Duran Duran’s John Taylor Talks About Nile Rodgers, David Bowie, ‘Save a Prayer’ and More

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No one will ever confuse proper British lads Duran Duran for native Floridians. But singer Simon Le Bon has longstanding family ties in Tampa Bay — his mum’s kept a home in the area for more than 30 years.

“Since '84, since the first time we visited Tampa, there’s always been that connection,” bassist John Taylor said by phone from Los Angeles. “It’s special for Simon, and if it’s special for him, it’s special for all of us.

“You’re going to a lot of cities over the course of a tour, and there’s a great longing for connection,” he added. “The longer you’ve been working, the more time has passed, the more chance that you get to a town and there’s some connection, no matter how tenuous.”

From 1978 until today, over the course of 14 albums, several lineup changes and the occasional hiatus Duran Duran has left a bright and influential legacy, thwarting early critics of their glammed-up looks by becoming unlikely godfathers to an era of pop obsessed with synthesizers and style.

Their latest LP, Paper Gods, features collaborations with, among others, Mark Ronson and longtime associate Nile Rodgers, whose band Chic will join them Saturday at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater (click here for details). Apart from a brief Paper Gods tour last fall, this marks the first time the legendary guitarist, who produced hits like The Reflex and The Wild Boys, has ever joined Duran Duran on the road.

“It’s part of what has given the tour a particular flavor, and we’ve found that the audiences on that run were unlike audiences we’ve really ever played to before,” Taylor said. “It really is a great-time show.”

Before Saturday’s show, Taylor talked about Rodgers, David Bowie, how their song Save a Prayer became an anthem of peace after the Paris Bataclan shootings, and more.

How did you end up convincing Nile and Chic to come on the road?

Nile played on Paper Gods, and it was great to get back into a studio with him. He was the first one to float the idea of the two bands playing together. We put a short run of shows together the week of the album release in September, this small run. And it was really crucial that we had Nile along, to be honest with you. There was a feeling that it needed to have a sense of an event to it. And he went for it! And honestly, I think it was the greatest run of shows... I don’t want to say we’ve ever done, but certainly in many, many years.

The first time we did it with Nile was Denver, which is a beautiful venue, Red Rocks. He walks onstage, and we’re standing at the side of the stage saying, Holy s---, what have we done? Now we have to follow this. But the thing is, the audience, they’re not sitting there going, Wow, how are Duran Duran going to follow this? They’re enjoying the show for what it is. And anybody that hasn’t seen Nile’s Chic show, it’s like, you’ve gotta do it. It’s just got to be done.

Do you foresee any on-stage collaboration between you and Nile and your other opening act, Shamir?

He does join us on stage for a couple of songs, yeah. And I think it’d be great to get Shamir out, too. Absolutely.

Can you give me an example of a specific instance where you brought a song into the studio, and he made it demonstrably better?

(long pause) Well, the first time we worked with Nile was a song called The Reflex. The third album (Seven and the Ragged Tiger) was the follow-up to Rio, and Rio had been a breakout album for us. So we were trying to create an album that was going to take everything we’d gained in the Rio moment to the next level. And the album came out and it underperformed. The first single went to No. 2 in the U.K., and everybody was bummed out, because the song before it had been a No. 1, and it was at that time in your career when you’re either going up or down, and it just felt like the vultures were circling.

We had this song The Reflex, and we just thought, We know there’s a great pop song in there, but we didn’t get it. That’s an interesting place to be, where you’re looking at a song and it’s out there, it’s on your album, but you know you didn’t really maximize it. We approached Nile, and he was starting to get into production. He’d just produced INXS, he’d just produced Bowie. Little did we know he’d just got this instrument called the Synclavier, which was basically a sampling keyboard, and he was able to sample vocal parts, tune them and play them back in. He completely f---ed up this track and sent it back to us. The record company said, What? That’s f---ing terrible! You can’t possibly put that out! And yet there was a feeling with the band that, no, he tapped into the core of what the song had to offer. Like a truly great producer, he took it way, way beyond, and made it into a great record.

I bought the Eagles of Death Metal cover of Save a Prayer after Paris. What’s been the most unexpected reaction to your decision to donate your proceeds of that cover to charity?

Simon is at a point in his life where he really wants to get behind an initiative like this. I’m all for that. When you’ve been around a while, and you’ve got a lot of material out there, something will happen to a song where you have no control over it. That event in Paris put a spotlight on that song. We’re always saying, Wouldn’t it be great if one of the old songs was reinvented as an anthem for peace? But then something like that happens, and you’re like, No, no, no, not like this.

Duran was never a message band. But we’re at an age now where there has to be a message in what you do. Our message was just hedonism when we were in our 20s. And that was fine. But you need your parents to behave like adults. This forces us to represent in a different way. It was definitely weird. But if the song has been imbued with a new power, and that power is about peace, then I’m all for it.

How are you and your bandmates dealing with the death of David Bowie?

I’m doing all right. I was ready for it. I had seen it coming. I hadn’t expected this extraordinary outpouring of material in the last few years. When we lose somebody (like Bowie), you end up looking at your life in ways that frankly I’d rather not do most of the time. I kept a candle burning for him for a few days. But then I found myself one day sitting at the piano, working on a song, and I thought, I didn’t light a candle today. And I thought, Well, that’s okay, because you’re at the piano, and you’re being creative, so maybe the energy’s moved on. And I think that’s David’s message: He never stopped being creative.

-- Jay Cradling

Courtesy Tampa Bay Times