Now and Then: The Return Of Duran Duran

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Founder, bassist John Taylor lives in the moment

by Lee Valentine Smith

Duran Duran, the international New Wave/New Romantic phenomenon, has survived more than three decades of changes in tastes and personnel. Glamorous singer-songwriter-bassist John Taylor, has been an influence on the sound and appearance of the group since its inception in 1978. After taking some time away to form supergroup Power Station in the mid-‘80s and an impressive foray into film scores, acting and solo releases, his contributions continue to revitalize the internationally beloved band. Currently on the road, with a tour-stop scheduled for Atlanta this month, Duran Duran is busy supporting their 13th full-length album, the independently issued All You Need Is Now (with guest spots from Ana Matronic and Kelis) as well as the live-in-Manchester DVD, A Diamond In The Mind (Eagle Rock Records). Known for multi-million-selling hits like “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “The Reflex,” “Rio,” and “Is There Something I Should Know?” the band has maintained an incredible, staunchly-dedicated fan-base around the world. Just back from a visit to the legendary Sistine Chapel, the affable Taylor spoke with Insite shortly before a recent performance in Rome, Italy.

The new live DVD was born of a bit of hardship, correct?

Yes, we were scheduled to do a British tour last summer but we cancelled it because [singer] Simon [LeBon] developed some problems with his vocal chords. We pushed it back to later in the year, then we went back and played the British tour that fall, just before Christmas last year.

This was after last year’s US tour, right?

Right. In a way, it was all a silver lining because there’s nothing like touring the States to really get it all ironed out. By the time we got back to Britain to play the rescheduled shows, the tour was really firing on all cylinders. And Manchester, in particular, is a great town for Duran Duran, one of the first towns that really got behind us, in the ‘80s.

It’s a very well-done moment in the band’s history, including quite a bit of the new album.

We’re always trying to have this balance in our live shows. And with All You Need Is Now, we have the bricks with which to build the show. To balance the catalog and current. Yes, we know people are coming to hear the “classics,” if you like, but for us, it’s the new material that brings the show into the present day.

With 13 albums to pick from, how do you find that balance?

We have more arguments about this subject than anything else! It’s an ongoing dialog. When we’re on tour, like tonight’s show, we are always trying to make the most perfect representation. Like, if tonight was the last show, how do you wish to be remembered?

Right, how do you marry the new with the older material?

Well, we got quite lucky with this album. The sensibility behind it is, it’s actually a retro one.

What did [producer/DJ/musician] Mark Ronson bring to the production?

Mark came to us with the idea that he wanted the album to be sort of an alternative sequel to the Rio album of 1982. So we approached the writing and the songs as if the ‘90s never happened.

And that’s a radical departure from the previous record [2007’s poorly-received Red Carpet Massacre]

It was done with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and it was a very forward moving, very hip-hop style production. And as such, it was very polarizing for our audience. They didn’t like it at all;, well, some of them did.

That obviously put the band on the defensive with this one.

We were kind of like, “Ok, let’s not go any farter forward with this one, lets take Mark’s concept and roll with it.” One thing, it did mean was the songs we wrote with Mark are very fun to play live. Because they’re very much about performances. Red Carpet Massacre was all samples and synths. So this was very much an old school kind of thing. The new material just drops in; it galvanizes the older material very well.

With today’s skewed listening habits, people want that immediate fix, on demand.

Now it’s a sort of 24-hour, self-curated radio station. Which can go from music from last year, to the ’80s to the ’50s and something from the 19th century, bang-bang-bang. I’m finding it’s sort of flattening the changes out a little bit. Music that seemed so old, 20 years ago, actually seems fresher today as a result of the textural shift that created by listening to music in this way.

It’s like every song is the hit single because there’s no time for filler.

I think the way we listen now, because of iTunes and all that, we’re hearing music in a much more pick and mix way. It’s all about the shuffle. I don’t know about you, but I very rarely listen to albums anymore.

Who has time to just sit and listen?

Exactly! I remember getting the last Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album, the one before the recent one, actually. I’m a fan, but it was a double CD and I think each disc had 16 songs on it. I think it took me about three days to listen to the whole thing. At the end of it, I thought, “Who has the time?! Nobody!” I appreciate the artistic gesture, but people just don’t have the time anymore.

That’s one benefit of modern technology, to select anything you need to hear, at any given moment.

Yes, when I was 17, in 1977, the only music I’d listen to, had been made that year! Maybe I’d listen to something from ’75. But that was it. I was listening to music of my moment. And to me, in ’77, music from ’72 sounded extremely dated. I couldn’t possibly listen to music from the ‘50s or ‘60s; it was like listening to my parents’ music. But that has changed and we don’t have those kind of walls anymore. People can appreciate music in a different way. So it’s quite fantastic, actually.

Especially for an artist with a diverse catalog.

Oh my God, yes! It’s like manna from Heaven. Even ten years ago, people would say, “Oh, you’re an ’80 artist, an ’80s band.” Putting us in this category. But now, it feels like the music is living in this nebulous presence, because of the instant availability. And it’s even affected me and I wrote the fucking songs! It’s weird, man. Songs from Rio are feeling fresher to me today than they were ten or fifteen years ago.

You mentioned being categorized. How does Duran Duran deal with people who insist on labels?

We spent the second decade of our careers, just defending ourselves. Trying to maintain this position of relevancy, you know, and people were just trying to write us off, put us in a category and sort of file us away. But between technology and the music itself, you realize that things haven’t changed all that much. We could listen to Nirvana and then to Run-DMC and then to “Hungry Like The Wolf” or Dark Side Of The Moon. And it ain’t all that different!

You have two Atlantas in your life. Your daughter named Atlanta [born March 31, 1992] and the city on the itinerary. First, how’s she doing?

She’s well! She was born in London and when she was a couple of months old, we whisked her away to the United States. So she was raised in Los Angeles. She’s very much a California kid, but she’s just starting to get a feel for life as an adult and she wanted to go to England. Now she’s getting in touch with her roots a little bit and having a great time there. And I‘m very happy for that.

What do you remember most about the city of Atlanta?

Atlanta has always been a Duran Duran stronghold; one of the first [American] cities that really got behind us in a big way. I remember playing the Omni in 1984, and that tour, the Sing Blue Silver tour, was obviously just the pinnacle of the band’s first phase. There’s a documentary film of that tour. But you know, I remember that tour was sponsored by Coca-Cola. So when we got to Atlanta, we had to go to HQ. And then, and I don’t know why, but they all said to me, “John you’re gonna give a speech!” I made some crack about Pepsi and that was the end of our relationship with Coca-Cola!

Since you’re a record collector, have you visited the record stores here?

I’m a vinyl junkie! So as soon as I get to town, I head off to Five Points and I get my kicks there. Me and a couple of the guys on the touring party, we really get very excited when Atlanta’s coming up, so we can get our fix of some vinyl!


Duran Duran plays Chastain Park on August 19.

Courtesy InSite Atlanta