Duran Duran — Future, Past and Everything in Between
As the popular '80s band readies to embark on a U.S. tour, Next Avenue talks with drummer Roger Taylor about their latest album and more
In the 1980s, Duran Duran exploded onto the music scene with groundbreaking videos and so many signature songs: "Hungry Like the Wolf," "The Reflex" and "Is There Something I Should Know?" are just a few of them.
And they weren't bad to look at either.
Last fall, the group released their 15th studio album, "Future Past," and with it, videos very much in the style of classic Duran Duran. The band still prides itself on being revolutionary, and in 2021, they were the first to commission a music video for their song "Invisible" that uses film and gaming techniques never before implemented together.
Drummer Roger Taylor spoke with Next Avenue. What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity.
Next Avenue: Let's start with you telling me a bit about the new album 'Future Past.'
Roger Taylor: The title just kind of came about through a conversation we were having with somebody and the two words came up — Future Past. This album is all about accepting our past in a way. We've kind of gone back to our old sound, and dragged it forward into the future.
"This album is all about accepting our past in a way. We've kind of gone back to our old sound, and dragged it forward into the future."
It has a new sound, but at the same time, it sounds like classic Duran Duran. When you all sat down to write it and work on it in the studio, was that what you were shooting for, or did it happen kind of naturally?
I think we've been working towards it for a while. We worked with Mark Ronson a few years ago now, and Mark came into the studio and said, 'Why don't you guys try and start sounding a little bit more like yourselves?' He said everybody else is trying to sound like you. We'd just done 'Red Carpet Massacre,' which was a huge departure from our original sound.
We worked with Erol Alkan on this record. He also said 'you need to go back and mine those early records, use a little bit more of the rhythm section.' Erol set us up like a live band in the studio.
We played for days and days and came up with this phenomenal amount of material that certainly had a nod to the early work. Erol was a big fan of the early 12-inch records. We looked at those. Then with the modern production facilities that we have, we brought it into the contemporary era. People are really enjoying it.
A Return to Duran Duran's Early Sound
Was there anything when you were recording this album that was different from recording others?
Well, yeah. We used a lot more live drums. I think we went for a more organic sounding rhythm section. As I said, we tended to go down different directions. We've used a lot of electronic sounding drums over the last few years, and it was really back to getting the old drum kit out and setting it up and experimenting with sounds. So it sounded organic, but still very, very cool.
The drums kind of came back to the center of the picture again. If you do listen to those early records, I think the drums are quite an important part of them.
When an early Duran record comes on, very often it starts with a drum beat or the rhythm section part, and you kind of recognize it because of that. I think Erol wanted to capture that important part of the sound.
I mean, I heard 'Anniversary' on the radio today. It's got a lot of radio play here in the UK, and the DJ said afterwards, 'I just love that. You know why? Because it sounds like Duran Duran.' I think it's true. We're truer to our real sounds on this record, and I think it's only when you mature — you get a little bit older — you naturally have a bit more self-acceptance, and that's the case on this record.
A Younger Version of The Group
Tell me what it was like with the 'Anniversary' video, especially because it features all these celebrity look-a-likes from the '80s and '90s, and then you're watching a younger imitation Duran Duran playing and lip syncing the song. What was that like — seeing a pseudo younger version of yourselves?
It was quite incredible actually. It was really like being in the room with your younger self, like a younger brother. This guy that was playing the drums walked in. He dressed like me. He looked like me. It was very interesting, and I had to kind of coach him a little bit because he was quite cocky, and he was quite confident, and I said 'no, no, no.'
And that was not you.
I said that's not right. That's not me, particularly when I was 23 years old. I was shy, and you've got to kind of look like you don't really want to be there. You're not going to really look at the audience. You've just got to focus on playing the drums, and I think he got it. I think we've all had to deal with our individual characters. I was a very interesting experience.
It's been 40 years since your first single 'Planet Earth' hit the charts. As your audience ages, do you think they have different expectations of Duran Duran, or do you hope or think that your audience has opened up in terms of age and expectation?
I think they've really made the journey with us actually. We've got the most incredible audience that have been with us through every turn and every change and every blind alley. They've waited years for us to produce an album, and they just keep showing up for us. I think they're very broad-minded, and they never quite know what to expect from us next.
"I don't think anybody could prepare you for that amount of fame.There are no lessons that teach you how to be an international pop star."
But that could be a good thing.
Yeah. I think you have to keep your audience guessing, and of course, one of our great idols was like that — David Bowie. You never quite knew what was coming down the pipeline next, and I think that we're a little bit like that. And that keeps us interested, and it keeps the audience guessing, but they always accept what we do. It's really great to have an audience that's grown from teenage girls. Our core audience was probably an average age of 12. It's amazing these girls are now, some of them are in their 50s.
You've just described me.
They come back for us, and they still appreciate what we do. It's quite incredible. We're very lucky, I've got to say, to still have such a big audience.
The Life of a Pop Superstar
I can't even imagine what it's like to hear hundreds of thousands of screaming girls. So, at that age, it was overwhelming for you. As a result, I was a little surprised that you were the person I'd be interviewing from the band. What are you enjoying now about being in and playing with Duran Duran, and how have you grown so that, obviously, it's comfortable for you to do an interview?
I don't think anybody could prepare for you that amount of fame. There are no lessons that teach you how to be an international pop star.
The thing with Duran Duran was that was quite different from a lot of bands, everybody knew every individual within the band. It wasn't just like Simon Le Bon and the four guys in the back. The fame was throughout the band. So being thrust into that at a very young age was difficult.
I don't regret any of it. It was an amazing ride. It was an amazing journey. We wanted to be famous. There was some particular genetics that wanted to be onstage and be applauded by people, and you know, to touch a lot of people's lives. But I don't think any of us thought it was going to be so huge.
I took time out. I went away and tried to live a normal life for a number of years. I had kids. I had time to grow up and develop as a person, which we didn't have time to do in the early days. So, I was a very different person when I came back, and it was a very different world.
You know, I've talked about our audience growing up. When I came back in 2003, or whatever it was, the audience was no longer that intense screaming mass of teenage girls. Everybody had moved on, and the picture was very different. Certainly, I could take the subway in New York, go downtown or whatever. We couldn't do that in the early days.
When we first came to America, we couldn't leave our hotel rooms because there was a crowd of kids outside every day. So, it was really nice when I came back. Actually, it was a really nice place to come back to.
What do you enjoy about being in the band now?
Wow. Well, I love to play. I mean, that's what I grew up wanting to do. I can't recall that I wanted to do anything else but play the drums when I was a kid.
Fifty years later, I'm still in a position to do that, so I'm grateful. I thought maybe it was going to last a year or two. I thought I'd join a band. We'd probably get a few gigs, and then I'd have to get a real job after a couple of years. But 50 years later, to be still playing is a real gift.
Looking Forward to Traveling and Playing Again
I love playing; I like traveling. I like the fact that we create new music. We're not just stuck in the past. So, there's a lot to enjoy. It's good for the soul and the spirit, I think.
About the 2022 U.S. tour — how will touring be different? What are you looking forward to with the tour, and how will it be different from when you toured in the '80s?
There are usually a few tears in the front row from what I can see from behind the drums. When we play 'Save a Prayer,' there's usually quite a few tears because, I guess, it takes people back to certain moments of their life. Music has that great power to take you back.
Even when we play 'The Reflex' it affects some. When we played it in Birmingham (England) recently, a woman said she was crying. I said, 'Why 'The Reflex'?' I could understand 'Ordinary World' or 'Save a Prayer.' She said it just took her to a moment in her life that was just so emotional. So, yeah, we do have a few tears, but don't have that many screams.
I guess the main thing is we've got a new album that we're going to be out there playing. The set will have some songs from the latest record, and there'll be different visuals. It's going to be exciting, and of course, we're going to be more energized because we've not toured for two years, which we've really missed.
It's part of our DNA to get out there and play in front of people. It's going to be exciting.
Note: Duran Duran is eligible to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Voting is open until April 29.