Formed in Birmingham in 1978, Duran Duran has sold more than 100 million albums and, along with a then-new MTV, spearheaded what many referred to as the “second British invasion” of the U.S., alongside contemporaries the Police, Pet Shop Boys, Peter Gabriel, and others. They also were dubbed “the prettiest boys in rock” for their fashionable image and glamorous music videos shot in exotic locales.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the band’s smash sophomore album, Rio, which included their iconic hit single “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and Duran Duran's live DVD A Diamond in the Mind will be released July 10. The Daily Beast sat down for a rooftop interview in New York City with singer Simon Le Bon and bassist John Taylor to talk about the legacy of Rio, their upcoming Olympics performance, the truth about the rumors that they’ll be performing the theme to the next James Bond movie, Skyfall, and ... elephant sex.
Duran Duran is in town to play a “secret” show at Midtown venue Terminal 5 with DJ Steve Aoki sponsored by Trident. Have you been surprised by the meteoric rise of dance music in America?
John Taylor: It’s music that’s very popular for our narcissistic age, forms a great backdrop for our “me moment.” And, whereas bands tend to identify themselves as either girls or boys, with dance music, you know you’re going to meet a lot of members of the opposite sex when you go.
Simon Le Bon: Obviously a big part of our Duran Duran persona was “the party band”—we write songs and perform shows that get people excited. I think we’ve got a lot in common with the DJs, rather than the band that just puts on “a concert.” We try and create the ring of energy between the band and the audience.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of your most iconic album, Rio.
John: We did something that is unusual: we made a better second album than a first album. We went on the road for 12 months between our first album and second album and worked really hard, playing every day, so we were incredibly confident when we went into the studio and made Rio. And with MTV, and conceptually, everything worked off the back of Rio—the videos, the artwork; it just all worked.
Simon: We filmed three music videos in Sri Lanka and two in Antigua, so five in total. It was the first time that anybody had really taken a film crew out on location, and funny enough, the No. 1 reason we did it was to be cost-effective. We got better value for our money shooting it in Sri Lanka than in a studio in North London. But none of us really had any idea of the power of those videos, particularly “Hungry Like the Wolf.” It had such a huge impact. A lot of the success of the album is down to the power of the videos and the way it made the band omnipresent around the globe.
John: I don’t think we could have done it without MTV. Radio in America in the ’80s was on this complete lockdown, playing the same stuff, and classic rock didn’t really have videos, so MTV was really forced to go for new music. And the progressive new music was coming out of the U.K. Really, MTV wanted videos that had some “bang” to them, and they talked to us about wanting “James Bond–type videos.”
Simon: America didn’t really have the same kind of youth movement with punk rock that we had in the U.K., whereas the post-punk or U.K. New Wave movement was a big movement in America.
Were there any crazy stories filming in Sri Lanka and Antigua for Rio?
Simon: There were funny stories involving elephants mating, I believe, or going off to do a little “flirtation”—but while somebody in the band was still sitting on their backs.
John: We kind of saw ourselves as an underground-club band with the makeup and the leathers, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in Sri Lanka making an action movie.
There is rampant speculation that Duran Duran are performing the theme song to the new James Bond film, Skyfall, in theaters this fall. Any truth to them?
Simon: It would be great to do it again, and I think the production house which looks after making the Bond films is aware that if they wanted Duran Duran to do a theme tune for the next James Bond film, we are absolutely, 100 percent up for it!
John: We’ve got several rhymes to go with Skyfall! We have a list.
You’re also scheduled to play a party in Hyde Park that is put on to coincide with the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Sounds exciting.
Simon: The queen, God bless her, has said, “You guys can come and play in my back garden!” So, there’s a massive concert there. We’re waving the flag for England; Paolo Nutini is representing Scotland; Stereophonics are from Wales; and Snow Patrol from Northern Ireland.
Duran Duran garnered a reputation for being very fashion-forward, and today we see much more of a synergistic relationship between artists and fashion labels.
Simon: It was never anything that we ever had a conversation about. We came out of a time where music became very image-conscious—from ’70s glam rock to punk. The right thing for us to do was get the best outfits we could and make sure we looked good next to each other. But we didn’t have a stylist for 20 years.
Simon, I heard that you fell incredibly ill last year and Duran Duran almost called it quits.
Simon: It was probably the toughest schedule I’ve ever been on—some weeks we played nine shows. I was on stage in Cannes playing at an event, and I injured my vocal folds. I caused a bleed to occur—went for a note too hard. We had no idea when or if I’d even make a full recovery.
What contemporary bands are you guys into these days?
John: Kurt Vile, Washed Out ... We like Lana. We’re with Lana Del Ray.
Simon: Arctic Monkeys are going to be around for a long time. They’re a proper band with a great rhythm section.
Your last album, All You Need Is Now, was produced by Mark Ronson. Will you be working with him again on your next album?
John: Mark’s up for it! We’re going to work on that next year.