Unlike other bands who prospered during the early to mid-’80s, Duran Duran continued to release quality albums on a consistent basis. And while the band is not as prolific as its adoring fans might wish, the group still manages to tour and fill capacity venues across the United States and abroad.
Paper Gods, the band's latest record released on Warner Brothers, spurred its followers to come out en masse to support — making it a Top 10 Billboard-charting record. Featuring 12 tracks and already a couple of chart-busting dance numbers, the band proved yet again they know how to stay relevant and current without sounding dated nor derivative.
[jump] Fans expecting the next Notorious (1986) or Rio (1982) will be sorely disappointed. Instead of a musical repeat, the band's ever-evolving sound has bridged the gap between well-refined electronic, dance, and pop.
From the onset of the magnificent title track (which clocks just around 7 minutes), one can immediately notice this release is different from the others due its multi-layered vocals and ambient feel. “Into The Universe” feels like it could have been an outtake from the any mid-’80s session which finds the band using keyboards and electronic beats with great effect.
The tour linup still includes core members Simon LeBon (vocals), John Taylor (bass and backing vocals), Nick Rhodes (keyboards and vocal effects), and Roger Taylor (drums) along with Dom Brown (guitarist) who's been with band since 2006.
SF Weekly caught up with bass god John Taylor recently via telephone while he was stationed in Wiltshire, England. Thankfully, he was quite the talkative one.
I worked the band's Astronaut (2007) and Red Carpet Massacre (2004) records for Sony as your sales rep many years ago. I'm a huge fan of the new album Paper Gods and love how the records flows. It's easily one of my top 3 Duran Duran records and that is not hyperbole whatsoever.
That is very kind. You don't know how great it is to hear that given that you've actually worked with us. To me, this sounds like a very complete meal. It still hearkens to the early sound of the band but includes more electronic sounds and some really great guitar work. Dom's [touring guitarist] role got reduced on the latest album since John Frusciante [Red Hot Chili Peppers] reached out and opened the door for newer guitar possibilities. After sitting down and talking with producer Mark Ronson, he suggested Nile also come in and play. The guitar sound kind of evolves over the album and the direction of songs are definitely influenced by its presence. We had worked with Niles on Astronaut, but the tracks went unreleased. Nile has had a major shift in his life since he went through cancer treatment, and I have found him to be extraordinarily inspiring to be around.
How hard will it be to get prepared to play this new material live and incorporate into the set list?
That's a good question. Roger [drummer] has his work cut out for him on this record more than anyone it seems. Right now we're working solely with electronic drums and converting everything from the album into stuff that can be played live. There is no real separation between pre-production and production anymore. With Pro Tools, it’s easy to record every little thought so we always try to do that and keep building, editing, and re-editing.
What do you and the other members do in between the album cycles?
I wrote a book in between the last cycle. Actually, it was very cathartic and moved the needle for me. It enabled me to let go of this project and was one of the reasons we were able to get inward and even more introspective with our music. I don't know that I can describe it anymore than that. It helped me feel present and in the now in the studio. Besides, I'm not very much of a relaxing kind of guy. I tend to get drawn into projects I can't finish. Even if I am away for a short amount of time, I still usually have to step away from something I started. Nick always does other things musically while Simon and Roger take a lot of family vacations. Simons also been doing more sailing than ever as of late.
Are you affected much by social media and criticism of the band's later releases?
I've unplugged myself from social media. People can do whatever they please. Honestly, I don't know if anybody could be as critical as I am. To me, it's always the thrill and possibility of an album being released and delivering a knock-out blow that keeps me going. It's too important to do things right more than ever and social media is a complete distraction.
Any songs you particularly love that stand out? I'm a huge fan of the title track and “Sunset Garage,” which has a stellar, upbeat groove.
That's funny you mentioned that particular song [referring to the latter]. I almost said that before you. I thought there were parallels between that song and “My Own Way” [from Rio]. I'm simply enjoying the whole story with 12 separate chapters and there's little moments found within each song. I try not to have any attachments. I am going to have to play these songs again and again and again. We put a lot of work into this album so that it doesn't disconnect with people nor the sentiment of the songs themselves.
Who is the opening act for the U.S. shows aside from Chic?
We have Clean Bandit from the U.K. opening the show. I heard great things about their Coachella performance. After we played a couple of tracks in the studio, everyone liked what they heard and we immediately asked 'em.
One question for the bass geeks (of which there are many) who follow you in particular. How much do you play bass in a given week and how many basses do you own presently?
I play anywhere from eight to 10 hours a week. Right now, I have like 20-something different basses and they all have their own use and special place. Of course I like my Aria, but also use Fender, Peavey, and Gibson.
Why a short touring cycle which only lasts from September 14 to October 8 in the U.S.?
We have a lot more going on and there will be several legs to this tour. We have to go back overseas and tour to support the record and have plans to come back in 2016. What you see on the band's web page is far from what we'll actually be doing in the distant future. In the words of The Carpenters, “We’ve only just begun.” The length of the album's touring cycle is almost entirely determined by public interest which seems to be very good. We'll be back.
Duran Duran play with Chic featuring Nile Rodgers and Clean Bandit at The Greek Theatre on Fri 10/2. Visit www.apeconcerts.com for more details.