Duran Duran’s John Taylor Talks ‘Groove,’ Studio Blues

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Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living; by that measure, John Taylor should be considered a posterboy for living well. Case in point: I interviewed the Duran Duran bassist back in the mid-'90s for Pro Sound News after he’d left the band, and while our chat was nominally about how he'd recorded a new solo CD, Taylor actually spent most of the time critiquing his own motivations and decisions, almost trying to figure out how his life at that moment all fit together. It was a great conversation, but hardly a typical interview for a gearhead mag like PSN.

Last week in San Francisco, on the eve of AES, Taylor did more of that engaging navel-gazing on a larger scale, as he parsed his entire career over the course of a sharp, onstage interview with rock critic Barry Walters at the San Francisco Art Institute. The event, part of the book tour behind Taylor’s autobiography, In The Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran, found the new author reading segments from his tome and sharing insights on his career to date.

Much of the conversation understandably focused on the more glamorous aspects of fame and fortune, but when it turned to the creative side of the job, Taylor’s frank appraisals of his work were laced with observations that will ring true for anyone who’s spent time in the studio trying to deliver on a demo's promise:

"I was very disappointed with that album [1990’s Liberty]. I love the beginnings—I think we all do—when we start the process of an album, as we’re going to be starting next spring, because we start out and you always think, ‘This is gonna be the one; this is gonna be the masterpiece!’

And you get into it—you start getting ideas and going ‘Yeah, that one, and that one and that one.’ And you get a couple of months into it and maybe you finish one, and you go…‘Yeah—that wasn’t quite what I wanted. But still, hey! There’s all these other ideas!’

And Liberty was one of those, an album like that, where I thought the demos for it were great, and it had the potential to be a really fantastic piece of work, but by the time we got in the studio and started recording tracks, there was this disconnect. I definitely wasn’t playing my part, and I think it was a really disappointing album."

While Liberty has its moments—the forgotten single, “Serious,” is the best Police song Sting never wrote—Taylor’s assessment is right on the money. That album’s tanking ultimately paved the way for 1992’s Duran Duran (widely referred to as The Wedding Album), which put the band back on the map with two top-10 hits, “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.” Nonetheless, by the end of the Nineties, Duran Duran was down to a duo, having lost three members over the years, including Taylor himself. While the band reunited with all five original members in 2000, it has only released three albums since then—which Taylor also assessed:

"It took us three albums to get it right. I could have written—I mean, there’s another book [worth of material] just about the reunion, it was so crazy. You ever see that film, Still Crazy? It’s a fantastic film about a rock band reuniting but the guitar player is too messed up so they bring in this young kid, and it’s up there with Spinal Tap; it was like that.

So it took a long time to get it right. Astronaut (2004) was the best album we could make under the circumstances; Red Carpet Massacre (2007) was the best under the circumstances, and it’s sad that Andy Taylor [who left the band again in 2006] wasn’t a part of that because Andy plus Timbaland [who produced the album] would’ve been really something. I was disappointed it didn’t happen like that.

But we kind of got it right this time with All You Need Is Now (2010). How do we gauge how an album is successful anymore? It’s certainly not about numbers or how many is it selling. But I think we all felt, right up until the last tour which ended prematurely, that the album’s a success because we were having so much fun, still playing the songs 18 months later. We were still getting into the songs on the album, so that seemed like the best way to judge whether it was a success or not."

While it may be hard to tell how well an album is doing in the age of illegal downloading, books are another story (at least for now). As a result, Taylor’s breezy bio can be readily labeled a hit, having entered the New York Times’ Non-Fiction Bestseller list at Number 6. If it’s even half as honest and amusing as the discussion at San Francisco Art Institute, In The Pleasure Groove should be an excellent read.

In The Pleasure Groove on Amazon

Courtesy Pro Sound News', Clive Young