Ahead of their MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst show, the British-born bassist holds forth on musical infidelities, and why he’s with her.
When I was a pre-pre-teen fangirl in Ireland in the ’80s, John Taylor was all over my bedroom, his broody, New Romantic gaze ripped from teen magazines to cover the swirling wallpaper alongside Janet Jackson and, unsurprisingly, U2. He played the coolest instrument in one of the coolest bands around—Duran Duran, hungry like wolves and sexy before I even knew what that meant—and he was gobsmackingly beautiful.
If I had told that shrimpy 10-year-old with the frizz bouffant that one day she would have a conversation with said swoony, art-pop god, she would likely have passed out entirely. Her adult self fared only marginally better when I found myself on a call with the affable, articulate, now-56-year-old bassist, en route to Portland this week for Duran Duran’s MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst headlining appearance. But when the blood returned to my head and my heart stopped loudly beating synth time with “Rio,” John Taylor and I talked early bedtimes, musical marriage, and why he wants Hillary for president. (This post has been edited for gushing.)
Duran Duran has been around for 38 years now, which is no small feat in your industry. What has kept you in the business?
I think it’s about focusing the energy. There probably isn’t as much energy on tap as there was 39 years ago, or 20 years ago, so you have to make sure where it goes is where it’s needed. Touring is a real example, because back in the ’80s, we were just party animals, and what we were on tour for was just the excuse. But now the focus is the show—everybody’s so focused on making the show as good as it can be. Everybody’s in bed by 2!
That seems quite conservative all right, by rock ‘n’ roll standards.
Not only is it quite conservative, it’s also not strictly true. But age isn’t an excuse. You can’t play the age card! You need more energy? Then work out harder! You need more energy? Stop drinking. It’s interesting about our business—what’s been proven is that nobody leaves of their own accord. Everybody that can do it is still doing it.
You guys are still doing it, still producing music and touring the world, and it sounds like you’re not even tired!
Well, we’re getting to do stuff we’ve never done before! We’re just getting to grips with festivals right now—we really only in the last few years have been embracing that experience, and what that feels like. How much fun that can be, and what an opportunity it can be. We’re not just doing what we’ve been doing our entire careers—we’re looking at it from different angles.
And you’re still producing new work still—2015’s Paper Gods got a critical thumbs up from Rolling Stone—which marks you out from some of your cohort.
We still believe in the idea that new music is the driver, and if you do turn off to new music—it’s not that you can’t have a career, you can, as a live act, but there’s a certain currency. We’re not ready yet to just be a legacy band.
We spent two years making Paper Gods and by the end of it we were screaming to get out on tour, because it’s a completely different discipline. But we know that if we can make the new recordings interesting enough, it’s going to be bring so much energy to the tour when we get out there.
How would you describe the band’s musical evolution? You started out as New Romantics, but you’ve evolved beyond that look and sound and on Paper Gods worked with the likes of Kiesza and Janelle Monáe.
I really don’t like having to define what our music is. I don’t know that it really matters, the answer to that question actually. I don’t think music lovers are looking for the answer to that question. I think people care less about genres today than ever.
When I was a kid, there were the rockers at school that only liked heavy metal. And then there were the girls that only liked glam. And now, if you like music, it’s pretty much a given that you like lots of different kinds of music. You put those different kinds of music in your shuffle and you press play, and it doesn’t matter what comes up next, whether it’s Prince, Madonna, Sly and the Family Stone, or Elvis, or Mozart—it’s just music. I think genre-fying was almost an industry thing because the labels were trying to define audiences.
It was for marketing purposes.
Yeah, but actually now, it’s all in! It’s like everybody’s up for anything! We have never had audiences like we’re getting this time. We come off stage and we’re like, “Did you see that kid losing his shit in his AC/DC shirt?” When did that happen? When did Duran Duran fans and AC/DC fans start crossing over? When I was a kid, when I was 17, there was the whole punk/disco thing. You couldn’t like punk rock and disco, and I fucking loved disco, but I was also a punk rocker. It was like trying to explain that you liked the Democrats and the Republicans!
You guys have taken time out and come back together a number of times over the four decades you’ve been in existence. What is it that keeps you returning?
I think there’s a sense of possibility, I think there’s a belief in each other. I’m giving you the marriage analogy, but every marriage goes through the questioning of should we stay together, or would we be better off separating, do we still have relevance? But there’s a reason for coming back together. Because at core, at root core, we believe that there’s this partnership thing, this yin/yang, this positive/negative that gets formed when two people come together.
We’ve all had enough experimentation outside of the primary relationship. I’ve got my rocks off, I worked with other musicians, I formed a couple of other bands, I know how it can be with others, and I just feel that these guys are the best all-rounders that I’ve ever played with, and we have such a fundamental understanding of each other. It’s not always pretty, but we’ve been around the block and our sensibilities were formed together.
You’re the one member of the band with American citizenship—you became a citizen four years ago, and live much of the year in Los Angeles. So, who are you going to vote for in the November election?
I’m a big fan of Hillary, actually, and I really hope that she’s the next president. I know a lot of people aren’t happy about that, but I think that’s the best of what is on offer, and the fact that the next president of the country could be a woman is huge. It would be massive.
Duran Duran plays MusicfestNW presents Project Pabst on Saturday, August 27.