Unless you lived under a rock in the 1980s -- or somehow avoided the subsequent two decades of retro-'80s nostalgia -- you already know Duran Duran. They boasted countless radio and MTV hits like 'Rio,' 'Hungry Like the Wolf,' 'New Moon on Monday,' 'Girls on Film' and 'A View to a Kill' -- not to mention late-career classics 'Ordinary World' and 'Come Undone' -- and inspired millions of teenage girls to become obsessed with their favorite band member back before label-manufactured boy bands.
Now, after 30 years together, four of the five original Wild Boys from Birmingham (Simon Le Bon, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor) have a new album, 'All You Need Is Now,' produced by wunderkind Mark Ronson, and are launching the North American leg of their current world tour.
In an exclusive interview with Spinner, Simon LeBon talks about getting his singing voice back after an onstage scare, how Jim "The Lizard King" Morrison inspired his songs about snakes and wolves and why teaming up with post-millennial producer Mark Ronson helped Duran Duran return to their '80s roots.
Duran Duran is embarking on your North American tour this week, are you feeling ready?
Absolutely. We've been having a lot of fun with rehearsals in the UK and warm-up shows with tiny little audiences. And now we're ready for the real thing.
You lost the top of your vocal range and had to cancel this summer's European tour -- how's your voice doing?
It seems to be much better. No, it is much better. I can do everything that I need to do in the show. It was quite a shock when the breakdown happened and it wasn't anything that laryngologists or I have really experienced before -- it was something completely different.
Did it happen to you onstage?
Yes, it did actually -- at a show we were playing in Cannes. I've seen so many doctors and had a lot of voice therapy. I've also learned to sing with slightly better technique, better posture, so I think that may have had something to do with it.
Had you ever worked with a vocal coach before?
I did go to a vocal coach but I didn't find that that was really the right thing for me. It was a voice therapist that really helped me. I have gone to vocal coaches before and sometimes they've been helpful but I've got a very individual style of singing. Coaches tend to have an idea in their mind of the right way to do it, and I don't think that necessarily is the case.
Does the band get more fun for you as the years go by? Is it easier now to get up on stage and do this?
Some things are easier, yes. It gets easier to do the actual show because you just know how to do it; you learn how to do it without killing yourself; you learn how to be on tour without killing yourself.
Duran Duran really seem to embrace working with people of a younger generation like producer Mark Ronson and even Ana Matronic from the Scissor Sisters. A lot of bands as legendary as Duran Duran might resist doing something like that, so how come you're so open to working with these people who are essentially your fans?
Well, they are fans and they're full-fledged musicians in their own right; I think they're musicians first. With Mark, it was really him saying, 'I know what kind of album you guys need to make -- reconnect with your fans.' Because we did not quite connect with the previous album. And he wanted to get us back to that place and he had a mental blueprint of what was needed. With Ana, we've known her for years and we wanted a rap on that song ['Safe (In the Heat of the Moment)'] and we wanted it to be a girl and we didn't want anything conventional and that's just Ana Matronic.
Mark Ronson has said that he wanted to make what should have been the third Duran Duran album. But I know a lot of your fans, myself included, loved 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger.'
That was a soundbite that got used again and again, but I know what he meant. I think he thought with the third album we got a bit conventional and that we'd lost some of our edge. And that's what he wanted to hear. So, in his own mind, it was what he wanted the third album to sound like. But he also came into it saying, 'You're great at reinventing yourself but what you need to do is be the Duran Duran that everybody knows and loves. Reclaim your territory, which is currently occupied by the Killers and Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, who sound like Duran Duran used to sound. I want you to own that territory.'
The recording of 'All You Need Is Now' was essentially just the band in a room together, jamming. Is that a new approach to working on an album?
That's how we started -- and that's how we started every record we've ever made. It's very respectful to all the band members to allow them to express themselves at the very opening stages of making an album. Because you might get something really great out of it. And, in this case, we did. But a lot of the stuff on the album is very raw, almost in the state when we first jammed it. The only thing being different is that it's been produced and it's got lyrics. Part of what made early Duran Duran good [was] we weren't virtuoso musicians. It had a certain rawness and directness that appealed at the time and it still appeals now.
Is it easier to tell one another when something isn't working because you've been together for so many years?
There are certain things we all understand about being in a band and one of them is that the music, at that stage, the music has to be king of everything. So personal issues get put aside; egos get put aside; everything gets put aside, and the only thing that matters is making the best record.
Where does the lyrical inspiration come from for you?
It's just stuff that's going on in my head. There are times when I get into books and things and some of that comes up on the record or I'll get into a certain artist. An obvious example of that is 'Union of That Snake' and 'Hungry Like the Wolf' are very much related to Jim Morrison and his lyrical ideas. But really, there's a lot going on in one person's mind and I'll be surprised if I ever run out of ideas. Sometimes you exhaust a vein of ideas but you have dig down a bit deeper to find another one.
Is writing lyrics something you sit down to do consciously or could you just be walking down the street and writing down stuff on a scrap of paper?
If I've got a song in my mind and I'm at the lyric-writing stage then that's pretty much in my mind no matter what I'm doing. I could be cooking the kids a meal or I could be taking the dog for a walk, or I could be sitting there with a pen in my hand and a paper in front of me. But all the time I've got at least one song going around my head and I'm piecing things together subconsciously.
People say there's so much sex in the media, but I don't see that today's teens have anything like Duran Duran -- they've got 'Glee' and 'High School Musical.' Any thoughts on why it seems like things are tamer then when you guys came around?
I know what you mean. It's a little bit more institutionalized, I agree. But I think you'll get a natural reaction to that. At the same time there are a lot of independent artists doing exactly what we've been doing, in their own way. And the bubble bursts. The more 'Pop Idol' and 'Glee' and 'American Idol' and 'X Factor' you get -- the more the lid is put on independence -- the more the pressure builds up inside the pot. And when it does blow, people really go for it. I think they'll go for it again. Right now we're just going through a phase.
Duran Duran fans are fascinated by your beard. It looks great. What was the inspiration for growing it?
The inspiration was going to India, actually. Every guy there has a beard. And I go, bloody hell, I feel naked. So I just let it grow. And when I got back I let it grow some more. And then I let it grow some more! I don't know how long I'll keep it. I'll keep it until I get sick of it.
Does your wife like it?
Yes, she does, actually.
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