While some have pegged Duran Duran as the first boy band, it has always been so much more. Founded in 1978, its members have nearly 35 years and a forthcoming 14th studio album, Paper Gods, under their belts. And while it’s true their fashionable dress and overt handsomeness, when coupled with a penchant for the sort of pop music that keeps dance floors full, has led to some critical dismissal, the band is still getting the last laugh, selling out concerts and drawing a devout, multi-generational fan base.
“I think we’ve retained our sense of adventure, which is a very key part of keeping Duran Duran alive,” explains keyboardist and co-founder Nick Rhodes. “We have to be truly excited by what we’re doing, otherwise we would have stopped a long time ago. I don’t think there are many artists that three and a half decades into their careers are still trying to explore new sonic architecture and different approaches to songwriting.”
The band’s sound has shifted quite a lot through the decades. On Paper Gods, while recognizable as the New Wavers that dominated charts in the ’80s, evoking Beatle-esque mayhem from teenage girls, they’ve embraced a modernized take on their original pop roots, as evidenced by this track, the slow-building, synth-heavy, fuzzy “You Kill Me With Silence.” Listen to the new song below:
The world these men live in now is a lot different from the one they started in, and part of their longevity has been learning to adapt to the times.
“Inevitably music does go out of fashion,” Rhodes admits. “I think a lot of people don’t like to think about it in that way, but it’s true. A great song will always be a great song, but a sound goes out of fashion.”
For a musician who has seen the industry shift dramatically over his career, Rhodes is affably insightful about the state of music.
“I think the iTunes generation has done something quite interesting to music,” he muses. “Because instead of it being tribal like it used to be, where people only listened to heavy metal or jazz or whatever, this is the shuffle generation, who don’t mind listening to Miles Davis one second and then jungle the next, and then the Beatles. Which is bizarre. But actually, if you choose and curate your music well, it’s quite inspiring to hear stuff come on that you weren’t expecting and to enjoy it in a different way.”
One trend Duran Duran has come to embrace is the guest artist, and the new record has some ringers, such as ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, who reached out via email when he heard they were headed into the studio and asked to be a part of it.
“Well, that’s a real gift, isn’t it? Of course we’re all fans,” Rhodes’s tone is noticeably flattered as he explains how Frusciante would send them tracks from his home studio. “It was very uplifting when we heard what he’d done, he’s a killer artist. One of the few great guitarists left out there. And really, he added something beautiful to the album.”
Other appearances include Kiesza, Mr. Hudson, Janelle Monae, and Lindsay Lohan.
Yes, Lindsay Lohan.
“She’s been a friend for a little while, and she said, ‘Hey, I’d like to do something on the new album,’” he says, noting that it almost didn’t happen. “We discussed it, but said, ‘It’s great, but what are we gonna do? Where is there a space that it makes sense?’”
In the end, the stars aligned.
“We had this idea, roughly based on Michael Jackson’s track ‘Thriller,’ where he used a cameo from Vincent Price in the middle, which I always thought was a fantastic moment,” Rhodes says. “And we thought, ‘What would the Duran Duran equivalent of that moment be?’ It would be a sexy girl in a fabulous outfit delivering the most beautiful monologue. And so Lindsay came to the studio, and like all great actresses she played her role immaculately. I think that it’s something appropriate, vibe-y, and sexy.”
For a band to still be creating at the top of its game and remain as embedded in the pop psyche as Duran Duran, you have to expect its members to have their fingers on the cultural pulse. Yet when it comes to creating new music, Rhodes says their inspiration isn’t from where you’d expect.
“There aren’t really artists we look to so much, musical artists, for this anymore. But we do look at modern art, because if you look at several of the great painters out there, they work into their 70s and 80s and still come up with new things. There’s no reason you can’t do that with music, why modern musical artists can’t take the same approach as painters.”
And at the core of it all? The keystone to a long and prosperous career in pop music?
Two things: hard work, and having fun.
“I always find pleasure in everything we do,” Rhodes says. “That’s part of our mandate: We do a lot of work, endless hours in the studio. We’ve toiled an awful lot over the period of our career, but we do try to enjoy ourselves, too. And we are undoubtedly lucky that we get to keep doing what we like doing. It was amazing at the beginning when we were formulating our ideas and making these plans, and had all of these grand schemes that none of us even knew would work. Fortunately, some of them did.”
Correction: Some quotes previously attributed to bassist John Taylor were spoken by Nick Rhodes.