Duran Duran, John Taylor, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Austin City Limits, Mtv, Future Past, Depeche Mode, James Bond, Mark Ronson

Duran Duran, John Taylor

Sunday Conversation: Duran Duran’s John Taylor On The Band’s ‘Very Personal’ New Album, Early Fame And More

Sunday Conversation: Duran Duran’s John Taylor On The Band’s ‘Very Personal’ New Album, Early Fame And More

10/17/2021 5:09:00 PM

Sunday Conversation: Duran Duran ’s John Taylor On The Band’s ‘Very Personal’ New Album, Early Fame And More

Duran Duran have a superb new album, ' Future Past ,' out this Friday. I spoke with bassist John Taylor about the band's 40-year evolution, from MTV stars to iconic career artists,

Steve Baltin: Did you find anything good in the record stores in Austin?John Taylor: I did actually. I'm quite eclectic, and sometimes I buy things, I don't know this artist but I just had to have it. She's an African singer. But then I also got... I love these soul jazz compilations. So this is a new England band. This is Lovers Rock, they're a London-based company and that all of their compilations are amazing. I'm also seriously in love with Agnes Obel. And then for you '80s fans, digitally re-mastered fortieth anniversary version of Ultravox's

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Vienna, which includes an instrumental version of the album on a separate disk [laughter].Baltin: I just interviewed Nick Rhodes about the project he's been doing with Wendy Bevan. And any time you get a collection of musicians who have these wildly eclectic influences, when you go through

Future Past, are there moments where you hear these crazy mixes of wild sweeping orchestral Stanley Kubrick-inspired scores and jazz soul collections and Ultravox?Taylor: Exactly, especially standing back. And once I really got to listen to the album as a whole, once we've re-mastered it and delivered it, that's for me when I started to see all the influences and all the unconscious inspirations and those kind of mash-ups almost, where Atari Boy meets Siouxsie and the Banshees and whatever it is, or the David Bowie tribute, that the last song turns out unwittingly to be. When we're too annexed in it and each of us is just trying to come up with the next best part, you're not really thinking,"Well, what about if we do something like this." You're just trying to do the best thing that you can do, but after it's all done and dusted, it's sort of easier to see,"Oh God! So that was where I was coming from there." And actually, with this particular album, I really rather like it. I really like that it's almost got the whole journey in a way. Even the vinyl version of the album, which was the first thing that we mastered, it had to be a 10-song version of the album, which was kind of frustrating 'cause we've been preparing like a 12 and 15 song [version]. But the first side of the vinyl album is just the first five songs, so it's from"Invisible" to"Future Past." And I feel even in those five songs, you kind of get the journey of the band. So, there's a lot in this one. headtopics.com

Baltin: What does the journey of this album say to you?Taylor: It's a very personal album. And to say that as a group album is quite a difficult thing to do. For me to be able to say to you about one of our albums, it's a very personal album, it's quite difficult because I'm the bass player. And typically we think,"How does a personality express itself in music and contemporary music?" It's probably through the vocals and the lyrics. But we were blessed really with this album to get started with Erol Alkan, who had a very classical approach to production on this record, took hours getting the bass sound, took hours f**king beating the s**t out of me, getting bass performances out of me, wasn't interested in any shortcuts. He did the same thing with the drums, with the guitars, it was painstaking. It was painful half the time. But, if you so desire, to be able to immerse yourself in the music, and actually hear Graham Coxon and Nick Rhodes and John Taylor. Actually being able to hear that in the music, that's not easy today, that's like progressive rock. And actually, I don't even mind using that term progressive. It is a progressive pop rock record, and I think one of the reasons is because you can really hear what the individual musicians are contributing and I feel that's happening less today.

Baltin: I'm sure for you personally, when you go back and hear this record, you can hear, you're a way different and probably more skilled bass player than you were, when you were doing"Reflex" almost 40 years ago.Taylor: Well, there's a spirit that you have when you're starting out and Duran were unusual. We had so much success at such a young age. I'd been playing bass for maybe a year and a half when we went into the studio to make that first album. I just played everything that I knew how to play at that point. And I think that's always exciting, and it's always exciting when you hear young people just playing whatever it is that they know how to play. It's why we love seeing kids give performances, 'cause it's so sincere, but it's fragile. And then you kind of get a little self-conscious and then suddenly you're like out there and everybody's talking about what you do, and you start comparing yourself. I remember I started hanging out in the Power Station in New York and starting to hear all these session musicians. And suddenly I'm thinking about all these incredible musical cats and I started thinking less of myself in comparison. And then the next thing was the rise of the sound player, the drum machine.

Suddenly everybody's programming, f**king funky base lines, and it's a journey. I think it's a journey for any instrumentalist, really, it doesn't matter what you play. I've been saying for years,"I feel like I'm going the way of a cellist." It's like we're an endangered species, electric bassist. But like I said, when we got started on this record, I was suddenly aware that I was in the studio with a producer who was really interested in me as a musical personality. And he was interested in bringing out the absolute best that I had to give and representing that on the album. So that made me feel really good and that kind of inspired me to just be the best version of myself I could be.

Baltin; When you go back and listen toFuture Pastare there things in there that surprise you?Taylor: Well, look, it's a snapshot. Songs are a snapshot. Performances are a snapshot. It's like it's frozen in time, isn't it? I'm in the honeymoon period right now where I'm feeling really good about it. Yeah, but then in time I'm gonna be like"I should have done that differently." I'm playing"Notorious," and the way that I play it now, I play it quite different. And it's taken me sort of 20 years to go,"You know what, you don't need to do that." Funny enough, I was thinking about, I had a back injury a couple of months ago, and it really f**ked me up. And I went into rehearsals and we had a very intense rehearsal period leading up to these shows in the UK. And I was being very careful, so I started playing much more economically than I would normally play. And actually I found that I unknowingly shook off a few little adolescent habits that I kept hold of. So I feel like I am still growing as a musician to your point earlier. And I'm definitely not the player that I was when I was 21. I love that player. There could only be one, one kid that was playing that knew about as much, that knew as much about the bassist Sid Vicious but wanted to sound like Bernard Edwards or James Jamerson. It's ridiculous what I was trying to achieve with such a little amount of technique, but I kind of love that. I love the spirit of that. But now we're all trying to be, look dignified, be age-appropriate, aren't we? And be cool and still make people dance, still get people dancing. headtopics.com

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Batin: For you, as a musician, was there a point where you started to notice that quiet and the space becoming more powerful?Taylor: It's been an evolving awareness, shall we say. I think we still kind of have that tendency rather like the Rolling Stones to sort of front-load our albums with tempo. 'Cause it seems like it's the quickest response to ageism, play fast and loud. So I think there's this kind of standard. The opening track on the album,"Invisible," is actually by our standards a slow tempo. And right as we were mixing it, somebody ups and says,"I think this is faster." It's like"No, we're gonna lose the space." But I'm listening to classical music at the moment. I'm just listening to beautifully engineered contemporary classical musicians. I'm really digging that and really appreciating the expression of that. And I'm trying to find a through line between what I do 'cause I found myself back on the road in my world, and suddenly my life is all about bass again. I definitely feel part of a lineage I suppose you could say of bassists. But we're all music fans in this band, we all take music super seriously and nobody sits at home playing

Ziggy Stardustall night. You just can't do that. To me, it's all about discovery. I like waking up in the morning and listening to something I've never heard before. That to me, is the adventure of it all.Baltin: I've talked about this with everyone from Iggy Pop to AC/DC. When you're playing for younger audiences, and you're seeing the show through their eyes for the first time, it can be very invigorating. So for you, when you're playing to an audience that's maybe there to see Billie Eilish or Tyler, The Creator, or Greta Van Fleet, and they're discovering Duran Duran for the first time, how does that inspire you as a musician to see it through the eyes of kids who are discovering Duran Duran still?

Taylor: That's why we do them, really. I think that's amazing. I guess it's just something ingrained in me. You're always looking to to make a new conversion. When I'm looking out there, I don't know whether they're there, whether they have any idea of who we are. Back to the album, we had this London female rap artist come in and sing with us, Ivorian Doll. We reached out to her. She was one of a couple of artists that we thought could be interesting to do something on the song"Hammerhead." And she was up for it. She came with a producer and a lyricist, and honestly, Steve, I didn't think she really knew who we were. It's like, in my untrustworthy memory, I imagine her saying,"My mom said I had to do this." And by the end, she was like,"Oh, so this is what a rock band is like." It was an entirely different experience. But also having her in the room with us and having that level of naivety like I was telling you, that I had back once when I'd just started. Having that kind of innocence, it's really charming, and it is kind of inspiring in a way. I remember like 1985, '86, we'd been making music about six years, and the f**king press were like,"Well, are you still playing 'Girls On Film'? You're just so f**king over, man." We'd be like,"Oh no, we're just getting going." And it's so weird because I guess that, back then at least, there was this sense that pop music was super ephemeral, and by definition, it was here today, gone tomorrow. But we've had to change all of our beliefs about pop culture really, because all of that ephemeral s**t is still great. And people still want to hear The Stones play"Jumpin' Jack Flash." They still want to go to museums to see Andy Warhol's

Electric Chair. And they still want to watch James Bond. And it's not as ephemeral as we thought it was. And we've also watched all those musicians of those ages go, but we thought even the ones that said,"I won't be doing this when I'm 20, when I'm 30," like Pete Townshend. He got to 30 and was like,"I still really like doing this, but I won't do it anymore if anything happens to Keith [Moon]." And then Keith dies, and he's like,"I still really like doing it. What do you think, Roger [Daltrey]? We've gotta get a new drummer." And I'm not judging. I'm just saying I watched that unfold. How '77, Sex Pistols, everything went out. Everything that came before was out. And then really rather quickly, new wave, post-punk, new romantic, techno, everything started coming back in again. But with a slightly less precious kind of attitude. You didn't really have to know as many chords as Steve Howe to be able to justify getting on a stage (chuckles). headtopics.com

Baltin: I love how you have this musical encyclopedia of references.Taylor: I don't know the last time I ran out of inspiration really. I get tired sometimes, but essentially, I always know I can go to music, and I can find it. It's a pretty amazing thing really when you've made that connection with an art form. Our band really, everything we do, it's just because we're fans. We're just crazy fans, and we were crazy fans in our teens. And certainly Nick and I, we never thought of ourselves as musicians. We'd never had a lesson. We'd never had any of that, but I guess there was a moment where suddenly I would say it's like the stages got lower and the price of admission got lower. And it was like,"You know what? We can do this." And then we were lucky. Andy was a hell of a musician, and he'd been playing a long time. And Simon's been singing since he was four. It's like the charm's good, but a certain level of technique is necessary also.

Baltin: Are there moments in there that you hear where you guys started to grow into the band that you wanted to be?Taylor: There are albums, theRioalbum for instance, and there are songs where you think,"Wow, I really got on top of it there." But more often, I'm finding I feel like I come up short a little bit. I'm just striving to be more than what I can actually deliver. But I don't judge myself on that because I think that every artist feels like that. Every artist knows where their ideas come from. It doesn't matter who you are and what people are saying about you, you know where you nicked it. And a striving personality is central for somebody that sets out on life's journey and said,"I'm gonna try to sell the things that I make." Whatever it is, if you're a writer or a painter or a filmmaker or whatever. You decide,"I don't want be an accountant, I don't want to work in an office. Out of my head, I'm gonna invent this stuff that people are gonna like." And you've already gotta have a pretty good sense of yourself. But I'm glad to be with these guys. They're amazing. They're all super talented and energetic and passionate. I think that's the key really. I don't think the world expects Duran Duran to be virtuoso’s. I think the world got Duran Duran pretty quickly. And a lot of people are like,"We really liked it." But I think you've got to be what your audience wants you to be. But you've also got to be the best version of yourself that you can be. So you kind of got to keep striving in a way. But when you got a band dynamic, it's kind of tricky. Because if I'd have decided in 1988, I was gonna be a bass player on a par with the best bass players in the world, and I decided I was gonna put five hours a day into practicing bass, if I had brought that back to the next band recording session, it probably would have been a complete waste of time. Because that's not what this gig requires. Most of the time, it just requires an ability to communicate with my partners. We need to be able to communicate with each other and respect each other, and just allow each other to express ourselves. I don't know. It's an interesting dynamic, and we're not unique, but we are unusual in that our process is very much like we're equal partners. And we all come at it with equal creative weight..

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