A Moment With Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes
June 27, 2013 12:00 PM by Romy Oltuski
Nick Rhodes is something of a clairvoyant. In the late seventies and eighties, his band Duran Duran carved the path for synth-based music and, with it, EDM. Then in 1996, he and bandmate Warren Cuccurullo formed TV Mania and wrote an album about reality television before the concept had ever aired; this was before The Truman Show, before “Big Brother,” before “True Life.”
But the experimental project never saw the light of 1996 (“Are you serious?” was their label’s response at the time). It sat in the band’s archives until March of this year, when Rhodes and Cuccurullo dusted off the old tapes and released an album, photo exhibition, and music video. Seventeen years late, the stuff is still evergreen, so when Rhodes called us from his hotel room in Saint-Tropez to talk about the future, we listened closely. It turns out there’s quite a bit in his crystal ball, including a new Duran album, an original musical, and a TV Mania book underway.
Harper’s Bazaar: You describe TV Mania’s album, Bored of Prozac and the Internet, as the soundtrack to a reality soap. Set the scene for us.
Nick Rhodes: We imagined this scenario whereby we’ve invented a family that were based upon extreme stereotypes of the American family. So the mother was a pill-head, the father was a religious freak, the daughter just wanted to be famous at any cost, and the son was a computer hacker and games fanatic—the whole family unit gone mad. And we imagined this bunch of scientists watching that family as a project, but then they found it so fascinating and so remarkable that they thought, “Hey, this would make good TV viewing. I’d bet they’d like to buy this.”
HB: And the eerie voice recordings that make up the majority of the album—where do those come from?
NR: Mostly from fashion TV shows that were on in the UK back in 1995, ‘96. We were watching at lunchtime, and it just happened to be on in the studio. I said to Warren, “Wow, these people are talking in song titles — listen to them!” So we found ourselves recording hours of this stuff and then saying, well what would the mother want? “Euphoria.” That’s perfect for her. And the daughter? “I want to make films.” And “what about god?” for the father.
HB: Did people think the concept was absolutely crazy back then?
NR: We had taken it to our label, and they said, “We can’t do this.” It was quite abstract for that period. They said, “What? You made an album from samples of people talking about fashion on television? Are you kidding me?”
HB: So why did it resurface now?
NR: Completely by accident! We thought we’d lost the tapes entirely. Then recently, I was going to the Duran storage place looking for a tape from the Medazzaland period. I found a tape labeled “Medazzaland Outtakes” and opened it — except inside it said “TV Mania Album Master.” And I thought: Oh my goodness. That is it. It does exist. Because the multitrack masters, the things we actually recorded, we lost those many years ago. We still don’t have those, so there was no possibility of remixing or making other versions. The only thing we could hope to find was the master, and there it was. I called Warren and said, “Hey, you’ll never guess what I found.” And he said “Great, let’s go.” A year and a half later we put it out.
HB: Do you have a favorite TV show? I’m guessing it’s not “The Real Housewives.”
NR: Ha! I haven’t seen it, so I wouldn’t know—but I like the sound of it already. I liked “Desperate Housewives” long ago, and I think that HBO have created most of the greatest TV series of the last decade. Whether it’s “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad,” that really to me is the cutting edge of TV right now.
HB: You exhibited a series of photographs in conjunction with the album release. Does your photography relate to the work you do in music?
NR: It does relate, very much. I think Jean Coctaeu put it best when he was talking about drawing and writing, and he said it was the same piece of string just tied up differently. Of course he put it rather more eloquently than I just did.
HB: What inspired the photos?
NR: Initially we were doing a photo shoot for the album cover. The goal was to play out the character of the daughter in our sort of script, who just wanted to be famous and in fashion and on TV. But several hours into the shoot, I thought: Wow, we’ve almost got a video. We’ve certainly got the album cover—we got that a couple hours ago—now I think we may even have an exhibition. And funny enough, the people who did the exhibition with me, the Vinyl Factory in London, would like to do a book because I have so much more than was even in the exhibition. It was quite a productive day.
Music video for "Beautiful Clothes," Nick Rhodes' directorial debut, which was shot in a day.
HB: Two decades for the album and a day for the rest. Are you working on that book now, or any other projects?
NR: Exactly! We’ve started putting together and designing it. We’ve started working on the new Duran album already too. I think it will be out sometime next year. And John Taylor and I are working on a musical together. That’s something that we probably won’t have finished for a year or more. We’re keeping ourselves busy.
HB: Where do you think the most interesting sounds are coming from today?
NR: Dance music. I think that still the revolution of synthesizers, which I was a small part of along the way, is creating new sounds, new beats, things that feel very, very modern. Rock music to me—particularly indie rock—sounds dated now because nobody has had new ideas for a long time. The last time I was excited about rock music was probably Nirvana.
HB: Any current favorites?
NR: You know that Daft Punk single you can’t go anywhere without hearing? It’s for the right reason, I think. It’s actually really cool, and it makes you smile, and it’s a groovy piece of music. It does a lot of things that I think people forget music can do. There are a lot of songs out there that moan and complain and protest — I get that, too. The best of those are some of the greatest songs ever written. But sometimes, it’s really great to just hear a song that will lift your spirits and make you think, “Wow, I haven’t heard anything like that before.”
HB: You’ve said that women’s fashion is more interesting than men’s. How so?
NR: On every level. Men’s fashion is more to do with accessories—ties and cufflinks and socks and shoes more than the actual garment itself a lot of the time. Of course there are brilliant men’s designers. But actually, there’s only so much you can do with a collar. You can make it really wide, you can make it really thin, you can cover it in velvet, you can cover it in satin, or you can make it round, but it’s still a collar. With women’s wear, hems go up, hems come down, it’s cut on the bias, it’s in shocking pink, it’s satin, it’s made out of some new oriental plastic. It’s much more fun to watch.
HB: That aside, do you have a favorite item in your wardrobe?
NR: I have an Alexander McQueen suit that I bought very early—it was probably one of his first men’s collections—that I’m particularly fond of. And I have some t-shirts I really cling to that I’ve had for more than 20 years because I like that sort of destroyed look. I think the best t-shirts are made by a company called Punk Masters. It’s a girl called Patty who makes them in California, and those are actually my favorite clothes. They’re funky, they’re irreverent, and they’re beautifully designed. Also, she half destroys the shirts before you even get them, which I love. It saves me all the time of having them for 20 years.
Courtesy of Harper's Bazaar