(Q&A) Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran Chats with Freezpop’s Sean Drinkwater About Art in Music, A Pop Legacy, and Tweeting

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[Q&A] Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran chats with Freezpop's Sean Drinkwater about art in music, a pop legacy, and tweeting
Published Oct 27 2011, 02:26 PM by Michael Marotta

Editor's Note: Ever since DURAN DURAN broke onto the scene 30 years ago, the synth strobe of debut single "Planet Earth" serving a legendary declaration of an evolving electronic pop landscape, Nick Rhodes has answered his fair share of questions from music journalists. So as his band, fresh as ever, prepares to hit the Wang Performing Arts Center tomorrow night, October 28 -- part of a continuing globe-trot in support of last year's All You Need Is Now -- the Boston Phoenix decided to skip the usual promotional interview technique and enlist one of Boston's synthpop veterans to hold it down and talk shop: SEAN DRINKWATER.

The Freezepop/Lifestyle vocalist/keyboardist is a well-known Duran Duran supporter, so we let the two of them loose via phone last week, and the conversation spans everything from art in music to the new record to tweeting to working with Mick Ronson and Timbaland to ear infections in Boston to... well, the origins of the Duran Duran moniker. Been always wondering 'bout that.

We might post the chat as an mp3 later on in the day, but in the meantime, dig into this. It's a fun read.

SEAN DRINKWATER: Nick, how are ya?
NICK RHODES: I think I'm alright.

SD: Where are you, Illinois?
NR: I am, yes. Chicago, Illinois.

SD: Right on, what was last night? Cleveland?
NR: Yup, yup, we actually came here straight after the show. It was great, actually, Cleveland. I was a little sad to leave so quickly. I never seem to spend much time there. It’s always good when you’re touring America to have a day off somewhere and explore something you haven’t done there before. Actually in Chicago we've spent quite a bit of time. I’m sure I’ll find some trouble to get into.

SD: The Boston Phoenix has set me up to do this based on me also being a synth guy. This is kind of an artist-to-artist interview...
NR: Yeah, I heard, that’s great. Are you analog or digital?

SD: I go 75 percent analog, 25 percent digital. I like digital synthesizers.
NR: I do too actually, I have a lot of them. I found myself on the last album not using them so often.

SD: Well sure, the last album. I don’t think they want me to ask you super-conventional questions, but I’m going to start with the new record.
NR: You can ask me whatever you like.

SD: So 2011 has been a pretty big year for you guys, although, not without ups and downs.
NR: Yeah, it’s been one of the most exciting years in the Duran calendar in our three decades, I have to say. It all started with the release of All You Need is Now, which we worked on with producer Mark Ronson. I think when you have something that you feel very confident in musically and artistically, it gives you the energy to go forward and do other things and it helps to unfold the origami, because things start to happen when you have something other people are excited about too. We made the film with David Lynch. That's certainly one of the highlights throughout our career so far. He’s been someone we’ve admired for many, many, many years, so when the opportunity came up to make a film together, that was a complete thrill. We started out playing in America at the SXSW festival. We talked about going there for years, because the spirit of Duran Duran has always been that of an independent band. Even when we’ve made records that have been enormously successful commercially and we’ve been on major record labels, we've never lost the spirit that we started out with.

SD: You guys always seem to make it a priority to go forward and make records with different types of artists, it doesn’t seem like you had been wanting, necessarily to resign yourselves to one style. When you guys started to work with Mark, did he already pitch the idea of a bit of time travel? Or was it when you guys decided to work together and then it kind of became that?
NR: Well it was in his head. We knew that Mark had been a long-time fan. We'd actually worked with him a couple years previously in Paris, we did a one off show together, which was the catalyst that led us to work together on new material. When he came in he did say, "Look, what everybody loves about Duran Duran is that sound you created together at the beginning in those first three albums." He said, "You've sort of spent most of the rest of your career moving away from that, trying other things, which is great, but why don’t we take those elements that created that sound in the first place and make a new, contemporary record in that style." That was really the premise of the whole album.

SD: Was it just time to do that? I imagine something like that has probably run through your heads before.
NR: We have made tracks like that. I could look back at things like...

SD: "Electric Barbarella"...
NR: Exactly, exactly. Where we certainly referenced ourselves and the early period. I think where Mark brought something interesting was that he said, "Look, I work with a lot of these other bands and bands out there right now that are 'borrowing' from the first couple of albums."

SD: Laughs
NR: I was going to say "stealing" but I thought I’d be a bit nicer... "’Borrowing’ from your first few albums and they are having enormous success with it and everybody out there is saying what a great sound it is. It’s time you reclaimed the ground."

SD: When you listen to some of these artists do you hear it?
NR: Sure. I’m obviously very flattered by that. That people were interested enough in the sound we created to want to borrow things. We certainly borrowed things from lots of artists: David Bowie, Roxy Music, Giorgio Moroder, Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols, mostly energy from them.

SD: You guys are huge fans of music.
NR: We're big music fans.

SD: You’re musical librarians and that’s come through in interviews since Day 1. That’s huge for your fans because actually I think it’s led a lot of younger people to discover new artists, and not just necessarily musical.
NR: Well, I hope so because music in our lives is such an important factor. There's so many things out there that are depressing and difficult and challenging. To have music in your life along with art and cinema and other modern art forms, it’s a fantastic creative force that can energize you.

SD: I think one of the reasons that you guys, and you know, this is me postulating, you can tell me what you think about it, one of the reasons you’ve maintained this fan base is because Duran Duran is kind of like it’s own little culture, it’s own little land. From the earliest interviews with you guys, you’re always talked about different art and culture, and I think in America, especially kids living in the middle of nowhere, to hear about Andy Warhol, to see Keith Haring on television, to hear about Cocteau and Patrick Nagel, and all these people. This was a big deal for a lot of people who didn’t have access to that kind of culture.
NR: Well, I hope so, because I know what other artists from all spheres have given to me over my life. It’s food for me, for my imagination. Nothing makes me happier then sitting in a cinema or going to an art gallery. John, Simon and I all went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art the other day, because I’ve been there several times before and neither of them have actually visited there. I said, "Look, we have a day off, let’s go." They were both completely up for it. We all left there just floating because seeing the collection that has been that well curated over so many years. I mean they have some of the greatest artworks ever made in there. They have the ultimate Marcel Duchamp collection, including The Bride Stripped Bare, the Nude Descending a Staircase, the Urinal, the Bicycle Wheel, each absolutely extraordinary. But then you sort of wander down the corridor and they’ve got one of the greatest Van Gogh Sunflowers. They’ve got a couple of the best Matisse’s that I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. You know, if you can bring a little of that information to other people in, I don’t know, in the form of suggestions, or images, or just the notion of it. Then I think that’s great.

SD: You guys have been very, very successful at that over the years, just turning people on to new art.
NR: It comes from me being excited by other people turning me onto things, and I know that’s true with the rest of the band too. If I see a movie that I just absolutely love, I want to tell everyone about it.

SD: Back to the new album briefly, I have to ask, I think a number of people have asked, and I know you guys obviously don’t have any plan or anything. But as a big music fan, like you guys are, I’m sure you can think of any number of sequels or trilogies of records that bands have made with producers. I know a lot of people are wondering if you guys might work with Mark again. It's been a while since you've done two in a row.
NR: Of all the producers that we’ve ever worked with, I have to say, Mark is the one that I think suits Duran Duran best. We’ve worked with some amazing producers, we really have, we’ve been very lucky. Sadly, the first few albums produced by Colin Thurston, and then the third album by Alex Sadkin, who have both passed away, but they were extraordinary teachers.

SD: For me as well...
NR: Yeah, amazing, amazing, amazing people. But, of the people we’ve worked with in the last couple decades, Mark just suits us better. He has an understanding of so many genres of music. He has incredible style and great taste and he really, really gets what Duran Duran is about. So, I sincerely hope we work with him again. We stay in constant touch. We're so fond of him on a very personal level, as well as musical level. He’s really something.

SD: Speaking as a fan, I think it would be fantastic to see what would come next, after that initial idea...
NR: I have a little idea in my head. (Laughs) We discussed it the other day. We almost look at albums like movies, so they do need a bit of a theme, then we just see what happens. We don't really have a script, but we definitely have an idea.

SD: One of the early soundbites, and I understand you guys have publicists who want you to say cute things that will get the album some press, one of the things that came up around the very initial release of All You Need Is Now is this kind of "Son of Rio" soundbite.
NR: Yeah, that was a snowball that went down a mountain. That was something Mark said, I think, early on. It was a very off-hand remark at the time. I guess it came from his imagination.

SD: Well of course it did, and it was successful, but I’m hoping we can move away from that now. I love the third record and I feel like its warm grave is being desecrated.
NR: Yeah, I’m a fan of the third one, aside from the title which I never really mention.

SD: Well we just said, "The third one." So that’s fine.
NR: Yes exactly, that’s how I refer to it. I like that record too.

SD: Simon was recently saying, or Mark said, or somebody said, that’s where you guys maybe started to get a little conventional.
NR: It was Simon, but I’m not quite sure why, because I think it’s incredibly unconventional.

SD: No, the album is really bizarre. It’s a really strange record.
NR: Bizarre as anything we've ever made.

SD: It’s strange to hear, I mean maybe he’s speaking of the time period, maybe he means "Is There Something I Should Know?"
NR: Oh, I don’t know, with Simon, he’s quirky sometimes. There’s probably one lyric on there that he wrote that he thought was far too traditional and that sort of stuck in his head. It’s certainly not a traditional album in any way. I don’t know if we’ve ever made a traditional album. Probably the most traditional song we’ve ever written is maybe "Ordinary World," and actually as songs go it's one of our best. It’s definitely more normal.

SD: I think you guys have had a few albums, and "Ordinary World" is a great segway into this, you guys have had a few albums, and I think Seven and The Ragged Tiger is this is too, if you don't mind me calling it that, it’s been kind of a "make or break" time period I think, with this new album, maybe a little bit? The Wedding Album maybe a little bit?
NR: Honestly, we always start with a complete, clean slate. We walk into the room like we are a new band who have never done anything and we’ve just come out of art school. It might sound utterly ridiculous considering the age of the band and how many records we’ve made now. But that we find the most refreshing way to start a project, because if you can put yourself in that imaginary space, you are much more likely to come up with something original or a new direction then you are if you say, "Right, so we did this last, but how do we develop this into something else." Then you end up like a lot of those bands that make the same album time after time after time. That to me.....

SD: You’ve done a very good job of avoiding that completely.
NR: Yeah, but I live in fear of it. That’s the time to stop.

SD: Well, make sure if you guys do work with Mark again, that you just have a lot of conversations about it.
NR: We already have the essence of an idea that I think would be the right thing for us to do, and it’s definitely different again, but it would be a very Duran Duran thing to do.

SD: I like the last record, I like Red Carpet Massacre...
NR: Me too.

SD: ...I actually think it’s great Simon record.
NR: Yeah, a few people have said that. John and Roger feel that their presence was diminished on the album, I understand that.

SD: I feel like maybe the fans kind of felt like that. It felt a little anti-climatic post-reunion?
NR: Maybe. It was very programmed. You see, the genesis of that record is quite interesting because we made an entire album with Andy Taylor. Which is called Reportage...

SD: Which is coming out when?
NR: It may come out, it would need mixing, it would need finishing a few things, but then what happened was we were just literally going to do a couple tracks with Timbaland and we got in there and Andy didn’t turn up for those sessions, and so we ended up doing them without a guitarist, we obviously added guitar to the tracks later, but we recorded them without guitar, wrote them without guitar. That set the mold, really. Had Andy been there, I think those tracks would have probably started to sound a little different in the first place.

SD: They sound really cool, and if that record had come out in, like, '99 no-one would've batted an eyelash, but I think when you have this sort of legendary rhythm section back together it felt like, you know, they are a little bit under utilized on that record, theres just little moments...
NR: Yeah, I understand. For me, that album was an experiment. For everyone in the band, that album was an experiment. It was how to merge the Timbaland beats with Duran Duran. And the expense of us doing that was the rhythm section became different. Obviously they both played on the album. They played synth bass on some of them. Some of the drums were programmed by Roger...

SD: There's some of that on the new album too...
NR: Yeah.

SD: It's not like it's unlike Duran Duran to have some synthbass.
NR: Yeah, but on that one it was largely the makeup of the sound and I think we definitely sacrificed something but we work as a unit and whatever we feel is right for Duran Duran, and I mean honestly, if we decided we wanted to make an album that was just guitars and strings and we decided, no, we’re not gonna use any synths on this, we would do it. It's a case of the time and we felt with Tim that he was one of the most interesting people out there making contemporary music at that time. We’ve always loved dance music and so...

SD: Well you guys work well with urban producers and you always have.
NR: It's an experiment.

SD: I don't think its a failure of a record or anything.
NR: Oh no, nor do I at all, in fact, I think time will be kind to that record. When we did Notorious, a lot of people thought it was betraying the Duran Duran sound and that we had moved too far and we were trying to be too funky. But actually, I’m so happy we made that record at that time and again I believe history has now put it in its place and it feels more comfortable then perhaps when we released it.

SD: Well it is a great record. I love Notorious. It certainly has a more organic feeling than the first three.
NR: Yeah but it was quite simplistic. A lot of the parts in the first three were so layered with sound and on that one, we really stripped it back and went for the grooves, with the help of Nile Rogers, of course, who guided that ship to what we wanted to create. But I think its important to do these things. And certainly, the other point about working with Timbaland is that had we not made that album, I don't think it would have lead us to make this new album with Mark.

SD: It's an important part of the map, sure.
NR: Yup

SD: Do you have a song in the Duran catalog which you maybe think is underrated or one that you love that doesn’t see maybe a lot of attention, something that comes up and you think "hey we could play this" but then it doesn't happen?
NR: Well... theres a lot of different songs that we talk about then we leave things alone for years. I remember when it came out, the song “Skin Trade” on Notorious was the best song on that record. And “Notorious” had been very successful worldwide, it was a big hit. So we put out “Skin Trade” thinking if "Notorious" was such a hit, "Skin Trade" is gonna do better and, of course, it didn’t do nearly as well. But you can never second guess the public. Just because we al felt it was a better song did not mean that radio or the public felt the same.

SD: Yeah, you might have been right though.
NR: Yeah, it did fine and it's still there and we play it occasionally and it always goes down well with the audience but it's just interesting when you release something, you have a perspective on it at that time. "Falling Down," off the last album, which wasn’t really a big commercial success, I think that's a very strong song. At this point, you never expect anything to necessarily become a huge commercial success but it's one of those songs that I think that maybe in another time period, it would have done better.

SD: On the new record, were you guys there for the mixing?
NR: "Spike" Stent mixed it in L.A. and he is the grand master. We wanted to work with Spike for several years, he has mixed a lot of our favorite records. I don't know if there’s anyone better than him out there so we were thrilled that he wanted to do this one. And he’d send us mixes we would have a call, we would all go into the studio in London and have a call with him over video link up. So literally, he’d make the changes and we'd tweak it together with all the little nuances for a few hours at a time until we got each track to exactly where we wanted it. But I have to say, he is so phenomenally good that we really didn't have as much work to do on the mixes as we usually do.

SD: Well the mixes sound terrific on the new record. Did it tape at one point?
NR: Yes. It didn't hit tape, as far as I know, for the mixes, but it hit tape right at the beginning because we recorded nearly all of the bass and the drums onto tape. On to 24-track analog. Because...

SD: Because it sounds so good.
NR: Yeah, tape compression is different than any other kind of compression, particularly with drums. Yeah, they're beautiful sounds.

SD: Yeah. The mixes sound absolutely terrific, it's inspiring to hear, it really is.
NR: Great.

SD: When you guys are going through the archives to make sets, I’ll use one track in particular as an example because it's recent... you guys unearthed a couple of songs from the '83/'84 period recently in those rehearsal sets.
NR: Yup.

SD: When you guys go back to do that, have the tapes all been transferred? Do you get sounds off of the old tapes? How does that work?
NR: We have done, yeah. Not with everything. For example, we did “Secret October” recently which was a fairly obscure B-side of “Union of the Snake.”

SD: I'm very familiar with that track.
NR: When we did that, no one could even find the master, so I had to recreate it all. Obviously, there are so many pulses and keyboard parts that you need to run from a computer. I play live, all the parts I can. And then the drums Roger use pads for the synthesized drum machine parts but...

SD: I wrote a little article about "Secret Oktober" one time, the original recording, I'll have to send it over.
NR: Oh really? Oh wow. I'd like to see that. So I had to recreate that one in the studio whereas something like "Shadows On Your Side," which we also played recently, we got the master and pulled the sequences from the actual master. Then I had to match the sounds for all the live parts, which actually wasn’t as hard as it could have been 'cause I still have a lot of the original synths which are sampled.

SD: Jupiters and things.
NR: Yeah, exactly.

SD: I have it on good faith that you guys are gonna be playing “Shadows On Your Side” in Boston. Can I put that in print?
NR: (laughs) We haven’t played it on the American tour at all yet. The trouble is with set lists, and I’m sure you could talk to any artist, you must know this yourself, if you have have a lot of material, it's hard enough to condense it into something that is a little less than two hours. But when you want to put in a song that is possibly a real fan favorite, but maybe not with the broader audience, it’s hard to find places in the set to put them in. For example, recently we have been playing a song "Tiger, Tiger" from the third album which is instrumental. And the reason we started playing it was to create a little three minute spot for people to Tweet live during the show onto the screen. And it has been a fascinating moment in the set.

SD: Gives Simon a rest.
NR: So we thought, perhaps we’ll replace it and we'll do "Secret October" instead because it has a vocal on it and we said we would play this song. And of course, Simon said "I don’t want to do it and have Tweeting going on whilst I’m singing." Whereas musically, we are just creating a soundtrack and I think that's fine, visually. And so we took out the Tweets and we did the song, and the song went down really well. But then we realized that a lot of people were missing the Tweeting thing because a lot of it was interactive and thats part of modern shows. So you have all these things ...all I'm really doing is making excuses for you. We probably won't. We could play it instead of a number of things but I’m not sure what would give.

SD: That’s okay.
NR: You never know, you never know. By the time we get to Boston, maybe we’ll be in the mood.

SD: I may go to New York too. I'll keep my fingers crossed. Any surprises for New York?
NR: Oh yeah, I think there may be a couple of surprises, I don't wanna say because we are still confirming them now, but yes.

SD: Very cool. So this tour now is gonna bring you into late-spring?
NR: We live in a very chaotic world in Duran Duran World. I think people think we're much more organized than we are. So we make things up as we go and at the moment, I think we have got as far as planning Australia for next year and there's a few European dates which we have been trying to reschedule but couldn’t fit them in this year because of the British tour and the American tour. So we’re definitely going to play some of those in late-January. But then we're also looking at India and China to see if we can make them happen because we’ve never been to either of them. Then we are looking at the rest Europe which would probably be May/June, I would imagine. So my guess is we’ll probably make it through to next summer. And then at that time, everyone will take a break or make a new record, one or the other.

SD: I’m looking back at that exciting time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when things were very fresh for you guys and a lot of groups. You guys have obviously done a great job standing the test of time. Can you think of any other artists from around that time whose records have stood up, or who are still looking at it the right way?
NR: Ehhhh….

SD: You can pass, it's okay...
NR: No, no no no. There are artists that are... I think Bjork is constantly interesting. I know she's a little later than us but every time she makes a new record...

SD: I think she released a single before you guys did, when she was like nine... NR: Oh really? That I don't know about. When were the Sugarcubes?

SD: Mid- to late-‘80’s?
NR: Right. I always find her consistently satisfying because she's never given up her spirit of experimentation.

SD: She's very daring.
NR: There are artists out there who continue to make things, I always like The Cure. I haven't really heard their most recent stuff but I like them and I think they had interesting ideas for a long time.

SD: Those records have stood up, I would say.
NR: Oh, for sure. The ones I’m talking about, for sure. Who else from that period? In fairness to her, I think Madonna has managed to reinvent herself extraordinarily well for her pop landscape for many, many years. There's probably been a few I could have lived without but she has created, for, the pop dance sound, some pretty extraordinary things.

SD: With that many incarnations you're bound to have a couple that don't fly.
NR: I mean I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody really, really great here...

SD: More curiosity than anything...
NR: Prince. All those Prince records that I love stand up against any records ever made by anyone. Again, I haven’t heard the most recent ones but I did hear a couple of things he did a few years ago that I felt were really still interesting.

SD: Yeah, I saw him at a couple of years ago. Very, very good. He's amazing live. So, you, in particular, have been hesitant to get into the Twittersphere, which I actually completely understand.
NR: Well there are a couple of things I feel about it. One, is the reason I haven’t sort of jumped into the pool is because if I do, I know that it'll be something I’m going to want to do all the time and I’m going to want to make it interesting. I get it and I think for those who are interested in a person or what somebody is doing, it's a sort of fly on the wall little snapshot of something that keeps you amused for a few seconds.

SD: It is interesting. I think both Simon and John have been doing it since around the release of the record. It is interesting to kind of follow along...
NR: I think John particularly loves it. I think its really something that he's been able to focus some of his energy on. I know he's always taking little photos and putting them up when we've arrived somewhere, or we see something interesting. He was tweeting from the Museum the other day. I'm all for that. I have a concept for tweeting which would be very much against the grain of what people like it for, so people may really not like the idea of what I might want to do with it, and I keep threatening to do it. For me, it would be a complete experiment so I would enjoy it, and I think there may be some people out there that would see what I was getting at, but it's much more of a one way street. It would be that I was really just publishing certain things and not really getting involved in conversations about them. I'm not sure if that's in the spirit of it, but I may do that.

SD: Well it's difficult, I think, to have in-depth conversations. I think John tries to answer peoples' little questions and things from time to time, but I don't think you can get too in depth. The other side of it is, I think for some people, and I don't know if you fall into this category or not, but some people see that artists being on Twitter constantly, kind of affects their mystique a little bit. Where it was so hard to get information about somebody ten years ago but now it's like...
NR: Well I feel that way very generally anyways. We were talking about when were growing up as kids and the photos of artists we used to see, whether it was David Bowie or Iggy or the New York Dolls or Lou, they had a real mystery to them because there weren't that many photos. You might see the occasional live photo from a concert or you’d see David Bowie and Iggy Pop in Moscow together or a picture of a couple people on a train having lunch and this was really as far as you got into their world and you had to then use your own imagination as to what else they might be doing or what it was like in the studio and what they were recording. Now I do feel with web cams everywhere and everyone with a mobile phone during the show, every second of everything is recorded from all these different angles and published everywhere, it's an overwhelming amount of content. In a way, you definitely lose focus because people are watching dreadful live videos with dreadful sound quality and then saying, "Oh well that was that, wasn't it.” As opposed to something that was being produced with beauty and care. And its not that I’m completely against it because this is a very modern world where this is what's happening and that's that, but as regards to what it has done to mystique, yeah, its shattered it into a million pieces.

SD: Yeah that's true, it's a strange game. I can't think of a band, current day, that can maintain that exactly. You have to, obviously, evolve with the times somewhat, but it’s interesting with some groups, it might not be in their best interest to be too involved with that.
NR: I think you have to embrace new technologies and use them to the best of your ability, and use them artistically. With our online presence we're always looking to do different things. We launched Second Life some months ago which was initially launched as a completely non-commercial project. It was literally an arts project. We built a universe for people go in as Avatars and communicate with each other, really. And so far I have to say I’m thrilled with the results because it seems to be a really good breeding ground for ideas and for artistic statements. The costumes that people are wearing in there are spectacular. It’s worth going in to look at that alone. When they have parties in there it really is pretty remarkable, it's an utterly surreal world where anything goes and they’re having an amazing time. So, you try to do these different things with the website we’re going to relaunch that soon, so its version 2.2 or 3.3 or wherever we are now, and there have been some huge improvements there. The live stuff and the Tweeting. During the live shows I take pictures of the audience every night which has now become quite interesting because there’s a whole section on the site where you can see the audiences from my point of view from the different shows. We’re always looking to do things and find ways to make it a bit different. Everybody out there is putting everything up they can.

SD: Last time you were in Boston, in April or May, the show was delayed a little bit because you were not feeling well, you had an ear infection or something?
NR: Yeah I had to go and have some wax removed. It was compacted in my ear, I guess from the flight or whatever. I had to have it removed because I couldn't hear properly. One, I kind of need to hear properly if we're gonna play a show; two: it actually starts to mess with your balance which is really an unpleasant feeling when you lose your equilibrium. Fortunately, your local Bostonian Ear, Nose and Throat departments at the hospital were able to come to a swift rescue and the show went ahead.

SD: Yeah, I heard they wanted to hear “Shadows On Your Side" at the next show...
NR: (laughter) Yeah. I couldn't hear what they were saying though...

SD: Here’s your 'Smash Hits' question of the day: what did you have for breakfast?
NR: I haven't had breakfast yet.

SD: That's not a very good 'Smash Hits' answer...
NR: It’s only 12:30 here in Chicago. I don't really eat breakfast, I tell you what I will have for breakfast, it's fruit. Breakfast is not my favorite meal of the day, I know it should be but I ever really eat fruit for breakfast.

SD: Why not? Its pretty good for you.
NR: Yeah, I just don't feel like eating something substantial in the morning. That’s supposed to be your biggest meal and they should decrease through the day but I’m afraid I’m a bit upside down. Dinner's the meal I like best.

SD: So you guys have three, or at least two, pretty big 30th anniversaries coming up, with Rio, the "Third Album," and Arcadia, which I count.
NR: Right.

SD: Any plans for any...
NR: With Arcadia, we’ve long talked about doing the ultimate special edition of it. EMI did put out an edition where they put all the 12 inch versions on it but I don’t think they know, they don't understand exactly what is there that could be used that isn’t mixed and god knows whatever else. We were going to speak to them. There's actually a book that I have that was done by an extraordinary photographer called Dean Chamberlain who photographed the album cover. Not the front image which was a drawing, but the photographs inside the album cover. He did a lot of the photography for the Arcadia project. We took him around with us and made an incredible book of more than 100 images, large format images, and we never released it. I actually have it sitting in my vault, all the originals so I wanted to do is put this out because it is a time capsule beyond belief. These things exist and nobody has ever seen them. I was gonna do this along with a book. I would love to do it but it’s really a case of trying to deal with companies like EMI, who don’t know whether they’re going to be submerged under the water tomorrow or whether they’re going to be bought by Warner Bros. or whether any of the people you’re talking to are even gonna be there the next day. The Rio thing, we do have one little plan for which I'm hoping will involve a short documentary film that will celebrate that period.

SD: Sounds great.
NR: We’re not very good at being nostalgic but I realize, for us, the significance of that period and we felt it would be appropriate to do something.

SD: I know it's a vague question, but any memories of working with Alex Sadkin?
NR: Yeah. Many, many memories of working with Alex. Alex was a remarkable producer. I learned so much from him. We were all fans of the Grace Jones records he had made with Chris Blackwell and the Bob Marley records that he'd engineered. And there was something about the depth of sound and clarity he got that was unlike anything we’d ever heard. So we approached him and we'd done a song called “Is There Something I Should Know?,” and we tried to mix it two or three times. I actually sat and did it with Bob Clearmountain at the Power Station in New York, who I think was one of the greatest mixers out there at the time, and it sounded pretty amazing, the version he did, but we somehow made it sound like an outtake from Avalon, which he'd also mixed, and I just didn’t feel in the end that it was right for that period. It needed to be a bit edgier. So we ended up approaching Alex to mix it and we did it with him at Rex Studios in London and he got it spectacularly right. Everything about it. That separation was all there and it all came into focus and I knew at that point that we had to work with him so he stuck with us during a very complicated period of the third album, it took forever to make that. The first two were done relatively quickly. That third one and then the Arcadia album, which he made with us, were lengthy processes but he had the patience of a saint. He was so determined to get absolutely everything right. Every bass drum sound, every note, every space in the music and sonically he was second to none. So, yeah, I spent many, many, many happy days in the studio with Alex and he became a dear, dear friend as well. So it was an awful loss at such a young age because he had so much ahead of him and everyone wanted to work with him and I’m sure we would have continued working with him, no doubt.

SD: Well the sound of those records... they're unlike other records.
NR: Yeah he was pretty remarkable. But with him, it wasn’t fast, either. We weren’t fast and he was really slow. So the Arcadia album took about a year and a half to make.

SD: Did it really?
NR: Oh yeah. I believe when it was finished it was, for a moment, the most expensive album ever made. That dubious title was only taken away by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Was it Thriller?

SD: A year and a half... and you guys weren't working at home...
NR: We were in Paris. We were living in hotels in Paris, inviting musicians from all over the world to come over and play. But it was a very fruitful time for us artistically.

SD: The first magazine I ever bought was a copy of Keyboard magazine in the spring of ’86. You guys were promoting Arcadia still and there's a picture of you on the cover in a tux sitting at a piano, maybe a little tongue-in-cheek...
NR: Yes, of course..

SD: Yeah, that was the first magazine I ever bought for myself. I was like "Oh my god there's Nick Rhodes on the cover of Keyboard."
NR: Wow.

SD: You were featured last month in Keyboard.
NR: Yes. It was the first time I'd done anything in a while. Yeah I feel an affinity with the magazine obviously because they support my cause.

SD: I’m actually featured next month.
NR: Oh great! Well I’ll get it and I'll see. I often pick up Keyboard because I'm always curious about new gear and what people say about techniques and things. I like geeky magazines.

SD: It’s a nice full circle for me because I have been recording myself for 24, 25 years and I don’t get a ton of that kind of press so it's nice to have you on the cover last month, and I'm gonna be featured this month.
NR: Great!

SD: Now getting to do this interview with you it's a full circle, so I want to say thanks for doing this. And thanks for taking great pictures in the mid-'80s that made we wanna buy a magazine.
NR: Of course. Always happy to be of assistance.

SD: One more question: the name Duran Duran. Something John came up with? You came up with?
NR: I would credit John with it, really, because we were watching the movie Barbarella, Friday night in suburban Birmingham and we needed a name for the band and we were so enthralled with the movie. John turned to me and said, "Duran Duran... that sounds great, doesn't it? Sounds so cool..."

SD: That’s the moment.
NR: I guess I said "Yeah, that would work, wouldn't it? Should we go with that?" The thing about it was that it was unusual and obviously taking from a super-cool cult movie but we still felt that it was obscure enough that it would become our name and it would be related to us. If was fine that people knew where it came from, but we didn’t want a name that tied us to a specific type or genre of music. We wanted a name that really represented whatever we could make it. It almost a name. It was like being called Frank or Archibald.

SD: I'm glad it's not called Archibald.
NR: I have a fondness for Archibaldo because of The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, which if you haven’t seen, it's a fantastic Luis Bunuel movie.

SD: I will check that out.
NR: Yeah, I think you'll like that.

SD: Have you seen any advanced writing in Johns book?
NR: No, nothing. I think it's probably best that I don’t and I'm sure John would feel the same. I guess eventually there will probably be a full set of books. I don’t know when I’ll be doing mine. I don’t know when Simon will be doing his but I imagine there will be a set, and that will give you all the different perspectives as to why Duran Duran is what it is.

SD: I certainly look forward to that. If you end up having the time to write it down, please do.
NR: Ha. I'm always writing things down, actually, it's just piecing them all together that's a difficult task...

SD: That's what editors are for.
NR: Yeah, indeed.

SD: Well, Nick, thank you very much, this has been absolutely terrific.
NR: My pleasure.

SD: See you at Madison Square Garden and at the Wang in Boston.
NR: Great!

SD: See you then!
NR: Alright, good luck!

SD: Thanks very much.
NR: Thanks, Bye.

Courtesy Boston Phoenix