Q&A with writer Annie Zaleski


1. Tell us something about yourself...

I'm a writer and voracious music fan living in Cleveland, Ohio, with my husband and massive record collection

2. Assuming you’re an “80’s Kid,” what are the first pieces of music you can remember buying?

I am indeed an '80s kid, and I remember vividly the first cassette I ever bought. Around the holidays, a local department store set up a shop where kids could be "grown-ups" and buy presents for their family by themselves. So one year when I was in elementary school, I picked out gifts for my brother and parents—but then also spent a large chunk of the money I had from my parents on a present for me, haha: a cassette compilation called "The California Sound Of The 60's," with the Byrds, Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas. Today, I can pinpoint my love of harmonies and jangly guitars to that tape—and it certainly started me on a path to spending my disposable income on records! Within a few years, I had a few other favorite tapes: the La Bamba soundtrack, the Cocktail soundtrack, and New Kids on the Block's Hangin' Tough.

3. What first attracted you to Duran Duran?

This is such a good question, and this was the toughest one to answer. I hope this doesn't sound like a cliché, but I really think it comes down to their songs. My fandom really began with The Wedding Album, but because of radio and cable, I was also exposed to their '80s music at the same time. Duran Duran's songs just always sounded unique from everything else going on: "Ordinary World" was so beautiful and the opposite of grunge, and "Too Much Information" was a punkish take on the electronic dance at the time. Rio blew me away when I first heard it, and the rest of the '80s singles sounded so different from even each other. I'm never tired of Duran Duran's music, and I only say that about a few bands I love.

4. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being highest, how would you rate your level of DD fandom as a teen?

I would honestly say 7! I think it's safe to say I was the biggest Duran Duran fan in my high school, haha, since it was the mid-late '90s. While I wasn't allowed to tack up photos in my bedroom (*or* paint my walls black, my teenage dream), Duran Duran was one of my favorite bands, along with R.E.M., U2 and The Smiths. My family signed up for America Online fairly early on, when it was still available via a dial-up modem, and I definitely read early fan websites (The Lizard King stands out) and posted/lurked on the "Duran Duran Lives" message board on AOL. (I have no memory of this, but apparently I would post "80s lyrics contests" on the board, which is both hilarious and cringeworthy in hindsight. Why did I do that?) Via that site, I nabbed some sweet vintage merch, including a patch for my backpack and a "Wild Boys"-era tee. Since it was the '90s, I picked up Duran Duran vinyl and cassettes super cheap – I still have them all! -- and I reviewed the Medazzaland tour show I saw for my high school newspaper.

5. Have you ever see them in concert, and if so, where?

Yes! One of my first concerts ever was the Medazzaland tour at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium near Cleveland, Ohio, in November 1997. (I later discovered my husband was also at that show, but we didn't meet for another 12 years.) It was a very sad but beautiful show, since it was right after Michael Hutchence passed. I later saw the Pop Trash tour at Blossom Music Center, the reunion/Astronaut tour twice in 2005 (Boston, St. Louis), back again in Cleveland in 2011 at Playhouse Square, the Paper Gods tour in Detroit in 2016 and, finally, a September 2019 Vegas show.

6. You’re a music journalist - how did you get in to that field? How did you get your start?

Growing up, I devoured music magazines from the U.S. and UK and created an entertainment section in my high school newspaper, so it was always something I aspired to do. I still wasn't sure if it was a viable career, though; I was also considering computer science, oddly enough, as I always loved coding. But my freshman year in college, I reviewed music for the school paper and then that summer landed an internship at Alternative Press magazine -- which happened to be based in my hometown. I telemarketed for cash and then worked at the magazine the rest of the time—and fell in love with music journalism. I was able to keep working and writing for the magazine for the rest of college, and started writing for other places: The Boston Phoenix, billboard.com, Amazon.com. (My review of Avril Lavigne's first album is *still* on the site!) The rest is history.

7. Pre this book, had you written about Duran Duran before? If yes, for whom?

Yes! Honestly, so many times I've actually found things I don't remember writing, haha. Over the years, I interviewed John and Nick for (separate) features to preview concerts. For a site called Diffuser, I wrote an album ranking, a "best Nick Rhodes keyboard songs" list and a Medazzaland retrospective. For Salon, I wrote about "Planet Earth" turning 40 and the band's 2016 tour. And for The A.V. Club, I wrote a piece about "A View To a Kill" and also once wrote a piece about how musical teen idols deserve more respect that definitely mentions the band. Oh, and Ultimate Classic Rock is letting me write about all the 1981 singles this year. I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting.

8. Tell us how you were chosen to write the RIO 33 1/3 book for Bloomsbury?

The 33 1/3 series periodically has a call for proposals. These are pretty extensive: You have to do a 2-3 page book summary, five sample pages, a personal bio, some marketing analysis + a few other things. In fall 2018, they had one of these proposal calls, and I almost didn't do it—no exaggeration, I unsuccessfully pitched Rio to the 33 1/3 series in 2007 *and* 2009, and so had sort of put my proposal to the side after that. Like two days before proposals were due, I decided I'd regret not trying again, so I dug in, ripped up and updated my old proposal, and sent it in 75 minutes before deadline. I heard in early 2019 the proposal was accepted, and I swear I started shaking when I got the email. I've believed in the book, album and band for a very long time, so this is quite literally a dream come true.

9. What was your research like for the book?

I'm a massive research nerd, so I dug into lots of vintage articles from 1980-1984 (a few sources: Smash Hits, Record Mirror, NME, Trouser Press) and into vintage newspaper coverage; the archives at newspapers.com are an incredible resource. I dug pretty deep into the archives of Billboard, Cash Box and Radio & Records, too, as well as a radio tip sheet called FMQB. All of those places gave me insights into how the band was covered then, as well as leads for people to interview, as I wanted to really tell the story of the album and that time, and dig into how the album came together and why it was a success. And, of course, I listened to and watched a ton of vintage live footage and music videos!

10. What are some surprising things you learned about RIO that you didn’t know?

So many things! Simon's tidbit from the Tim's Twitter Listening Party about Colin Thurston bringing in the case of instruments for studio experimentation I thought was great, and I also had somehow missed over the years that he took influence from Gordon Lightfoot vocally on the album. Nick also told me the "Rio" sax solo was very carefully arranged, which made sense in hindsight. And in our interview, John mentioned Simon's Joy Division fandom in relation to his lyrics, and that was an observation that connected a lot of dots for me in the way it helped me understand the album. I will also say it surprised me how few Rio vintage album reviews I found—and how many articles focused on everything BUT Duran Duran's music. I get it—journalism was very different at the time—but it helped me see more why the band has been often underestimated or misunderstood. Some critics were *super-mean* to the band, in really upsetting ways, that would never fly now.

11. Did you get to speak to any of the band members about the book in advance?

I did! I spoke with John, Roger, and Nick. Nick was especially patient answering my detailed questions, ha. (I'm a Virgo, I can't help it.) And I was also able to talk to Andy too. I've interviewed hundreds of musicians over the years, and all four stand out from others in that they are extremely articulate and perceptive about their musical strengths, personal influences and motivations—but also insightful about Duran Duran, and the band's place in culture. It's rare to find musicians with that internal and external perspective. I'm very grateful and thankful they spent the time to talk about Rio and the era.

12. What do you think makes the RIO album so iconic?

Everything! The songs: Any of them could have been a single, and they are so individually well-crafted. The instrumental balance is perfect and every performance is great. The sequencing is also perfect. And then there's the packaging: the Patrick Nagel cover art, Malcolm Garrett's deft design, Andy Earl's band photo. I'm still not tired of it, and I just wrote close to 40,000 words on it!

13. And finally, we ask all our Q&A subjects this question: what¹s your favorite Duran Duran video & why?

It changes by the day—but lately it's "New Moon on Monday"! It's always been a top 10 Duran Duran song for me, but I've been obsessed with this '80s video channel called Loop TV that plays "New Moon on Monday" a lot. Since I've been mostly inside my house for the last year or so, I think the gorgeous scenery and adventurous tone when combined with the song really resonates. Also the end of the video where the whole band are cavorting together as fireworks are going off just makes me happy, because they look so happy too. My second-favorite lately is "Girl Panic," which I think is so funny and cheeky in a dry way, especially when the supermodels are imitating the band members in interviews. It's such a savvy commentary on fame, expectations and gender.