The Catalyst interview: Roger Taylor of Duran Duran

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Only a handful of major pop acts of the 1980s have survived – and flourished – like the British band Duran Duran. With more than 100 million in record sales and a strong catalog of dance-flavored hits like “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “The Wild Boys,” “A View to a Kill” and “Girls on Film,” the group became a worldwide phenomenon and dominated the decade.

Here we are 40 years since “The Reflex,” Duran’s biggest-ever single (a remixed version by bassist, composer and producer Nile Rodgers), and the guys are still selling out arenas. Last year, they played London’s Hyde Park in front of 60,000 people, and perfored at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.

Duran Duran – Nick Rhodes (keyboards); John Taylor (bass); Roger Taylor (drums) and Simon LeBon (vocals) stop at Amalie Arena Saturday (June 17), with Nile Rodgers himself opening, along with Bastile.

There have been breakups, the odd personal hiatus and various bumps along the road, but Duran Duran endures. They’re still making records and they’re still selling out huge concerts. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022.

Roger Taylor called from a tour stop in Austin to talk about the long and winding road that led to the right here, right now.

St. Pete Catalyst: What does the kind of fame you enjoy these days look like? At your age now, as opposed to the ‘80s when everything was new and bursting all around you?

Roger Taylor: It’s pretty cool, because it’s very different to where we were 40 years ago. We did our first arena tour in America pretty well 40 years ago. We used to come onstage and we used to have a curtain down, covering us, at the front of the stage when we walked on. They used to raise the curtain, and it would just be a shrill of teenage girls screaming. For the whole show, pretty well. So we were up there playing, and it was kind of like being in the Beatles, where you couldn’t hear yourself play. Because they were just coming to look at us – and see what we looked like in the flesh! And to be in the same room. So they weren’t really listening to the music much, I have to say.

Fast forward 40 years ahead, and it’s a completely different experience. People are, I think, a lot more appreciative of the songs and the musicianship, and what we’ve achieved over the years. So it’s a really nice place to be, I have to say.

Duran never became a “nostalgia” act. You’re not A Flock of Seagulls. You sold out five nights at Wembley Stadium in 2004, just after you’d returned to the fold. That must be gratifying, that they’re still out there and they still want it that bad.

Yeah, that was amazing, because we had no idea what the appetite for the original band was gonna be like. It was definitely a lower-profile period of the career. When we came back, it hadn’t been very cool to like Duran Duran for a while; we had no clue how we were gonna be accepted. So to come back and have that affirmation again was quite incredible.

Over the years, the reviews have got better, the critical response has got better, and we finally got the Hall of Fame recognition. So it was really sweet. And they do say, if you stick around for long enough, you’ll get appreciated. That’s certainly what the actors say – if you make enough movies, in the end you’ll get the recognition.

In the U.K., they love you like the Royal Family. What are the differences between audiences in Britain and America?

Well, the audiences are far louder here, and far more appreciative. My wife came to see us play in Madison Square Garden, and then the next one she came to was in the O2 [a 20,000-seat arena in London] which was an amazing audience, and it was a great response. But the decibel level was like half of how it was in New York. I just think the Brits are a bit more reserved, and they’ll tend to sit and listen a little bit more, and take it in. Whereas America, it’s WOW, let’s have a party! And that’s really gratifying as a performer, to have that really enthusiastic response. Because we play the song, they give feedback to us with their response … we play the next song better.

We’ve always been welcomed here so much. We’re so grateful, actually, to the States because it’s been solid for us, from the start to where we are now.

The British press didn’t like the band much back in the day.

They liked to chase us around and write pretty bad stories about us, and all our misbehavior. And then you had the music press, and they didn’t really like us either. They liked to give us a good booting. Where we were a bit too optimistic, and a bit too glamorous. And I think our audience was a little too young and female – in those days, that wasn’t very cool.

Would you wake up in your hotel room next morning and read the reviews? And then cry all the way to the bank?

You know what, we just stopped reading them. And we decided that actually it’s not really part of our whole process, to be liked by the NME [New Musical Express] or Melody Maker or whatever. Our journey was to get to play to as many people in the world … we didn’t just see ourselves as a domestic British act that you hoped was the darling of the British music press. We were looking to play all over the world and get mass acceptance, I guess.

Which we got, and it became very unimportant what was being said about us in the music press. We just kind of bypassed the whole thing. And it’s kind of where we are now with everything. Who reads the music press any more? People just download stuff off the internet, and they decide whether they like it or they don’t.

With all due respect, musical journalism doesn’t have the power that it probably did then.

Of course, there is still a music press in England – has it changed? Is it that old maxim that if you last long enough, and you’re not dead, they come to respect you?

Yeah, the NME now, I think they respect us, and they write positive things about us. I think the whole thing has changed. When we grew up and when we were young, music was very compartmentalized, You were either into rock, or you were into ska, or you were into punk, or you were into disco, and it was all very tribal. And you couldn’t cross over its lines.

And if somebody who liked rock heard a record that was influenced by disco, which we were in the early days, ‘aw, man, that sucks!’ It was very hard to cross over the lines. Which is what we were doing, we were embracing rock and we were embracing electronics, we were embracing disco. We just kind of came up with this sound I think was original. Although we were drawing on a lot of different obvious influences, we did create something that was quite original, I think.

Talking about influences, you’ve got Nile Rodgers on this tour with you. Nile’s been a part of your thing for a long time now. What’s it like to have him along on this American tour – he’s our brother, he’s got to be here?

He is like a brother. He’s like an older brother that was very much a mentor for us in our early days, because we learned how to play in punk bands. We taught ourself how to play. And Nile came along and he said ‘No, you don’t want to play that chord, you’ll want to play more of an augmented chord.’ Or ‘you’ll want to go to a minor there.’ He would sit with me, particularly on ‘The Wild Boys,’ actually, and he would work out some of the drum parts on the piano. That’s how genius he was with music.

We suddenly had this mentor that took us to another level of musicianship. So we owe a lot to Nile. We sit in the dressing room every night and we listen to the songs he has in his catalogue, thinking wow, we have this man playing before us and it’s a bit of a dream come true.

And he creates such a great party atmosphere before we go on. By the time we go on the arena is lit. And don’t forget we also have Bastile, a great band from England who have some really great songs. It’s a really strong lineup.

Tickets for the Amalie Arena concert are here.


Courtesy The Catalyst