John Taylor is the bass guitarist in Duran Duran, a band that stormed out of the New Romantic movement in the early ‘80s with a series of songs, albums and videos now considered classics. Duran Duran will release their 15th studio album this year. Pandemic permitting, they will play a series of outdoor gigs and festivals in the summer, including a headline performance at London’s Hyde Park on July 11. Taylor talked to Please Kill Me in late December about the past, present and future of Duran Duran.
It’s November 1998, and the former bass guitarist of Duran Duran is playing a gig in Florida with John Taylor Terroristen; it’s been nearly two years since he left Duran Duran, and it’s Taylor’s first jaunt to the Sunshine State fronting his own band. His post-Duran life is a sometimes humbling journey, but one which Taylor needed to go through.
“I enjoyed putting a band together and going up and down the California coastline and singing ‘Rio,’” Taylor said in a recent interview with Please Kill Me. “That was kind of interesting to me. And we did some shows across the country. And then we played in Florida and it was like this hurricane, and I think it was about eight people there. And I’m thinking, ‘I’m choosing to do this. Why am I doing this?’”
Taylor was in his mid-30’s when he decided to go it alone, in part inspired by a desire to settle down with his young family in Los Angeles. But he also wanted to see what he was capable of without Duran Duran. He wanted a new challenge.
“I think when you’ve been in a band really your entire adult life that is sort of enmeshed as Duran is, sometimes you just need to feel who you are,” said Taylor. “That felt important to me. And I don’t regret any of that actually, it was all good experience. And then I came back and I almost had to become a fan of the band again. So when I went back to the band, I went back as a fan. I went back because I wanted to be there, not because I was too afraid not to be there.”
The official Duran Duran video for “Planet Earth” from 1981’s Duran Duran album. Directed by Perry Haines & Russell Mulcahy:
PART 1 – ANALOG YOUTH
Since forming in 1978, Duran Duran have lost and regained members, but have never completely split. Taylor, who co-founded the band with keyboardist Nick Rhodes, left for a few years over the late ‘90s, thereby creating two distinct eras of his time in Duran Duran: The rise and fall (and rise), followed by the reunion (with its own ebbs and flows), the latter period recently surpassing the former in calendar years. Duran Duran, the Fab Five that first took the world by storm, filled out their ranks in the spring of 1980 with the arrival of guitarist Andy Taylor, followed closely by singer Simon Le Bon. Drummer Roger Taylor had joined a year earlier (none of the Taylors are related). In less than a year, they were signed to EMI, their February 1981 debut single “Planet Earth” incorporating everything Duran Duran was about over a sleekly futuristic four minutes (extended to 6:20 on the club-friendly “Night Version”.)
Taylor said Duran Duran’s rapid rise felt perfectly normal, as they’d all seen it happen before.
“I think all of us had been sort of pulling the bow back, you know, either together, or independently,” he said. “We’d all been involved in punk, except maybe Andy who was the rocker; Andy kind of came down a fan of Eddie Van Halen and AC/DC. But the rest of us were punk rockers. And the beauty about the punk rock movement was that you’d be seeing a band on a very small stage in front of a very small group of people, and maybe a couple months later the band would come back to town and they’d have a bigger group of people and they’d be on a slightly bigger stage. And then you’d read in the NME that they just got a record deal, and then they put out a single and they’d be on Top of the Pops. And then they’d come back and they’d be in a much bigger venue with a couple of acts opening. And you could see this unwinding in front of you.”
And the primary difference stylistically and between punk rock and post-punk was the danceability factor.
It didn’t hurt that the members of Duran Duran were all basically kids when they started.
“You can do a lot in a year when you’re 17,” Taylor said. “You’ve got nothing else, so you’re plotting every fucking day. And it never felt like, ‘How do we do this?’ I could see the race. It was like standing on the sidelines watching a marathon and thinking, ‘you know, this guy is going slow enough in this race so I can join in,’ and literally hopping over the fence and starting to trot along. I never felt like I needed to catch up with the Clash or the Ramones, or even the Human League. But you felt you could get in the game.”
Duran Duran both were and were not an overnight success. When they hit in 1981, they sounded great, looked great, had great hair and great clothes, and they put it all together in great videos when MTV was beginning to make its mark. But while things moved at lightning speed after Simon and Andy joined, there were two years before they found their footing under relatively little scrutiny. The tumblers fell into place at exactly the right time.
Duran Duran – “New Religion” (Live from the Palladium, NYC, December 31, 1982):
“To some extent Roger, Nick and I had already kind of evolved a sound that we felt was fresh because of the post-punk era, which I feel that we were very much a part of,” said Taylor. “And it was very much about claiming your own corner. In the previous years, we’d seen everybody jump in and want to be the (Sex) Pistols or the Clash, basically. And there’s nothing worse than somebody that looks like they’re trying to be somebody else; you’ve got to be something of your own. And the primary difference stylistically and between punk rock and post-punk was the danceability factor.”
Taylor was a punk at first, of course. It took the sound of Chic’s Bernard Edwards’ bass to help him find his own sound. But before then, Taylor was heavy into bands like Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, who he saw play at Birmingham University, with support from a then-fledgling trio, the Police. Taylor bootlegged the gig on cassette, and as reported in his 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran, picked up this exchange with the Police’s bass-playing frontman Sting.
Sting: We’ve got the Heartbreakers coming on next.
(Cheers from Taylor and one or two others)
Sting: They can’t play, you know.
JT: Fuck off!
Sting: Who said “Fuck off”?
JT: I did.
Sting: It’s true. They’re great guys but they can’t play.
JT: Fuck off, you wanker!
Sting: You’ll see. This next song is called “Fall Out”! 1 2 3 4…
“He was wrong about the Heartbreakers,” Taylor wrote. “They were awesome that night.”
Taylor would continue defending his favorite music after he fell under the spell of New York disco-funk collective Chic. Punk was already burning out in England, and Taylor felt soul and post-punk was where it was at.
“I argued with punks about Chic,” he said. “I’d say, ‘This shit is fucking great!’ And I never bought into the ‘Disco sucks’ thing. And you started to get bands like Gang of Four and Cabaret Voltaire, and suddenly everybody had like (mimics a motorik beat), a Joy Division thing, you know, and everybody’s going ‘ts-ts-ts-ts’ on the hi-hats. And that sort of very much defined that moment. That’s kind of what enabled a lot of those new wave bands to sort of move into America. That’s what people wanted.”
It was what Duran Duran wanted.
“It happened quickly,” Taylor said. “We offered Simon the job and asked him to join the band. And then I said, ‘We’ve got a gig in three weeks’ time; we’ve got to write like nine songs.’ And that’s what we did. And that was a time when record companies were just lining up to sign bands. Because that’s where the excitement was at that time.”
PART 2 – HYSTERIA
In 1985, Milton Bradley released Duran Duran Game – Into the Arena. The board game, visually cued by the band’s November 1984 live album, Arena, looked great, but many fans were flummoxed by its byzantine instructions. 1985 was the year the rocket ship that hurtled off the launching pad on “Planet Earth” finally began to falter as Duran Duran split into two factions, with two Taylors – John and Andy – forming rock supergroup the Power Station with Chic drummer Tony Thompson and blue-eyed soul singer Robert Palmer. The third Taylor, Roger, joined Le Bon and Rhodes in the distinctly more esoteric Arcadia. The Fab Five reconvened in Philadelphia on July 13, 1985 to perform four songs at Live Aid; that version of Duran Duran would not share a stage together again for 18 years.
Duran Duran – Save A Prayer (Live Aid 1985)
By 1985, Duran Duran had survived four years of open hostility from the “serious” music press; decades later, they’ve largely outlived the scorn, but a few members of the old guard have held the line. Writing in the Guardian in 2012, Paul Morley – who interviewed the band for the NME in 1982 and didn’t like them then – rehashed many of the same muso digs lobbed at Duran Duran over the years.
“…I hated them, in the ‘80s,” wrote Morley. “I hated them from the point of view of a rock critic taking pop seriously, even when it was just for fun. They fancied themselves as not so much the made-up boy band they clearly were…but as Peel-listening pop conceptualists mixing the Sex Pistols with Chic.”
Nearly forty years after Morley first interviewed Duran Duran for the NME, John Taylor said he thinks he understands the motivation for the hostility, even if he was confused by it then.
“When the NME started hating on us right from the get go, I was so disappointed,” Taylor said. “Because I thought we were of them, so why wouldn’t they be for us? But what I didn’t understand, what I hadn’t perceived at the time was that we were part of a media movement that was really threatening to them. Magazines like Smash Hits had sort of jumped on Adam Ant and subsequently Duran, and we were part of this other movement, this new pop movement if you like, that in that moment was kind of threatening to the black and white music tabloids. So they needed to draw a line, and they were like, ‘Well, we’ve got Joy Division, we don’t need them, so we are going to be anti-them.’”
Suddenly …everybody’s going ‘ts-ts-ts-ts’ on the hi-hats. And that sort of very much defined that moment. That’s kind of what enabled a lot of those new wave bands to sort of move into America. That’s what people wanted.”
As for the jibe that Duran Duran were a “made-up boy band,” Taylor said it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I think we were products of our own experience,” he said. “I’ve never considered that we contrived any of our positions. They felt entirely authentic to me. But I guess I could see somebody outside of that thinking it, particularly as we did make it quite quickly.”
But what truly rankled, Taylor added, was when other bands piled on, using Duran Duran’s cinematically lush videos for songs like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio” against them.
“I remember, I think it was one of the guys from Heaven 17 who made this point about…they called one of their albums The Luxury Gap,” Taylor said. “And they said, ‘It’s about Duran Duran videos!’ – though they probably said it in a Northern accent – ‘Because it’s about luxury holidays to places that no one can afford to go to.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, really?’ I was really shocked by that. I mean, that’s why I liked James Bond films. That’s why we liked the Beatles, because they got to go around the world. I don’t need to hear about the suburb I grew up in, I was more attracted to New York and L.A….well, not really L.A., not at the time. But Berlin, wherever…But then you meet a member of Heaven 17, you have a drink with them and realize you’re just the fucking same. You’ve just got a slightly different manifesto is all.”
The Power Station – “Some Like it Hot”:
PART 3 – DIGITAL TRUTH
John Taylor left Duran Duran in early 1997, though it had been heading in that direction for a couple of years after he settled in Los Angeles. He started a family there, and joined a casual local supergroup with former Sex Pistol Steve Jones; and Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, Guns N’ Roses’ rhythm section. Neurotic Outsiders played steady gigs at the Viper Room and recorded an eponymous album for Maverick Records in 1996. Los Angeles was home, and London – and his obligations with Duran Duran – felt further and further away.
“Well, I think the geography came first, in a way,” Taylor said. “And my development as a human being, I felt kind of like I was always the last one. I was the last guy in the band to marry. I was the last guy in the band to procreate. I was probably the last guy to get a dog, because I was caught up in addictions and all this kind of stuff. And I couldn’t cope with the back and forth. I reached the point at the beginning of something more important than being in the band, and that was to have like a functioning family unit. And it really felt like it was one or the other. I just had to step away from this transatlantic back and forth that I was doing to stay in the band and have this family back in Los Angeles.”
Taylor had already completed his first solo album by the time he officially left Duran Duran. Feelings Are Good and Other Lies, which included among its musicians fellow Neurotic Outsiders Jones and Sorum, was released in January 1997, the same month he went solo. Recording the album was an altogether different studio experience than he was accustomed to.
Neurotic Outsiders – “Jerk”:
“Compared to these immense productions, it was like comparing a dinghy to the QE2,” Taylor said. “It was so easy. It was like three days of recording, mixed, done. And I needed that. I’d gotten really close to Steve Jones, and Steve is such a comedian in the studio and in the workplace, and I really appreciated that. And then I kind of started to take myself a little seriously. I think then I started thinking that I could really go from dinghy to QE2.”
Once again, timing played a crucial role for Taylor, who found that the growing reach of the internet enabled him to get his music to the people much more easily.
“I thought, ‘well, wait a minute, maybe I don’t have to be on a record label and deal with any of that bullshit’,” he said. But the thrill wore off quickly. “I realized, what they now call direct-to-consumer, you’re just online 24-7 trying to zhuzh up the fan base. And you could be doing it all fucking day and they’d still want more. So that didn’t really work out.”
John Taylor – “Feelings Are Good”:
Taylor would go on to record other solo albums during his time away from Duran Duran, and he tried his hand at acting as well, most notably as directionless rock star Clive in Sugar Town, co-directed by Alison Anders and Kurt Voss in which he acts alongside Rosanna Arquette, Ally Sheedy, Beverly D’Angelo, Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet, and Michael Des Barres, a rocker with a lengthy acting CV who once stepped in as vocalist in the Power Station in 1985 when Palmer opted out of a tour.
PART 4 – IN THE PLEASURE GROOVE
In 2012, over a decade after he returned to Duran Duran, Taylor added “author” to his resume. In In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death & Duran Duran, Taylor candidly revealed himself to be everything fans might have hoped for: A great raconteur. At every turn of the page, he’s in the thick of it, recalling music and madness, excess and recovery, a life far removed from a childhood spent in the Birmingham, England suburb of Hollywood, an area glitzy in name alone. Taylor was compelled to write the book in part so he could get it all down for posterity, and he was guided by other rock bios he’d read, striving to strike a delicate balance between sharing enough of the story without sharing too much.
“There’s nothing worse than an authentic biography of anyone,” Taylor said. “I was talking to my wife (Gela Nash-Taylor, fashion designer and co-founder of Juicy Couture) about this recently, and I was saying that in the mid-‘80s there was this guy, Albert Goldman, and he was like the man. He did Lenny (Ladies and Gentlemen – Lenny Bruce!!, 1975), and then he did Elvis (1981), and these were must-read books. And then he did The Lives of John Lennon (1988). I remember reading that book, and it became apparent that if you put anyone’s life – yours, mine, any of us – under that kind of microscope, they’re going sound like wankers. There is no one who can come under that kind of scrutiny that is going to come out looking good. It’s the humanity that exists in all those many, many, many days between the contributions to the cool songs or whatever where they treat their gardeners like shit, or they’re unfaithful to their wives, or they get drunk and spit in the face of the doorman at the Troubadour. And you’re reading it like, Oh my god, he’s a wanker! I don’t want to read that! Now I know we’re all wankers!”
That isn’t to say Taylor isn’t a student of rock history, wankers or otherwise.
“I will pick up a book if it’s about something very specific,” he said. “God knows how many books I’ve read about Bowie’s Berlin sessions, you know? I’m fascinated by that period in David Bowie’s life and how he really dug in deep. And I like (author) Peter Guralnick, reading about how Elvis came together with his sidemen, and Sam Phillips’ sound and all that. I’ve read a lot of books on rock over the years.”
Conscious of the media outlet he’s being interviewed for, Taylor added: “And there’s no better book than Please Kill Me, by the way. Fantastic read.”
Taylor, who admitted to only having skimmed but not fully read previously published Duran Duran biographies, knew what he wanted his memoir to be like, but until he began working with journalist Tom Sykes on the book, he was unaware of how to make it work.
“At first it just felt like the longest interview ever,” Taylor said. “And then I realized that there were some things that I wanted to say and some scenes that I wanted to set. I mean recovery is a big part of my story, and finding a way to articulate that experience in a way that could be meaningful to somebody. I think sometimes it’s almost like you put these things down so you don’t forget. Because one day I’m going to need to read that book to remind myself what it was like. And that can be brutal insofar as there were timelines that I’d been living by, mythologies I’d told myself, ‘He did that, and then we did that, and I did that.’ And I’d get the timeline out when we were putting the book together, and I’d think, ‘Oh shit, it didn’t happen like that! Oh no!’ And you’ve got to reconsider the whole deal. But it was a privilege, really, to get to do it. And for a year there I was a published author, which was great.”
PART 5 – DANCE INTO THE FUTURE
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Duran Duran were deep into the recording of their as-yet-unnamed 15th studio album, which reportedly includes production work by Giorgio Moroder, Erol Alkan and Mark Ronson, and musical contributions by Lykke Li and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon. It will be the band’s first album since Paper Gods in 2015, which saw them work with Ronson, Mr. Hudson and Nile Rodgers, the Chic guitarist who first connected with Duran Duran on the single remix of “The Reflex,” their first U.S. #1 single. Also collaborating on Paper Gods were Steve Jones, John Frusciante, Janelle Monáe, Kiesza and Lindsay Lohan.
“In March, when this went down, we stopped and didn’t do anything for a few months,” Taylor said. “And then we started picking up and we had half a dozen songs that were ready to mix, so they went out to (Mark) ‘Spike’ Stent, who’s mixing the album. And then we started reviewing some of the songs, and there were still some vocals to do on some songs, some keyboards. So individuals would go in and work with the engineer and producer doing very small sessions. I’m hoping that we can just bring it home that way. We’re kind of aiming for late spring, but you never know. But it’s great to have some new songs in the bag.”
We’ve all been changed by this experience, by being cut off. But I think the actual coming together will be all the more powerful for it.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, Duran Duran have managed to keep moving forward without becoming a heritage act solely touring on past glories. Taylor said the notion wouldn’t even occur to them.
“We like creating,” he said. “There’s two sides to what we do: We perform on stage and we make music. And they’re very different kinds of challenges. Going into the studio is like four, five, six guys kind of trying to unravel a sort of musical conundrum together, and it’s challenging in a sort of left-brain way, I suppose. And going out on the road it’s like, I’ve got to keep my body really fit, I’ve got to look after myself. We’re receiving a lot of energy, but we’re obviously also away from home.”
Any band who’s been around for a while knows the old joke, that the crowd realizes it’s time to hit the bathroom when they hear an unfamiliar song. But Taylor said the gigs would suffer without new material.
“The audience may or may not appreciate why there’s maybe three or four songs in the show that perhaps they’re not familiar with that are on the new album,” he said. “But if they weren’t in there, I think they would know the difference. And no artist really wants to feel like an oldies act.”
Taylor acknowledged that for some longtime bands, especially those surviving despite acrimony in the ranks, touring the hits is just easier.
“For some artists (recording) is almost impossible because the process of getting back together in the studio requires a level of intimacy and understanding and tolerance that some artists, some musicians just aren’t capable of,” he said. “Whereas you can kind of go on tour and you can travel on different buses. But we haven’t got there yet.”
Duran Duran – “Pressure Off” w/ Nile Rodgers & Janelle Monae:
That isn’t to say recording is easy.
“It’s challenging,” Taylor said. “Duran Duran songs, they’re more than just songs. Every song is like, it’s a brand refreshment. We kind of ask ourselves, you know, is this bass drum sound appropriate? Is that verse line appropriate? Everything is kind of considered, I think because it’s so precious.”
Taylor laughed recalling how much has changed over the years in the Duran Duran studio dynamic.
“The first few years, everybody had their own corner,” he said. “There was the keyboard corner, the bass, the vocal, and everybody took care of their own shit. And I think what happened is we had lineup changes and technology changed as well. You know, suddenly everybody is in everybody’s shit. If I get to the studio late, they’ve got a fucking bass line already, some fucking programmed thing. And then I have to overplay to make my point. And they’ll never not be saying, ‘I don’t know, I quite like that programmed bass.’ Because we’re all experts in everything.”
If you’ve made it to be a bass player in Van Halen, or the Pretenders, or Duran Duran, you’re just going to have respect for your brothers, for your fellow bass players. You just are.
Taylor referenced the famous friction within the Beatles when Ringo Starr and George Harrison each temporarily walked out of the band.
“(Paul) McCartney would play the drums, and then he’d play the guitar part, and then he’d have to teach George the guitar part,” Taylor said. “Which must be extraordinarily frustrating and irritating to George.”
In Duran Duran, everyone has a voice and the freedom to give their opinions, but they also tend to have autonomy over their own contributions as well.
Fifteen studio albums into their career, Duran Duran are still driven to try new things: Reduced to a trio of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, the band leaned into funk with 1986’s supremely confident Notorious; two years later they dropped the techno-influenced Big Thing; 1990’s Liberty was a commercial misfire, and it seemed Duran Duran’s luck might have run out. But then came Duran Duran (which thanks to family photos on the sleeve has been unofficially dubbed “The Wedding Album” to draw a distinction between it and the band’s eponymous 1981 debut); thanks to the success of singles like “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone,” the 1993 smash not only saw them top the charts around the world again, it freed them from being perceived as just another ‘80s band.
After contributing to four tracks on 1997’s Medazzaland, Taylor was absent entirely from Pop Trash, released in 2000, the same year the seeds were planted for the reunion of the Fab Five in 2001. Duran Duran released Astronaut in 2004 (the only post-reunion album to feature Andy Taylor, who left again in 2006); worked with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake on 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre; then saw Mark Ronson – an unabashed super fan – co-produce All You Need is Now in 2010. Taylor said he understood that some of their albums over the years have been more widely accepted by longtime fans than others, but he offered no apologies. Each LP, each song is part of Duran Duran’s modus operandi to keep moving forward, to try new things, to keep it fresh.
“You have to be prepared to experiment, and nobody gets it all right,” Taylor said. “As the gold standard, we go back to the Beatles, and they made like 12 albums in an eight-year period or something like that, and none of them sucked, they’re all pretty great. But any artist that’s been around for 30 years or more, there’s going to be some turkeys in there, there just are. There’s not one artist that you can name that hasn’t done a turkey. They’ve got to be in there.”
No two Duran Duran albums sound alike. Even their first three, seemingly released one on top of the other between 1981-83 are totally different. Duran Duran – the debut – is an assured collection which reflects the band’s art-school, post-punk ethos; Rio – sometimes considered the Duran Duran album – adds a sophisticated sheen and unabashed romance to the mix; Seven and the Ragged Tiger is excess and brilliant bombast. And they never looked back.
“You learn quite early on that you cannot repeat a successful formula,” Taylor said. “It’s impossible. And everybody fucking tries it, and it’s humiliating. It almost looks better when you try something different. Oh my god, when you try to recreate a hit…You can maybe get away with it on your second album, but after that it starts looking a little suspect. It starts looking like you’ve run out of ideas.”
DURAN DURAN “All You Need is Now”:
Duran Duran haven’t run out of ideas because they keep changing the landscape enough to stay fresh and engaged. That process started when Andy Taylor left for the first time to pursue a solo career during the recording of Notorious (drummer Roger Taylor also left around this time, though less acrimoniously). Though the album includes some of Andy’s contributions, his departure led to producer Nile Rodgers and former Missing Persons axeman Warren Cuccurullo stepping in; the latter would go on to become a permanent member of the group until the reunion in 2001.
“I really missed Andy,” said Taylor. “Warren was extraordinary, and we were lucky to get Warren, for him to step in. But after that, it was like the guitar player was the empty chair. And I’ve actually come to really appreciate it, because we get to fill that empty chair with a different musical voice on every session.”
Taylor said working with different guitarists – including Dom Brown, who’s contributed to each album since Red Carpet Massacre and is a staple of the touring band – allows Duran Duran to follow paths they might not ordinarily because they know each other so well.
As the gold standard, we go back to the Beatles, and they made like 12 albums in an eight-year period or something like that, and none of them sucked, they’re all pretty great.
“They’re my brothers, and I’ve got so much respect for what they all do and how they go about their business creatively,” Taylor said. “But they rarely surprise me. And I’m sure that I rarely surprise them. So when you’ve got an engineer, a producer, a musician in the room with you, they’re going to be playing something that is different, and we’re all going to go, ‘Whoa!’”
The “Whoa!” this time around comes in the form of Graham Coxon, best known as the guitarist in Blur, who released the ‘90s most apparent Duran Duran tribute in “Girls and Boys.” Beyond Blur, Coxon has released several solo albums and recently moved into scoring film and television, including the Channel 4/Netflix series The End of the F***ing World.
“He was like the prize in the room,” said Taylor. “He’d start playing, and we’d all be like, ‘Oh, wow! Listen to what Graham’s playing! Let’s follow Graham!’ Follow Graham, because you can always go back to what you do…and you will. And that’s kind of that to some degree what keeps us fresh and what makes the albums different. And by being different they become interesting.”
PART 6 – ORDINARY WORLD
As with so many of us, John Taylor imagined 2020 going a bit differently. Tour dates were planned, then moved, then moved again. Taylor released a series of online video tutorials dubbed “Stone Love Bass Odyssey” in an effort to stay connected with fans. And on April 6, he announced through a message posted to the official Duran Duran website that he’d survived COVID-19.
Stone Love Bass Odyssey – “Girls on Film” Bass Tutorial with John Taylor:
Taylor devotes the last chapter of In the Pleasure Groove to Duran Duran’s triumphant performance at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival on April 17, 2011. I was there, in a field with tens of thousands of strangers, and hearing everyone sing along to “Ordinary World” was a deeply moving experience. Pandemic permitting, Duran Duran will be a part of deeply moving experiences at at handful of festivals across the United Kingdom – plus Rock in Rio Lisboa in Portugal – as part of their summer slate of shows in 2021. Also on their agenda is a July 11 headline gig as part of the BST Hyde Park series in London, with support from Nile Rodgers & Chic, Grace Jones, and more to be announced. Plus, they’ve got a three-night October stand in Ibiza called “Touch the Sunrise”.
Though they’d performed at mass one-off events like Live Aid during their heady first act, Duran Duran’s career arc didn’t truly align with the growth of festivals until after they reunited at the start of the 21st century. Timing is crucial.
“Everything that was happening musically during the ‘80s I feel either happened in a club or in an arena, or some point in between,” Taylor said. “Lollapalooza, Coachella, Glastonbury, these big events, they took on immense significance in the ‘90s. And when we came back with our reunion, we kind of had to look at that…We went up to Roskilde in Scandinavia (in 2005), which is one of those big clannish, tribal gatherings. And we went on before Green Day, who were on American Idiot, and were absolutely great. And it was kind of fascinating.”
Playing a festival can require a certain amount of flexibility from an artist used to headlining arenas. Set-lists are often truncated to fit time slots and curfews, and most of a production developed to reach the back row at Madison Square Garden is generally set aside for a festival due to the impracticality of trying to accommodate the visual needs of act after act after act.
“We’ve had to learn some new tricks, and I wouldn’t say we’ve conquered it,” Taylor said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got a bunch of songs that are great unifiers. And the biggest skeptics can be like, ‘Oh, you know what, I do like this one.’ There’s a couple of songs that just can bring people together.”
Taylor also enjoys playing festivals because of the camaraderie, something Duran Duran used to experience in television studios.
“In the early years of the band, we would do a lot of TV around Europe and you’d hang out with Billy Idol, you’d hang out with Van Halen, the Pretenders, Soft Cell, the Who,” he said. “You’d meet them backstage at Top of the Pops or something like that, and that’s where you’d get that fraternal sense. And that’s where you realized that genres meant nothing between musicians. The respect is there. If you’ve made it to be a bass player in Van Halen, or the Pretenders, or Duran Duran, you’re just going to have respect for your brothers, for your fellow bass players. You just are. It’s like that sort of DNA lineage. You go back and they’re a bit different, and they’re a bit different, but there’s also something similar. I mean ultimately, any kind of electric bass player, we’re all going to go back to the same electric bass players and we’re going to find a commonality…And I like hanging out with other musicians at festivals, you know? I like banging on LCD(Soundsystem)’s dressing room going, ‘Hey!’ And James (Murphy) is like, ‘You’ve got to come in, we were just talking about you!’”
Duran Duran – Hungry Like The Wolf (From “Rio – Classic Album”):
John Taylor loves music. He loves to play music, loves being in a band, still loves – to paraphrase Duran Duran deep cut “I Take the Dice” – the magical lash of the roll and the crash of playing music. He loves being around musicians. And he loves hearing new music. He lists among his favorite artists of 2020 Megan Thee Stallion, Yves Tumor, Róisín Murphy, Tame Impala and Hayley Williams. The Tony Allen/Hugh Masekela Afrobeat/jazz album Rejoice earns singular praise (“And we lost both of those guys this year” a solemn nod to a brutal, brutal 2020). And he also loves Sault, the secretive soul group who released a pair of astounding of-the-moment albums in 2020, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise), who Taylor would love to get on the bill for Hyde Park.
“Already, they’ve got a very interesting body of work,” Taylor said of Sault. “I’ll get on it. If you’re reading this, we want you!”
Taylor has always loved music, seeking it out wherever he can find it.
“For the most part the music I listen to today is way different than the music I listened to when I was 17,” he said. “I’ve got my favorites, the classics. My classics, if you like. But I dig them out only very occasionally. I can’t just be listening to the Clash all day long, but when I do go there it’s going to be more spiritual. But I like listening to things I’ve never heard before. I like the discovery, whatever it is. I like getting to know something. And there’s so much music available today, it’s ridiculous. And I’m such a pig. I was a pig when I had to buy it, and I’m a pig now when I can buy it and download and stream it. And there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t click on a dozen albums. And then a month later I’m like, do I still need this? BZZZT!”
Live music will return. Live music as we knew it, in clubs and arenas and in fields full of strangers. Hopefully it returns in time for Duran Duran’s run of summer shows. It may feel different, tentative. It may trickle back. But it will return.
“There will be a period where we’ll all grow back into each other,” Taylor said. “It’s happened in different ways, but we’ve all been changed by this experience, by being cut off. But I think the actual coming together will be all the more powerful for it. I think it will be staggered; it’s not like it’s going to be, ‘Okay, day one, here we go, all the restrictions are off and everybody’s going to run back into each other’s arms. It’s not going to be like that. It’s going to be a very gradual, and for some people quite reluctant return to normalcy. And it could take a while.”
But when it does, when thousands upon thousands of strangers are stood in a field singing along to “Ordinary World,” it will be deeply moving. It can’t not be. I’ve seen it happen.
Duran Duran – “Ordinary World” (Live at Coachella, April 17, 2011):
“I think that people that go to hear live music appreciate the experience of live music,” Taylor said. “I’ve thought about that a lot over the past few months. If you can be a part of something like that, you stand in a crowd and it’s all about the music, and it’s the music that brings you together, it’s the music that is the religion. If you have that, it doesn’t matter who you’re standing with. It just doesn’t matter. It’s a great unifier. We could have used it this year. And it’s going to be profound, I think, coming back and playing live.”