Q&A: Duran Duran
Odd rumors and favorite coverers from the band’s longtime keyboardist
By Kirk Miller
“New York is our spiritual home,” claims Nick Rhodes, keyboardist for Duran Duran. He’s not wrong; over the last year, the long-running pop group has performed in the city over ten times, including a lengthy stint on Broadway. This weekend, the group headlines two shows at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, the perfect location to hear such summertime classics as “Rio,” “Hungry like the Wolf” and “Ordinary World,” as well as tracks from the group’s new, Timbaland-and-Justin-Timberlake-flavored album, “Red Carpet Massacre.” We spoke with Rhodes about he band’s enduring legacy.
What’s the appeal of New York for you guys?
In our early days, we spent a lot of time here. We played a lot of terrific venues—the Ritz, which became Webster Hall, the Peppermint Lounge…We always like to do somewhere new. That’s why we did all of those shows on Broadway. Actually, we weren’t planning on coming back at all, but somebody suggested Central Park, and we’re like “Ok! Never done that!”
What did you think of David Cook’s version of “Hungry like the Wolf” on “American Idol”? Is that something you’d want to do, be a judge?
Actually, I haven’t seen it. I’m not too big on reality TV shows.
Oh, so you wouldn’t want to be a celebrity guest judge.
I’d probably be too much of a curmudgeon.
What’s the best cover of a Duran Duran song you’ve ever heard?
[Noise in background] Simon is saying…what? Simon says he likes Chris Corner of Sneaker Pimps, who did a great version of “The Chauffeur.” For me, it was Courtney Love doing “Hungry like the Wolf.” Oh, and Puffy doing “Notorious”…it wasn’t really a cover, more of a remake, but I liked it.
Speaking of Puffy—even though you get associated with New Wave and pop, there’s a lot of R&B, dance and soul in your sound.
We’ve also listened to groove/dance music. Even the first couple of records, we wanted to get the music to the dance floor, and cross over from disco to rock. We like a lot of creativity in our production, and a lot of rock producers don’t bring that. Timbaland, and Justin Timberlake, however, bring something new to the table.
Is there anyone new you’d like to work with?
Actually, we’re doing a project with [Amy Winehouse producer] Mark Ronson. We’re doing a show with him in July, taking some old songs and a few new tracks of ours and reworking them on stage. We’re excited about that.
Are you surprised when Justin and Timbaland say a song “Ordinary World” really influenced him?
I think it’s somewhat of a surprise when anyone mentions the band and they influenced them. I suppose in the period when we started out, when it was bands like us, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and the Smiths becoming popular in the U.S., it had a big impact on the kids listening to them. And now they’re all making music.
How has your audience changed?
It varies. It’s more music lovers now, but we still have young kids coming to the show, and then people in their 20s, 30s, 40s. Since we change so much with each album, especially this album, we seem to attract different people at different times.
Would you eventually want to follow in the footsteps of bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, and release new music on your own?
Absolutely. We’ve always embraced technology; actually, we were the first band to sell a download, back in 1997. I think major labels, unless they radically change in the next 18-24 months, won’t exist. All of the major artists with contracts expiring, like Jay-Z and Madonna, have moved on.
What’s new with this show?
There’s an electro part to the set, where the four of us stand up in front with keyboards and do about 25 minutes of electronic music—a few classics, a song from our new album, and a cover of “Warm Leatherette.” Also, instead of using projected images, we’re just doing a light show; but it’s not traditional. We use a variety of different light sources, and create a very different looking show.
The new album was more collaborative than your past records. Were you comfortable with that?
It was more collaborative, definitely. Everything was co-written by Timbaland or Justin or Nate Hills. It was different for us, but we’re very open-minded people. A lot of veteran artists say “we can’t do this” or “we won’t do this.” Timbaland, and Justin, are extraordinary, and we saw an opportunity to do something different. And I think we all learned from each other.
You and Simon are the only guys who’ve been through all the highs and lows of Duran Duran. What made you stick around?
There is no other band that we’d prefer to be in. We create music we love, and the live shows, especially now, are as good as anything we’ve ever done. That keeps us enthusiastic. And there’s a lot of leeway to what we do.
What’s the strangest rumor you’ve ever heard about the band?
That we made a bad record—completely untrue! Oh, and that Bryan Ferry was Simon’s father.