Over their four decade career, the one constant for Duran Duran has been their embrace of the new–from fashion to sounds to technology and media.
While rooted for many in the soft-focus, high-production gloss of the 1980s, where they scored their first major hits and broke new ground with iconic videos, the band has continually forged ahead, the result of four restless personalities, each pursuing their own creative muses and ricocheting off one another.
So what happens when that forward-looking outlook is suddenly brought to a halt? A creative re-assessment and reset, it turns out, and a fresh new perspective. On a recent visit to New York to promote their latest album, the boys of Duran Duran stopped by NeueHouse Madison Square to chat about how they’ve stay creative and engaged, rediscovering their creative energy, and the importance of collaborators to the group’s creative process.
NeueJournal: To start, how did you stay sane during the pandemic?
John Taylor: Who said we stayed sane?
Simon Le Bon: Yeah, exactly.
John Taylor: I did a lot of painting.
Simon Le Bon: I got into music. I started a radio show on Sirius XM. It’s called Whooosh! It’s a weekly, hour-long music program. It started because my daughter came down into the kitchen one morning and I asked her to switch stations so I could listen to Radio 4, and she said “Oh, Dad, you call yourself a musician, and you don’t even like music!” And I thought, “Oh, God. She might be right here.” Because what starts with you getting into the taxi after you’ve been in the studio all day and the driver saying, “What do you want to listen to on the radio?” and you going “Actually I don’t want to listen to music right now – I’ve been listening to it all day,” ends up with you just listening to the material you’ve been working on and the stuff that got you into a band in the first place. And it woke me up, so I went on a musical odyssey. About the same time, Roger was doing drum tutorials online. John was doing bass stuff. And Nick was doing his art thing.
John Taylor: We’re all benefiting from his [Simon’s] radio show. I mean, it’s not something we all need to do, but it’s fantastic having at least one of us who’s really deep into contemporary music trends. Somebody needs to be doing that, you know? It brings a lot of energy to what we’re working on.
“The progress we make is partly about the collaborators we bring in, because if we get them right, they’re the ones that really fuel us, and sort of reconnect us.”
NeueJournal: Where did you draw inspiration for the new album?
Simon Le Bon: The inspiration, really, was just getting back in the studio together and finding there was this incredible amount of energy and ideas that were coming off everybody.
NeueJournal: When did you start working on the album? During the pandemic?
John Taylor: No, no, way before. In 2018. In fact, we were almost finished when we went into lockdown. Or we thought we were. We’d been working at it for about 18 months, I think. To an extent, the progress we make is partly about the collaborators we bring in, because if we get them right, they’re the ones that really fuel us, and sort of reconnect us. I think Erol Alkan’s got to be credited with a lot of the energy that he brought into the studio, manic as it was at times. And Graham Coxon too, the Blur guitar player who Nick had met, and brought into the fold. So, for example, that first day, when we got rolling with Graham and Erol and our engineer Josh, we came up with the song “INVISIBLE”, which has ended up being the lead single on the new album. That set the tone and it was a very exciting vibe. We also had Giorgio Moroder to look forward to, because we knew Giorgio was going to be coming over from Italy to work with us.
Simon Le Bon: We also wrote with Mark Ronson on one of the tracks.
John Taylor: It was a fun album to work on, wasn’t it?
Simon Le Bon: Yes.
Nick Rhodes: It was a real thrill with the Moroder tracks.
NeueJournal: How long did it take?
John Taylor: It was broken up over time. It was probably over a 24-month period.
Simon Le Bon: But we did stop for at least eight months in the middle of that.
John Taylor: Well, that was the miracle of this particular album, the fact that we had to take a break when we were on course to have the album finished for a summer release and we were out of our minds trying to bring it home. Never in 40 years have we ever stepped away mid-album and said, “we need to take a break”. Never. I mean, it’s so impractical, but this time it was forced upon us. And it really caused us to reevaluate and reconsider. And then when we went back to the music nine months later, we were like, “It sounds great, but we can make it perfect.”
NeueJournal: So it was a blessing in disguise?
John Taylor: Well, strangely, a lot of the songs that had been written pre-pandemic suddenly felt appropriate and very relevant. ‘INVISIBLE’ for example, which ended up being chosen as the first single. And initially I thought, that’s a weird choice–and yet, the more I listened to it, the more I felt that actually it really spoke to the moment. Same with a song like ‘TONIGHT UNITED’, the last song that we wrote before we went into lockdown. We had gone at that saying “Let’s write a song that brings people together”, and then suddenly that felt like it could be an anthem for all of us post-COVID.
Nick Rhodes: Yes. That’s a gem.
NeueJournal: How does it feel coming back to New York right now? Pretty magical, right?
John Taylor: It’s actually the first time in years that we’ve all stayed in the same hotel. It’s been great.
Nick Rhodes: John and I have been downtown for the last 30 years, but we’ve been uptown on this trip.
Simon Le Bon: We went out to Long Island City to do a shoot for Interview magazine yesterday. And I got a vibe when I was driving out there. I hadn’t had that feeling since the very first time we came to New York and went to the Peppermint Lounge and Danceteria and all those great places and clubs that we were hanging out at back then.
John Taylor: It was a strangely industrial area where we were. It felt kind of great.