Music interview: Duran Duran
If Duran Duran’s latest album, Paper Gods, finds one of the 80s’ biggest bands tapping their toes to a contemporary beat it wasn’t part of any original design, says drummer Roger Taylor.
“I don’t think it was a conscious decision at the beginning to go in that direction, it just very naturally developed in that way,” says the 55-year-old sticksman. “I think we wanted to make something very different from the last record which was the Mark Ronson-produced All You Need Is Now, which was kind of an echo of our earlier sound.
“Mark really wanted to take us back to the early days of the band. With this record it had to be very different so we just allowed ourselves to be contemporary and new and without boundaries, really. But we’ve always tried to make people dance, it’s always been part of our DNA, if you like, to have one foot in the dancefloor, that’s always been part of our thing, I think.”
Taylor actually has a long standing interest in that particular field, having produced and DJ-ed underground electronic dance music after he left the band for a 15-year spell between 1986 and 2001.
“It’s kind of weird that it’s coming full circle now it’s become part of the Duran sound, in a way, that electronic dance thing, but we’ve always loved electronic music, actually,” he says. “We were big fans of Kraftwerk and Ultravox and Simple Minds, all these bands that were using electronics as part of their sound, it’s always been something that we could access at any point.”
From Nile Rodgers to John Frusciante, late of Red Hot Chili Peppers, to Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan, Papers Gods is packed with musical collaborations. The only common thread, Taylor says, “was they were all just right for that particular song... I don’t think any of them were just done for the sheer hell of it”.
Although not the first time they’d opened their doors to working with others – Arcadia, the 80s side project that Taylor did with singer Simon Le Bon and keyboard player Nick Rhodes “was full of collaborators – we had Grace Jones, we had Sting on there, we had Dave Gilmour, Herbie Hancock” – the range of outsiders involved in Paper Gods had much to do with Mark Ronson.
“I think that’s what Mark’s all about, really, collaborating and he’s got a very thick address book,” says Taylor. “He’d say, ‘Why don’t you call Nile? You’ve not worked with him for 10 years. He’s hip again, he’s just had a big hit record, give Nile a call, that would be fun.’ And of course it hadn’t really occured to any of us to actually call Nile so Mark definitely prompted us to do that and that just opened the door for all the other collaborations.
“I think you also have to be fairly confident as a band as well, which I think we are now, to be able to let people in and not have your ego dented by them. I think we’re all certainly mature enough to let other people come in and play with us and sing with us. I think it was very good for the record.”
Nile Rodgers had worked with Duran Duran at their commercial peak in the mid-1980s on hits such as The Reflex and Wild Boys. The recent single Pressure Off was, says Taylor, “the result of Nile just coming and jamming with us and coming up with that riff”.
“The bones of that song were written very quickly because Nile’s all about being in the moment, you don’t sit around for hours contemplating and intellectualising what you’re going to be working on, he just gets out his guitar and it’s either the s*** or it isn’t, it’s so in the moment and it’s kind of like the way records used to be written around riffs and beats and jams. Nile really brought that back to us, that pure energy that he has.”
By contrast, Last Night in the City, the track featuring Canadian singer Kiesza, had been “years in the making”.
“That song had gradually worked its way towards more the electronic dance thing,” says Taylor. “It started off as a very traditional band song, actually, and over the months and months that we worked on it it became very electronic and somebody suggested that we try Kiesza on it because we wanted a big kind of diva-esque vocal. So Kiesza turns up at the studio with again incredible energy and within a matter of hours we got the part that we’re looking for. It was a long process, I’ve got to say, we’re not talking weeks or months, it was years in the making.”
Thirty-six years on from when he joined Duran Duran, Taylor feels his relationship with Le Bon, Rhodes and bass player John Taylor is as close as ever.
“We went through something very strong as young guys and we all came out the other end of that. Ultimately there will always be that bond with each other,” he says.
“We’re all very different in personality and that’s something we have to work on on a daily basis, but with Andy [Taylor, the band’s original guitarist who left 2006] as well we have that bond because we all went through that experience together as young men so that will always be there, I guess, and it’s something that makes us very strong as a unit, I think.”
When, back in the 80s, Duran Duran were arguably the biggest band in the world, Taylor agrees it was “like being in the eye of a hurricane”. “It was an incredible experience but an incredibly intense one as well. None of us were really expecting that kind of fame. Going back to our influences, we thought we were going to be like Simple Minds or Japan or Ultravox but it blew up into this huge teenage phenomenon and it was quite a journey, I’ve got to say.”
The sheer intensity of teenage adulation for Duran Duran contributed to Taylor’s decision to retire to rural Gloucestershire in 1986.
“After a few years of that I thought I needed to remove myself for a while and get myself back to my senses and do a bit of growing up and eventually I came back,” he says. “The break wasn’t meant to be that long but life took me in a completely different direction so it was many years before I came back but I think it was time to step out and take some time out.”
“I think the band had gone into two factions at that time as well,” he adds. “There was the Arcadia group and there was the Power Station group [formed by Andy and John Taylor] and I kind of fell in between the two of those a little bit so it was quite a strange place to be. At that point I think the group spirit had died a little bit and we all went off and did different things for a while.”
In the heady days of MTV Duran Duran famously spent tens of thousands of pounds on promotional videos shot in jungles and on yachts. Taylor doesn’t seem to miss that era.
“For us it’s always been primarily about the music and the shows; video was always an additional thing where we handed over the power to somebody else. The director would come in and listen to the song and see if he could think of any ideas visually. It was definitely something that was out of our control a little bit. As long as we’ve got the music and the shows I think we’re pretty happy. MTV had its day in the sun in the 80s and the world’s moved on and I think we have to move on as well.”
As for still having anything to prove as a band, Taylor says: “I think yes and no. As far as being a successful band I don’t think that we have anything to prove in that area but I think we still have to prove ourselves every night on stage when we play a show because I always feel that you’re only as good as your last show, really.
“We played at the Hollywood Bowl in LA a couple of weeks ago and it was sold out, it was incredible and we played really well and it was a great experience but we’ve got to do that again. Every time we play a show we have to prove ourselves and I think that’s probably why we’re still excited about it.”
Making new records is important too.
“I think it’s that that keeps us going, actually,” Taylor says. “I think if we were just out there playing Rio and Hungry Like The Wolf every night – which we do – but if we were just focusing on that very early piece of catalogue I think it would be pretty soul destroying as a band so we have to keep introducing new things to the set and writing new songs and records, it keeps us vital and it makes us feel that we belong here rather than just in 1983.”
Duran Duran play at the First Direct Arena, Leeds on November 28. For details visit http://www.firstdirectarena.com/events/search/duran-duran/