A Conversation with Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor

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Mike Ragogna: Roger, hi. Didn't you just play the at the Olympics?

Roger Taylor: Yeah, we played one of the concerts associated with the Olympics in Hyde Park.

MR: You almost can't get a gig like that except for maybe playing for the world with Live Aid?

RT: Yeah, we did the original Live Aid, which, to this day, I think is still the best event concert that's ever been. It was incredible, a little scary. "Okay, are you guys ready?" There are a hundred thousand people in the stadium, there's a billion people watching live worldwide, on you go!" It's scary, but we made it and it was a great event to be at.

MR: Nice, no pressure there.

RT: No pressure there, none at all! Just don't drop your drumstick.

MR: Roger, Duran Duran has been a favorite band for so many people for so long. You guys have hung in there, releasing many albums featuring pop classics, many of them appearing on your A Diamond In The Mind: Live 2011 DVD. It was filmed at the MEN Arena in Manchester on December 16th of last year?

RT: Uh-huh. Correct.

MR: And it was during your All You Need Is Now tour. When you're playing the hits, do you try to update the old songs?

RT: We sometimes do slightly different arrangements of the older songs. Like "Girls On Film" has a standard middle now and a slightly different end. Generally, people like to hear those songs as they were recorded. Of course, we still have four of the original members that recorded those songs. It's pretty easy for us to recreate those songs as they were recorded. We also have additional musicians. We have Dom Brown who is a great guitar player. We have an additional saxophonist and percussionist and backing vocalists. It's great that we have the original four members. People love to hear those songs as they were written. It's been quite easy to integrate the new songs into the show because the All You Need Is Now album is all about going back to that original, classic sound. The producer, Mark Ronson, led this band to rediscovering that sound. The whole show is very integrated very well on this tour.

MR: You can tell, especially on new songs like "Girl Panic" or "Man Who Stole A Leopard." They hearken back to the original days of Duran Duran.

RT: Yeah, Mark would come in and we would try to figure out a song or groove and it's, "Just think of the 'Girls on Film' groove. It's like, "Yeah, you own that groove. Why don't you use it again?" That was the inspiration for "Girl Panic." To use that with the "..Film" groove again.

MR: That's different from the approach you took on recent albums.

RT: We've spent a lot of time moving away from our sound. The last album we did was with Timbaland; Justin Timberlake came in and helped. We were trying to go in a different direction, but Mark Ronson said, "No, just be true to yourself. You're great at that sound." It was a great thing to have someone with that vision come into the project.

MR: Yeah, one thing I notice with some bands is that when try to upgrade or update their sound or style, it seems forced. I mean, it's fun to hear them in a modern context, but usually, things work best when a band remembers the essence of what they are. It's got to be satisfying to know that the essence of Duran Duran is what people still really want.

RT: Yeah, it's a fine line, you don't want to be a pale imitation of yourself. You don't want to be creating exactly what you were creating in the early eighties. You have to have some contemporary spin on the sound, and Mark Ronson came in with that. He just won a Grammy. He worked with Amy Winehouse. He came in with that real hip contemporary thing about him and that was thrown into the mix. He created something that was very unique and very 2011.

MR: Yeah, I agree with you, totally. My point is that it relied on the basics, the truth of what Duran Duran is really about at the heart.

RT: Exactly, exactly, which was the interaction between us as musicians. The great thing about Duran Duran in its early days is that everybody knew that John Taylor was the bass player and they could hear that he was playing on the record. I had a strong identity on the early records. Nick Rhodes also. It was great that he brought that back into the sound.

MR: Mark said that you own that groove, which bring up an interesting point. Over the years, you've introduced another signature song, a cover of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines," and many people now associate it with Duran Duran.

RT: Yeah, well...it's still his song, but obviously, Duran Duran did a take on that in the nineties, and it has become a staple of our live show. It's an exciting song and it's one of the few cover versions that we perform. It still sounds great till this

MR: Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" is another one.

RT: Yeah, I was about to say that's the only cover version. We have integrated "Relax" into our set, which was kind of like a homage to where "Wild Boys" came from. John and I were standing in a discotheque in Germany in the early eighties. We heard this song come on, "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It's a real stomp-driving, bass drum groove. We thought we had the right song for that. We went into the rehearsal room and that song was a real inspiration. "Wild Boys" took on a real life of its own. The seeds of that song came from a nightclub in Germany.

MR: Do you have any other songs with stories like that? Were any other Duran Duran songs inspired in that way?

RT: I can't think of any others that were strongly inspired. In the early days, we were very influenced by David Bowie and Roxy Music. There was a band in the UK called Japan that used sequences in their songs. We're also fans of Ultravox and Kraftwerk. But then, Andy Taylor was a fan of AC/DC and all these different influences were coming into the studio. Somehow, it had its own life. It became very unique in itself. It was influenced by a lot of different people.

MR: Let's flip it around. People were very influenced by Duran Duran, especially your videos. Those were some of the most elegant and beautiful videos ever.

RT: I know, I know. It's incredible. I can probably go to any hotel in the world and turn on one of the music channels and see "Hungry Like The Wolf" or whatever. It's incredible. We never knew the importance of these little clips. They were just the new promotional device. We didn't want to be film stars. We wanted to be musicians. We wanted to write songs. We wanted to play concerts. Somebody came up with the idea of these on location videos, which we were willing to do, but had no idea of the importance of them. We're very grateful for those videos. They turned us into international stars. They broke America for us, it was a real lucky break for us.

MR: Yeah, you conquered the US, not only musically, but visually, as well as the rest of the world.

RT: Yeah, you've always got to be at the right place at the right time. We were exactly in the right place. MTV was just starting up, it was being piped into millions of homes in America, and we just happened to be the band with the right look and the right sound making these mini movies. If it would've come five years earlier, who knows. A lot of it was being in the right place at the right time and being open. We were very open to new ideas. There were a lot of bands who were refusing to do videos because it wasn't rock 'n' roll or it wasn't truly a band thing to do. We were very open minded and it worked for us.

MR: I also want to throw out there that you all were a young and a beautiful band.

RT: We always had the aesthetic quality, we say. You had to be a good musician to be in the band, but you also had to have a look about you, and I think that served us well in the end, although there was a point where we went down the teen route and thought, "Is this really where we want to be?" Again, it served us well in the end. It got us noticed. We took great comfort in the fact that The Beatles also went through this teen thing, but they were eventually taken seriously and made great albums. We used to look up to The Beatles and said it's okay because they had the teen thing--not that I would ever compare us to The Beatles because they are so unique and such a groundbreaking band. But we used to take comfort in the fact that they experienced the teen thing as well.

MR: And, of course, following your teen idol period, you had more hits like "Come Undone" and "Ordinary World." You did what you needed to do.

RT: Exactly, and we survived it. We survived 30 years now and we have more respect that we ever have. We get good reviews of our concerts now, which is... we never used to get that. Life is good.

MR: Duran Duran and groups like you definitely contributed to pop culture--the music, the videos, the fashion. And I think that the reality is you all broke MTV, though it's perceived as the other way around.

RT: Yeah, there weren't many videos out there.

MR: There weren't very many, but you really set the tone for what was going to come down the pike for many years, so in that way, I think you play no small part in the culture of America and the world.

RT: Thank you.

MR: When you look back to those songs and your career, what are your thoughts?

RT: I think that we really appreciated it. There was a time, I think, that we resented that we were famous for our videos. We were really resentful of that because we wanted to be taken seriously as a band and for our music and our songs. Luckily, time has been good to us. The songs have stood the test of time. We performed in Italy and there were 10,000 people there going crazy for the music and the songs and what we are now. We now accept that the importance of those videos was a great thing. We have total acceptance of that now, and that feels great.

MR: Roger, it didn't make the album, but to be honest, my favorite track by the group is "Save A Prayer," and that video as well. It was a beautiful Duran Duran moment all around.

RT: "Save A Prayer," wow. We played in Verona last and we came onto the encore with "Save A Prayer" and we actually didn't have to sing a word of the song. The audience sang every note, every word of the song. Yeah, thirty years later, that's still happening. It shows the strength of those songs. They weren't just about videos. The videos were amazing, they cemented the songs in people's minds, but we wrote good songs. We still get to play them now and to be able to get to play those songs that you've written is incredible.

MR: "Save A Prayer," no play on the title here, comes off like a hymn when people sing it. I remember thinking that years ago when you guys played it in concert.

RT: It was like a national anthem, actually in Italy. The two big songs there are "Save A Prayer" and "Wild Boys." They're almost apart of the culture identity of Italy. It's fantastic.

MR: Roger, what advice do you have for new artists?

RT: Of course, you would say something different now. We were lucky when we started. We came just after The Beatles and Queen and The Stones, bands that had this huge catalog of music and longevity. David Bowie was another one. There was a lot of money swinging around in the industry, so they signed a lot of different people and we were one of many acts that got signed to EMI that year. It was a land of opportunity at that point. Now, it's difficult. The advice is to just keep working it. Work hard. You have to work all the different mediums. My son's is in a band. He is also a DJ, a mixer, and a producer. I think you do have to diversify and work a lot harder, I think.

MR: Social media as well.

RT: Social media as well, which is another thing you have to work.

MR: Yeah, you almost have to work, as the old phrase goes, as a one-man band.

RT: You do. Unfortunately, I think it is a product of the illegal downloading. There's no money left in the industry and none to invest in new artists and bring talent on. I'm afraid we're at the point where the illegal downloading has brought us to, which is a tough point in the music industry.

MR: Roger, thanks so much, I do really appreciate your time.

RT: Thank you.

Courtesy The Huffington Post