Duran Duran on new music, Wet Leg and their Glastonbury dream | In Conversation with NME

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Duran Duran have been an unstoppable force in British music since they formed in Birmingham in 1978. The new wave legends are now set to head out on the road again, with a UK and Ireland arena tour primed in support of their 15th studio album ‘Future Past’, which came out in 2021. Featuring sparkling electro bops co-written with Giorgio MoroderMark Ronson and Blur’s Graham Coxon, it entered the UK charts at number three, the band’s highest entry in 17 years.

The four-piece – singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor – have a deep discography to draw from when it comes to assembling their 2023 setlist, but Duran Duran fans are guaranteed to hear era-defining hits like ‘The Reflex’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and ‘Ordinary World’. That’s because the band abide by the guiding principle that a third of their setlist “at most” should be given over to new music and more “esoteric” tracks.

“The rest has got to be songs that are really going to get people up – bangers,” Le Bon says when NME meets him and John Taylor at The Lower Third, a new grassroots music venue in central London. “We’re entertainers first and foremost, I think, and artistes second,” Taylor adds playfully. Lately, they’ve even been playing their classic banger ‘Girls On Film’ as a mash-up with Calvin Harris‘s ‘Acceptable In The 80s’. “I remember hearing that song for the first time, and thinking there was some kind of a sea change [happening],” Taylor says. “You know, it was a long time before the ’80s kind of got its dues, culturally.”

Duran Duran also got their dues back in November when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. “It hasn’t changed our values or the way we are with each other. But it has made people in America take us more seriously,” Le Bon explains. “And in a funny sort of way, that pisses me off. We should have been taken seriously like this before. Why do you need to have a badge that says this organisation thinks you’re cool? But that’s just the way it is.”

Ahead of their UK and Ireland tour, Le Bon and Taylor joined NME for a wide-ranging In Conversation interview in which they discuss Duran Duran’s next release, their changing attitude to artist collaborations, and when we can expect their long-overdue Glastonbury debut.

The band’s next release will be a “Halloween-themed project”

Due later this year, the record will feature new recordings of Duran Duran songs that feel “a bit dark or twisted”, according to Le Bon, alongside suitably spooky cover versions. “The plan is for there to be one or two [brand] new songs as well,” Taylor adds. 

This project isn’t being considered as the next “proper full studio” Duran Duran album, but it will feature guitar parts from Andy Taylor, who last played with the band in 2006. “Andy is in a very good place,” Le Bon says of his former bandmate, who revealed last year that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. “He’s an incredibly creative guitarist, and it’s turning out really well.”

When Le Bon flew out to Ibiza, where Andy Taylor is now based, they recaptured their old musical spark immediately. “It was just straight into it – no prelims,” he says. “We’re the kind of friends and working partners who, you know, it just doesn’t fall apart ever.”

Giorgio Moroder really kept Duran Duran in line

The legendary Father of Disco co-produced two tracks on ‘Future Past’: the buoyant ‘Beautiful Lies’ and electro anthem ‘Tonight United’. But Moroder’s studio arrival provided quite a culture shock for the band, who had previously been working with British DJ-producer Erol Alkan. “It was like National Lampoon‘s fucking recording session [with Alkan],” Taylor says. “We were throwing things across the studio, it was so loud.”

Moroder’s approach was much calmer – and much quieter. “We had to behave ourselves!” Le Bon says. “And then this sort of unspoken agreement seemed to develop, which was: ‘Whatever Giorgio says, Giorgio gets.'”

This “unspoken agreement” even extended to Le Bon’s backing vocals on ‘Beautiful Lies’. “I came out of the studio and Giorgio is going, ‘No, no, no Simon, you’re singing a major third over a minor chord,’ the frontman recalls. “I said, ‘I’m in Duran Duran, I’m Simon Le Bon, I’ve made a career out of singing major thirds over minor chords’. And he just goes, ‘Not on my record’. And I just thought, ‘Hold that [objection] and do whatever he wants’. So I went back and did it his way.”

Glastonbury is very much on Duran Duran’s bucket list

Surprisingly, these British pop legends have never played at the UK’s most iconic music festival. “I’d love to [do it] – we just need to get the right slot, that’s all,” says Le Bon. Though he doesn’t want to name the slot specifically, he will confirm that it has to be on the Pyramid Stage.

“We have had the chance to do it before, but it wasn’t playing the main stage and I think we’d like to be doing that for sure,” Le Bon adds. “I’m sure we’re in negotiations [with Glastonbury], and if not, we will be.”

Duran Duran have come full circle when it comes to having guests on their records

For years, the band held out against collaborations, mainly because Le Bon was acutely aware that “it’s always the vocal that gets shared”. But on ‘Future Past’ they enlisted guest artists as varied as Japanese punk band Chai, Swedish pop alchemist Tove Lo and UK drill rapper Ivorian Doll.

According to Taylor and Le Bon, teaming with Kelis on 2010’s ‘The Man Who Stole A Leopard’, a six-minute epic co-produced by Mark Ronson, was a game-changing moment. They also loved collaborating with Janelle Monáe on 2015’s ‘Pressure Off!’, a glistening pop-funk single that also featured Nile Rodgers.

“Suddenly we were like, ‘This is great fun!'” Taylor says. “Having people come in, especially towards the end of a project when everybody’s a little bit tired [and] running out of ideas and patience, can be really inspiring.”

Le Bon is proud to have championed Wet Leg from the off

The singer co-hosts WHOOOSH!, a weekly music podcast on SiriusXM with longtime Duran Duran associate Katy Krassner. They played Wet Leg‘s storming debut single ‘Chaise Longue’ on their show soon after it dropped in June 2021, before Le Bon later named the Isle of Wight duo as his artist of the year.

“I was so convinced that [Wet Leg] were the real thing, and particularly that ‘Chaise Longue’ was something very, very special,” he recalls. “The minute I heard it, I just knew that it was a hit. And so it doesn’t surprise me that they [went on to be] so successful. I feel kind of slightly vindicated.” What did Le Bon think was so special about ‘Chaise Longue’? “Well, the vocal delivery for starters,” he says. “You know, we live in a time when there’s a lot of artists doing spoken word stuff, so to do something that stands out and is decent and different is difficult.”

Le Bon also points out that post-punk bands Dry Cleaning and Snapped Ankles manage to pull off a similar trick. “But also the guitar,” he adds, returning to Wet Leg. “It had an absolutely driving rock guitar and this beat that kind of pinned you down. I love music like that.”

Duran Duran’s UK and Ireland headline arena tour begins on April 29 at Manchester’s AO Arena – any remaining tickets are available here.