Duran Duran’s John Taylor: The Cream Q&A 2023

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Remember that band you started with a friend as a teen? Imagine playing arenas with them 40 years later.

New Wave staples Duran Duran rocketed to stardom in the early 1980s — in part thanks to incessant music video play on MTV, with hair, stares and European fashion on display. They are the kind of band that made fangirls lightheaded, before “fangirl” was even common parlance.

Aside from their image, the band’s enduring pop sound — which balances synth pop and disco with glam-rock guitars — led to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. Through 15 studio albums spanning four decades, Duran Duran scored such No. 1 such as the 1985 James Bond theme “A View to a Kill” and 1984’s “The Reflex,” though are probably best known for earlier singles that put them on the map, like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf.”

Bassist John Taylor founded the band along with keyboardist Nick Rhodes as teens in 1978. Later, lead guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor — none of the Taylors are related — and lead singer Simon LeBon joined the group. Though there have been lineup shifts and periods when they’ve been out of the limelight, the band has remained active; their most recent studio release is 2021’s Future Past, with another album (title TBA) slated to arrive later this year.

Ahead of Tuesday’s stop on said tour at Bridgestone Arena, which features Bastille and Chic as special guests, John Taylor hopped on a video call with the Scene. Check out some highlights of our conversation.

As a punk-rock teen, Taylor thought if he “was going to play anything, it would be guitar.” Chic’s records helped inspire him to switch.

The thing that really stood out for me was the rhythm section. There were a couple of records — it was “Good Times” by Chic and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” by Sylvester. I listened to those songs and I thought, “I think I could do that.”

The first time I picked up a bass, we'd just met Roger and we'd started playing with him. He was the first real musician, I would say, that I'd ever really gotten to play with. There was a bass on the bed and I just picked it up, and it was like a “ta-da” moment. I thought: “Oh, man, I love this. I love making this connection.” The idea was just to meet on every beat.

There’s no one better to have on the road with you than Nile Rodgers and Chic. They are an absolute phenomenon, and anyone who hasn’t seen them — they are worth the price of admission alone. They’re so funky and so well-drilled. You’re not going to see or hear another band like that again.

Since Duran Duran hit the scene, the way we consume music has changed drastically. It has its perks, Taylor says, reminiscing on the struggle of collecting music in the ’80s.  

I think the accessibility is a gain. If you were to introduce me to somebody I’ve never heard of or vice-versa, by 5 o’clock we could have all of their albums on our phone. Deep-diving could be done. It’s never been more shallow to deep dive than it is now.

But is that a plus or is that a minus? When I was a teenager, if I heard a song I might just catch a glimpse of it on the radio, like, “What the hell was that?!” Or if an artist that I liked did an appearance on TV, and if I missed it, I’d be so fucked. There were no resources. You really had to work hard to build up a library, and what you had, you loved. The records that I owned when I was 15, 16 — I knew every note on those records.

In the streaming age, live-music discovery is on the backburner, and the path to fame has become more varied, Taylor says.

Every age has its own standards. I’m glad music came to me the way that it did. Live music became very important to me in my teens. I was very lucky because I started going to shows to see stars, like you may go to see Harry Styles [today]. I started going to see stars like Bowie and Queen. Then after a couple of years of that, there was this punk-rock thing and suddenly all the cool gigs were in little venues. You're standing right in front of the artist, you're ducking to miss their guitar, and they’re barely older than you are. That was amazing to see because that was such a democratizing experience and I thought, “Oh, I could get on a stage that high.”

We were watching bands play one minute and then six months later, they've got a record deal and they're on TV, and you could just see the path. It was an unusual period. I think being 16 that time, as I was — and Simon was 18, and Nick was 15 — we wouldn’t be here without that having happened at that time.

Duran Duran took a hiatus after their 1985 performance at Live Aid. At the time, Taylor thought they may not ever reunite.  

Why does anybody chose to stay married? Clearly there are other people out there. If it was all about novelty and newness, nobody would stay married. But clearly there’s something to it and I think there’s something to staying together. I’ve seen a lot of bands break up prematurely, really. I think we’ve been together long enough to care for each other, to respect each other, to love each other. For me, the ideas that those guys are going to have, it's going to be as good as the other people I’m likely to find myself working with.

Taylor has a favorite tune from Duran Duran’s classic catalog, as well as one from Future Past.

I never really get tired of playing “Rio” because it's all about the bass. Even though I have to take a big breath before we start playing it, it’s such an epic. And it builds on this bass line, so I love playing that. I love the song “Anniversary” off the new album, which is a song that we wrote to sort of commemorate our own 40 years in the business. We’ve quoted ourselves: It’s got elements of early Duran tracks that are little sonic Easter eggs in there, from “The Reflex” and “Wild Boys” — and that’s a fun song to play, too.

Courtesy Nashville Scene