Ahead of Streaming Debut, Duran Duran’s John Taylor Talks ‘A Hollywood High’ Film’s Epic Setting

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When Duran Duran set out to play their first major U.S. show in March 2022 they knew it had to be epic and it probably had to be in Los Angeles. “When we kind of casually sauntered into the project built around a one-off show that we did there as we deepened the concept it seemed we naturally found ourselves talking about our experiences,” bassist — and 30-year-Los Angeles resident — John Taylor tells Billboard about the sky-high location for last year’s A Hollywood High docu-film.

The movie that premiered in November is moving to Paramount+ on June 21 and in advance of its streaming debut, Billboard spoke to Taylor about capturing the moment, the importance of paying tribute to the embattled people of Ukraine, the set list curation and why he thinks the English New Romantic band has been able to stick it out well past many of their peers.

A Hollywood High was filmed atop the Aster Hotel in Los Angeles and it opens with the band describing their first visit to Hollywood and the city’s enduring importance to their musical journey. The 12-song set opens with their 1985 James Bond theme, “A View to a Kill,” and features such classics as “Notorious,” “Come Undone,” “Ordinary World” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” as well as a handful of songs from the band’s most recent album, Future Past.

Check out the chat with Taylor below (answers editor for clarity and length.)

Why was it important to open the movie with all that background on L.A.’s influence on the band and your enduring love affair with the city?

I don’t know that it was important… but as a guy who has lived there for last 30-plus years, my first experiences there were all in the 1980s and it never left much of an impression on me. I never could have imagined myself settling there. But I can’t see it any other way now… I had to spend real time there to appreciate its pleasures

[Singer] Simon [Le Bon] says in the into that “Rio” was inspired by your first trip to America. I had no idea that’s what “from the mountains in the north down to the Rio Grande” meant.

For me the idea of “Rio” literally encapsulated a world, a culture we had yet to tap into, which is South America. That first year I was a kid who didn’t have a passport before the band began. My first experience of leaving my country was with the band in 1981 when we came to the States for the first time. But when we got back to Birmingham and toyed with ideas for the next record we talked about the next level of exotic. Simon had a working title, “Rio,” and we had to make a song out of it.

The iconic rounded Capitol Records building plays a big part in the movie and in the intro it’s noted that it looks like the Rotunda from your hometown.

I suppose it does. Birmingham is the one other city with a landmark circular building [laughs]. Being on Capitol Records was pretty cool at the time. It was fortunate and it definitely helped our cause. For me there’s a certain nostalgia for the first couple times we came into America, that innocence to what we were doing. We were still under the radar here, we could make friendships with guys you’d meet at a radio station and end up hanging out and listening to music.

What was it like setting up on that roof and then looking straight at the Capitol building? It being lit up in blue and yellow is a nice permanent reminder of the war in Ukraine.

My first thought was, “we gotta light that f–king building!” I wanted to light it with the Ukraine colors, so we moved very quickly to make it happen. Here we [more than a year later] and the war continues and every night we still dedicate “Ordinary World” to the people of Ukraine. At that moment it felt like a statement, a show of solidarity. Duran Duran has never been a political band, but to make that kind of statement halfway through the show… there’s something very cool about that. And with our old friend the Capitol building.

Why use this as a stunt to announce your U.S. tour?

We were looking to do something that was going to announce our [2022] U.S. tour and there were variable ways to do it. You got back to the Rolling Stones’ Fifth Ave. truckscapade [the Stones famously shut down New York’s 5th Ave. in May 1975 with a truck parade to promote their American tour], which was the greatest of launches. We talked about that, we talked about a truck at the Roxy and then everyone got nervous about setting up gear on a truck. So, we looked for a fixed position and this place came up that none of us knew about it. Our manager said if we perform here we’d have the Hollywood sign behind us and the Capitol building in front.

Was there significance to opening with “View to a Kill?”

I think because it’s a Hollywood thing, a movie thing. It’s a shake-and-bake opener, it’s easy to play, a here-we-are kind of thing. We hadn’t played a show in quite a few months and we wanted to start with something not too difficult.

You really leaned into the most recent album with five songs out of the 12 you played. Why did you push the new material so hard during this one-off?

I think at show like that.. You play in Nashville to 10,000 people who payed for a ticket, parking, a babysitter and they come to hear the hits. But the fans who were there are superfans and they’re more interested in hearing new songs than “Girls on Film.” It was fresh for us and easier because when we’re playing bigger venues you have to lean away from the new material, probably only two bathroom breaks there.

You are one of the few groups from your era to still be touring this much, recording music and films and staying super-active. Why do you think you’ve been able to endure for so long?

I think we have a very particular inner dynamic. We fire off each other in a way that drives our engine. It’s not a love fest when we’re on stage, but it’s a dynamic where we push against each other all the time and are very competitive with each other. That is what drives the engine which moves the machine. I think of Sting and Peter Gabriel, who have an extraordinary body of creative works. Where are they now? They’re both on tour but it’s one guy sustaining that kind of creative energy, which is f–king hard. There are some things that are easier for an individual, like social media. That’s definitely easier for one guy, but in the long haul I wouldn’t trade it for the band.

Duran Duran recently launched their 2023 U.S. tour. A Hollywood High will be released on DVD/Blu-Ray on August 4.

Courtesy Billboard