Q&A: Roger Taylor of Duran Duran

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Q&A: Roger Taylor of Duran Duran

Duran Duran has been a player in the pop-music game for 30 years, but drummer Roger Taylor said the band's latest album, 'All You Need is Now,' felt like a 'do or die' affair.

Story by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
SoundSpike Contributor

Published September 26, 2011 02:25 PM

Duran Duran has been a player in the pop-music game for 30 years, but drummer Roger Taylor said the band's latest album, "All You Need is Now," felt like a "do or die" affair.

"I think we really put heart and soul into this record," Taylor told SoundSpike via telephone from England before Duran Duran's tour began. "It had to be great record. We did the reunion.The 'Astronaut' album did very well. Andy [Taylor, guitarist] left the band. We released 'Red Carpet Massacre,' which we loved as an album but it really didn't set the world alight.

"We came to this album and it was a little bit of do or die. This album had to be really, really great or the graph would just keep going down. The graph is going up again now because of this album. And we're back to playing Madison Square Garden, and we're playing the O2 Arena in London in December. We have a great U.K. tour that's pretty well sold out. It really feels like we're on the way up again. Thirty years later, all is well."

The band's 13th full-length studio album, "All You Need is Now" was released earlier this year on Duran Duran's new label, S-Curve Records. Featuring five new tracks, the extended physical LP came three months after the nine-track album was released exclusively on the iTunes Store.

Upon its digital release, the album -- produced by Grammy-winner Mark Ronson -- hit the No.1 spot on the iTunes Album Chart in 15 countries around the world.

The promotion of the album was derailed in early summer when lead singer Simon LeBon suffered from throat issues. Duran Duran subsequently took the season off and is returning full force with an American tour that began last week.

A week after some well-received U.K. rehearsal shows, Taylor spoke to SoundSpike about the U.S. tour, comparisons of "All You Need is Now" to Duran Duran's breakout album "Rio," and what he thinks about bands that name-check his act.

SoundSpike: How did the rehearsal shows go?

Roger Taylor: Really, really good actually fantastic. We did three in a row last week and they were fantastic. Simon seems to be fully back to where he was. So we're pretty excited. As you probably know, we've been off the road for a few months because of Simon's vocal problems. We're back there and we're ready to go.

So his vocals have returned to form?

Yeah, yeah. We did three one-and-a-half hour shows in three days, which is pretty strenuous, and he came through that with flying colors. I think he just needed to rest his voice, which was the key thing, which he managed to do over the summer. Yeah, he sounded great.

What can we expect from your U.S. tour?

It's all about showcasing the new album, the "All You Need is Now" album, which we're still very proud of. We're still selling the album to the world. We're taking the album to the world. So we'll be featuring quite a few of the new songs. But we're playing the whole catalog. We play nearly two hours of music. We have 30 years of catalog tunes to call on. It's a really exciting show.

It must be a tough job to choose the setlist every night, with a wealth of hits and material.

It is a tough one. We're going on stage and there'll be like five different versions of the setlist, which drives everybody mad around us. They usually want a setlist ready to go day of show. We're like 10 minutes away from the show and we're still picking the setlist. "There's too many hits in there." "We have to take some hits out." "We have to put more album stuff in." It's an ongoing discussion with the setlist. It's a great problem to have though, I think, to have so many songs to draw on.

What do you think about the comparisons of "All You Need is Now" to "Rio"?

Um, it's a fair comparison. That's where the starting point was. The "Rio" album was a reference point. Mark Ronson came in to make a record with us, and he kind of sat down with us [and said], "The best record you guys ever made was the 'Rio' album. So let's try and get back to that as a reference point, a starting point." We even used the same bass that John [Taylor] was using on that album, Nick [Rhodes] dug all his analog synths out of the closet. My kit was set up in exactly the same way as we would have set it up in 1983. It was almost like a scientific experiment for Mark Ronson to try and find this magic formula that we used for the "Rio" album. That was the starting point. But, obviously, Mark Ronson is a very contemporary producer, so it's got that very contemporary polished, sound that Mark is responsible for. I think it's an experiment that really worked well, actually.

What did Mark bring out in the band?

I think he brought out self-belief in us as musicians. We've been around for a long time; you're kind of chasing other people's sound a lot of the time. You feel as though you can't be stuck in a rut. You can't be stuck in the same way of playing or the same way as producing records, so you tend to run off into other areas and other directions. Mark kind of pulled us back to what we're great at. And got us playing how we would have many years ago. The other thing he said is, "There are so many bands that are kind of copying your sound right now. You should go back and try to occupy that ground again. The disco rhythms, the funky bass line, the analog synthesizers." Mark really kind of took us back to that ground again.

What do you think about these bands that are name-checking you, or who say they are very inspired by Duran Duran?

I think it's a great thing. It's the greatest form of flattery when people try to flatter you. We've never really had much great critical acclaim, particularly in the U.K. We've always been the band that journalists like to knock down a peg or two. It's been great. [Bands say], "actually, yeah, they were a cool band. They could play and they're still making good albums." It was a really great thing for us.

What was the songwriting process for "All You Need is Now"?

The same as any other album. Every album we've made is just about going into a room jamming as a band with Simon on the mic and just playing for hours and hours and hours and seeing what comes out. We played for like six or eight hours every day and we might get one really cool thing. That would kind of get put aside to be worked on later then we'd do another full day of jamming and it would come out really cool. That's really how we did the album. As much as a band like 30 years [ago] would have recorded, much like The Beatles would have written songs. Just jamming in a room. The hardest part of the whole thing was actually when it came to the finishing of the album because then, of course, you have to get to lyrics which take a long, long time, and mixing, which took a long time. I think when Mark came to this project, he said, "We'll get the album finished and done and dusted in two or three months. I work really quickly." Two years later, we're still working on the record. That's just the way Duran Duran make records. It takes a long time. We're all perfectionists in a way. And we won't release anything until it's absolutely right.

Courtesy SoundSpike.com