For many, Duran Duran epitomizes the ’80s, model-filled parties, yacht-filled music videos and flamboyant fashion, which is why their enduring popularity remains such an intriguing prospect.
Now releasing their 15th album and marking 40 years since the release of their self-titled debut album, one could argue that they are in the midst of a late career peak.
“It’s since we started working with producer Mark Ronson,” drummer Roger Taylor explains on Zoom.
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â€œHe took us to a purple area and made us become friends with ourselves again because we walked through many different avenues, trying to find different directions and different sounds and almost trying to sound like other people.
“We had to go through a process of self-acceptance to get to where we are with this record.”
As the name suggests, their new album Future Past sees the band, now all over the age of 60, looking back and forth.
The call of the collaborators is proof enough: pioneering indie DJ Erol Alkan, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, 23-year-old Ivoirian Doll rapper, famous Ronson and Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson.
â€œIt’s definitely one of the strangest records we’ve ever made,â€ Taylor tells me, recalling their recording sessions before the pandemic.
â€œWe thought we were almost done on the record, to be honest with you.
â€œWe had been working on the record for a few months and I know Erol Alkan wanted it to be a quick album.
â€œHe wanted it to be high energy, he wanted it to be very live the way we recorded it.
â€œAnd he thought we could do it all in three or four months.
â€œAnd then of course, the pandemic. ”
After months of confinement, the group returned to the studio with Alkan and their sound engineer.
Frontman Simon Le Bon said the forced break helped ease creative tensions between the group.
â€œWe came back with renewed energy and renewed focus,â€ Taylor adds.
“We had objective thinking, which we had never really allowed before in the record-making process.”
The group also got a few days in the studio with disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder, whose extensive CV includes producing singles for Donna Summer, composing for Bowie and, most recently, collaborating with Daft Punk.
â€œIt was like working with God,â€ enthuses Taylor, usually cool.
â€œIt’s so much a part of the band’s DNA and in fact the first song we ever played live together was I Feel Love.
â€œIt was so like that we wanted to sound that we would play it before any of our own songs that we had written.
“So he was such a part of the architecture of the band that it was really exciting.”
Taylor describes Moroder as “so focused and so musically intelligent” and it seems he was one of the few producers who could lead the generally stubborn group in the studio.
When we speak, the week before the release date the band just released a series of dates that include concerts in Texas, headlining the Isle of Wight festival and two nights in their native Birmingham. (“The crowd was hysterical”).
â€œIt’s part of our DNA to go out and play our songs to people.
â€œThe songs on this album translate really well in the live arena because they have a lot more of a live feel. I think they are more organic.
â€œOne of Erol Alkan’s visions was to come back to that more live feeling that we had on the first records.
â€œHe especially liked the early 12â€ discs because we couldn’t cut and paste back then.
“You literally had to go to the studio and play the 10 minutes to do an extended version and Erol was a fan of that and he wanted to bring that feeling into the recordings.”
The album also features Mike Garson, the keyboard magician who performed on nine of Bowie’s studio albums from 1973 to the 2000s.
â€œBowie is another divine figure to us,â€ Taylor says, recalling the band’s beginnings in their native Birmingham.
â€œWe have often said that there would not have been a Duran Duran without Bowie, because he was the common denominator when we all got together.
â€œWe all liked different bands. Andy loved AC / DC and Nick loved Kraftwerk, and John and I wanted to play funk and disco.
“But Bowie was the one person we all loved.”
Duran Duran’s early years as part of the New Wave and New Romanticism scenes have been the subject of much review, in documentaries, books and more.
That’s not surprising given the band’s resume – chart-topping singles, world tours, Brits, Grammys and an appearance on Live Aid.
How did he really get famous?
â€œIt was difficult and anyone who tells you it wasn’t probably isn’t going to be telling the truth,â€ he suggests.
â€œI was 19 when I joined the band and we all had lots of dreams.
“But no one said they were going to come true.”
He compares Duran Duran to U2, who saw his profile grow steadily over the following albums.
The rise of her own group, meanwhile, has been stratospheric.
â€œSuddenly we went from playing in a back room at Rum Runner (Birmingham nightclub) to playing at Madison Square Garden in New York, hanging out with Andy Warhol.
â€œWe had the huge following of teenagers that we weren’t really expecting either.
â€œThe kind of bands we liked were Simple Minds and Japan and Human League and Ultravox, a little more cult stuff I guess.
â€œBut we wanted success.
â€œWe were all very competitive and we were all very motivated.
â€œWe wanted a lot of success and we got it with two steaming barrels.
“But it was a very fast climb and a lot of groups around us had a much slower one.”
Unsurprisingly, however, Taylor is reluctant to linger.
â€œWe spend very little time looking back,â€ he said after a moment’s thought.
â€œAll the time that I was in the group, I always looked towards the future.
â€œWe are all thinking if something is on the radio.
â€œWe’ll say, ‘Oh, that always sounds great, the production on it was really good,’ but we don’t just sit and listen to our own records or watch our own videos.
â€œIt’s all about, it might sound a bit clichÃ© now, but it’s about being in the present moment and really looking to the future.
â€œIt is the secret of the longevity of the group, that we have never rested on our laurels.
â€œIt’s always about creating new materials. ”
Future Past by Duran Duran is now available.