Duran Duran: “We See a Bit of Ourselves” in Kanye West

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Duran Duran: "We see a bit of ourselves" in Kanye West
By Sarah Jane Griffiths Entertainment reporter

9 September 2015
From the section Entertainment & Arts

As Duran Duran return with their 14th album Paper Gods, Nick Rhodes talks about being "like a family", working with the "dream team" of Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers and seeing a bit of themselves in Kanye West.

Forget the 'difficult second album' concept - imagine the pressure to deliver new and exciting goods when you get to album number fourteen.

"After three and a half decades of being together, if you're going to make another new album, it needs to be something very special - otherwise we shouldn't bother," says Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes.

But he admits "reinventing the Duran Duran sound" - made famous on 1980s hits like Rio, The Wild Boys and Girls on Film - can sometimes be "easier said than done".

"It took longer than usual," says Rhodes of the two years they spent perfecting Paper Gods. "Probably the first year was spent down underground in the mine, trying to find some gold."

Founded by Rhodes and bassist John Taylor in Birmingham in 1978, Duran Duran has been through several incarnations and its members haven't always seen eye to eye.

But Rhodes tells the BBC these days he, Taylor, singer Simon Le Bon and drummer Roger Taylor have all learned to work through the rows and appreciate each other.

You're headlining Bestival this weekend and heading off on a UK tour in November - how do Duran Duran cope with living in each others pockets after 37 years?

At this point we are like a family. There is a lot of affection for what we've been through together and we enjoy being together. We laugh a lot together.

I mean, there are times when we could all sort of kill each other. Tempers will fray and people will want to take a song in a different direction - we just have to let go of that once we leave the studio.

You've said you found 'a whole new level of inspiration' working on Paper Gods, but it took some time?

I think people always think we have this grand plan - it just isn't like that. We really sit around with some instruments and try to find a direction and sort of wipe the slate clean every time.

Do you throw a lot of stuff away then?

We throw away I would say two albums worth of material to get the third. We do have very high standards - there's four of us, so there is usually someone who says 'I think that can be better'. We tend to write a few songs and then we finally get one that we all agree is better than the others - so then you've almost got to say 'this is the new standard - everything we have has got to be at least this good.'
Image copyright Duran Duran / Nile Rodgers
Image caption Duran Duran and Nile Rodgers shared this image of the "dream team" in the studio

You'd worked with producers Mark Ronson (2011's All You Need is Now) and Nile Rodgers (Notorious, 1986) separately before, but not together - how was that?

Mark had known Nile since he was a little boy but he'd never ever worked with him and he said 'I think you should work with Nile again', and 'can I please be on those sessions too?' It was such a simple idea.

Nile is always pure pleasure to have around. The way he plays guitar lifts people's spirits. He'd just come off the back of the Daft Punk record Get Lucky, so sitting in a room with him and Mark Ronson, who played us his forthcoming track with Bruno Mars, Uptown Funk - and we all know what happened to that song - having those two people in the room with the four of us was really a dream team. We did two songs together over about three days, Pressure Off, the first single, and a track called Only in Dreams. It was electric in the room.

When it comes to [Nile's] CV, I can't think of anyone in recent years that has a better one - David Bowie, Madonna, Chic, Sister Sledge, obviously his work with us, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, Diana Ross. And all of those albums are so special - he brings some amazing energy.

There's quite a roll call on your album too - Janelle Monae, former Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Hideaway singer Keisza - and on the other end of the scale is Lindsay Lohan, who voices a doctor on the track Danceophobia?

With Keisza we wanted the ultimate diva on that track [Last Night in the City] with the voice that could shatter glass around the universe and an energy. She is a rising star and she is going to be around for a long time.

[Lindsay] was in London doing [the play] Speed the Plough and we'd known her for a little while. She sent [Simon] a note saying, 'hey, I hear you're in the studio - can I come and do something on the album? We had this idea based on Michael Jackson's Thriller, on the wonderful monologue that Vincent Price delivered. She really nailed it.

Lindsay's reputation precedes her but actually she loves doing the things that she does and she is damn good at it. It took us a little while to get her there - I think Simon had to go and fetch her in the car in the end - but she came along with her sister and took over the entire place, it was a lot of fun.

You teamed up with producer Mr Hudson too - who's worked with Kanye West and Jay Z. What do you think he brought to the album?

He was a very key character. Ben came along about a year in and helped us do some editing. He literally said 'well I love that one, this one I think we could work on a bit more and why don't we do something new?'.

He'll play a little bit of guitar, or contribute to lyrics - so he almost became like our fifth member for the project.

I think we're quite a tough room to walk into because we all have known each other for a very long time. Probably being from Birmingham helped a little, but he came for an afternoon and stayed for the best part of the next year.

You were one of the first bands to be played on MTV in the 1980s - what do you think of Kanye being given their lifetime achievement award this year?

That's quite a short lifetime, but I think he deserves it. Kanye is definitely one of the most interesting artists of his generation and we all admire him, and I think see a little bit of ourselves in him - that he wants to change things and try out different things. He's adventurous musically. He's definitely cut from the same sort of marble as we came from.

Taylor Swift presented him with the award - arguably the biggest artist in the world at the moment. Is she somebody you would like to work with?

I haven't met her actually, but I admire her process and I admire the way she has insisted that musicians are compensated properly for their work [by streaming services]. She took a very brave and intelligent stance. The way things have gone online has made it very hard for more esoteric artists to find that audience and build their sound - to actually survive. Every little bit helps and the fact that she's gone out there and stuck her head above the parapet and said 'no, you shouldn't take advantage', I think was really right.

And yes of course, I think she's very talented too and if she wants to give us a call, absolutely!

Paper Gods is released via Warner Bros Records on 11 September.

Courtesy BBC