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POP TRASH at 20

June 19th, 2020

On June 19, 2000 Duran Duran released the album POP TRASH. With not one Taylor on the record, it was a different experience for the remaining band members. Here, Warren Cuccurullo, Nick Rhodes, Engineer Ken Scott & Art Director Andrew Day recall the work and creativity that went in to putting the album together.

ANDREW DAY, ART DIRECTOR

Way back in 1995, Madeleine Farley put an advert up on the noticeboard in the café at Central Saint Martins seeking an illustrator. A friend of mine spotted it and told me about it, so I faxed Madeleine an illustration and got the gig.

Nick ended up buying a Jack Kerouac painting I’d made for the summer show for my degree and then invited me to ‘Privacy Studios’ in Battersea, where I began to work on the artwork for MEDAZZALAND. I created a painting in my parent’s house, and photographed it using Nick’s Hasselblad.

When the guys went back into the studio to begin working on POP TRASH, Nick asked me if I’d like to create the artwork for the album, as well as join the band in Las Vegas for a week. It was just such an incredible and magical time in my life, and one that I remain incredibly grateful for.

The cover for POP TRASH did feature the Excalibur car which Liberace used once for a show at Radio City Music Hall in New York. We jumped through numerous legal hoops for the PT artwork, including permission to use Elvis Presley’s eyes for the ‘Hallucinating Elvis’ page. The decision to use Liberace’s car came from sitting around the kitchen table at Nick’s house with Simon and Warren. There were other cover ideas on the table, one of which was much liked, but was too close to Beck’s ‘Midnight Vultures’. In the end, the shot of Liberace’s Rhinestone-encrusted roadster seemed to be the perfect vehicle to encapsulate the concept of the album.

Nick was very involved in the art direction. It was an absolute joy working directly with him, and he’d always have a great many things and ideas to provide inspiration. He not only has an impeccable ear, but an incredibly discerning eye. Nick’s endlessly creative, although at times it could be a trifle annoying as just when I’d think an image was complete, Nick would make another suggestion. And the thing is, he’s always right!

When it came time for the tour, Nick had the idea for the programme as he always wanted to create a magazine. ‘Pop’ had just launched, and we were looking through some of Nick’s magazine collection, including ‘Flair’ and ‘Visionaire’, of which #27 had just been issued featuring a lenticular image of Kate Moss barefoot on a swing. Inspiration!

We also shot in the ‘Pavilion Hotel’ in Tyburnia that had these fantastic rooms, one with Andy Warhol ‘Marilyn Monroe’ wallpaper printed on silver foil. The record store was in Hackney, just near the bingo hall which we also shot in. I can still recall the guys getting changed in the manager’s office.

Nick, Simon and Warren were spirited, engaged, open-minded and a lot of fun. It will always remain a highlight to me.

[To see more of what Andrew’s POP TRASH art, which is for sale on etsy, visit https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AndrewDayStudio]

KEN SCOTT ENGINEER

I had worked with Warren when he was in Missing Persons, and through that relationship I was brought in to help on the THANK YOU album. As that was progressing, I would bring rough mixes of our work home, and when playing these to friends they were astounded to hear that it was DD. We were getting a much edgier more rock side of the band, it was wonderful, but then the management and label heard it, got scared that it wasn’t old school Duran, and persuaded the band to try and make it sound more like the band everyone knew.

They started to work on POP TRASH and felt that this was their chance to make that edgier album, and so I was called back in to engineer. I can’t really say that we were trying to recreate a Bowie sound that I had got on his breakthrough albums, but we certainly weren’t going for the typical Duran. We just took every song in the direction that seemed right for the song, not worrying about any preconceived notion of what Duran Duran should sound like.

Warren was Warren. I knew him really well because of our prior relationship, and he was just as talented, crazy and enjoyable as always.

Nick surprised me. I tended to think he was all show, but spending as much time as I did with him on this project I got to see that side of him but also a much deeper musical side to him. It was a joy to see that side of him. It was also good to see his work ethic.

Simon was going through a bit of a writer’s block and that was very obviously frustrating him. When he’s on form, he comes out with a performance like the one we captured on “Perfect Day” on the THANK YOU album.

I really don’t think we used too much vintage gear on the record. You can get old sounds through the use of modern gear and new sounds through vintage gear, it’s just knowing what you’re aiming for and how to get it. The one area that was certainly more vintage was the guitars. I had told Warren prior to the start of this album about my preference for older guitars and that got him researching and buying older, better sounding (in my opinion), guitars.

There is indeed a Ken Scott version of POP TRASH. Whether there still is, I have no idea. It’s amazing how many tapes, even of big artists, have got lost over the years.

I can’t pick one favourite track from POP TRASH. Because each of these is so different, my favourites are “Lady Xanax,” “Lava Lamp” and “The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever.” I must emphasise that those choices are based on my mixes, certainly not the released ones.

WARREN CUCCURULLO, GUITARIST

The writing process for me is always the same; capture as many ideas that you can, constantly. Anything really cool or interesting would be something we could get working on. I’d record ideas at the end of mixing the previous album, so we even worked on what was to become “Someone Else Not Me” at the “Electric Barbarella” video shoot.

Nick having to do a lot of the lyrics, and me doing the same with the melodies, made POP TRASH different from earlier albums. It did not slow us down at all, we stuck to our schedule and we were touring this material in ’99 before it was even picked up by a label.

As far as the approach to the POP TRASH recording, that was slightly different. We’d been listening to some old Bowie records and loved the organic sound. We thought Ken Scott was the perfect guy cos he WAS that very guy who worked on those classics. It was like a dream for me cos me & ken go way back, and I have a ton of love and respect for him. I was buying a lot of vintage amps to accentuate the old school feeling, which was something I hadn’t done before. I even used my old Gibson 335 on “Playing with Uranium.” We used mic’ed speakers on some tracks instead of my d.i. simulators. Noisy for the neighbors!

At some point, Ken was brought over to London to mix the finished batch of songs. One of the songs that we weren’t including on the final track listing caught his ear: “The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever.” I’m really glad we got that one finished as it easily could have slipped through the cracks.

I played on bass for POP TRASH and the recollections for me was all about de clicking, sitting on the couch with Nick waiting for Mr. Tin to get rid of the clicks in the take. Yikes! The album would’ve benefitted greatly having JT in charge of the bottom end.

In the late 90s, Harlan Goodman from Paramount pitched the Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” to me and Nick over at my place. Later that evening, I picked up a nylon string guitar and sketched out the basic tune and intro (“Kiss Goodbye”). We recorded it with a rough guide vocal done by me that we tuned. They passed on it and went with Sheryl Crow. The version on POP TRASH is really beefed up compared to what we sent as the demo, and Nick came up with a better title than the Bond people!

I really love the whole album, but if I had to pick one track I guess it would be “Pop Trash Movie.” It’s pretty epic.

NICK RHODES, KEYBOARDS

I think when we began the POP TRASH album, there was a rough, unspoken plan to develop our sound based upon the mid 70s glam period; a touch more Bowie – Sparks – Cockney Rebel, in order to reflect some of our early influences which we felt had not always come through in our music. However, once we started writing, it became evident that it would be too contrived to attempt to write something in the style of that period. Instead, we used a lot of vintage gear – Warren used older amps and guitars, Ken Scott, the maestro of 1970’s recordings, used old-school microphones and the sublime Fairchild compressor that he’d used on the Bowie albums and Elton John songs he recorded. I think we achieved what we were setting out to do more through sonics than the songwriting.

My approach to synths on the album was actually very similar to what I do on most records: first I see how a song is taking shape. Often during writing a track is initially formed around the sounds created by the synths, along with bass, drums or guitar, and from these roots, I can then decide how the synths should further evolve, identifying the type of sounds that could work with the mood, atmosphere and groove. As we were in this modern 70’s zone, the analogue synths that I predominantly favour felt entirely appropriate. Similar synths were used on some David Bowie records, particularly Low and Heroes, and of course, on all Kraftwerk albums. The Roland, Jupiter 8, which has been on almost every Duran Duran album since RIO, formed the basis of many tracks. I also used some samplers since there are quite a lot of strings and pianos on POP TRASH, specifically the AKAI S3200 and a Kurzweil K2000 keyboard.

There IS a Ken Scott mix of most of the album that remains unreleased. What happened is that we got Ken on board because we wanted that authentic, beautifully recorded sound that we remembered from when we were kids. Ken was the ultimate guy to do that and he did such a good job that when we got to the end of the project, it sounded a bit too retro, so rather than sounding influenced by the 70’s, it sounded like it was recorded in the 70’s. We decided we needed to modernize it a little. Ken’s mixes are beautiful from what I remember, and have probably held up very well. I would be perfectly happy for people to hear them. Ken was an absolute joy to work with.

Admittedly, it was an awkward time for us, and the first and only album without John Taylor at all, which felt really uncomfortable, particularly for Simon and I to have lost all three of our Taylors. To lose one may have been regarded as misfortune, to lose three looked like carelessness… We were trying to carve out a direction, but all feeling a little unsure. Simon was going through a difficult time in his life and so for POP TRASH, I ended up writing more lyrics than usual, and that in itself created a different dynamic.

I think some of the songs have held up well. For me, the album has two sides: one is more personal and emotional, the other is crazy, pop, psychedelic. You have songs like “Starting to Remember,” which was something I wrote about finding your way again, sort of like being lost in a maze and not knowing which direction to turn. It was inspired by the Picasso quote “… it took me a lifetime to paint like a child.” The song “Pop Trash Movie” has a beautiful melody, Warren at his very best. I love the way Simon sung it, it reminds me of old school 60’s melodies from songs by Dusty Springfield or Nancy Sinatra. When writing the lyric, I used a very deliberate appropriation of Andy Warhol’s quote “In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” His observation had become more prescient than ever before. Reality TV shows were an international obsession and even the most pointless, fleeting fame seemed to be desired by so many. Simon’s greatest lyrical contribution to the album, “Someone Else Not Me” was the first single It is a heartfelt, melancholy ballad about knowing when you have to let go of a relationship even if you don’t really want to. It was perhaps a little too slow on the album, so we played it faster when performing live. It’s also the only Duran song that was translated into three different languages. “Lady Xanax” is actually written about a friend of mine who was living in a dream world, desperately dependent on pharmaceuticals. It’s not even about a lady! I felt this was a ticking bomb for so many, brushed under the carpet but worthy of writing about.

I think one of the defining factors about the songs on POP TRASH is that several are themed on our pop culture. Having grown up listening to the inventiveness and originality David Bowie, brought to song lyrics, I have always preferred a unique, creative approach to yet another psychotherapy, relationship song. The title “Mars Meets Venus” was taken from small ads in the back of a magazine, the entire lyric is made up of the ads, it was a nod to John Lennon’s lyric for “Being for The Benefit of Mr. Kite!” which was compiled from a Victorian poster for a fair. I started writing “Hallucinating Elvis,” based on the premise of Elvis traveling on one of his two planes; neither of which he used very often and both of which only ever saw domestic outings – the furthest being Hawaii to Las Vegas during later years. It seemed crazy that even though I had never been a big Elvis fan, I knew so much about his life, he was part of our fabric and it was fun to re-sew it for a song. “Playing with Uranium,” was originally written about nuclear waste leaks and the possibility of rogue factions getting hold of uranium. Simon tweaked the words somewhat to make it slightly more ambiguous. “Last Day on Earth’ is kind of sci-fi. The other songs are a little more personal – “The Sun Doesn’t Shine Forever,” is about the end of a long relationship, “Starting to Remember” is about trying to get back to some kind of normalcy. Overall, this felt like a good balance between real and surreal, much like we had on our first three albums.

I really missed Simon’s focus and input on this record, but through the strength of our partnership we managed to make it through, and I am still proud of the end result. Warren was extraordinary during this period, and we captured some of his greatest guitar moments, razor sharp and experimental. Despite the painstaking process to get the record finished, Warren and I did laugh endlessly together throughout and I will always cherish those memories.

Regarding the song, “Pop Trash Movie,” it was initially written by Warren and I for Blondie. We were asked to come up with a couple of songs for them, and so we did and actually recorded it with them, but it never ended up getting used. So, Pop Trash Movie, was then available for our project. Simon particularly liked the song, and as the album developed, it became a contender for the title. It summed up the world we were experiencing at that time. The coalescence of trashiness and popiness engulfing us all in every way, every day in every form of media, yet it still somehow had a bizarre, inexplicable appeal. Correspondingly, we cultivated a kitsch-glam style which really fit in with the vibe of the record, and it gave me a perfect excuse to wear silver leather trousers with a pink velvet jacket, so I was extremely grateful for that.

Please watch the POP TRASH pictorial below. Photos by Andrew Day.