For the first time in a long time, it’s good to be Duran Duran. Despite the phenomenal success of 1993’s Duran Duran (a.k.a. The Wedding Album) and its Top Ten singles “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone”, Duran Duran spent most of the ‘90s on the ass end of an ‘80s joke. Then suddenly, everything ‘80s is cool again, and Duran Duran appears to be forgiven for whatever trespasses they allegedly committed in the first place. Funny what a difference a few years can make.
After an explosive US tour in late 2003, the Fab Five, reunited as a quintet for the first time since 1985, recorded a new album, Astronaut, have just begun another successful US tour and are enjoying the best press of their career. PopMatters’ biggest Duran Duran fan had 20 minutes to chat by phone with boyhood idol and bassist John Taylor (doing back-to-back phone interviews in Las Vegas) about old favorites, bad videos, and the proper way to throw a bass guitar in disgust.
PopMatters: So how are you guys getting along?
John Taylor: Good! Yeah, sure, we’ll say ‘Fuck you’ to each other once in a while. We’re all moody bastards, you know.
PM: I saw the setlists for the Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale shows, and was impressed with the songs you pulled out for this tour.
JT: That’s the plan!
PM: I was most pleased to see “Hold Back the Rain” back in rotation.
JT: That was one that we played for a little bit, and for whatever reason wasn’t doing much live. But then when we were on break, Roger (Taylor, drummer) had said that we should give it another shot.
PM: That would make sense, since it’s a very Roger-friendly song.
JT: Mmm, yes. Now, when we play it, there’s a feeling of, that’s what we do, you know? That song is what Duran Duran is all about.
PM: Which of you was the most resistant to the idea of a reunion?
JT: I don’t think any of us were, really. I ... I almost don’t want to answer that, because I’m afraid that anything I said would be subjective, right? I might name someone and they would say, “Really?!”
PM: Whereas they might say, “I would have said you, John.”
PM: The tour’s going well, but the album, after a Top 20 debut, has fallen off the charts. How have things gone according to your expectations, and has it changed the band’s outlook any?
JT: It hasn’t changed our outlook. We knew it wasn’t going to come easy. And besides, what are we measuring it against: Seven and the Ragged Tiger [1983, million-seller with three Top 10 singles] or Pop Trash (2000, not even their mums bought a copy)? By the time we’re finished touring, we will have sold 800,000 copies of the album worldwide.
PM: That’s not bad. Let’s talk about the album a little. It plays to me like a greatest hits record—
JT: [Disapproving] Mmm.
PM:—with different songs recalling different periods of the band’s career. Were you conscious of that during recording?
JT: Somewhat. We really just wanted to make a record that captured our sound, but also, well, would sound okay on radio, dare I say it.
PM: Your deal with Sony is for four albums, right?
JT: Yeah, but it’s all conditional. They sound big, but those deals are always based on performance.
PM: Are there any plans to release another single after “What Happens Tomorrow”?
JT: I’d like to. But it all depends on how that one does.
PM: I like “Nice”, personally.
JT: Yeah, that’s one of the first ones we wrote [for Astronaut]. It’s quite fun to play live, as well.
PM: I bet; it’s got one of those vintage John bass lines on it.
JT: Mmmmmm, yeah.
PM: Okay, let’s play a little word association. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. These are a little off the beaten path, so go with me.
JT: Oh, good, I love this shit.
PM: What you were thinking about each other before taking the stage at Live Aid. [July 1985. They had just hit #1 with “A View to a Kill”, but tensions within the band were at an all time high. Roger and guitarist Andy Taylor would soon leave the band.]
JT: [slight pause] Not much.
PM: The MTV New Year’s Eve Rock ‘n’ Roll Ball.
JT: [no pause whatsoever] Sex.
PM: Shooting the video for “All She Wants Is” [from 1988’s Big Thing, the video was filled with stop-motion photography]
JT: [long pause] Annoying!
PM: I thought you might say that, because it looked like a colossal pain in the ass to make. JT (laughs)Yep!
PM: Liberty. [Weak 1990 album. John was deep into drugs during its recording.]
PM: “Breath After Breath”. [from 1993’s Wedding Album, a Spanish-influenced duet with Milton Nascimento that is one of the band’s best songs]
JT: Nicely pleasant.
PM: Thank You, [poorly received 1995 covers album] and the subsequent tour.
JT: [given like a stage direction] “Exhale of breath”.
PM: I saw you in Chicago on that tour, and you were having so many problems with your gear that you spiked your bass on the stage like a football.
JT: Did I? You know what, I remember that gig, because it was the only time that we were on a bill with the Ramones.
PM: Um, I think you’re thinking of something else—
JT: It was at the World, right? [Tinley Park’s World Music Theater, since christened the Tweeter Center, just like all the other ampitheaters]
PM: Yes, it was…
JT: With the Flaming Lips?
PM: Yes, but the Ramones were not at this show. Stone Roses, Faith No More, Collective Soul, Sheryl Crow, yes, but not the Ramones.
JT: Hmmm, I must be thinking of Milwaukee or something.
[A quick check of tour dates confirms that he was indeed thinking of Milwaukee—it turns out Duran shared the stage with the Ramones twice—but was likely remembering Detroit. Three days before the Chicago gig, Duran performed at Pine Knob Music Theater in Clarkston, Michigan, on a bill that featured the Ramones, Flaming Lips, and others. According to durandurantimeline.com, the Ramones started a sod war with the crowd that continued into Duran’s set. That, along with the sound problems that plagued him in Chicago, led John to walk offstage in a huff. Three weeks later, he played his last date with the band until this reunion.]
PM: Okay, moving on. The lyrics to “Midnight Sun”. [From the 1997 album [Medazzaland , the lyrics are rather pointedly about John, who had left the band during early recording sessions.]
JT: Who gives a shit? [laughs]
PM: Fair enough. I had to ask. Lastly, selling out Wembley 25 years into your career.
PM: Which Duran Duran songs, singles or otherwise, do you think are the most overlooked?
JT: Erm, I don’t think that way…
PM: Well, for example, my vote would be “New Moon on Monday.” It was a Top Ten single, and no one talks about it anymore.
JT: Well, I love the chorus to that, it’s great and powerful, that chorus. But the verse is kinda bland.
PM: Okay, you’re tied to a chair, eyes propped open a la A Clockwork Orange. Which one of your videos, played over and over, would drive you to madness the fastest?
JT: “A View to a Kill”. Awful, awful video.
PM: Really? I thought you’d pick something else.
JT: Like what?
PM: Well, like “Wild Boys”.
JT: No, no, “Wild Boys” has some beautiful photography, great sets, that’s a wonderful looking video.
PM: How do you feel about bands like the Killers being compared to you?Are the comparisons fitting, flattering, neither, or both?
JT: Well, of course it’s flattering, especially when it’s a cool band. And the Killers are a cool band.
PM: Who’s in your iPod?
JT: Oh, God ... Thousands of songs.
PM: Well, what are you listening to right now?
JT: There’s this great compilation out in England, it’s called Future’s Burning. It has great stuff from bands like Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs, some really good new bands.
PM: Does anyone in the band still keep in touch with Warren [Cuccurullo, former Missing Persons guitarist who joined the band in 1990. He left after 2000’s Pop Trash]?
JT: Nick [Rhodes, keyboardist] does. I don’t want to say much about that, because it was [after I left the band], but really, he carried the band for a while. Without Warren at that time, we probably would have just broken up.
PM: Do you think we will ever see a UK pop act that dominates both sides of the pond the way you guys did?
JT: I don’t even remember the last time a UK band was Number One in the States.
JT: On the singles chart, I mean.
PM: Oh. No, I don’t know, either, that’s my point.
JT: But Franz Ferdinand has done well here. And Coldplay did too, right? Wasn’t “Clocks” a Top Ten single? So it still happens.
PM: Well, this is what I was getting at. Bands seem to get their one moment, the One Big Song, but that’s it. No one saturates the market with three or four singles per album like you guys did.
JT: Well, I think that’s because the industry has changed, you know? They don’t market albums the way they used to. They spend a shitload of money on that one song to get a hit, and if it’s not a hit, then they’re not going to have any money left to put into a second song.
PM: How did you find [Linkin Park producer] Don Gilmore?
JT: He found us.
PM: Any producers you’d like to work with?
JT: I don’t think we really need one at this point. Maybe we’ll do the next record ourselves.
PM: Speaking of which, what are the band’s plans after the tour is completed?
JT: We’re touring the States through April, and then we’re doing some dates in Europe. After that, we’d like to make another record.
PM: I’m seeing your show in Columbus.
JT: Yeah? Well, come back after the show and say hi.