Nick: Yes, but of course this works both ways! At times we've also done very well, and then followed it up with an album which we were artistically proud of, but which may have led to our detriment commercially.
But we're not programmed to do what we think will simply do well commercially; we do things that excite us artistically. And if we've done that, even if it ends up being a disaster in terms of album sales, we're disappointed of course, but we remain confident in our work.
MTV: Back in 1981, a video of a dance mix version of your song "Girls On Film" was banned from MTV for being too sexually explicit. Do you ever feel tempted to whip up a bit of scandal nowadays?
Nick: We really didn't think it was all that scandalous at the time; it was just a bit of ice cube on a nipple; I mean when you can turn on your television and see arms being blown off! But that said, we knew what it was when we made it, and that people would X or R rate it. We had made the video specifically for American dance clubs that had an over 18 or over 21 admittance. At that time, the American dance clubs had huge video screens over the dance floor, which was something really new at the time; but mostly then they just played weird abstract videos that didn't make sense. And so we wanted to make a clip that really suited the song. But to come full circle, that first video was banned for showing nipples back in 1981, and our most recent video clip for the song "Falling Down" has also been banned.
MTV: What for, this time?
Nick: For showing nipples again! It's been banned all over the place!
MTV: It's funny to think that we imagine things have changed in two decades, when we're still getting worked up about nipples. It sounds like you'll need to invest in a professional nipple photoshopper!
Nick: You're right ...a professional nipple photoshopper (laughs).
MTV: So onto other iconic moments, you've not only been consistently producing great music for so long, but it was one of your songs, "Electric Barbarella", that was the first song to be sold in downloadable format.
Nick: I'm very proud of that, because it's bizarre to me to think that in 1997, we'd been around for 17 years, and I knew about the internet, but not hugely. And I still somehow foresaw what was coming.
At that time there was Napster, and everyone was trying to kill off Napster, and I just thought this is an amazing thing for musicians; for the public; this was something that would make music available immediately. The irony of it was that we sold it online, but at that time everyone was paranoid about the security of sending their credit card details over the internet. And some of the record chains were so outraged at what they saw as us trying to cut out the middle-man that they refused to sell our single. So it destroyed any possibility of it doing well in the market.
But, we were right. I feel a certain amount of smugness about that. We were in the Abbey Road studios, in a horribly bright room, and I pressed the button that said 99 cents. And the first song every to be sold as a download was sold. It felt momentous.
MTV: Even if the idea of downloading wasn't an immediate success in terms of record sales, did you keep up with it in your subsequent releases?
Nick: I find it all very interesting. We've tried to stay on top of it; all this technology. We are in the middle of a huge Second Life project right now. It was meant to be released six months ago, but we're still held up in the beta testing stage. But Second Life feels like the next stage of the internet. It's more 3D interactive. There are several million people in Second Life. I don't understand - well I do understand, completely - why people try to reject it. But I find that it's so interesting to see what the best of technology is offering.
MTV: So do you have any idea when this Second Life project might be up and running?
Nick: You'll be able to see a final date on www.duranduran.com. I think it should really be around two or three months now; not long.
MTV: Finally, you've done so many live performances, and even a two year tour ...what is exciting you about coming to play at the V Festival?
Nick: We performed in Australia and New Zealand last around three or four years ago, and we hadn't been for a long time. This time we'll be coming for the V Festival, and we might add a little bit on the side. But it's really the beginning of a world tour for us; it's the start of the big shows. It's very exciting, and there's a lot of energy, right at the start.
MTV: We feel honoured to have you kicking off your tour here! We're really looking forward to seeing you.
Courtesy of MTV