Nick Rhodes is the man from Duran
Say what you like about Duran Duran — but credit where it's due. More than 30 years after they burst onto the scene the band are still performing and — what's truly remarkable — have become rather hip. Twentysomethings know the words to Girls on Film. Acts from Goldfrapp to Justin Timberlake acknowledge them as an influence and Mark Ronson, currently one of the coolest presences in British music, has produced their latest offering.
The group's 13th album, and the first for three years, All You Need Is Now, will be available on iTunes from December 14 and as a CD from next February. “We still have one song that we're putting the finishing touches to,” says keyboard player Nick Rhodes. Ronson has called it the “imaginary follow-up to Rio that never was”, and even the untrained ear can hear a return to the brash, shiny rhythms which have shifted 80 million albums.
Simon Le Bon may have the machismo and the model wife, John Taylor may have the cheekbones and the fashion sense, but it's Rhodes who's got the brains. He's an art collector, a photographer and high-society socialite. And though the streaked blond hair is a little thinner and the waist a little thicker than when he started out, time hasn't treated the 48-year-old badly.
He is dressed in a black suit by Hans Ubbink, crisp white Dior shirt and a silvery Armani tie when we meet at the Connaught. He retains a trace of his Brummie accent and has lost none of the charm that disarmed the press when he explained the Durans' vision of yachts and cocktails all those years ago.
Is Rhodes at all embarrassed by his 18-year-old self? “Not even slightly,” he says flatly.
“Everything we ever created has been really honest and heartfelt. When we were teenagers, the world was pretty grey. There were strikes and power cuts and riots. But when you're a kid and you've got your life ahead of you, you don't want it all to be doom and gloom. You want something more exciting — to travel, to see what's out there — and that's what some of our earlier material was about.”
But if the band are known for reflecting the more frivolous side of life, they do have a serious side. “Even on the first album there was a song about impending nuclear war,” says Rhodes, “and Girls on Film was about the exploitation of women.” He wants to move the conversation along — “I'm really not into nostalgia. In a way that's what's behind the title of All You Need Is Now.”
But neither is he too keen on discussing aspects of the present. Apart from revealing that he is now single (his ex-wife, Julia Anne, and 24-year-old daughter Tatjana live in Los Angeles), he refuses to say whether he is dating at the moment.
Diplomatically, he won't play up the Princess Diana connection. They were her favourite band and at her sons' request the Durans headlined two memorial concerts for her. “She clearly meant something to the nation, and she was part of our history, so we were happy to do that,” he says.
What does he think of the band's new fame among the Mahiki generation? “I'm very happy if there is an Eighties revival. There certainly seems to be one in fashion, and in both cases it's because people take influences from things they didn't experience the first time round and reinterpret them.” That, he says, is what's happened with Mark Ronson.
Ronson, a transatlantic rich kid who was raised in St John's Wood, is known for his collaborations with Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen and Boy George. He came into the Durans' orbit in 2008.
He worked with them in Paris on the invitation-only show with which they ended their last world tour — then stayed to do the album. One insider reports that “he's completely star-struck when he's with the band — it's sweet, he's like a fan”.
“Mark is not only super-sharp and very chic, he's also a musical geek,” says Rhodes. “He loved the analogue synthesisers that I brought into the studio — a different one every day for the first week and a half. He was so excited.” Ronson was also delighted that the Durans agreed that “the time was right for an album using a lot of synth sequences, electric guitars and dance beats. It's like the way girls might decide it's not the time to wear short skirts any more. Well, maybe hip-hop beats are good for a while and then people say: You know what? I'm ready for some disco beats now'.”
Enough musicians have quoted early Duran Duran as an inspiration, he points out, and many bands never move on from the style in which they found fame, “but we have. So now we felt quite comfortable taking inspiration from ourselves.”
In this they were aided and abetted by Ronson. “Mark is not only a hugely talented musician who can pick up almost any instrument and play it well. He also has a huge musical knowledge.” And, it turns out, an encyclopaedic recall of the Durans' back catalogue. “He would say things like: Do you remember the middle section on the B-side of this or that single? I want something like that'. I think we've achieved something that we haven't done in a very long time.”
After taking enormous pains over “each word, each intonation”, he thinks the album is “a very complete piece of work, in which everything seems to fit together like a jigsaw”.
There follows quite an expatiation on the “science” of record production, and old-fashioned album structuring, until Rhodes can be diverted onto the subject of personal presentation,
aesthetics and downtime.
Of his perennial mascara, he observes: “I grew up with glam rock, so it's no big deal to me.” Of his general nattiness, “I'm not keeping up an image. I wouldn't want a life that was dictated by how other people think I should look. But I'm not the kind of person who's likely to leave the house in a pair of sweatpants and a woolly hat either. I think people should make an effort. Why would you not? If you take a little care about your appearance and general demeanour it probably projects something more positive to people than if you don't.”
And that's about as juicy as he'll get. He declines to name which visual artists' works he collects — declaring only a preference for “beauty, whatever that is” — and with the exception of the Chapman brothers he seems underwhelmed by the shock tactics of so much contemporary art. Nor does he give a ringing endorsement to the social round of parties at which he is regularly papped — he's on everybody's guest list from the Baftas to the Serpentine summer party and the launch party of Bryan Ferry's new album — “I'm an anthropologist. If you don't go, you don't know.”
However, don't expect to find Nick Rhodes partying in the new year. If all goes to plan, he should be too busy rehearsing for another world tour — and he's looking forward to it. “If you asked me in 2000 if we'd be performing 10 years later, I'd have said no. But on the strength of the new album I think we'll still be at it in another 10. I mean, the Stones have set the bar and they still look pretty good as a unit.”
Oh crikey: another decade of Duran Duran.
Courtesy Evening Standard