Interview by Susan Hodgetts
Your new album is quite a departure from your old stuff. How did you come to make such a departure, and what led you to go down the route to clubland?
NR: I think we just reached a point in September last year when we’d been working on Reportage [a previous album Duran had recorded before Red Carpet Massacre, which they then scrapped] for about a year. We needed a couple of extra tracks. It was quite a strong record, more rock based, but we decided it would be nice to have a couple of groove tracks and so we had been talking to Timbaland for a while. We thought we’ll go and finish the record with him, got in the studio and Justin Timberlake also wanted to join the sessions, which we were thrilled about! We got to the studio, and [Andy Taylor] hadn’t turned up. We’d sort of been drifting apart a bit, and we thought well it’s a great opportunity, let’s just carry on, write some songs, see what we get. We got 3 songs in 5 days. The first one was Night Runner, then we got Zoom In and then Skin Divers, and once we got the 3 of those, we all sort of listened to them, looked at each other and said, you know what, this is much more exciting than what we’ve got. It feels fresh, it’s a new direction – we need something like this. We need this album to be special, we can’t just put out another Duran Duran album, it’s got to be a really strong Duran Duran album. So we persuaded Nate Hills, who was Timbaland’s co-producer on those 3 tracks to come over to England and we said let’s do some more tracks with Nate and see what happens. And at that stage there was no turning back, because we discovered our sort of dance roots and we were having a lot of fun. So that really was it and then we carried on and just kept making it and we just put all the other material on ice. I mean maybe one day it might surface but it was a very different kind of record and this one just feels very ‘now’.
So nothing from ‘Reportage’ made it?
NR: Nothing, nothing at all.
Was that a bit gutting [to just sort of ditch everything you’d done?
RT: No, because we’ve actually got our own basement tapes now! It’s locked away in a vault.
NR: We might release it one day, cos it’s a great album, we’re very proud of that record but this was so much more exciting to us now.
What are your favourite tracks from the new album?
RT: I think Falling Down is the best song from the album. The cool thing is that the album was actually finished, we had a whole set of new material ready to be mixed and released, and Justin [Timberlake] called us and said he’d listened to the whole album and he thought we were missing one song.
So it was kind of like an after thought?
RT: It was kind of like an afterthought, yes, he just happened to be up in Manchester doing a gig up there and we drove up there to see him. He said, you know, I think you should have an Ordinary World or a Save a Prayer type song for the album, and we worked through the night with him and it was pretty much finished by the time dawn broke. Then obviously it became the first single, the record company loved it and said that’s your first single! And it was great to just find a gem right at the end of the whole process. I love Last Man Standing too, that’s a lovely, great, sensitive, darker kind of Duran Duran style song. I’m really pleased we got an instrumental on it too, we always used to. 2 out of the first 3 albums had instrumentals on them so it’s good to get that back. [Tripped] is like Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees meets modern day techno almost.
NR: Skin Divers is my favourite. I think it’s the perfect merger of the Timbaland beats and Duran Duran. The way we put it together as well, it was so exciting. We all plugged in and jammed together. Hearing the sound the 4 of us made with Timbaland and Nate playing as well – WOW! What’s that?! It just felt so new and they had fun doing it too. You can always tell when Tim’s having fun cos he’s quite sullen some of the time and then suddenly he’ll start to smile, then he’s beaming and you know, his head starts going.
RT: Nite Runner was a great moment when we were recording. We were saying earlier it was a bit like the United Nations of music meeting to try and work something out together, cos you had Timbaland who’s coming from his hip-hop world, you’ve got Justin, who, obviously, very young….nobody knew what was going to happen, we all kind of looked at each other, it was like a stand-off almost….
NR: We all started jamming and it suddenly made perfect sense.
So how did Justin Timberlake get involved? He was a fan of yours, wasn’t he? Did he come to you?
NR: We first met Justin at the MTV Awards when we went there to give him an award for the Best Dance Artist or something in New York and we also met Tim that night briefly, with Missy Elliott. Everybody was excited, and full of energy, saying “Oh, we should do something together, we should do something”, and you always say that to artists that you like, and it usually doesn’t happen. Anyway, about a year and a half later, Justin flew over to London to give us a Brit Award which was a Lifetime Achievement Award or something, and we were very touched by that. It was very gracious for him just to fly in, just to give us the award, and so we talked again and said we’d really like to do something. So then another year on or something we were in New York and we’d booked some sessions with Timbaland who we’d wanted to work with for a long time. We’d finally got together last September and it so happened that Justin was in town, and he said listen I’d love to come and join the sessions. I’ve only got one day, but could we work together on that day as well. We said of course, that’d be great. So he came along and we did Nite Runner together and I’m sure he would have stayed longer if he hadn’t had to come over and start promoting his album. But then towards the end of the album, literally when we thought we’d finished, his tour had reached the UK and he was here and he had 2 days off in Manchester. He said why don’t you come up to Manchester and let’s do another song, and that’s when we put together Falling Down. Justin had isolated the fact that he thought we were missing what he calls a tempo ballad, and so that was it, we went and wrote a tempo ballad. We’ve never heard that term before, but it’s cool!
You’ve had such an amazing career, how do you manage to keep it fresh – what’s your secret?
RT: It’s about looking forward, I think. You can’t look back. You can’t be driving a car and look backwards, you’ve just got to keep your eyes on the road and keep looking forward and not be afraid of new ideas and new people. People have said to us, didn’t you feel a bit strange, you’ve been around for so long but you were working with a young guy who’s just had success over the last 2 or 3 years and we said, no we’re thrilled to, contemporary music and what’s happening now and that.
NR: Being open-minded and being able to spot the things that can work. We’re real pop culture kids. We grew up on this stuff and we like to consume in that way. We see a lot of movies, we listen to a lot of music, we read a lot of stuff between us, and I am particularly interested in photography. We’re all interested in modern art and that sort of stuff and that’s what we surround ourselves with, and so when there’s developments in technology…I mean recently we got involved with the internet site Second Life. Those kind of things are interesting to us because it’s a new way of looking at something and you have to see what you can do with it.
RT: The first label that this band had was the Futurists, before New Romantic, or the Americans called us New Wave, it was the Futurist movement. So I think it was all about embracing new ideas and not being afraid to venture where things took you. I mean I remember when videos first came out. There was a big uprising among the rock people, they said it was going to be the death of music. It was like trying to keep the steam train going! They just didn’t want to step into the next decade of culture.
So talking about Second Life, will you be doing gigs on there, do your virtual band all look like you?
NR: We haven’t opened it yet. We did plan on opening it some months ago, but the project became much bigger than we’d first anticipated. We built quite an ambitious world in there. It’s got some references to some of our things, some of the areas are named after words in songs. The reason it was interesting to build something was that we thought how cool it would be for our fans to be able to go in to this second life world in their own avatars and sort of have a little life in there with other like-minded people. I don’t know how much time we’ll actually physically spend in there but really it was built with the fans in mind to give them an in-world environment where they could just do stuff.
RT: Well I conducted an interesting experiment. They said ok well you can have an avatar and just go in there and have a look. Well, I’m not going to go in as a guy.
NR: I think there’s something deeply wrong here!
RT: I went in as a female just to see what it felt like to be a girl in there so I went in in these little hotpants and stuff and it was really interesting to spend a few hours as a girl.
Were you playing out some sort of long held fantasy?
RT: (laughs) probably. Well I got to realise what it’s like being a girl walking into a nightclub!
Did you get chatted up?
RT: Completely, yeah. But you can be completely anonymous, look how you want, be how you want, that’s why people love it I think.
You became good friends with [the American [pop] artist] Andy Warhol. How did you meet?
NR: We met him the first time we were in New York. We went to The Factory and had lunch with him. And then he came to our show, the first show we really played there, and then I actually became very close to him. Every time I went to New York, I didn’t really know that many people there. I mean I was 18 when we first went there I think, and so I just called up Andy every time I was going to say ok, I’m coming to town, so where shall we go, what shall we do?
RT: My Mum has still got a picture of herself with Andy Warhol on her sideboard, because she came to see us at Madison Square Garden and there’s Andy Warhol standing there and she’s got this incredible picture with him. But he was just everywhere.
NR: I loved Andy very dearly. It was such a terrible loss when he died because he was so much hipper and sharper in his 50s than anyone I knew that was in their 20s. He had his finger right on the pulse of everything and such great ideas, and if you think about what he did and said in his lifetime, he really is the most important artist of the last century to me – he invented what we all think about now as the cult of celebrity. He got that way before anybody else.
RT: For him it was more important your level of celebrity really than anything you’d done, which parties they [the celebrities] were at, which models were there, he kind of invented that whole celebrity thing.
NT: He understood everything about television, everything about news media. Those paintings of the car crashes are some of the most extraordinary paintings that anyone’s ever done.
RT: But you had this feeling that he was somehow looking from a much higher level, looking in a detached, very ironic, way which is completely lost nowadays I think in the celebrity culture.
NR: And he was so funny. So funny. That’s what I think doesn’t come over to people that didn’t know him so much. You think of him as being this detached, almost icy personality, which I think he could be out of shyness sometimes more than anything else, but he was so funny sometimes. Really funny.
RT: One of his most famous traits was telling people what other people had said about them. But everyone still loved him.
Which are your favourite Duran Duran tracks of all time?
RT: Well we’re all sort of so much about the new album, that it’s very difficult to push us past what we’ve just done, but so many of them. The fact that we fight every night about which songs to play, we have so much to choose from.
NR: It gets harder with every new record you make, because then there’s another 12 or 15 songs or something that you’ve made which means that there’s less room in the set for some of the older ones, so sometimes we have to lose songs like Rio or Hungry Like the Wolf and you always get someone afterwards saying oh you didn’t play my favourite, and it’s very hard to get it right for everybody.
You are playing Broadway in November on a record 2 week run, it’s going to be over a 2 hour show, how much will you fit in there?
NR: It’s going to be about 2 hours. The first part of the show’s all about the new album and then we’ll come back on for the second bit and play the classics I guess. But they’re going to have to sit through the new album first! But I think they’ll be very patient with us. You know what’s going to be really great is that the new album isn’t even going to be out, so they’re going to get a live preview. I’d love to see some of my favourite bands just go out and play the new album before it’s even out.
Are you going to have any pyrotechnics involved?
NR: I don’t know about pyrotechnics on Broadway! There might be a few heart attacks.
RT: We’ll do a proper big tour next year, we’ll be hitting all the bigger venues worldwide. The last one lasted 2 years.
You were of course Princess Diana’s favourite band and you played her tribute concert in the UK recently. Did she ever come backstage?
RT: Didn’t Simon claim that she hid under a….
NR: Oh no he was joking! We met her a bunch of times, usually at events and things. We did a Prince’s Trust event, she was at that, and A View to a Kill premiere she was at. I mean we didn’t know her well but we liked her. She had a smile that could illuminate an entire room and a real fragility about her I think which is what a lot of the public warmed to and actually related to. She was very human.
RT: She spent most of her time trying to do something positive as well. I mean she wasn’t just locked away riding a horse at Gatcombe every year and you know kind of secluding herself, she took on the world in a very positive way I think and that was one of the great things about her.
How has your music developed with each album?
NR: You do develop musically, you get better. You also learn where to leave more space I think. The space in music is equally as important as the notes. I think we’ve learnt to give each other space to come through at the right times in songs on the records and in the live shows and because we all know how each other plays that strengthens the sound. Again, particularly when we are doing the live shows we can just during a song jam for 10 minutes or something and actually make it entertaining and interesting as opposed to tiresome and boring which jams often are in live shows. I think regarding the direction of records, we’ve just been very instinctive, very much with this record. Once we’d done those tracks as I said we knew we were all going the right way, and it was good we could all agree and just say right, let’s do it.
You were arguably one of the most successful British bands to ever hit the US. Why do you think British bands find it harder nowadays to be quite as successful over there?
RT: There has been a couple of bands recently. Coldplay have done very well, James Blunt I think got a number one record but there seemed to be a swing towards hip hop and grunge [in later years] and I think they were probably giving the world the best hip hop and the best grunge at that time and I don’t think they needed to look particularly towards Britain.
NR: But also I think the 90s for British Bands aside from perhaps Radiohead was pretty dull.
RT: I think Oasis could’ve broken America and done very well but they didn’t quite make it.
NR: I don’t know, I think America have got enough of their own rock acts. They’ll go for something if it is something new that really has a certain quality to it. They like good song writing. In a funny way they are quite discerning. We came along and we were giving them something that they didn’t have themselves. And at the end of the day America is an always open culture, to whoever’s selling them work they don’t have they’ll buy, and I think we were just giving them something at that time that they weren’t producing themselves.
What would you have been if you hadn’t have been pop stars?
RT: I wanted to be a goalkeeper. I spent hours and hours every day training to be a goalkeeper but I didn’t grow tall enough so…
NR: Film Director really. It’s still something that I’d like to do one day.
RT: Actually goal keeping and drumming aren’t that different! It’s when you make mistakes, everyone looks at you and says what are you doing?? When you are doing it right they don’t particularly notice.