Longtime drummer Roger Taylor says the mix of the fresh and the familiar keeps the ’80s icons going.
By John Staton StarNews Staff
If you’d told a teenage Roger Taylor back in 1980 that the band he was drumming for would be going strong nearly 40 years later, he wouldn’t have believed you.
But that’s just where Taylor finds himself with pop stalwarts Duran Duran, who headline a concert for the N.C. Azalea Festival on Friday at the Miller Lite Main Stage in downtown Wilmington. Not surprisingly for a group that’s always been visually oriented, Duran Duran’s stage show is generally regarded as pretty spectacular.
“I am surprised” the band is still together, Taylor said during a phone interview last week from Brazil, where the band was in the midst of a South American tour. “I’m shocked, actually. When we started, I couldn’t imagine that we’d last longer than — you know, in the ’70s and the ’80s any length of career was regarded as pretty extraordinary. To be together nearly 40 years after the band was founded is pretty spectacular. I feel very fortunate and I think it’s amazing just to be in the building.”
And while the group has seen its share of lineup changes over the years, the core of Duran Duran — the group took its name from a character in Roger Vadim’s campy 1968 sci-fi spoof “Barbarella” — remains intact. There’s singer Simon Le Bon, pushing 60 but looking nearly as boyishly sexy as he did when he was a teen heartthrob. The almost comically stoic keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who’s responsible for the group’s lush, synthy orchestrations. And drummer Taylor and bass player John Taylor, no relation, who’ve been with the band since Duran Duran helped shape the so-called New Romantic movement from Birmingham, England.
Together, they created some of the most enduring pop hits of all time: “Rio,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Save a Prayer” and “Is There Something I Should Know,” just to scratch the surface. By the mid 1980s, the members of Duran Duran were international superstars.
“I think it was probably when we signed the record deal with EMI that we realized that it was going to be big. We went back to our parents and said, ‘We’ve got this record deal.’ And they couldn’t believe it, because EMI were like the kings of music in the UK in the ’70s — Queen, and whatever,” Taylor said. “Was I ready for it? Probably not, no. I think I was 19. And, you know what, I’d had very little life experience outside of being at school or being with Duran Duran. And so I think when the whole thing exploded, the group became such a phenomenon, it was kind of overwhelming I have to say. It was like being in the eye of a storm, and really took us by surprise.”
The band’s songs were given a major boost by well-crafted videos played in heavy rotation on MTV, which was still in its infancy when the band broke. It didn’t hurt that Duran Duran had both good looks and an at-times outrageous sense of style — serious ’80s hair paired with lots of stripes, headbands and jackets. Over the years the band has tended toward more contemporary, but still natty, attire. Still, Taylor said he doesn’t cringe when he sees old photos of Duran Duran.
“Sometimes people say, ’Oh God, do you regret the way you dressed in the early ‘80s?’ I just say no, no that’s how we wanted to express ourselves. It was all our choice. It was all our decision. It all came from us: the songs, the choice of videos, the way we were going on tour. We’ve always had a very powerful connection to all that.”
That all-for-one work ethic is something that continues to this day. Taylor left the band in 1985, and while Duran Duran had started to cool off by the late 1980s, 1993′s critically acclaimed “Duran Duran,” aka The Wedding Album, marked something of a comeback. Taylor returned to the fold in 2001, and the band has released four well-received albums since then.
Duran Duran’s most recent record is 2015′s “Paper Gods.” It features production by the likes of Nile Rodgers and Mark Ronson, as well as guest spots from superstar musicians including guitarist John Frusciante (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) and vocalist and actress Janelle Monae, who provides vocals for the band’s pop anthem “Pressure Off.”
“Pressure Off,” Taylor said, has quickly become a staple of Duran Duran’s set — along with the group’s classic hits that fans expect and the band is glad to oblige them with. At the end of the day, Taylor said, it’s that mix of the familiar and the fresh that keeps the band going.
“We approach it really as a day-at-a-time project. We try not to look too far back and we try not to look too far ahead,” he said. “It sounds like a cliche, but you’ve got to stay in the now if you’re making music.”
Want to go?
Who: Duran Duran, with Roadkill Ghost Choir
When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 7
Where: Azalea Festival Miller Lite Main Stage, 701 N. Front St., Wilmington
Details: Tickets are $68.50 in advance, $78.50 day of the show, plus taxes and fees
Info: 910-794-4650 or ncAzaleaFestival.org