Duran Duran has a lot to celebrate.
For starters, the English new wave heroes were finally enshrined into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year after some 15 years of eligibility.
It also has a (relatively) new album out — “Future Past” — which is the band’s 15th studio release and first since 2015’s “Paper Gods.”
Plus, the group — which consists of longtime members John Taylor on bass, Simon Lebon on lead vocals, Nick Rhodes on keyboards and Roger Taylor on drums — is just about to embark on a major North American tour.
The trek kicks off with two NorCal shows as Duran Duran is set to take the stage on May 27 as part of the three-day BottleRock Napa Valley festival and then perform a full-length gig at SAP Center in San Jose on May 28. For information, visit bottlerocknapavalley.com and sapcenter.com, respectively.
Looking further down the road, the group also has an Aug. 24 date schedule at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento (golden1center.com).
I recently had the chance to chat about all things Duran Duran with John Taylor via Zoom from his home in Southern California.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories of performing in the Bay Area?
A: Over the years, we’ve played a lot of amazing shows. Last year, we were at the Chase Center, which was amazing. Although, I hear that this venue in San Jose is beautiful too, so I am looking forward to that.
I never thought I would see the day when I would be calling arenas beautiful, but some of them really are. There is so much thought that goes into them now. They are not the arenas that they use to be.
The Oakland Coliseum Arena in ’84! Is that still there? I think they just knocked it down.
Q: Nope — it’s definitely still there. And it’s still going strong.
A: We made a concert film there (“Arena (An Absurd Notion)” from 1985). That was crazy times.
Q: The tour actually begins with a performance at BottleRock Napa Valley. I believe this is the band’s first time performing in Napa. Have you at least been there before for a little wine tour or vacation?
A: We went up there to some like record company retreat. I think we had just done a deal with Sony and just finished a single — I think it might have been “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise.” That’s my only experience up there. But I have friends who love it. I am looking forward to it. The festival, I think, is going to be great. It’s a great lineup.
Q: One night after BottleRock, you will kick off your regular arena tour with a concert at SAP Center. How will the two shows differ?
A: The festivals are a little broader. You’ve got to keep it simple. You’ve got to reach out those people who are thinking, “Shall I watch the band or get a burger?”
In a concert, where people are there for the full experience, you can get a little more granular. You can take them to places that a festival audience isn’t necessarily gonna want to go.
But I like them both. They are different flexes. And it’s important to do both.
For many, many years, we didn’t play festivals.
Q: Why was that?
A: We were never really a festival band. I always say that nobody went to festivals in the ‘80s. It was all kind of arenas and clubs. Then we got back out on the road, put the original band back together — now, I am going back maybe 15 years, maybe longer — and suddenly the festival business has just exploded.
It was like, “Wow, how do we connect with these crowds? How do we do it?” And we really had to learn how to shape the Duran Duran sound and make it work with a festival crowd. But challenges like that are what keep you growing and learning.
Q: It’s a really solid bill that you’re bringing to San Jose. Talk to me about touring with Nile Rogers & Chic and Bastille.
A: (Nile Rodgers and Chic) are like our brothers, really. We have a very strong relationship with Chic. And we’ve had it from the get-go. That Chic music inspired me to pick up the bass guitar. And we have made a lot of music with Nile over the years, in the studio and onstage.
They just inspire us every night. I listen to them play and I’m like, “Man, we’ve got to bring it tonight.” They are an amazing act to have on the show with us.
Q: And Bastille?
A: Bastille — I don’t know so much about. But I know that they’ve got probably more Spotify followers then Chic and Duran put together. They are a different generation and I like the fact that they are bringing that energy to the show too. There are a lot of artists on tour this summer. There are a lot of options for the ticket buyer. I think you’ve really got to bring value for money. But I feel good — I’m excited with this lineup.
Q: The band is celebrating 40 years — plus — on this tour as well as a new album. At what point did you think that either of those things would be even possible for DD in 2023.
A: It’s like living, isn’t it? When the band started, I wasn’t thinking long-term at all. Things happened really quickly I had been playing bass for maybe two years when we got a record deal.
I think for a long time, I was always looking over my shoulder — kind of really expecting it to end.
I think there was a period towards the end of the ‘80s, where a couple of guys had left and Simon, Nick and I were together — in the studio with Nile, actually, working on the album that would become “Notorious.” I think that’s when the three of us realized that we were really going to have to really knuckle down if we wanted to stay in the game.
We’d lost the initial pop audience — the screamers had sort of moved on. If we wanted to stay in the game, we were going to have to work really hard. It was a different day. It was like we had to start again, in a way, and build something brick by brick.
Q: Not an easy process, I’m guessing.
A: It took a while. It took us about three years before we wrote “Ordinary World.” And then it was like, “OK, we’re in a second decade. OK, we’re established. We are in the ‘90s!”
That was huge, because everybody was like “‘80s band, ‘80s band” — and not in a good way.
At that time, everybody was trying to sort of put the ‘80s down and Duran Duran sort of belonged in this period. And “Ordinary World” was just a huge song — for a number of reasons. And that kind of bought us some time.
Q: Yet, you’d leave the band a few years after “Ordinary World” came out.
A: My personal life just fell apart and I didn’t want to live in England anymore. So, I moved to L.A. I just couldn’t hack it with the band. I thought I had left for good. And after about five years of being out, I went back.
Then it was another journey. But these challenges — you look back on them and you realize actually how important they are. It’s like what’s life without a challenge? You have to develop character. You just can’t dial it in.
Q: Yeah, that just doesn’t work, does it?
A: You’ve got to really want it. I think it’s why we like pop. Kids come along and they really, really want it. You are coming out of nowhere. In Duran’s case, we were coming out of the suburbs and we all wanted it — we really, really wanted it. And then you get comfortable and then it’s like do you want it as bad? With us, we kind of had it taken away a couple of times and we’ve had to really come back and work hard at it. And it’s made us what we are.
Q: I’m going to ask you a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame question, but not the one you usually get. I want to know how cool it was to induct Roxy Music into the hall?
A: Amazing. In many ways, it was as special, if not more special, than getting inducted ourselves. To be there — Simon and I — to induct Roxy was huge. I thought, “The band will never go for it. They’ll never want us.”
I remember seeing them for the first time on English TV and being like, “Whoa!” The sound and the image were in total harmony. That idea of everybody playing a part — with very fiercely strong personalities — where what makes the band interesting is you’ve got five very disparate ideas.
The guitar player is in his movie. The drummer is in his movie. The singer is in his movie. But somehow together it just makes this extraordinary musical cocktail. It becomes its own world.
That really influenced the Duran Duran formula.
Q: I was always a bit surprised that DD didn’t include a Roxy number on the covers album “Thank You.” So, I’m curious what Roxy tune would you want to cover if you were doing, say, “Thank You 2.”
A: Maybe something like “Beauty Queen” or “Strictly Confidential.” I think Bryan Ferry’s lyrics, particularly on the first two albums, were really interesting. He was really influenced by the whole pop art movement.
Q: I was actually standing not far from you at the Forum in Los Angeles when Roxy Music played there back in September. Wasn’t (Roxy guitarist) Phil Manzanera absolutely fabulous?
A: Amazing! It was his show, wasn’t it? Absolutely. He was on it that night. It’s funny you should say that because he was the takeaway.
Q: Your fans are some of the most passionate in the business. And they must have been absolutely thrilled to see the band finally get elected to the Rock Hall last year.
A: I think there is something about being a Duran Duran fan, right from the early days. You are kind of under siege. It’s not always been easy being a Duran Duran fan. You’ve really had to like defend your position.
We’ve always won the popular vote. But we’re not an industry favorite. The music press — the serious music press — has kind of overlooked the band.
All of that works for us in a way, because we do have an audience that is very passionate. I mean, they certainly got the votes out for the Hall of Fame. They were unstoppable. I think the Hall of Fame could not pass us because the vote was so much in our favor.
Courtesy of the Mercury News
Story: Jim Harrington, Photo: Elliot Taylor