John Taylor: Duran Duran will surprise listeners at BayFest 2011
Published: Thursday, October 06, 2011, 6:23 AM
By Lawrence F. Specker, Press-Register
Duran Duran will headline the AT&T/Saad Healthcare Stage on Saturday at BayFest 2011 in downtown Mobile.
“All You Need is Now,” the title track from the album that BayFest 2011 headliner Duran Duran released earlier this year, starts out with a jittery, industrial feel so far from the band’s ‘80s pop that it might as well be a slap in the face to anyone out for nostalgia.
But then when the refrain rolls around, the synthesizers sweep up and the familiar harmonies soar:
and you sway in the moon
the way you did when you were younger
when we told everybody
all you need is now
stay with the music let it
play a little longer
you don’t need anybody
all you need is now
It’s a daring song, for a teen pop band thirty years past its days of teen pop dominance. Cooked up with the help of star producer Mark Ronson, it’s a song that challenges fans, and the musicians themselves, on multiple levels. Founding bassist John Taylor said that he still finds it a little unsettling.
“I’m never absolutely sure, whenever I sing that line, ‘like we used to, when we were young’,” he said.
But in the context of the tune, it reads as a double-edged assertion. It’s a statement that in its youth, the band was able to live in the moment because it wasn’t worried about the future — but also that now, in its maturity, it has to be willing to set the past aside to be feel that same kind of artistic freedom.
“Nobody wants to acknowledge their mortality,” Taylor said. “Some rap artists do. I appreciate that about a Kanye West or a Jay-Z. But pop artists generally don’t. And I think, Duran Duran, we’ve been kind of stuck for so long in this addiction to pop, because we had such a phenomenal success in our 20s.
“I think it slowed down our development in a way, in that we kind of got hung up on needing to stay in that pop mode. And you know, you just can’t do that, because it’s entirely about the zeitgeist. It’s not even about the songs you write, really. It’s about who you are, your age, what your hair looks like, so on and so forth. I think ‘All you need is Now’ is an important song for us, because it acknowledges mortality.”
“I think that lets the audience in,” Taylor said. “Because, God knows, we’re all walking around feeling our mortality, all the time. When you kind of set yourself up as being like, ‘We don’t age, and we’re still having sex with young girls, and we’re kind of frozen in time,’ it’s like you’re kind of cheating your audience in a way. So there’s a degree of honesty in ‘All You Need is Now’ that I think the audience appreciates.”
Taylor said the band’s commitment to its new material is so strong that it’s prepared to play all the new songs live. That’s a contrast with many veteran acts, who usually only carry a fraction of their new studio songs to the stage.
“We’re playing them all live,” he said. “We don’t play all of them every night, but we’ve got all of them up and running, and we drop them in as we see fit.”
Fear not. Taylor and his bandmates — Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor — aren’t dummies. They know the audience also really, really appreciates hearing those hits that put the band on top of the world in the early ‘80s: “Girls on Film,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Is There Something I Should Know,” “Rio” and so on. And in a festival appearance, like the band’s headlining set Saturday night at BayFest 2011, they know it makes sense to skew the setlist more toward that classic material.
“I suppose you do, a little,” he said. “It’s more of a showcase. You’ve got this opportunity to reach out to listeners that perhaps would not be seeing the band if it were a concert. You probably broaden the presentation a little. You probably give more hits in the set that if it was a concert. It’s a little more challenging, in a way, but challenging in a good way.”
“You’ve got to find a slightly different center of gravity,” he said.
Many in the audience will be keenly interested in the hits. Others, given BayFest’s eclectic format, will just be browsing. Taylor said he expects to impress both factions.
“I suppose that does work for us, actually, because a lot of people don’t expect us to rock, and they don’t expect us to be as authentic as we are,” he said. “We really are a hard-working road band. We play live all the time. We’ve been around the block, we’ve had huge successes over the years. But we really don’t take what we do for granted. We have a very sacred view of our stage performances. The most important gig we play is the next gig.”
“Sometimes people expect us to be a band going through the motions,” he said. “It’s not. I think you see that. You see that joy. We’re a good-time band. We just don’t make like good-time, good-old-boys music. Our music is different, it’s electro-based European dance music, but we’re a good-time band.”
The motive is obvious, he said.
“We’ve got the most amazing audience,” he said. “Our audience is built around the kids whose lives we changed when they were teenagers in the early ‘80s.”
“The kids that were 15, 16, 17 in 1984, they form the basis of our fan base, because we changed their lives,” he said. “We helped them become grownups. But along the way, as you make the journey, you pick up new followers all the time. And you pick them up from the strangest places.”
“It’s been a fantastic ride. And it still is,” Taylor said.
“We’ve played to 60,000 and we’ve played to six. You learn a lot about yourself as a performer. We’re the real thing. We do it because we love it, and we’re passionate about the power of music, and we believe in each other.”
“I think people would be surprised at how excited we are by ourselves,” he said. “We are our biggest fans and we love being in our band with each other. When we take it to the stage, people don’t feel cheated.”
In September, an announcement on www.duranduran.com noted that John Taylor had offered to help out the fledgling Amy Winehouse Foundation, a rehab program being formed in the wake of that singer’s death.
Taylor said he’d been moved by the desire of Winehouse’s father, Mitch Winehouse, and other supporters to created a treatment center for teens afflicted by drug and alcohol problems.
And in part, he said, he was motivated by personal experience.
“I’m a guy that should have OD’d, that should have died in an alcoholic mess,” he said. “I got sober, I found the help that I needed, and I consider myself really fortunate.”
“I threw my hat into the ring” with the foundation, he said. Taylor cautioned that it remained to be seen exactly what course of action the foundation will take and what his own role will be.
“I don’t know quite what it’s going to mean,” he said. “It’s a ways off. It’s still defining itself, what it is.” For more information on foundation activities, visit www.amywinehousefoundation.co.uk.