Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor: ‘We always thought of ourselves as a work in progress’

All press / news

It’s a good time to be a member of Duran Duran. This year the British pop icons were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, headlined the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Party at Buckingham Palace, and marked the 40th anniversary of the release of their 1982 hit album, “Rio.”

The band is also on an arena tour of the U.S. to support of its 15th studio recording, “Future Past,” with a stop scheduled at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sunday, Sept. 4. Joining the new wave band is Nile Rodgers (and his band Chic), an early influence who produced Duran Duran’s 1986 album, “Notorious.”

Now operating with four core members — singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor — Duran Duran has plenty to celebrate. But it took a long time for them to get here.

After its initial rush of success in the early ’80s with MTV-propelled hits like “Girls on Film,” “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “A View to a Kill,” the band struggled through years of lineup changes and follies — from dividing into two overindulgent side projects at the height of its fame, Power Station and Arcadia, to following up the surprise 1993 hit “Ordinary World” with a much-ridiculed album of cover songs by the likes of Public Enemy and Led Zeppelin.

Roger Taylor was the first to see the red flags, dropping out of the band in 1985, before the rehab stints and ego clashes really took hold. But since the original lineup reunited in 2003 (including founding guitarist Andy Taylor for a brief period) the momentum has been building again — albeit a little slower than the first time around.

Duran Duran performed on the main stage at 2016’s Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park, and “Future Past” finds the group collaborating with producers Giorgio Moroder and Mark Ronson; Swedish singer Tove Lo; Japanese girl-group Chai; U.K. drill artist Ivorian Doll; David Bowie pianist Mike Garon; and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon.

The Chronicle talked to Roger Taylor via video call to discuss how the band got here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bassist John Taylor (left), singer Simon Le Bon and guitarist Andy Taylor of Duran Duran perform on the Lands End Stage during day one of the 2016 Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park.Photo: Michael Macor / The Chronicle

Q: How would you describe the past year for Duran Duran?

A: We’ve kind of gone from zero to 100 miles an hour in the last few months, and it’s been quite the incredible journey, I have to say.

Q: It was also a journey, I’m sure, for the band to come this far. Duran Duran blew up in its first five years, but the 30-odd years in between have been a lot of hard work. How did it survive?

A: I think it’s easy sometimes to get things, but to keep them can be really difficult. Especially with bands, you often go in and out of fashion. I think once the ’90s arrived, it was a difficult time — I don’t think Duran Duran felt so wanted. “The Wedding Album” was great and did very well, but there were certainly a number of fallow years. That was the period of time when I wasn’t in the band, so I credit Nick and Simon for keeping it going.

I think the secret is that we always thought of ourselves as a work in progress. We never kind of thought, “OK, great, we made ‘Rio,’ which is the best album of the ’80s.” People tell us that sometimes, but we never thought we were at the end of the journey. We always felt that we had more to give. I think we still feel like that now. Each show is still a work in progress.

We played to 77,000 people in Hyde Park (in July) and it was kind of like hysteria at the end of the show. But we came offstage and we examined what was wrong with the show, what we could have done better, which songs we put earlier in the set, what could have come out and what we would play next time. So we do have this attitude of constantly moving and working towards a higher goal.

Duran Duran in 1984, clockwise from top left: Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, Roger Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Andy Taylor.Photo: DG

Q: You were the first member of the band to check out after the initial rush of success. You left in 1985 and didn’t return until 2003 when Duran Duran was really struggling. What made you want to come back?

A: I think with most things in life it was a very gradual change, because when I left, I had no intention of coming back. It was such an intense period, those first few years. I’ve always been the kind of person that when I walk off the stage, I like to just kind of leave it all behind. I like to be a normal person. I don’t want to be a pop star the other 24 hours of the day, and I couldn’t do that.

By 1985, we were completely engrossed in this thing. There was no time we could get away from it. Everywhere we went we were recognized. We had kids outside of our house. Even my parents had fans outside of their house, and I didn’t even live there anymore. So I left at a very intense period and I was just done, to be honest with you.

But I gradually got back into music. I got back into recording, I started to get into DJing. So when I got the call from John, I think he was sitting by the pool with Simon in L.A. at the time discussing the idea of getting the original five back together. I said, “Yeah, I think I’m ready, actually.” What have I got to lose? I’m going to go back. I’m going to try it again and see what happens. It was just like a snap decision.

I think there was always a sense of unfinished business with the original five. I think that was a feeling that there was definitely more gas in the tank when we broke up. I think we all felt that, and we came back together and it was pretty amazing.

Duran Duran performs during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony at Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, England, in July.Photo: Elsa / TNS

Q: It seems like you guys are having fun again. In a lot of bands that have been around as long as Duran Duran, the members travel on separate tour buses and only see each other onstage. But you guys look like you actually want to hang out with each other.

A: I met Nick when he was 17. John and I were 19. The other guys were in their early 20s when they joined the band. We were babies back then. We’ve just been on such a unique journey together that there would always be a certain brotherhood between the five of us that could never really be destroyed, whatever happened. That’s what we have.

We don’t basically come offstage and go and hang out in a bar together or anything. We tend to go our separate ways a little bit because we spend so much time working together. But I would describe it as a kind of brotherhood, like a kinship that we have and we really understand each other.

Q: In the past when you made albums, a lot of times you would just show up in the studio without any ideas and hash it out, which to me sounds like an incredibly difficult way to work.

A: We still do that, believe it or not.

Q: Is that how “Future Past” came together?

A: Totally. We never have any idea what we’re going to do when we walk into the studio. There’s no pre-preparation or discussion of anything. We just kind of plug in our instruments. It’s a blank canvas and it’s just like chucking paint at it. Then we kind of look and listen to it afterward and we kind of analyze what we’ve got, what’s working and what’s not working. Then we kind of go to the production process of what we want to record, very much as the Stones or the Beatles would have recorded in the early days.

It’s literally just plug in your instruments and play. We wanted to get a little bit more organic on this record — more drums beat, more bass, more of that recognizable early Duran sound. So it’s really translated very well into the live shows because it really flows with the older material.

Duran Duran: Roger Taylor (left), Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Simon Le Bon.Photo: Stephanie Pistel

Q: I imagine you have inspiration coming out of your ears when you’re in your 20s, but it must be a bit more difficult in your 60s. How do you tap into that spirit?

A: We used to live and breathe it because that’s all we had — Duran Duran and music. As you get a little older, life gets more complicated. Other things come into life, and it’s hard to be as focused. But I think being in lockdown really helped us because it took away all of the distractions. You were allowed to gather six people in a room for quite a long period, and that really helped this record.

I think we had no idea what a good record it was when we finished it. But, lo and behold, it’s been really well received.

Q: The band’s two regular guitarists — Andy Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo — didn’t leave on the best terms. Will they be onstage with you at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony?

A: Yeah, and I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do. I mean, what those two guys have created as members of Duran Duran is quite something. I sit down onstage every night and I get to play these songs that those guys helped create. They were major players in the Duran Duran story. So, of course, they had to be there and they couldn’t be there without being onstage with us. I’m looking forward to it.

I have to say, it’s going to be really electrifying, I think is the word.

Q: What does it mean to be recognized by an institution like that when so many critics wrote off the band in the early years?

A: Given the history, it makes it even sweeter. There’s an old saying that if you stick around long enough, you eventually get respect. I think that’s certainly what’s happened with Duran Duran.

All the old prejudices that people used to have attached to the band just kind of fall away, like layers. Finally, people said, “You know what? They’ve always been a great band, and they’ve always written great songs.” That was kind of overshadowed in the early days by the teen following that we had, by the popularity of the video clips that moved it away from what we were doing as musicians, writing music, recording and producing. A lot of that got sidetracked by all the things that were attached to us.

But it’s great to see that we’re finally getting some recognition. They say that the critics you should really listen to are the people within your own industry, so to get this award from one of the most important organizations in America is quite something. It’s amazing.

Duran Duran: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4. $35-$170. Chase Center, 1 Warriors Way, S.F. chasecenter.com

Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle ; Aidin Vaziri is The San Francisco Chronicle’s pop music critic. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MusicSF