Duran Duran dig deep
7:00am Saturday 26th March 201
Duran Duran release their thirteenth album All You Need Is Now on March 21 and have a full UK arena tour planned for May. Frontman Simon Le Bon tells Andy Welch about recording the album, working with producer Mark Ronson, while reflecting on the band's Eighties heyday and his reluctance to grow old gracefully.
By Andy Welch.
In February, Duran Duran celebrated 30 years since the release of their debut single.
Listen back to Planet Earth now, and it still seems fresh. Thanks to the likes of Hurts, White Lies and La Roux pillaging Eighties influences in recent years, the single wouldn't sound out of place on the radio today.
If the years have been kind to their music, they've been even more generous to the band's frontman Simon Le Bon.
Whether it's the highlights in his hair, his expensive-looking wardrobe - black jacket, jeans, t-shirt and scarf - youthful demeanour, or a combination of all three, the 52-year-old could easily pass for being 10 years younger than he is.
"I like this view," he says, staring out of his office window, straight down London's tree-lined Mall to Buckingham Palace in the distance. "One of my favourites."
High praise from a man married to a supermodel, who's spent many a year yachting around the world.
He's tired today, having been up at the crack of dawn to appear on Daybreak.
"There are so few opportunities to talk about music on TV these days," he says. "Even less to get on and play live. When we started there were great shows; Top Of The Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test, loads of others."
Nevertheless, he enjoyed chatting to Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley, which is easy to believe - Le Bon seems to come alive when talking about the band he joined in 1980, two years after their formation.
The band's new album, All You Need Is Now, first emerged as a download in December, but now gets an expanded physical release to mark the band's 30th anniversary.
Of course, when Duran Duran first started releasing music, 7" singles ruled the day. The shift in format to digital downloads is just one of many things that have radically altered since those heady times.
"Touring is very different now," says Le Bon. "Firstly, the venues are bigger - these 10,000-capacity places just didn't exist when we were first around. I remember playing at a bus depot in Leeds. It was all car parks and town halls then, and we'd only do three shows a week, max.
"Now we'll be doing five. In the old days we did so few because it was hard to stop us partying," he adds, with a glint in his eye.
If the mechanisms of releasing and promoting music have changed, Le Bon is glad nothing has usurped the bread and butter of being in a band; the music.
"The purity has remained true," he says, smiling, perhaps realising how po-faced he sounds. "We write music that turns us on, then record it, then play it to people. That doesn't change.
"We're grateful for that every day and it's remained constant. Touching on new musical terrain is still amazing, as amazing as it always was."
There is a noticeable rise in quality with All You Need Is Now. Responsibility for that rests, by the band's own admission, largely with producer Mark Ronson.
A life-long and vocal Duran Duran fan, the two parties met in Paris some years ago where the band asked Ronson if he'd consider producing some of their new music. When it came to less-casual discussions, the DJ-turned-songwriter said he wanted to record their whole album.
"We were jumping for joy," says Le Bon. "Or cock-a-hoop, as my mum might say.
"Working with Mark was a perfect marriage for us. He's the kind of guy who will push you and ask you to do things you don't want to.
"He was telling me about this thing I used to do with my voice that he really liked. It was part of my style but I hadn't done it for years. I didn't consider it very grown-up, basically, but he wanted me to start again.
"He can also walk into the studio, pick up a guitar and play with us too, like a member of the band," he adds. "Mark's a real musician. He understands the emotional impact of moving from one chord to another, and you need that if you're going to work with us, because that's what we're into."
For Le Bon, born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, working with Ronson has taken Duran Duran back to doing what they were best at; making contemporary pop music.
In their more recent past, it could be argued they sounded like a band doing a Duran Duran impression - there was the melodrama, a big middle eight and Le Bon's unmistakable voice over the top. So far, so formulaic.
"Our first two albums were considered cutting edge, futuristic and very modern," he explains. "Mark brought that element of danger and risk back to our music this time around, rather than it sounding like it was designed for the charts beforehand.
"There's no point in us trying to write a 'Duran Duran' song. With me singing, and the guys' playing, it's going to sound like Duran Duran, you know what I mean?
"That's what I say anyway - they'll never kick me out because it won't sound like Duran Duran without me!" he jokes.
For a band who've had their fair share of line-up changes, tantrums and reformations - most recently original member Andy Taylor left the band (again) in 2006 after recording the unreleased album Reportage - it's no shock to hear having fun is high on their list of priorities. They've made their millions and have left a solid collection of hits - if being together was no fun, you'd hope they'd leave well alone.
"Exactly," agrees the frontman. "We just go for the good stuff now. Andy's not with us, so there's a different dynamic in the band, but yeah, if we're not enjoying ourselves, we just wouldn't bother.
"As a result we're experimenting more. I certainly became less flexible with people's ideas, and we got very safe, musically. We thought being a great group meant you had to settle on a certain sound, and since Is There Something I Should Know? was a massive hit for us in 1983, I think we'd been chasing that. We'd sub-consciously decided that was 'our' sound.
"The hits we had before that had more funk and punk in them, very New Wave.
"I love this new album because we're edgy again. We're in a very enjoyable place."
Courtesy Halesowen News