Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor talks about exploring the band’s dark side with their new album

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Duran Duran, the band behind bright pop hits like “Girls On Film” and “Rio,” gets in touch with their dark side on the new album Danse Macabre, which mixes eerie reimaginings of their own classic tracks with curated covers that fit the album’s All Hallow’s Eve theme. In fact, the project was sparked by a one-off Las Vegas Halloween show the band played on October 31, 2022, just days before their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.

The band’s percussionist, Roger Taylor, is certainly no stranger to cover songs or exploring the darker strands of Duran Duran’s DNA. In 1985, Taylor joined vocalist Simon Le Bon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes to release Arcadia: So Red The Rose, a dreamy art-pop side project that further tapped into the atmospheric synths explored in songs like “The Chauffeur.” And after a brief hiatus from the band, it was 1995’s Thank You that lured Taylor back for covers of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Elvis Costello’s “Watching The Detectives” (he later rejoined the band full-time in 2001). During a conversation with The A.V. Club, Taylor talked about embracing Duran Duran’s inner goth on Danse Macabre, the art of blending darkness with pop, and whether or not the abandoned Reportage album will ever be finished.

The A.V. Club: Duran Duran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame almost one year ago. Have you guys experienced an explosion of appreciation since then? And was there any pressure that came with that honor?

Roger Taylor: I have to say, we felt very positive afterwards. It didn’t feel like there was any more expectation, particularly. We just really enjoyed the moment and it feels like our career, since then, has kind of gone into overdrive. We just played a great tour in the U.S. and we played to more people than we’ve ever had for decades. So it was really all positive. It was wonderful, I have to say.

AVC: Do you have any favorite Rock Hall behind-the-scenes moments?

RT: We loved meeting Dolly Parton. She’s a legend in the true sense of the word. We got to hang out with Judas Priest, who were great. They’re from the same part of the country as us in England, from the Midlands. I had last seen them when I was 17 years old. I went to a Judas Priest concert in Birmingham, so to meet them at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame like 40-something years later—that was quite something. It was amazing to sit there and watch them play from about 10 feet away. So that was a real moment. It was fantastic.

AVC: Right before your Rock Hall induction, you guys did a special Halloween show in Las Vegas, which sparked the concept for your new album, Danse Macabre. How quickly did you guys realize that you wanted to do a covers album with a spooky kind of gothic twist?

RT: Well, the first idea was just to release the songs that we played on that night in Vegas with one or two new songs, which then grew to three, but it was just a really fun project. There was no pressure around it. We weren’t expected to deliver a record, so this was just really a fun project that grew very organically from the show in Vegas. And then we didn’t have all the usual kind of introversion and self-examination that we usually have with the record-making process. It all came very naturally. Nile Rodgers came to the studio with us and we wrote “Black Moonlight” within an hour. I don’t think we’ve worked this quickly since we made the Rio record.

AVC: What was the selection process on which songs to cover? When I first heard you guys were doing this Halloween project, I was hoping you’d do something like David Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).” Did you have a list of songs that didn’t make the final cut?

RT: We did—and funny enough, “Scary Monsters” was on the original list. For whatever reason, it didn’t quite make the final cut, but it was a pretty tight list, actually. We were actually traveling somewhere on an airplane and Nick got a piece of paper and pen—Nick always loves making lists, by the way—it was one of his favorite things. “Let’s get a list of songs that we can play at the Halloween show.” All these songs came together within five minutes. We all just kind of came in with different songs, and we agreed pretty quickly because we’ve all got the same history. We all grew up at the same time. We were all influenced by pretty much the same songs and the same things. So it came together very quickly.

AVC: Duran Duran has done a covers album before—1995’s Thank You. You weren’t a full-time member of the band at the time but you did return for two tracks: “Perfect Day” and “Watching The Detectives.” Was there any hesitation on doing another covers album?

RT: That’s a good question, by the way, and I’ve never really thought about it before. No, we tend not to delve into the past and think, “Oh, we can’t do that because we did this before. We can’t write a song that’s got this beat or this chord progression because it’s too similar to something else.” We really tend to be right here where we are right now. I think once you start looking back and worrying too much about recreating something that didn’t go so well, I think it can be very difficult to move forward. So, it’s a cliche now about living in the moment, but it’s something we’ve been doing for a long time because we’ve got such a weight in our past and we can’t dwell on that. We tend to just keep looking forward and, you know, we do what we feel today.

AVC: What makes a good cover? Is the goal to replicate the original, or do you like to inject your own flavor? It seems like Duran Duran does a mix of both.

RT: We do like to put our own stamp on things. I think when I sit down, like when I played on “Paint It Black,” I didn’t want to replicate it. Oh, and I love Charlie Watts—I think he’s an incredible drummer and one of my heroes, but I wanted to play it how Roger Taylor would play, not how Charlie Watts played it. And I think John was the same with the bass line. It had to really reflect where John is coming from. So I think that was a natural process where we implemented our own styles. We had to use our own DNA on these songs. We had to be able to listen to it and say, “Yeah, that’s John, oh, that’s Roger.” This is not just a cover of the Rolling Stones, it had to have our band’s DNA in there somewhere.

AVC: My favorite track on the new album is your cover of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Spellbound.” Siouxsie’s Budgie is known for his tribal style of drumming, so I was curious how you’d interpret that one. Do you experiment with different styles before you settle on the sound?

RT: No, I just sat down and I played it. And what came out of me was how it was. I mean, I don’t think any of us particularly sit down and analyze how we are going to perform in the studio or how we are going to perform something. We just sit down and we do it. The first thing we do creatively I believe is usually the best thing. That was certainly the case on this record. It was very much what we did in the moment became the final product. We didn’t want to get into navel-gazing and analyzing it too much. It was all about the first idea being the best idea, and I think that was why it was done so quickly. I love Budgie by the way, he is another one of my favorite drummers. I went to see Siouxsie and the Banshees when I was 17 in Birmingham, and I was in the front row. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, so it was great to play one of their songs.

AVC: This album taps into the dark side of Duran Duran, which we’ve seen before in songs like “Nightboat,” “New Religion,” and “The Chauffeur.” You have a lot of songs that transcend commercialism, and they’re so different from your radio hits. Even the Arcadia So Red The Rose album that you, Nick, and Simon put out has an ethereal, almost gothic-like quality to it.

RT: It’s quite an art to write songs that are dark and still have a pop sensibility. And you’re right, I think we captured that on the Arcadia record. It had this combination of darkness and pop sensibility, which I think almost invented a new kind of music. When I listen back to that record now, I think, “Wow, that was really quite something.” And I’m not quite sure anybody had really done that before—maybe the Human League. They had that darkness and pop, they were probably one of the first people to do it, but not many had done that. So it’s quite a feat. And the darker side was definitely something we wanted to go back and explore with this record a little bit more. I mean, the Future Pastrecord was harking back to the early days, but more towards the funk and the pop side of the early days. So it was time to go down a different avenue, I think. We’re very lucky that we have all these different avenues that we can explore. We’re not a band that’s just got one sound that we have to keep regurgitating.

AVC: Were there any covers on this new album that were challenging to nail down?

RT: Not really. We played quite a few of these songs live, so we already knew them very well. So by the time we came to nail them down in the studio, we were very familiar, so that certainly helped. They all just came onto the canvas, and basically, it was just like splattering paint to the canvas and all of it just kind of stuck. It was fabulous.

AVC: I was thrilled to see songs like “Nightboat” and “Secret Oktober” get makeovers. The original “Secret Oktober” is actually a B-side and you have so many fantastic B-sides. Are there any chances of a Duran Duran B-side collection in the future?

RT: I’ve not heard of any plans to do that, but I think it’s a really good idea because we always wanted to make sure that the B-side was almost as good as the A-side. And we grew up in a time when bands released seven-inch singles. The B-side was often maybe not as poppy or as commercial, but the B-side would always be interesting. So that’s something that we wanted to carry on from the 1970s. We always wanted to make sure the B-side was certainly interesting, so that would make a great, great collection.

AVC: I was also glad to see another non-single like “Love Voodoo” get a redo, and you guys brought back Warren Cuccurullo for that one. One of my favorite Duran Duran lineups is the “Perfect Day” lineup, because you’re actually in that video with Warren. When he did his guitar work on “Danse Macabre,” did you guys fly him in or did he do it from his home studio?

RT: Actually, he did it remotely. And actually, when we did “Perfect Day,” I don’t think I actually met him at that time. I think that was also done at different times. So I finally got to meet Warren later and we really hit it off. We’ve always had a good relationship. Yeah, I finally got to play on something where Warren was playing. And it was an original song, so that was a great moment. And Warren has added so much depth to the catalog of this band. There are songs that we play every night like “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone.” They were so different from the early records—you know, I have a lot of gratitude for that. What Warren brought to the band was very important. So it’s great to be playing on a record with him again.

AVC: I think this is the first Duran Duran studio album with you, Warren, and Andy Taylor all on it at the same time. Is the door open for both of them to return?

RT: Absolutely, yeah. I think this album really opened lots of doors that will hopefully stay open and we’ll be one big happy musical family that can continue to create together.

AVC: Do you have an update on the band’s abandoned Reportagealbum? Is that something you would like to finally get finished?

RT: It’s definitely something that we feel we should go back and have a look at. And it’s certainly something that we were interested in doing, but everybody would have to be in agreement. Andy was a big part of that record. So we all have to agree, and once we’ve done that, maybe we can go back and move it forward again, because as I recall, it was a really great record and it really had something. Yeah, but again, it was very different from anything that we’ve recorded before. So it’d be really interesting to go back and have a look at it for sure.

AVC: What’s Simon’s secret? Hearing him revisit old songs like “Nightboat,” “Secret Oktober.” and “Lonely In Your Nightmare,” he sounds better than ever. Are you guys ever amazed by how well his voice has aged?

RT: We are. We’re very fortunate, I have to say that. At this stage in your career when your singer is getting stronger vocally, it’s a great asset. He does look after his voice very carefully, he almost treats his voice like an opera singer. He warms up for a long, long time before he steps on stage every night. I know that he takes a lot of care of his voice. And that’s one of the key things. People came to the shows on the last tour and everybody’s amazed that his voice seems to be getting better. So we’re very fortunate with that.

AVC: The Rolling Stones just put out a new album. Do you see yourself, Simon, Nick, and John getting to the same age as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and touring and putting out new albums?

RT: I don’t know, but the Stones are incredible, aren’t they? They’ve just rewritten history for a band to be still performing and making albums in their 80s, it’s just unbelievable. But I don’t think we tend to look that far ahead. The way we think is, if it’s working right now, that’s great. If it’s working in 10 years’ time, great. If it’s working in another 20 years’ time, great. But it’s all about what’s working right. We feel that we’re in a really good place, we’re still creating, and we’re still selling out shows. So where we are right now is a great place. So hopefully that will continue.

Courtesy the AV Club