Duran Duran Bassist John Taylor On How to Stay Relevant: "As You Get Older You've Got to Dig in Deeper"

Two years ago, Duran Duran released its highest charting album in 22 years. We spoke with bassist John Taylor (second from left) about that feat.EXPAND
Two years ago, Duran Duran released its highest charting album in 22 years. We spoke with bassist John Taylor (second from left) about that feat.
Stephanie Pistel

Best known for '80s hits like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf,” the new wave and synth-pop band Duran Duran have been making music for nearly 40 years and seen six of their albums reach top 10 on Billboard. With their most recent release Paper Gods, the band put out their highest charting album in 22 years — once again earning a spot on Billboard’s top 10. Now in the second year of the Paper Gods tour, bassist John Taylor says Duran Duran are revisiting their favorite stops of last year and will be playing Dallas’ Music Hall at Fair Park on March 21.

Dallas Observer: I’m curious about what inspired the album.
John Taylor:
Every time we start an album, we're always looking to make something that feels like classic Duran Duran, that acknowledges the legacy and where we're coming from, but looks sideways at what is happening in contemporary music. We're like little magpies. "Ooh listen to that kick drum part, we could take that." "Listen to that vocal sound, that wouldn't be out of place on a Duran Duran record." Those are the spices and the flavors that we're looking to bring to the formula. And then you have the lyric thing, which is constantly evolving because that's personal.

The blueprint for the Duran Duran sound as most people know it [happened] in 1982, '83, '84 — we really set out our style in that period. We're kind of looking for something that recalls that period but also feels kind of fresh and it feels like we have a sense of what's happening in contemporary music and culture.

It takes a lot of experimentation and that's why we spent two years making this album — not like 9 to 5 every day of the week but it was over a long period of time. We were lucky to have a lot of great collaborators in the room with us who care about the band and want to help us do a good job.

I'd like to hear if you have a favorite song on this album. I think my favorite is "You Kill Me With Silence" — that song spoke to me.
Oh, I love that song. That's one of my favorites too. That song exemplifies what I was just talking about. It's got this classic Duran thing, but it's also got this dark texture to it that feels quite contemporary. I'm glad you like that one. I do too. 

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The lyrics are so poignant and relatable. Is there anything that stood out to you while making this album?
Oh my god. I'm very sensitive and I'm not terribly good at sharing actually. I stomp around and I want things my way. And it's a collaboration; it's this constant give and take. You have to have a strong voice, but you have to be a good listener. And you have to be very careful about getting into ego power games when you're all working together. Everybody wants the same thing, essentially.

We're pretty tight, thankfully. The amount of time that we spend on these little experimentations that end up as songs — you've got to be pretty clean with each other, you can't have too much resentment hanging around or it's just not going to work. You've really got to trust in your partners and just be up for the adventure of it all. That's really what it is; it's quite fun really. And it's quite a privilege to get to do it. Having said that, touring is such an instant gratification thing. I could just do it all the time.

Really? You don't get worn out?
Well, I wouldn't want to do it 365 days a year, but it's such good fun and I love traveling and I love that interface. That's what drives me — that moment when the lights go down and you get to create this alternative reality for two hours. I love that. That's the magic that I tapped into when I was a kid and I thought, "That's what I want to do."

But in order to do that, you have to go and write songs and that's a different kind of challenge. It's not an instant gratification situation at all, and you've really got to be prepared to dig in deep, and I think as you get older you've got to dig in deeper.

Everything in the culture is telling you you're less and less relevant. It's that ageism that just exists everywhere. You have to really be prepared to dig in and find that gold. It's easy when you're 20  — you can't help yourself, everything that comes out of your mouth is cool. When you're 50, it's like "Really?" You have to be more selective about what you choose to say.

So what is your recipe for staying relevant? You guys have been playing music for almost 40 years.
You can't fake it. You've just got to want it. You've just got to have the burn and not get hung up on the past. So many of my peers that don't do music for a living don't have anything positive to say about contemporary music. You got to be really open and be prepared to really go digging because I think it's important that you have a sense of what's happening right now and it's important that what's happening right now feeds into the music that we're making.

We've tried making an album that was meant to sound like it was recorded in 1985 — it just doesn't work. It doesn't work when you try to rewrite your hits from earlier. You can't go back. You've got to keep moving forward. And to do that convincingly, you've got to have confidence.

Everybody's in it to win it in this band. They still have that desire to be cool and to make music that will make a difference in some sort of way. I think now, just being on the road and being some sort of catalyst for people to come into a big room and stand and cheer and dance together — I'm really glad to be able to do that.

That's got to be gratifying. You launched the tour last year, but you haven't been touring constantly.
We had a break at the end of last year. We've been on the road for about six months I think. You have to do that; you have to recharge the batteries. And we're just going back to places that we really love.

What were your favorite parts of the tour?
Well I love getting to play with other artists. We played with Bryan Ferry, and we played with Stevie Wonder out in Colorado. That's always cool to share a bill with big artists that you've admired for a long time. The crowds are amazing, our fans have been great and they keep coming. So that's good.

Duran Duran, 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 1st Ave., $55-$195, ticketmaster.com.


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