When we admit Duran Duran’s John Taylor into our Zoom meeting, he materialises wearing a (frankly disappointing) nondescript grey T-shirt. JT’s rockstar hairdo – which he absentmindedly tweaks throughout our chat – is the only true indicator that he plays bass for one of the biggest bands in the world. It’s 9am in the UK and Taylor gestures toward a bowl in front of him. “I hope you don’t mind me eating,” he checks, ever-so-politely, before picking up a spoon.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Duran Duran making sweet synth-pop music together (their self-titled debut dropped in 1981), which makes Anniversary – the band’s latest single, and the third to be lifted from their upcoming 15th studio album, Future Past – a particularly timely release. Anniversary features a “doo-doo-doo-da-doo-doo” chorus refrain (which calls to mind their 1982 hit Hungry Life The Wolf), instantly catchy melodies, synth flourishes, textured basslines, metronomic drumming and an overall celebratory vibe.
Reflecting on Duran’s formative years – rehearsing, writing future hits and gigging around their native Birmingham before taking the world by storm – Taylor observes, “We kind of found our style with each other. I mean, typically with musicians like myself, who find their way with a group, it’s really only with that group that you feel super-comfortable. It’s like, when I’m playin’g with Roger [Taylor, drummer], I can sound like a really impressive bass player. But put me in the studio with a bunch of musicians that I’ve never worked with before and, I promise you, I won’t sound so impressive.”
Future Past sees the band exploring new sonic avenues and welcoming new collaborators into the fold – evolving, while still retaining the essence of Duran. “Especially if you experience success quite early on, I think it’s really tricky to find that balance between staying in your lane and being who you are, but also sort of growing. But not growing so much that you lose your audience,” Taylor laughs, before adding, “But then, at the same time, not boring your audience by not changing!
“The producers that we work with really have to have a vision – that’s probably the most important thing – and they have to really have their sense of Duran, and where Duran can and can’t go”
“I mean, it’s not rocket science, but that’s the science of the creative work that we do together as a band. You’ve got Nick [Rhodes, synth], me, Roge and Simon [Le Bon, vocals], and we’re all thinking the same thoughts: ‘How can I evolve my sound without losing what it is that people like about what I do?’”
Previous collaborator Mark Ronson – who produced Duran Duran’s All You Need Is Now record (2010) and also co-produced Future Past’s predecessor, Paper Gods (2015) – appears in Future Past’s liner notes alongside pioneering Italian composer/producer Giorgio Moroder and British DJ/producer Erol Alkan. “Erol’s been amazing on this record,” Taylor enthuses. “I didn’t know an awful lot about him [before Future Past], to be honest. Actually, I had a compilation album that he’d made for a German label – you know, it was one of these double CDs: one CD was curated oldies and the other CD was, like, curated modern sort of techno – and it was my favourite CD of that year. And that was really all I knew [about Alkan]: he was a DJ, you know? But then I heard he was kind of getting into production and he’d worked on The Man, The Killers’ track, which I really like, and we met with him and then we just really liked his energy and thought we’d give it a go. And he really had vision.
“I mean, the producers that we work with really have to have a vision – that’s probably the most important thing – and they have to really have their sense of Duran, and where Duran can and can’t go. And it’s usually slightly different to where we think we can and can’t go, and [Erol] sort of kept us within where we were able to be adventurous and push ourselves, but also stay within the lines.
“Graham [Coxon, of Blur] is a very unassuming character, he’s very droll and very low-key – very f-cking low-key – but plays guitar like a chainsaw”
“I think the opening of the album is like the Duran journey in five songs almost, you know? He really gave. And they’re long projects, these; it’s a couple of years in the making and hanging onto your hat,” Taylor says, chuckling. “It really takes a lot. Erol brought Graham [Coxon, Blur’s guitarist] to the table as well. Nick [Rhodes] had already met Graham and floated the idea of him working with Duran, but coincidentally Erol knew Graham very well and suggested that he be brought in.
“And Graham was amazing, too! Pretty much everything we did with him ended up on the album. I mean, those two guys are so hot. Honestly, you’d really have to f-ckvup to not make something cool with them; it’s almost ‘get-outta-the-way’, you know, because they’re hot to trot! Graham is a very unassuming character, he’s very droll and very low-key – very f-cking low-key – but plays guitar like a chainsaw. He’s a very, very nuanced guitar player; he’s like a delicate chainsaw, you know? We just loved his playing style, and typically we hadn’t had that kind of a guitar player in the room with us in a long, long time. We just had to let it roar.”
As well as Coxon, Future Past’s featured artists also include Sweden’s dark-pop sensation Tove Lo (on standout dancefloor banger Give It All Up), all-girl Japanese punk band Chai and self-proclaimed “Queen of Drill” Ivorian Doll (German-born English rapper Vanessa Mahi, when she’s in her civvies). On Ivorian Doll’s involvement, Taylor explains, “We were introduced to her by Rob Hallett – our agent of many, many years – and she came over to the studio with her team – with, like, a producer and lyricist – and the three of them went into a huddle with Simon. She didn’t really know what she was coming into, she was just up for it and we had the best time with her! Her spirit was just so amazing and we kind of painted this picture, ‘cause Hammerhead’s about a woman as a Marvel-comic goddess – like this kind of revengeful angel – and she really, really got into it.”
Falling, the final song on Future Past, features Bowie’s pianist of choice: Mike Garson. Earlier this year on what would’ve been Bowie’s 74th birthday, Garson curated – and tinkled the ivories for – A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day, a livestream that Duran Duran owned with their rendition of Five Years. “We’ve never had anything like [Falling] on a Duran Duran record before, and working that in – massaging Mike’s very freeform, almost jazz-style piano in with all the electronics and everything – was really a lot of work! Not for me, but it was a lot of work for the producer and the engineer,” he adds, laughing.
“Actually, the Japanese version of Future Past has Five Years on the album – [it’s] the track before Falling – and if you’re listening to those two songs back-to-back – for me, that’s very special. Bowie is the most impactful influence on us as a group, and, I mean, we lost David Bowie in the time between our last record and Future Past, and so it feels like it’s a tribute to Bowie in a way; to have the album end in that way.”
Future Past by Duran Duran is out Oct 22 via BMG.
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