Drummer Roger Taylor talks about the band’s longevity … and what keeps them facing forward
MUSICWednesday, July 6 4:20pmBy Geoff Carter
In 1985, Roger Taylor quit Duran Duran. The drummer, part of the band since 1979, left Duran Duran when it was, arguably, at its first commercial peak—after “A View to A Kill,” before “Notorious.” He semiretired to a rural estate in the south of England and largely avoided public life until the late 1990s, when he rejoined Duran Duran as surreptitiously as he’d left it.
With any other band, this wouldn’t matter: Roger Taylor certainly isn’t the first musician to take an “extended hiatus.” But this being Duran Duran, the time off did provide Taylor with a perspective that the band’s other original members—singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor—can never attain: He left the band while it was a pop culture phenomenon, and returned in time for a new generation of fans (and musicians) to revere them as influential. He skipped from the first act, the meteoric rise, directly to the third—the victory lap.
Funny thing is, Duran Duran isn’t behaving like a band that’s content to relive its early successes. On their latest album, last year’s Paper Gods, Duran Duran sounds youthful, contemporary and as hungry as the proverbial wolves. Midway through a North American tour promoting the album—a tour that comes to Mandalay Bay on July 29—Taylor gave Vegas Seven a few minutes’ worth of perspective on his two lives with Duran Duran, and what keeps the band facing forward.
Your second tenure with the band has long outlasted the time you spent in retirement. Does it still feel fresh to you, this second life with Duran Duran?
Yeah. People still regard me as if I’ve freshly come back! They say, “God, Roger, it’s great that you came back. How is it?” It feels good; we’ve got something going that could really last a long time. None of us talk about retirement. The first time was a little bit like being caught in the middle of a storm, but we got through that, and we’re in a good place.
Do you feel like you’re still developing as a player—learning new tricks, new licks?
We’re all developing as musicians. John and I were talking about this recently: You can’t stand still as a player. You always have to try to keep moving forward, while you can. Every hour that you play develops your art, if you like. Considering the thousands of hours that we’ve played together over the last few years, there’s definitely been some development. We’ve also been playing with Dom Brown, our guitar player, for 10 years. We’re a tight, cohesive unit.
Though you’re of the 1980s, Duran Duran is not a nostalgia act. What motivates the band to stay fresh, contemporary?
We’re motivated by our past success. It’s quite a big thing to live up to. But at the same time, we don’t want to be stuck in the past. We want to be current, modern and vital. You want to be part of what’s next. That’s motivational in itself.
How often does the band write new songs? Are you writing while on tour?
We never write on the road. When we’re touring, we have tunnel vision: It’s all about the show, and every ounce of energy that we have goes into the performance. I do hear of people that write on the road, but that’s never been something that we’ve done. We literally have to shut ourselves away for as long as it takes in a room to come up with new stuff. It’s one or the other for us.
Who are you listening to these days? Who fires you up?
Tame Impala is big with us. I’m really loving the new Jess Glynne album at the moment; she’s an incredible singer. I can listen to a Led Zeppelin album, or to dance music; I like a lot of that. Everything and anything.
Let’s backtrack a bit. You’ve said in the past that Chic was a big influence on your playing; now, you’re touring with Chic’s Nile Rodgers. Does that ever seem surreal?
It is surreal. Arriving at the venue every night to hear Nile Rodgers playing those incredible songs that he wrote and produced … I remember as a teenager sitting in John’s bedroom listening to the early Chic records, thinking, “My God, this is incredible.” The rhythms and the textures of Chic were a major influence. To have had Nile producing our last record and playing with us is dreamlike, actually. He’s such a hero.
When was the first time that you felt fully accomplished on the drums?
My first instrument was actually bass, which I didn’t really get along very well with. Somebody at school suggested that I try the drums because they were looking for a drummer; everybody wants to be a guitar player or a singer. Drummers were a pretty rare commodity. And I sat down at the drums, and I felt that I could play. I listened to a lot of music, but I felt that I could play something off the bat, that I had a natural aptitude. But my father always believed that practice makes perfect, so I practiced and practiced.
By the time I got to jam with Duran Duran for the first time, I felt pretty good. John jammed with me on the bass and, hey, we weren’t Chic, but we could knock out a few funky rhythms.
What’s your favorite of the band’s songs to play live?
I’ve got a soft spot for “Save a Prayer.” Something about the lyrics and the melody and the arrangement captured something very special. It was a whole new side to the band: It wasn’t funky, it wasn’t disco, it wasn’t rock; it was a whole new vibe. And I’ve been really enjoying “Rio.” It’s high-energy; we wrote it when we were 22, 23 years old. I still love playing that one.
Is there a track that you don’t play live, but wish you could?
I’d love to see “To the Shore” put back into the set. It’s the darker side of Duran. That one’s dropped off down the back of the sofa; I’d like to play one again.
Would you ever consider playing a whole album, start to finish, like some other bands do? I ask because I love (Duran Duran side project) Arcadia’s "So Red The Rose," and I wanna hear “Goodbye Is Forever” played live.
I don’t know if that’s going to happen. We do play some of the Arcadia stuff sometimes: We play “Election Day,” and we thought about playing “Lady Ice” possibly at some point. But John wasn’t involved in the Arcadia project, and it’s very much about the four of us at the moment. It’s probably not something we’d want to do, unless it was a complete diversion.
What’s your single favorite thing about playing live with Duran Duran? Is there a moment in the show where you think to yourself, “I’m really glad I came back?”
The end of the show. It’s that moment of affirmation. Oftentimes, before the show, you can be tired; we may have just done a few shows in a row and you’re not particularly maybe in the mood to play, but that’s what we’re there for. But it’s an incredible feeling when you’ve completed a show, walk up to the audience and get that amazing audience feedback. That’s probably why we still do it—for that moment.
Duran Duran with Chic featuring Nile Rodgers
July 29, 7 p.m. at Mandalay Bat Events Center, $47-$138, 702-632-7777, MandalayBay.com.