John Taylor was a teenager in Birmingham, England, in 1978 when he and two school mates got together to form a band they named Duran Duran, and within a few short years, ended up one of the biggest bands on the planet.
“We were kids,” Taylor says. “Even when we were selling out every arena in the country in 1984 we were still kids, really, just hanging on.
“When you see those Westerns where the horse is running away and the rider is just hanging on for dear life? That’s what those tours were like for me.”
Duran Duran broke up once or twice in the decades that followed but since 2001 four of the five members of the band’s classic lineup – bassist Taylor, singer Simon Le Bon, drummer Roger Taylor, and keyboardist Nick Rhodes – have stayed together, touring regularly and releasing new albums.
“Paper Gods,” their latest, debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard album charts in September, and the tour behind it – which arrives Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre – finds Duran Duran taking just a bit more time to enjoy life on the road than they did in the early days, Taylor says.
“There’s a lot of energy in the show today, but we’ve found a way to process our energy,” Taylor says. “We’re still looking up to these artists that went before us that somehow managed to keep their energy levels up.
“When we’re on the road we’re all so passionate about what we do ... this thing happens at nine o’clock when the lights go on. The intention is that those two hours are the best that they can be.”
For “Paper Gods,” the band’s 14th studio album, Duran Duran looked for ways to stay fresh and contemporary while retaining its signature sounds, a mix of rock, glam, funk, and New Wave, the latter a genre the band helped create.
“Every album requires a deep intake of breath,” says the 56-year-old Taylor. “If only it were as simple as, ‘Now we just have to write 12 songs.’ We feel we have to freshen up the aesthetic. We have to remember that we are a modern band.
“It’s always this balance between looking sideways. It’s like guys of our age: ‘What do we dress like? How much can you pull out of your son’s wardrobe and get away with?’ Some of it works. Some of it the wife is like, ‘You’re not going out like that, are you?’”
Over the months leading up to the studio sessions for “Paper Gods” the band passed around songs and artists they enjoyed, finding inspiration in the work of those they admired.
“About six months in we start calling (producer) Mark Ronson or whoever it is, and saying, ‘Hello? Hello? Do you have any time in the next year?’
“The first year was really the four of us in a room just banging out new ideas and trying to find the key to what this album was going to be about,” Taylor says. For him, he noted, it came when the electronic artist and producer Mr. Hudson – like the Duran guys, a Birmingham native – cold-called the band and offered to work with them some day.
Eventually the production team included Ronson, Mr. Hudson, Nile Rodgers of Chic – which is opening for Duran Duran on this tour – and former Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante.
“And then we started feeling like we’ve got an album that tells the story of who we are right now,” Taylor says. “It’s classic Duran but it’s also got an awareness of what’s happening today.”
On the Paper Gods tour, Duran Duran are typically playing about four tracks from the new record, with the rest of the set drawn from their catalog of earlier hits, songs such as “Hungry Like The Wolf,” “Rio,” and “Girls On Film.”
Thinking back to when those songs were written, and even earlier, when the band first came together, Taylor sounds not necessarily nostalgic for the past, but excited by memories of those formative days.
“In 1977, ‘78, it wasn’t a great time for British society but it was a great time for the counterculture,” he says. “The failing economy and miners’ strikes and so forth was part of what gave birth to the punk movement.
“So by the time I was 17, all my mates wanted to be in a band. Everybody was going through the crap in the attic trying to find an instrument of some sort. It was an explosion, it was a rebellion.
“Suddenly we were going to see these bands in clubs and they didn’t know that much,” Taylor says. “It was a club you could gain entry into. It was sort of an anti-virtuosity. ‘Here’s there chords, see what you can do.’”
Bands like the Clash or Blondie or the Buzzcocks might be playing for a few hundred people in a dingy club one month and be featured on “Top Of The Pops” or “American Bandstand” the next, he says.
“Where in the mid-’70s the path to success was like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to pay our dues for years and you’ve got to put in those 190,000 hours or whatever it is that it takes to get to Carnegie Hall,’ with punk we didn’t have that,” Taylor says. “And we could see that it was entirely possible.”
Courtesy OC Register