Interview: Duran Duran Bassist John Taylor Reflects on Avoiding Nostalgia, ‘Paper Gods’ and More

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Formidable '80s band will make a Wednesday, Aug. 3., stop at Gila River Arena in metro Phoenix.

Ed Masley, The Republic | 11:53 a.m. MST May 27, 2016

John Taylor of Duran Duran is explaining the challenges that faced the British New Wave veterans as they started work on “Paper Gods,” their 14th studio release.

“So much of it is aesthetic today because sound is evolving so quickly and technology is changing sound,” he says. “We’re not a blues band. We’re a modern band, a modern pop-rock band with a contemporary aesthetic. And that’s always been our thing. So we can’t afford to make music that sounds like we don’t have a clue as to what’s going on. Having said that, you know what it looks like when dad tries to look like his 15-year-old son. It doesn’t work. So you have to kind of try out things and say ‘Does this work? Can we do this?’ It’s a balancing act, you know?”

They arrived at that balance in part by being open to the spirt of collaboration, working with several different producers. Nile Rodgers of Chic, whose funky remix of “The Reflex” gave Duran Duran their first chart-topping entry on the Hot 100, is back in the mix. So is Mark Ronson, who produced their previous release, 2011’s “All You Need is Now.” And Taylor credits Mr. Hudson with having “raised our game considerably,” beginning with the futuristic a cappella vocals that open the album – the ones that sound a bit like David Bowie singing doo-wop in Berlin.

'I feel compelled to brag a little'

“Actually, I feel compelled to brag a little,” Taylor says, with a boyish enthusiasm that often punctuates his comments. “Because I spoke to a DJ friend in Chicago last September and he said he was sitting in a car with Pete Towshend the week before and Pete Townshend had put that track on and said, ‘Guess who this is. You’ll never guess who this is.’”

There are still four members of the classic “Rio” lineup in Duran Duran. In addition to Taylor on bass, there’s lead singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor. Guitarist Andy Taylor left in 1986, returning in 2001 before leaving again in 2006.

The album also features several appearances, including Lindsay Lohan, who supplies a playfully seductive monologue on “Danceophobia,” former Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante and Janelle Monae, who guests on "Pressure Off," the lead single.

As Taylor says, “This is the album of the Duran Duran feature. We opened our minds and hearts to artists to involve themselves with us for periods of time. There’s a lot of turns on this album that I think have given it some depth.”

Taylor checked in by phone before the second leg of touring in support of “Paper Gods,” which brings Duran Duran and Chic to the Valley in August. He’s a genuinely charming conversationalist, refreshingly candid, self-aware and funny, laughing often.

Question: You said you have to try things. Were there things you tried for “Paper Gods” that didn’t work?

Answer: We worked on this album for two years. Obviously, not every day all day. But it was the focus of our creativity for two years. That’s a lot time. And in that time, you’re gonna have a lot of failures. There’s a lot of songs that didn’t make it for whatever reason. At the end of the day, there might have been a better version of the album. There might have been a better version of some song. Sometimes, you dispose of an idea and maybe that was the wrong decision.

You’re dealing with, essentially, four guys. We’re a four-headed beast of equal partners. Everybody’s got their instincts. Everybody’s got their feelings about what they think the new record should sound like and what it should say. It’s a very intellectual process to a degree. Yes, there’s a lot of sound and music being made but it’s also a lot of analytics, which is what makes being on the road so much fun, because there’s not a lot to analyze when you’re on the road. You’re just getting that instant gratification of performing the show every night.

This particular show, because we took the time we did, there’s a lot of energy and it doesn’t feel like a nostalgia act, which is important to us. I mean, I’d be grateful for any kind of career at this point. I had no idea people were still going to be paying me to play music going on, what, 40 years is it? It’s ridiculous.

When we were kids – 21 or 22 – we were deserved of a certain acclaim. And by the time we were in our 30s, we were deserved of a certain degree of acclaim. After a certain point, I feel a lot of people are just coming because we’re still here and they want to see what it looks like (laughs) when a band that was known for what we were known for so long ago is still kicking it. What does that look like? What does that sound like? And I think we have a secret weapon, and that actually is that we were always a lot more serious about what we do than people gave us credit for.

I think that for a while Duran became the kind of band in the mid-‘80s where people thought we were kind of put together, manufactured, because how can a band that has that kind of fame be the real thing? And really, it feels like since 1985, we’ve been proving to the world that we’re the real thing.

Q: Do you think there’s an extent to which some of the recent reassessment and appreciation of the artistry that was always there is just guys getting over the fact that their girlfriends were in love with you?

A: Exactly (laughs). Exactly. I mean, honestly, people ask how have the audience changed, and actually even since we were last on the road in America, about four years ago, the sound of the crowd has changed. It's like guys are finally like, "You know what? I give up. These guys are OK," (laughs). So I think you've got it exactly right. Whereas in the past, she would say, "I want to go see Simon; they're coming around," and he'd be like, you know, "Call Judy; call your best friend; you two go; I'll go watch the game," now, they're like "Yeah, you know what? I'll come with you.”

It’s like they’ve surrendered. But it’s an amazing audience that we’ve got coming out on this tour. Such a positive, beautiful crowd of people. We played in LA ... and I pointed to the crowd and said, "Try classifying that." It’s the most fluid group of music fans, and I’ve got to say I’m kind of proud of it.

Q: You mentioned how it doesn’t feel like a nostalgia act. Did it ever go through a period of feeling that way?

A: Well, sometimes it’s harder but I think we’ve always tried to stay in the moment. I think one of the conversations that takes place always is balancing the old with the new. I go to see a lot of art shows. I remember Nick and I went to see a retrospective of the work of Ed Ruscha. It’s a lifetime retrospective and it starts off with some of the earliest stuff he did. And you’re kind of like, “Well, look, if that was all he did, nobody would know his name.” But then he gets his first good idea and that’s there and that leads to one or two other things and then there’s experiments he did.

Anyway, it’s this whole sweep of a career, which if it’s done probably and really tells the whole story and doesn’t have to rely on just the big hits, we kind of approach our shows like that, so every show we do is like a retrospective.

One of the things is that we’re trying to show that there’s as much vigor in the work we’re doing now as there was when we were in our 20s. How is that? I don’t know. Certainly, this band had a lot of energy in 1984 but a lot of that energy was going into stupid s—t (laughs). And now there’s as much energy on stage as there was on the 1984 but there is nothing like the amount of energy being expended off stage in the remaining 22 hours of the day, you know what I mean? (Laughs heartily)

Whereas in ’84, you were just like a crazy person between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., now you sleep. (Laughs). Because we kind of looked at it and said, “Well, what’s important here? What’s this really about? Why are we really here?” We all have to do that, don’t we? As you get older, you have to be a little more selective with your activities (laughs). How do you like that? That was a good way of describing it, wasn’t it? (Laughs.)

Q: So what do you think of those early records? How have they held up for you?

A: For me, they’ve held up super well. Because I get it. I get what we were trying to do. And to me, they succeed entirely. I mean, the first three particularly. The fourth record, that’s the album with Nile Rodgers (on guitar) and Steve Ferrone (on drums). And there’s three of us. We’re down and we’re trying to stay in the game and it wouldn’t be the first time that Nile Rodgers would come to our aid. He has been a source of inspiration and energy for us many times throughout our career.

And I wouldn’t say that “Notorious” was a great album, but as a transitional moment, it succeeded and it had a hit on it. So it kind of got us through. Then, there was definitely a period where we weren’t quite sure who we were.

It’s interesting because for a long time, I was really, really hung up on replacing Roger and Andy. I felt like there was this magic in the five-man band and that we had to find our way back. For years and years, I was trying to get that formula back. And then I ran out of juice and I left the band for a while, and then came back because we embraced the idea of a reunion of the original lineup, thinking, “Here we go. All we’ve gotta do is get the five original members of the band and it’s all gonna be the chemistry.” And it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the same.

So finally, I had to let go of that idea. And I think with this album what we learned is that the empty chair, which was Andy Taylor’s place, is now an X factor. We can fill it with John Frusciante. We can fill it with Mr. Hudson. We can fill it with Nile Rodgers. It actually gives us a flexibility and now I see it as a great asset, having that kind of hole in the sound that when we’re in the studio we can fill with all manner of options.

Q: You mentioned Nile Rodgers several times, and you’re out on the road with him. Will he be joining you on stage at any point?

A: Yes. It’s a great honor for me and the band to have Nile and Chic on the road with us. It’s a fantastic treat for the audience. You just don’t see this s—t anymore. I mean, there are so few artists that are delivering the kind of set that Nile is delivering. And what’s great about it is it’s real. It’s authentic. The relationship we have with Nile is real. And I think the audience feels that. So you get this story. There’s a great logic to this show.

And we’ve got Tokimonsta on the show with us as well. She’s a really super cool Millennial who’s going down the road Duran went down when we were in our early 20s but she’s doing it from her perspective. So it’s like a really interesting meal.

And having Nile, there’s so many hits in Chic’s set that it allows us to be a little more progressive in ours. That’s not to say you’re not gonna get a lot of hits. As Nile likes to say, everybody leaves with hit fatigue. You’re gonna hear more songs you know in this show than probably any other this summer. I challenge you.

Duran Duran concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3.

Where: Gila River Arena, 9400 W. Maryland Ave., Glendale.

Admission: $23.45-$128.45.

Details: 623-772-3800,

Courtesy AZ Central/Arizona Republic