By Rick Koster Day staff writer
They’ve spent almost 40 years in Fame’s oft-capricious spotlight. And through platinum records, supermodel wives/girlfriends, pesky personnel interruptions, yacht-happy videos with budgets rivaling James Cameron projects — and while musical and fashion styles have ebbed and flowed and empires have turned back to sand — the British band Duran Duran continues, as on their new and infectious “Paper Gods” album, to create vital music and stay mostly relevant.
And if there’s an occasional critical implication that their longevity seems part of a shallow sojourn enabled by the musicians’ photogenic qualities, consider this recollection by Duran Duran bassist John Taylor during a recent phone conversation.
“I was just thinking this morning about the early days and my first bass,” he says in a mellifluous and friendly voice. “It cost $25 and I paid $10 for a case, which was twice the size of the instrument. I had to stuff it with clothes so it wouldn’t bang around. I couldn’t fit it on the public transport and had to figure out ways to get around. And that’s when you figure out if you’re really going to go for it. You have to want to do this. There were a lot of hard times, and we certainly had no idea it would go on this long.”
Taylor is speaking in support of Duran Duran’s “Paper Gods” tour, which brings them Thursday to the Mohegan Sun Arena. The album, their 14th, is Duran Duran’s biggest-selling recording in decades, and goes beyond just a collection of admittedly addictive and dance-happy pop tunes and evocative ballads. Nile Rodgers — whose band Chic was a huge influence on DD’s early sound and who are opening the “Paper Gods” tour — and young visionaries like Mister Hudson, Josh Blair and Mark Ronson all pitched in on production chores. As such, the band’s distinct fusion of pop-funk and New Wave Romanticism is blended with contemporary sonic techniques and flourishes.
Also, as with current trends, plenty of guest artists pop up to fill out the sonic assault, ranging from ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante to ultra-current pop artists Janelle Monáe, Kiesza, and Mew vocalist Jonas Bjerre.
For any or all of these reasons — and the strength of tunes such as “Face for Today,” “Sunset Garage” and “Butterfly Girl” — “Paper Gods” has delighted not just die-hard fans but a substantial contemporary demographic, too.
“Well, we try not to rest on our laurels,” Taylor says. “I’m aware of our place in the continuum and am always gratified to hear that it’s resonated with younger folks because we’re still trying to be current. At this point, obviously, it’s really good if you can inspire someone to pick up an instrument or be in the creative arts.”
Taylor also exhibits a comfortable bit of “old guy” attitude about his job, and he seems to revel in his ability to glide back and forth between the respective advantages and realities of past versus present.
“You know,” he marvels, “David Bowie recently told Dave Grohl, ‘I’m just not made for these times.’ That hasn’t happened to me yet, but it probably will. The technology and recording possibilities alone today have created massive changes in how music is made and distributed. I don’t think I’d want to be in the radio or business side of the music business today.
“When we came along, hundreds of bands kept record labels afloat. Now, one artist keeps a multinational corporation. An Adele, for example. The rules change so quickly and you can’t have any specific attachments to any specific ideas. Being in the band is still fun, though. I just sort of enjoy it and marvel over our place in it all.”
A big part of that enjoyment is that, at this point, after several years of a hopscotch approach to band membership, four-fifths of the original Duran Duran have reunited and seem to be committed for the duration — however long that might be. Other founding members are vocalist Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor. Guitarist Dom Brown, who co-wrote many of the “Paper Gods” tunes, also serves as their touring guitarist.
“You know, there was a point when I left the band (in the late ’90s),” Taylor says. “And I was back playing clubs again and it was interesting and gratifying that I could still have fun and still enjoy that. I truly thought I was done with the band. Then I accidentally ran into Simon and we had lunch. And here we are.
“And who knows? Simon and Nick are never going to retire! They’re like, ‘Here’s to the next 35 years!’ I’m thinking, well, maybe the next 35 days.” He laughs. “But I’m so lucky to have those guys in my life. They don’t over-think what we’re doing. And I learn from that.”
As for the notorious Duran Duran image — with the musicians in their mid-to-late 50s — the band absolutely still has a collective, major star aura and perceived lifestyle. Taylor, for example, is married to Gela Nash, the co-founder of Juicy Couture.
Still glamorous, right?
“I don’t know about that,” Taylor says thoughtfully. “We were getting ready to go to a Grammy party recently and my wife said, ‘Are you going to really wear those shoes?’ And I said, ‘What’s wrong with my shoes? Justin Bieber wears them.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, well, he’s Justin Bieber!’”
If You Go
Who: Duran Duran with Chic and Shamir
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena
How much: $63.90 and $83.90
Info: mohegansun.com, 1-888-664-3426
Courtesy The Day