Duran Duran: Back to business in a new place and time.
Duran guitarist Andy Taylor talks about the band's return to work and what that entails - dealing with the music industry, record labels and life on the road in 2003. Andy was also gracious to allow some talk of his solo, songwriting and production career. We had 30 minutes of scheduled interview time to cram in as much as possible. I think we did pretty well!
At the peak of their popularity Duran Duran were the number one band on the planet. In a few short years, they went from unknowns releasing their debut album, to five celebrated stars, whose pictures adorned bedroom walls worldwide.
The band's original and most celebrated line-up only ever recorded three studio and one live album all done within a seemingly impossible time frame by today's standards.
While the band lived life to excess and became ever more stalked as celebrities, pressure on singer Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, guitarist Andy Taylor, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor intensified. As their fame increased, things began to change and the band started to splinter.
By 1985, a mere 5 years since that debut album, the band had decided on a break. It was a break some members wouldn't return from.
Andy and John Taylor joined the hard rock project Power Station with singer Robert Palmer, Chic drummer Tony Thompson and famed producer Bernard Edwards. Sadly aside from the Taylor's, the remaining members of Power Station have all now passed away.
LeBon and Rhodes formed their own side project, the more pop styled Arcadia.
When Duran got back to business for the Notorious album, things had changed. Andy Taylor played guitar on only three tracks and continued on his own path as a solo artist and sought after producer, while drummer Roger Taylor had retired from public life altogether.
Duran continued on with LeBon, Rhodes and John Taylor as the backbone of the band for another 10 years, with Taylor eventually leaving in 1996.
The albums that were released never reached the fan base of the original line-up and in 2001 LeBon decided it was time to try and piece the original band back together.
One of the first on board was Andy Taylor, who I spoke with from New York, preparing for the band's latest stint on the road, a 7 week trek that will take them through select US dates and here to Australia, supporting Robbie Williams, while also taking in a few solo shows.
It was full circle for the band with a rather complicated history -
to put in mildly! says Taylor.|
The band has already played a range of shows that have met with wild scenes bringing back memories of the glory days. They even have new teenage groupies.
Andy Taylor says the whole band are really honored to be receiving such a reception.
We went out in July and did some shows in Japan and a few shows in the States and it just went kinda crazy. We thought, ok, let's do some more! We just kept putting shows together, it's been incredible. We did a show in London a few weeks ago that was the first show we'd done in the UK for 20 years.
That UK show saw over 200,000 applications arrive for only 2000 available seats.
It was mind-blowing. It was a small place with 2000 standing up tickets. The smiles on our faces it's great to have your band back and working and playing again, people have been so generous.
So just what was the catalyst for the guys reuniting? Fears of an 80's revival cash-in are quickly allayed. We've never actually stopped talking. says Taylor, We all saw each other there wasn't any great divide. There were no big walls or barriers to get over other than why are we doing this?
We sat down and within a short amount of time it was fairly evident that nobody wanted to do this as a one-off thing. It's too big a part of our life to do it quickly and dispose of it and kinda run out and make some cash.
That sentiment is supported by the fact the guys have been together now since 2001, writing and recording a brand new studio album, which is due for release in 2004.
The first thing we decided we wanted to do was we wanted to get back together and write. We spent the last year and a half or two years before we got back on the road just writing and putting that thing back together.
When you have such a huge past, a big background as we have you can play off that a lot of people do. But we felt that we wouldn't have a legitimate future unless we put something new together and actually took it to people and said this is us now, this is where we are at.
Most of [the album] is recorded. We have about a month of work to finish it off, to touch it up - it's really like making your first album.
You get together and everyone has all these different ideas, so it's been a very creative thing.
The band resisted jumping out on the road initially, preferring to get some new material behind them first. Unlike several other acts on the road, Duran don't want to ride the coattails of their past.
We didn't just want to go out and do that whole greatest hits thing. Obviously we play those songs, no one goes away from a show disappointed, but we felt if we didn't have new material in us and we didn't have a real reason to exist, then we probably wouldn't have done an 80's revival thing. We are very conscious about the fact that's what we are as a bunch of people. To passively get up and play a bunch of old songs wouldn't have really motivated us.
So we are bringing the new material into the set and it goes down really well and it works well with the old material. It's doing what we wanted to do.
If the band has any fears about the future, Andy doesn't let it show.
We had a huge audience, we sold truck loads of albums, so if we do something that's cool, people will listen to it. If we don't, then we would be selling people short.
The five of us don't know how to exist in any other way. We are an ambitious bunch I guess.
And five very different people, Everyone has a different angle, we mix it up in the middle and somehow it works.
Duran have already released some concert CDs from the first set of dates the band played in Japan and the USA, through online company TheMusic.com; it was another decision by the band to help them reconnect with old fans and introduce new material to those that couldn't make the shows.
We did some straight off the board CDs from the shows. It was one of those things where we thought we may as well do it and make them good. You always get bootlegged and they sound crap.
When you get back out again like we are, you want to get as many people as possible back in touch with what you are doing.
The great thing about the Internet and what that drives is that it allows people to find and consume music and we wanted to get everyone back focused on the fact we are playing live again and it really does sound great.
We recorded a bunch of the shows because they were the first shows we'd done back together - we wanted to have a memento of them.
The very first date was one of the most amazing dates in all our lives. There we were about to walk on in front of 8000 people and it was like fuck, we're actually doing this!
Now it's on record and everyone can share that. When you don't have a record label [yet] and you have been on your own as we have, you can look at all these other ways you can get in touch with other people and get music out there again.
Duran were famous for their signature hook lines within their songs. Their musical theme was feel good pop anthems, with big budget videos shot in various exotic locations further serving to help fans escape their own realities. 2003 sees the pop scene in a very different mood, but Andy suggests that Duran will continue to do what comes naturally.
I always thought it would be weird if Duran Duran came back but didn't have a great song the whole world could sing. That's one of the things that drives us - melodic songs that people can relate to has always been our thing. I was a Beatles fan as a kid - that song sensibility where you have to get a perfect 4 minutes out of things.
In this fucking dark gloomy world
It's something I have noticed with audiences in America. You might have a lot of grey days at the moment, but we're a sunny day. Music is escapism, its entertainment.
Before recent events, it was 18 years since the original Duran line-up played their last live show the Live Aid benefit in 1985. It's been 20 years since their last world tour one comprised of groupies, living the high life, private jets and no expense spared at any turn.
Now with wives and families in tow, the guys will tackle touring in 2003 a little differently. Andy Taylor included!
You can't do some of the things you used to do
.haha. I suppose you have to go at a gentler pace. I mean, God help us, you can't sit at home being a Vicar or anything. When you are younger, you are running on that pure naive adrenalin, you don't have any real responsibility aside from making sure you get there and play. And there's usually someone there to help you do that!
But yes, everyone has their own responsibilities now and that does make you easier on yourself.
You have to be! We play a long show and you can't beat yourself up too much over it as physically you just kill yourself. It was always good fun on the road and it still is.
As for hitting Australia, Andy and the band were last here in 1983, on tour and also recording parts of their smash-hit "Seven & The Ragged Tiger" album in Sydney.
I haven't been since the band, so it's been 20 years. We are really looking forward to it. We have nothing but good memories
.most which I'll keep to myself!!
I am so happy we can come back, do some shows and some big shows with Robbie also. It's going to be great fun.
It's just the 5 of us. No side men, just the five of us on stage. We have stripped it right back down to just the band playing. You don't have to worry about how it sounds
there are very few guys you meet in your life that you can work with, but the 5 of us just know what the other guys are thinking and where we fit.
The good news for fans is that Andy and the rest of the band intend on being back for the long haul. When asked about continuing to tour, one of Andy's favourite acts, The Rolling Stones comes under discussion.
What they have done I really admire. They have extended the longevity of rock n roll for guys like us. I don't know if I'd like to look like Keith, but I wouldn't mind his bank account. They have always inspired me, The Stones. They know how to get fucked up, but they also know how to make money!
All those guys have stayed right through until their late 50's, early 60's.
I mean, if you were looking at where you would like your career to go, then you would have to cherry pick The Stones. There is no finer example of where a rock n roll band should be and end up. People just love coming to see them as they have so many great songs. They are it, they are the most definitive rock n roll band ever.
Dealing with the record industry in 2003 and finding a new recording home for the band is another challenge that the band has faced. It's something they have spent their time together analyzing.
This is a very screwed up business. We are just about to put the ink in the pen - very close and very excited and very cool. It's one of those things we didn't want to rush into it. Record labels don't sign a lot of bands these days too. Whoever we signed to that's it. We just want to find a home and stay there and make records and do our thing and not have to look over our shoulder and have stability, which is something you don't have when you are younger.
We've kinda been watching the business fall apart and have been wondering how to take care of our business and make sure it doesn't get affected in the same kinda way.
It's interesting times out there
.when you are alive and kicking, like we are, we have been in the fortunate position where we can sit back and hold off until the right scenario is there for us to do our work and get on with it.
You want to have stability in the commercial aspect of your operation, if you like.
But we sound powerful, and we love playing with each other
.hahaha. It really works. Very soon we'll announce the label, and get the new record released, the first half of next year, because we've got to get out and play! Arrghh, there's a deadline!
All the members of Duran have kept busy over the years, with LeBon and Rhodes continuing on in Duran and releasing their last album together as recently as 2000.
John Taylor went on to record his own solo album and release a one-off album Neurotic Outsiders with former Sex Pistol Steve Jones, Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses, and Matt Sorum of the Cult and Guns N' Roses.
Andy spent the latter part of the 80's and early 90's as a successful solo artist, coincidently writing and recording his debut solo album Thunder with Steve Jones in Los Angeles.
The 1987 album gained a cult following and is still highly regarded today, and indeed, is hard to find. It's a time Andy has better perspective about today.
I suppose whatever you do musically, even if you don't understand it at the time, it is a reflection of where you are at.
When I look at the early Duran stuff you can hear the early club vibe from it, you can hear where we were at as people.
That Thunder album I did as the whole band was falling apart. Some of the songs like Don't Let Me Die Young were actually about that. When I look back it was quite scary
there was so much shit going on at the time. I guess that's why I went off in a more 'fuck you, this is me' guitar kind of direction.
It was trying to find your own identity away from what the cocoon of being involved in Duran Duran was. It was like 'hello, there is an individual in here'. At the time you aren't conscious of it, but when I look at it now even my wife says, 'you don't realize how deep that record is'.
It's one of those things you don't recognize the person that did it, but it was you.
A re-release of the album is being discussed for the future, We thought we might do that at some point, but I'm not sure yet, how complicated things are, with labels and masters and that. When encouraged to do so, Andy adds Well, the thing about Duran
that gives you the ability to bring all that opportunity (to re-release) back into your life.
I may get it out one day.
Andy Taylor wanted to be a solo artist. His first break on his own came with the hit Take It Easy from the film American Anthem, a soundtrack which he also contributed another two tracks to.
I did that all in America and after I did it, I discovered that it was a lonely world being a solo artist. Then I started working with another solo artist Rod Stewart and he used to tell me how lonely he was! It was funny
it was such a different existence for me.
It did ok, but it was a great way to express myself, communicate in a way people didn't know you would do.
That work with Rod Stewart was in the form of Stewart's Out Of Order album, a kick-ass rock album that won acclaim as one of Stewart's best albums in years.
But recording the album took so long; outside help in the form of Taylor's Power Station buddy Bernard Edwards was needed. It seems the duo was having more fun drinking than recording and needed a guiding hand to help complete the sessions.
Yeah, we needed a little help at the end
.not with the drinking though. Yeah, those were the days you know. Rod and I it's an English thing, as soon as it's gets to 6pm of an evening; you have to go and have a drink. It's just the way it is and we used to stick to that religiously. And the thing with Rod is that he pretends he's drinking, but he throws it away - he's a bit of lightweight.
Taylor's standing as a solo artist and producer received another boost when he recorded and self-produced an album of classic rock cover tunes, titled Dangerous. The highly energetic, good fun hard rock album saw Taylor and band really hammer the originals to within an inch of their life.
Yeah, sometimes I think I did go too far with those
Strangely, it seemed the project fell into Andy's lap, It sort of one of those happy accidents. Somebody
a very well known band had this idea to do that and they wanted me to produce the album for them, doing this selection of their favourite covers.
At the very last minute they pulled out. And I said to the label A&M I could do that.
The guys that managed me at the time went into overdrive 'you can do fucking do that as well, because you know how much money they are going to pay you to do it?!'
I thought, great, this is something everyone wants to do an album of their favourite covers.
The reason things are so raw, was that within 3 days we were in the studio recording this thing and it was done in that sort of 'ok, let's rehearse them and beat the shit out of them and play them and move on and just play them as you would do if you were in high school playing a bunch of covers!'
It was done in that very short space of time and raw, upfront way. We had a blast doing it!
When questioned about the development of his voice and vocal chords on the Dangerous album, the always humble Andy again plays it down.
I think I just drank a little more when I sung them! Some of those songs, you really have to bite them. It's going another place where people didn't think you could go.
You challenge yourself, you challenge the audience, you do something different. People weren't expecting it.
That's the thing about music. The thing that gets taken away from you when you get pigeon holed doing a certain thing is one of the things that destroys people's souls in this business. Right from doing Power Station, it was like, it's the same guys, but it doesn't sound like them. When we were in Duran, al the labels and management wanted off us was more Duran stuff, so they could sell it. Put you in a corner and pigeonhole you. I like to do a lot of different music.
Rock n roll is what I would die for, but I love music and I love exploring, doing different things and taking the challenge of playing, writing or singing on it
or producing it.
You are trying to achieve something.
It's no different from being a chef. You have to invent new dishes. You can't keep on serving the same old fucking crap up.
We were very young in Duran and to get pushed in a corner can be very difficult to get out of and all those things were a way of breaking away from a mold and the preconception of what people think you are.
Further production work followed. There was two albums with Then Jerico and singer Mark Shaw, an album for US hard rock outfit Skin & Bones and another for UK metal group The Almighty, which Taylor described as,
going to work with the Hell's Angels!
His biggest production credit was with UK melodic rockers Thunder. The band had just been signed to a huge contract and Taylor was given the task of recording and producing their debut album Backstreet Symphony, which again met with great critical acclaim. He worked with the band on the follow up album Laughing On Judgment Day and continues a working friendship with guitarist/songwriter Luke Morley to this day.
An album of unreleased material the pair recorded exists, as well as an independently released 4 track Taylor/Morley EP titled The Spanish Sessions. But Taylor isn't upset the material hasn't yet been released.
I don't think you need a record deal to write songs. You don't need any other reason than you want to do it and that's what we did.
There was a load of stuff we wrote, the reason we did it was because we wanted to create music. It's a far cry from why some people do music today they make it to order, which is pretty horrible.
I've got about 2 more albums of material [unreleased]
I have an absolute ton. My old friend Dave Ambrose who signed us to EMI in the beginning said don't worry Andy, everyone always has their wilderness years!
So out in the Wilderness somewhere there are a couple of albums.
One can only hope these songs don't remain in the wilderness for too long and that the successful return of Duran Duran on stage and on record with help open the vaults for eagerly waiting fans.
Andy Taylor remains a down to earth English bloke that never takes himself too seriously, but takes his craft very seriously. Not the fame, the money, nor the acclaim have affected his thinking. He's very much just one of the lads, but it's clear from talking to him he is happiest as one of 5 lads that make up Duran Duran.
Duran Duran Hits DVD is out now, their concert CDs are available via TheMusic.com and the new studio album will be released early to mid 2004.