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Duran Duran

by Thom Alexander
published in Artist Magazine, San Francisco


Duran Duran c Chester Simpson/Artist Publications

Duran Duran, San Francisco
Photo © Chester Simpson/Artist Publications
digital effects © Joy Williams/Artist Publications

The Beatles are something which happened twenty years ago, and it's never going to happen again. We're interested in making our own history...

--Simon Le Bon


It's hard to figure Duran Duran. On the surface they seem like the typical exploitative teeny-bopper band, out for the cash and nothing else. But in talking to them, I got the impression that they are much more genuine and sincere than their publicity reflects.

Following is the account of a press conference I was part of at The Magic Castle in Hollywood on February 7, 1983. The questions were asked by various members of the press (about 150 of us altogether), most of whom obviously couldn't have cared less about the band or their music. I ended up feeling a lot of compassion for the group.

Q: Nick, is it true you've been approached by a movie company to play the part of David Bowie in an upcoming film?

NICK: No, not to my knowledge.

Q: Simon, how do you guys feel, having all this excitement around the band on the 20th anniversary of the Beatles?

SIMON: Well, it is a bit of a coincidence, but I think this Duran Duran/Beatles thing's been laid on a bit heavy. The Beatles are something which happened twenty years ago, and it's never going to happen again. We're interested in making our own history, not rewriting anybody else's.

Q: For all of you—and Simon, if you would start: We know the up side of success, and you guys are doing real well, but what's the down side; what's bad about it?

SIMON: Japanese photographers jumping out of your wardrobe. We did go on a gig—where was it? oh, Seattle—With these tables of food, and we're sitting there chatting away and 10 minutes later somebody heard voices. There were about six girls hiding underneath this table in the dressing room.

Q: Are you trying to say that's a bad side?

Q: We know you guys want to put The Beatles comparisons to bed, but there are so many striking similarities. Would you compare and contrast the differences.

NICK: Well, for a start, we don't sound like The Beatles, we don't look like The Beatles, we don't even come from the same place as The Beatles. The only thing that started the comparison was some of the more hysterical audience reactions.

SIMON: We're a musical group. The Beatles were a whole cultural change. I think it had more to do with history than with pop music, and it had to happen to the world.

Q: Are you flattered by the comparison, or would you rather not ever hear it again?

NICK: No, we're flattered by it.

ROGER: It could've been worse; it could've been Spandau Ballet.

Q: If you're not inviting Beatles comparisons, why did you pick today, the 20th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in America, to have your press conference?

NICK: Just coincidence. We happen to be playing gigs here, that's all.

Q: Did you ask Capitol Records not to compare you to The Beatles?

NICK: We didn't know they were.

Q: Roger, what's important to you today?

ROGER: Just putting on a bloody good show for you guys.

Q: What inspires the funk basis in your music?

ROGER: I'd say Chic was the biggest influence. We spent a lot of time in nightclubs when we first started, and I think Chic is what we listened to the most.

Q: Nick, how do you describe your success?

NICK: We've paced things quite well. We're very proud of what we've achieved so far. It happened a lot quicker than we thought, but everybody's managed to keep a level head about it.

Q: Do you plan to score any motion pictures?

ROGER: In the future it's a possibility—when we have the time.

ANDY: We'll call it Yelp or something….

Q: Do you have more female fans than male fans?

JOHN: (laughing) I don't know, I've never counted them up.

Q: What do the folks in Birmingham and Newcastle think of you now?

JOHN: They all want a drink.

NICK: We've got a lot more friends than we used to have. Or a lot less, depending on how you look at it. A lot of people back home have changed their opinion of us. But we still see our friends; it hasn't changed that much.

Q: I understand the original cover of the new album was a very expensive shoot—$100,000+.

ANDY: He was fooled, too!

SIMON: Don't believe what the papers say. It's a lot cheaper than you've been told.

Q: Do you think you would've had the success in America that you've had without the huge promotional campaign?

SIMON: Are you trying to accuse us of hype??!!

JOHN: I don't think we've ever had a promo campaign.

SIMON: We've toured this country three times before, twice by ourselves, once with Blondie, and I think this is where we've gained our original foothold. And then later on we started to get a bit of play on MTV, which kicked the radio stations into gear, and finally people picked up on us.

ANDY: And then we go on promotional campaigns!

Q: Do you ever adapt the music to fit the videos?

JOHN: No. That wouldn't be a good thing to do. We're all based in music. That's where our hearts lie, and if we started concentrating on the visuals, the song would suffer. It wouldn't be a very credible thing to do.

Q: But they are an important part.

JOHN: Sure! It's how we originally made our name. But it's only the icing on the cake for us.

ROGER: We spend about 6 months touring and 6 months recording and about one month doing video albums, so it's a very small part of what we do.

Q: You all have been really the first big group to hit on MTV—and to get away from the band-on-stage type of video. Is anyone in the group the creative force behind it all?

SIMON: It's all democratic.

NICK: We're all really creative.

ANDY: Especially me. I'm really creative!

Q: Who's the humorist in the group?

SIMON: We're all miserable gits, really. (laughs)

ANDY: We hate each other.

Q: Is there a rivalry between you and Culture Club over record sales?

JOHN: (John) We call it healthy competition.

Q: Who are the bands you admire?

NICK: I really like Talking Heads.

SIMON: I like Big Country and U2.

ROGER: I like Bowie 'cause he's been around so long!

ANDY: I do like Billy Idol.

JOHN: Yeah! Me, too.

Q: Does the screaming of the crowd affect you on stage? Does it bother you?

NICK: Fortunately, we don't hear it too loud. In some of the slower numbers if there is a high noise level it can be a bit disconcerting, but it doesn't affect us much.

Q: Simon, your image has been termed glamor but your lyrics are rather strange. What influences your lyrics?

SIMON: Whatever I'm thinking about first thing in the morning. I don't know, gold fish bowls.… (laughs) I'm not sure. Lyrics are a very personal thing. I never try to actually think about what I'm writing.

Q: What about the song "Union of the Snake?"

SIMON: I'll tell ya. The union of the snake is the union of the snake and the man. The snake symbolizes a kind of subconscious power force or strength, and the song is really about the fears of the subconscious mind breaking through to the conscious mind.

Q: Is this your own belief?

SIMON: It's a little daydream I had, yeah.

Q: Your records have been known to hit the top of the charts before hitting the record stores. What does that do to the creative process?

SIMON: Well, we don't actually put out songs anymore, we just put out titles and tell them we're gonna release a certain song, and it hits the charts and we don't have to do any work. (laughs)

Q: How'd you feel about the censorship on the first Girls on Film video?

ANDY: Best publicity we've ever had.

NICK: It needed censoring for American TV. It wasn't played on any stations where kids could catch it, so that was good. It was mainly made for clubs.

JOHN: Come on, we made it for our own private viewing.…

Q: John, I understand you have a James Bond obsession. Has success put you in easier access to the memorabilia?

JOHN: No. It's just a rumor I started to get people to send me Astin Martins in the post.

Q: Nick, are you going to be doing any more producing?

NICK: Maybe sometime in the future. I'm not going to be doing anymore work with Kajagoogoo; it was strictly a one-time project because I had some spare time and I was kind of interested.

Q: Simon, did you sing in a church choir?

SIMON: Yes, I did.

Q: Can you compare it to singing at the Forum last night?

SIMON: It's a bit different, actually. For one thing, the audience doesn't make half as much noise.

Q: How do you feel toward a long-term commitment?

BAND: (In unison) Committed!

Q: Do you feel you would've gotten popular as quickly if it weren't for MTV?

SIMON: No. I mean the thing was, on the first album we broke in a lot of other countries, but we hadn't broke in America. The reason was, we couldn't get through to anybody. The radio stations had very strict programs of REO Speedwagon, the Doors and Led Zeppelin, and the television shows didn't want to show us either. But MTV had a more open mind and they wanted to show new bands. Then the radio picked up on us and "Hungry Like The Wolf" broke through.

ANDY: I think MTV had to play people like us because they couldn't adopt the same programming as FM radio. There weren't any videos for "Stairway To Heaven," and so they had to have new music.

Q: The Beatles and other British bands had their American influences. Who are yours?

NICK: For a start, there's a funk element to our music which is pretty well based in America. I know the Rio album had a lot of impressions of our first trip to America.

JOHN: And I play baseball!

Q: When will you do solo projects?

SIMON: When the band breaks up… or when we get two weeks to rub together. I'll knock up a quick album—with Boy George. (laughs)

Q: Are there any scandals about the band that would embarrass your fans?

SIMON: If there were, I wouldn't tell you.

Q: Nick, why is it that when Boy George wears eye shadow it's national press but you can get away with it?

NICK: Because I don't choose to wear gaudy colors, as he does.

ANDY: And he's not fat.

Q: Are you ever going to use any women in your video who are dressed?

ANDY: Why?

Q: Of all the places you've chosen to shoot your videos, which is your favorite?

SIMON: London.

NICK: Yeah, home. Everybody thinks they're really glamorous and everything, but I tell ya! When I was on the yacht in Antigua shooting the Rio video, I was never so sick in my life.

Q: John, when you originally formed the group, did you feel that your former band members were inadequate?

JOHN: No. Actually, they thought they were inadequate.

Q: Is it true that the English audiences are a lot more fickle than the American audiences?

SIMON: I think with the kids it's, well, they tend to feel that they're into one kind of thing and they can only go for the one kind of music that their cult stands for, whether it's punk or skinhead or mod music or soul. Then they get sick of that fashion and they change their music as their group changes. Whereas, here the kids are much less inhibited.

Q: Simon, when you joined Duran Duran, did you have a strong sense of what you wanted to do with your life?

SIMON: No, I didn't. This whole thing is good fun, and I speak for all of us when I say that we'll stick with it as long as it's still fun.

Q: Why did you change producers, and were you happy with the results?

NICK: Yeah, very happy with the results. The reason we changed was because we'd done two albums already with Colin Thurston, and it was time for a change. You can only go so far with one person.

Q: How much control do you have over what goes on your album or where you tour?

NICK: Total control. We decide everything.

Q: How are you guys gonna handle friends and fashion? Are you guys gonna make your own, or are you gonna continue to move with what's happening?

SIMON: I think it's real bad news to get stuck into fashion because people will pick you up drop you just like that. You've got to be parallel to it…so if people associate you with fashion, it's your own.

NICK: We all believe in individualism. In the beginning, we thought we had more of a corporate image with the band clothes than we liked. But now everybody dresses like we want.

Q: John, why did you switch from lead guitar to bass?

ANDY: You should hear him play guitar!

JOHN: It was mainly for the direction we were going in. I started in a time when all the bass players were playing like Sid Vicious and we weren't into that. So rather than try to find someone to fit in, it just seemed easier for me to do it.

Q: Are you involved in any political groups?

NICK: We're not involved, but we believe in nuclear disarmament and the like, yeah.

Q: Will you play any benefits for these causes?

NICK: It's a possibility, but not right away. We'll have to see.

Q: How do you write as a group?

JOHN: There is no set way, really. Someone comes up with an idea and Simon gets an idea for a lyric. There are all kinds of ways.

NICK: The biggest reason is that each person looks after his own part. That way we give due credit to everyone.

Q:What are your plans after the US tour?

SIMON: Go home and get some sleep.

Q: Would you each tell me when you learned to play your instrument.

ANDY: I learned to use my instrument.… (laughs) Five, actually. But it was plastic at the time.

JOHN: I'm what you call a late developer. I didn't pick up mine until I was sixteen.

SIMON: I was born with my instrument, and it just got used again and again!

NICK: I started playing with mine when I was seventeen.

ROGER: I need two hands for mine!

  

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