Interview with Duran Duran
Ahead of their exclusive festival appearance at Lovebox, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor and Simon Le Bon talk about the 80s, Duranies, and wellies
by: Malcolm Mackenzie 10 July 2009
How does Duran Duran feel about festivals, I’m guessing wellies and cagoules aren’t your thing.
Nick Rhodes: Well that’s why we’ve avoided it. I mean honestly, you can’t take your Laboutins out in that, can you really? Being as it’s in a central London park I’m really hoping that it doesn’t turn to some unpleasant goo.
Simon: Well, we kind of come from the generation before festivals. There were always a few festivals around but in the last 15 years they’ve become so much more important. I really enjoy them. I’m not bothered by mud or rain or playing outdoors. What you’re not used to is sharing the event with so many any other acts. Sometimes when you play half your audience aren’t there in the beginning because they’re watching someone else finish and then they’ll come to see you.
On your last album you worked with Timbaland, for your next it’s Mark Ronson. Why do the biggest producers in the world want to work with you?
Nick: We seem to inspire curiosity within people and Mark was a big fan. We did a show together in Paris last year and he mixed some of our old songs, slowed them down and sped them up and mixed other people’s songs with them and we literally had to learn them all and play them live like that.
Roger: Mark has also got this funny story that when he was a kid he went to the hairdressers and asked for a John Taylor and the hairdresser spent an hour on his hair, when he saw it in the mirror at the end he said: “That’s not John Taylor, that’s Nick Rhodes!” He was hugely disappointed, as you can imagine!
What’s your best memory of recording with Justin Timberlake and Timberland?
Simon: Two outstanding moments. I was doing vocals with Justin on Nightrunner, which he produced and just his skill and expertise, what he got me to do that I’d never done before. The precision and timing he got out of me was something that I’ll never forget. He’s added to my skills and has improved me as a singer, which I’m very thankful for. The other time with Timbaland was when we finally convinced him to try writing a song the way we write - we all get together in a room and start playing. He was very sceptical in the beginning but then something started happening and you could see his eyebrows start to move and this smile came across his face. He said “Hey this is really cool, this is really good fun”. That’s how we wrote the song Skindivers
Do you think the next Ronson record will engage with people a bit more?
Simon: Well I don’t suppose we’d being doing another record if we didn’t think we’d engage with people. You just keep on trying. I just wouldn’t be even doing it if I didn’t think it was going to do something. It’s a very different kind of record to Red Carpet Massacre. He (Mark) has got a very clear idea of the kind of DD he wants to hear, it’s a lot more like Rio and the first album. He says: “I want to make the album which everybody wants to hear”. That’s a very kind of vague statement I know, but it seemed to make sense at the time. He’s a very, very good producer. He’s so polite, calm and gentlemanly. Because of that he commands so much respect from you as an artist. He’s almost understated, and almost any little thing he suggests you really want to do it, to please him.
Did he blag his way into performing on stage with you guys or was he invited?
Simon: He had to pay us! I’m kidding. We just said “do you fancy it”, he said “do I!”. We did this show in Paris, he produced the show really and it’s kind of his baby almost as much it is ours. He’s very excited about coming on, he really wants to do it and we’re really pleased about it too.
How do you feel about your old foes Spandau Ballet returning?
Roger: We’re very happy for them, they’re friends. I know that Gary wanted to put the whole thing together for a while and had some difficulties to overcome with the court case, which was pretty harsh.
Nick, as the keyboard-playing hero of generations, are you glad the synth is back in fashion?
N: Well obviously I’m thrilled because I love electronic music. I like the La Roux record, and I listened to Dan Black’s record - there were a couple of songs that sounded like Simon, actually.
I said this when I interviewed him and he reckoned he’d never thought about it.
Nick: That’s what they all say!
Roger, are you fed up of being in Duran Duran yet - again?
R: Er, no, not yet.
Was your experience of the 80s as amazing as it looked?
Nick: You know, what’s great about the 80s to me is that it’s becoming more evident as the distance grows is that people really didn’t care about what other people thought. They wanted to do something incredibly new and unique and experimental.
Simon: It was very exciting. I think the biggest change was just how important black music got, with hip-hop in particular, and how that changed everybody’s music scene and you either ignored it or took it on board, hence Reflex and the Notorious album. In music that was the massive thing. Also it was the time when the digital age started - what you could do electronically at the start of the 80s compared to the end was incredible. We started the 80s without the Sony Walkman! So the 80s was when people started listening to music on their own, otherwise you had to sit in the room with speakers and everybody was listening to the same thing. That gave people a lot of choice.
Roger: It was an amazing time to be in a band - the world would really be your oyster.
What event summed up the whole ridiculousness of it?
Simon: I wouldn’t say ridiculousness - not even over-blown - but just the scale of it would be Live Aid, the whole scale of that show really said something about what was going one. I mean we have the Live8 two years ago and the Al Gore one last year, but nothing has had the impact that Live Aid had.
Nick: There would be a party in New York and you would be sitting there with Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Keith Harring - everywhere you went there would be this amazing collection of people.
Do you have any regrets about the 80s?
Simon: Plenty, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t have regrets, it just makes me smile. You’re born when you’re born and you’ve got to make the best of it. If you sit back later on and regret on it, it’s sad. We had an amazing time then and I’m having an amazing time now.
Did you all manage to avoid the rehab thing?
Simon: No, John went through that. That was more of a 90s thing. Rehab was much more 90s. It was when people started doing deals in AA meetings. Literally, that was where all the deals were being made. With John I supported him, it was a very brave move for him to make and he needed to. Myself, I don’t have the same kind of issues.
Will you ever do a tell-all biography?
Simon: No. Well, never say never. Not ready for it yet. I’ve got a lot more stuff to do rather than just sit and review my life.
Which of your records is the most underrated?
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Simon: Possibly Notorious, it’s turned into quite a classic album. Certainly for our followers. I think nobody really noticed how good it was until 10 years later.
How do you feel about that?
Simon: I’d be greedy and ungrateful if I was to complain about things. Nothing’s perfect but everything is compromise and we are so lucky for what we do.
You’re famous for your videos. Which one do you have the best memories of?
Simon: Shooting Hungry Like the Wolf in Sri Lanka. It was the first time we’d ever been on location for starters and it was the first time any band had been on location. It just felt so exciting and so new.
When you dated girls did they have to be models, or could some of them work in say a shoe shop?
Nick: I’m not sure that I ever dated anyone from a shoe shop but erm, you know, I could go and have a look in Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik!
Are Duranies still as besotted?
Roger: It is different. Now you walk into a hotel lobby and they’ll be all these 30-something girls sitting around having tea or cocktails and you can tell that they are Duranies.
Nick: They do dress well.
When you’re in high society, do you ever snigger to yourself and think ‘I was just a boy from Birmingham'?
Nick: Oh, I’m still a boy from Birmingham. Whether I go to see a young band in a little bar or a huge social event at a stately home, the only thing that is interesting to me is who are the interesting people, and they come through all social strata to virtually everyone - apart from bankers.
Courtesy The London Paper