With a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and a packed tour schedule, the British band are having a banner 2022
Written By Annie Zaleski
When Duran Duran‘s John Taylor and Simon Le Bon co-inducted Roxy Music into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019, the pair’s reverent, insightful speeches were informed by their own personal experiences with the Bryan Ferry-led band. Le Bon recalled Roxy Music performing “Virginia Plain” in 1972 on Top of the Pops, and how the group’s cumulative look and sound was akin to “pulp science fiction.” Taylor, meanwhile, told the story of the time he and future bandmate Nick Rhodes saw Roxy Music in 1974 in Birmingham and followed the band from the venue to their hotel. Taylor recorded the show and listened to the homemade cassette the following night; he didn’t have tickets to the second show.
Nearly five decades later—a Friday morning Zoom in early May 2022—the bassist vividly recalls that formative experience, playing that cassette and “being aware of the difference in the world between being in my little house that I lived in with my mom and dad, and knowing that in the city, there was this thing was going on, this other world,” he says, looking casual in a sweatshirt while chatting on video in a simply decorated sitting room.
“It was such a gateway. We have these cultural experiences, if we’re lucky, when we’re young. I had a few. And they’re like gates that open, and you go, ‘Holy fuck. That’s where I want to be,'” he laughs. “And I didn’t put it together insofar as, ‘Okay, I’ve got to learn how to play an instrument.’ It wasn’t like that, right away. It was just like, ‘Who’s coming to town next?'” Taylor laughs again.
Taylor has never lost this desire to pursue that next great musical rush. It’s served him particularly well in his 40-plus-year career with Duran Duran. In November, the band are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a testament not just to their vast influence across musical generations—their long list of fans includes Billy Corgan, Courtney Love, Korn’s Jonathan Davis, Mark Ronson, My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way—but their creative longevity.
In 2021, Duran Duran released Future Past, a buoyant album with sparkling dancefloor numbers, moody ballads, and classic rock-pop anthems. As with every Duran Duran album, slapping a genre on the LP is impossible; it’s a reflection of the band’s inimitable mix of styles, genres and experience.
The Rock Hall induction is hardly a sign that Duran Duran are heading into retirement. In fact, the band are kicking off an extensive round of tour dates to support Future Past with a pair of shows in England on May 21 and 22. Recent setlists have included a generous number of songs from the new album interspersed with chestnuts from Duran Duran’s vast catalog. During a recent weekend in Ibiza, the band even dusted off the swooning, sax-heavy instrumental “Tiger Tiger” from 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Taylor spoke with SPIN about the Rock Hall induction, the art of sequencing setlists and what’s been most gratifying about his recent forays into art. The latter is a full-circle moment of sorts: It’s a nod back to his late-’70s art school days that coincided with the start of Duran Duran.
SPIN: You’ve had a couple weeks to let news of Duran Duran’s induction sink in. How does it feel now?
John Taylor: I mean, I think I’ve spent 40 years sort of figuring out where we stand in the continuum of 20th century electric music. And I’m okay. I’m good with it.
The thing about accolades is that, Duran Duran…we’ve always been a people’s band. We were never overlauded by the institutions, and so we don’t live or die by awards. I mean, it’s nice. It’s going to be great to perform. It’s a great opportunity to perform with our peers. I had a fantastic time a couple of years ago, when Simon and I inducted Roxy Music. I really, really had a great time. Yeah. And that’s what it is—and life goes on.
I covered that induction at the time, so I saw it live, but I re-watched your speech before we spoke. And it was so great to see because, you bring the fandom to it. You could say, “I saw Roxy in ’74.” But as a musician, you could also be like, “I can analyze this.” And then Roxy Music played that amazing set afterward too. That was like the cherry on top. It was such a great night.
Yeah. I mean it was… honestly, it was so special, I think I’d take that over my own band being inducted, if you were to offer me one of the two experiences. It was just one of the greatest gifts, one of the greatest privileges of my life, getting to induct them. And that really was a one-off.
Do you think that you guys being able to induct Roxy Music changed the conversation around Duran Duran potentially getting into the Rock Hall?
Well, I was told it would. [Laughs.]
Trent Reznor inducted The Cure that same year. And he also made a very eloquent speech and Nine Inch Nails got in soon after.
My understanding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was, as an institution, it was inaugurated [in the early years] to shed some light on influential, but underappreciated or little-known, artists. And having the benefit of a Zeppelin or the Stones to say, “Hey, you’ve got to check out this person, because without them, we wouldn’t be here.” But if that had been [the institution]’s only remit, then it would probably have been over 20 years ago. It had to expand. I think it’s interesting for them.
I know [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation president and CEO] Joel Peresman; I’ve been friends with Joel ever since I came to America. And I know that for them, they’re constantly trying to peel people’s minds back, to see it as more than just that.
And, you know, terminology, genres… I mean, it’s such a joke that Duran Duran are in anything with rock and roll over the top of it. Almost everything up until the era that we came along, you could call it rock and roll, because it was free-standing, swing oriented. If you listen to almost anything that was played on guitar and drums in the ’70s, you can hear rock and roll.
But after electronics started coming in, and we’re building on these very square bases of electronic pulses, then that’s where people went, “That’s not rock and roll.” [Laughs.] And of course, disco, which was big for us, but—[affects gruff voice] “That’s not rock and roll!”
And for the first few years, that seemed important. “What do you mean we’re not rock and roll?” you know. [Laughs.] And then I was like, “Fine, fine. We’re not rock and roll. Who cares?” And now, well, now you’re going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [Laughs.]
In a press release about the Rock Hall induction, I love that you called Duran Duran an “ongoing art project.” I thought that was perfect. Looking back at the catalog, you have your distinct musical eras—like a painter might have different eras.
We’ve been going a long time. I mean, 40 years is four times the Beatles. If you do anything—if you’re a writer, whatever it is that you do when you’ve been doing for that long—you’ve really had to dig deep. I have to dig deep as a musician, as a bassist, to pick up that bass and practice. I’ve got to have a pretty deep philosophy about what it is I’m doing and what it’s all about.
We’ve got four out of our five original members [in Duran Duran]. And to keep people together like that, and to keep us interweaving—and it not be like, just passive aggression—and just dialing it in to keep it fresh, we all have to dig deep.
Nick [Rhodes] would talk about it being an ongoing art project. And I’d think, “God, God, give me a break.” But at this point I’m like, “Actually, that’s probably a good way to describe it.” It is a multimedia endeavor, really. And there are probably very few bands around, or artists, that take our artwork or our logos, our branding, our light show, as seriously as we do—and especially at this stage in the game, to still be as engaged as we are in those multidisciplinary aspects of making music.
It’s very true. A lot of bands that have been around this long, it’s like, “Okay, we’re going to go out and do our shed tour and play our 35-minute set, and we’re going to do this same set.” And you can just tell: “Okay, this is a paycheck.” But when you go see Duran Duran, there’s still a lot of thought. There are different videos that come in at the end, things that are changed up. There are different mixes of songs. From tour to tour you can tell all that, especially if you’re paying attention.
Well, we’re quite lucky, because we’ve got a body of songs; we’ve got the greatest hits. And, I mean, thank you Lord and Master, Great Universe, there are a dozen songs that really, really cut to people’s nervous systems. We are extraordinarily fortunate that we have that.
Knowing that you’ve always got these cornerstone songs that you can rely on, I think those songs actually give us the liberty to break away—and take the audience over here, and let’s go over there, and let’s have a look at this, and this is what we were thinking about a few years ago when we did blah, blah, blah. And then they go, “Oh, yeah, yeah,” and they come with us. And then we are able to bring them back to a very emotional moment in their own lives. And then we can take them off again.
I don’t think the Duran Duran audience is all about nostalgia. I think there is nostalgia there, but for Duran fans, there’s something more than that. And [our audience] knows that Duran Duran aren’t just going to play a greatest hits set. There’s going to be something new in there, some new exploration. There’s going to be some new material in there.
And some you win, some you lose, but I think overall… Our aim is always to please and to satisfy, but I actually think they appreciate being given a little more than we could give them.
The year you inducted Roxy Music, the bands got to have extended sets, which was such a treat. The Cure played “Shake Dog Shake,” which is not something you hear on the radio. Have you even thought about yet, what you could play on the Rock Hall induction night? And do you guys have any sway to say, “I think we need to do an extended set”?
Yeah, I mean, Def Leppard had the extended set the night that we were there. I’d love to have that slot. And there is a conversation with [guitarist] Andy [Taylor] and there’s a conversation with [guitarist] Warren [Cuccurullo]. I think it’s important that we reflect those periods of the bands. I mean, I think people would be very disappointed if there wasn’t something from the Rio album. And I’d like to see Andy Taylor playing guitar on that.
But there’s going to be something off Future Past too, because this is not a band that just goes out and plays five or six songs that are all over 20 years old. It’s not the way we do business. So it’s going to be like, “How do we present the journey that is Duran Duran?” in six songs, or seven songs or whatever. But we live for solving problems like that. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] I was going to say, that’s a challenge. To be a fly on the wall of those band meetings… [Laughs.]
They’re very funny—sometimes. We’re preparing for a European tour now. We’ve compiled a shortlist of additional songs that we want to throw into the mix so we have them as options. We’re heading into rehearsals next week [Editor’s note: this week] with a long list of things that we want to add. Some of them we might end up playing once or twice. Something might not work. It’s just about keeping that freshness.
Sometimes, you’ll be playing a song like “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and I’ll think, “Oh, you know what, I don’t need to play this for a little while. I could take a break from this.” And then the next night I’ll be like, “Why would I ever not want to play this?”
When you’ve got an audience, you’re getting a reflection back at you. You’re getting something back at you. And it’s almost always fun, mostly. I really enjoy watching people meet the songs in real time.
I don’t think there’s any song that is too big to not play. We take it on a show-by-show basis. That keeps it interesting, to be honest. I mean, can you imagine just having a setlist at the start of a tour, and just having that set? That would be boring. You’re constantly reconfiguring your catalog to what you hope will have the biggest impact on that particular audience.
Do you have a song that you haven’t played in a while that you’re like, “Yeah, I want to bring that back”?
Nick mentioned “Faster Than Light” the other day. “Faster Than Light” was a really popular song in the first year of the band’s existence. It was a really strong stage song, but we didn’t put it on the first album. It was on the B-side of “Girls on Film.” And it’s got the most insane bassline. I mean, the bass player’s just fucking playing every note he knows. I heard it recently and I thought, “You know, that could be fun to play.” And then Nick mentioned it. I was like, “Yes, let’s do it.” [Laughs.] But, we might play it in rehearsals and go, “Eh.” [Laughs.] You just don’t know.
As the bassist, the FUTURE PAST songs especially look really fun to play live—they look like you really are able to get into the grooves. Now that you’ve been able to play a lot of them live, what are your thoughts?
Most of them have been very well arranged, so they’re really good fun to play. I mean, the opening to “Invisible” and “All of You,” they’ve got this kind of A, B. …I feel that they’re, like, glued to each other. The first song is very, quite dry and dark, and “All of You,” it’s just a groove. It’s just a daddy dancer. And I love those two together.
We [also] started playing “Beautiful Lies.” I mean, “Beautiful Lies” hadn’t really come on my radar, but I went on Zane Lowe’s show. He’s got the most insane studio in Los Angeles, where he broadcasts from, with these mega speakers. It was like a full-on old-school studio in there.
And he played “Planet Earth” and “Beautiful Lies,” and it sounded fucking amazing. [Laughs.] I was like, “We’ve got to add ‘Beautiful Lies.'” So, that was the next song, and I’m really having fun playing that at the moment. I think we’ve got about six or seven songs in play now from the new album. I think we’re leaving it at that for now. We’re playing about five most nights, five out of 20.
You’re working on art recently, with shows in Colorado and then Ibiza. What’s been most gratifying for you, delving into that side of things?
Just knowing that I can express myself visually, in a way that I can find satisfying. [For the band’s recent weekend in Ibiza] I did [artwork in the shape of] crosses, based on the band’s early experience. I used three elements, which was a map of Birmingham, the cover of the band’s very first demo tape, and then the moment we met the princess. [Editor’s note: Duran Duran met Princess Diana in 1983.] I silk-screened them and really mashed them up and didn’t really know where they were going. But I wanted to do something that the fans could relate to. And I’m really loving it.
I’ve only got one left. [Taylor had turned the camera to show the lone piece of art he has left, sitting against a wall on top a piano.] I propped it up there and I thought, “You know what? I think I want to keep that.” [Laughs.] The kind of art that I really love I can’t afford—the kind of art that I see in museums and galleries, I can’t afford it. So I think I’m like, “Well, maybe I can do little things that I like.”
[Doing art] has taught me about energy and time. That first year of lockdown, I was able to say, “Okay. So, I can’t play with my friends, and I can’t see my kids, and I can’t go to the shops, and I’m not getting any emails, and the phone isn’t ringing. So…what?” And I started painting and drawing like my life depended on it. There was nothing else to do. I feel like I learned three years of development in that time.
I’m a fairly undisciplined kind of character. I bounce around, and I get distracted easily. I mean, who doesn’t, right? But there was no distractions. I did a lot in that time.
We’re never too old to get on the bus. If there’s something that you’ve been thinking about, “You know, maybe I could…” you can. I know I can now. The only thing that’s stopping me is me and my lifestyle, if you like. So, that was an amazing gift that I got from the universe, really.
And I don’t know where it’s going to go, but it doesn’t matter today, because today is just about preparing for the next series of shows, and that takes over. And I’m perfectly happy with that.
Now that things are opening up again, have you found that what you did with the art and painting has affected the music at all—or is it completely separate?
If you’re a performer, if you’re an artist, musician—you are your work, really. Whatever it is that you do, you want to do it well. And whatever it is that you’re doing—you’re making music, or you’re painting, or you’re writing, whatever it is—nobody wants all seriousness. And nobody wants all silliness. I can take myself very seriously, but I can also not take myself very seriously.
I’m really, really enjoying my music, enjoying playing with the band. I wouldn’t want to be in any other band, and I wouldn’t want to have any other audience, and I wouldn’t want to have any other set of songs to choose from.
And I haven’t always felt like that. It’s taken me a long time to get to that place. For a long time, I thought, [he lightheartedly affects a slightly petulant voice] “Why can’t I be in that band?” [Laughs.] I remember when [Billy Idol’s] “Rebel Yell” came out, I was like, “That’s what I want our next album to be like!” [Laughs.]
Over time, I got less concerned with—got less interested in—fashion, in a way. And I got more interested in what we were building. For all of its ups and downs. The great thing about hindsight when you’ve got this length of a career, is you can accept, “Yeah, we didn’t quite get it right on that album.” I don’t mind admitting that. But equally, I’ll say, “But that’s a masterpiece.” [Laughs.] I know the difference.
It’s just extraordinary, really, to have been doing this for 40 years. It’s fucking crazy. But as a group, Simon, Nick and myself particularly, have really worked hard and trodden very carefully, in order to keep ourselves in the mix. We take it seriously.
Every artist, when they get inducted into the Rock Hall, gets to have pieces of ephemera in an exhibit. Have you thought about what you might want to potentially donate? Simon recently said on his radio show that he’d pick the ocarina he played on “The Chauffeur” and also liked the suit he wore in the “Rio” video.
Wow. Okay. Well, I’m going to have to think about that. Maybe it’ll be that demo tape—I don’t know.