At the U.S opener of their “Paper Gods” tour in Durham, N.C., two weeks ago, Duran Duran was a hyperkinetic cluster of energy.
Bassist John Taylor bounded around the stage like a frisky puppy; singer Simon Le Bon did that hip shimmy move that still makes the girls (OK, women) squeal; the ever-enigmatic Nick Rhodes hid behind his mass of keyboards; and the ageless Roger Taylor thumped out the steadiest of beats for two hours (longtime touring guitarist Dominic Brown is also back, as well as two backup singers and a saxophonist).
The band has returned to the road to support its robust new album, “Paper Gods,” a collection of songs that proves the veteran New Wavers are determined to not only maintain their musical credibility, but continue to grow.
On Friday, Duran Duran visits Atlanta with a show at Philips Arena – the band’s first headlining arena gig in the city since 1984 at The Omni.
They’ll be joined at their arena shows by the legendary Nile Rodgers and a multimedia show that might overpower a band with a lesser catalog. But with set lists stretching from “Girls on Film” to “A View to a Kill” to “Notorious” to the taut pop-funk of the current “Pressure Off” and “Last Night in the City,” fans will have plenty to relish.
Calling from his home in Los Angeles a few weeks before the tour launch, John Taylor spoke candidly about the challenges of a veteran band releasing new music, recording with Atlanta’s Janelle Monae and why he’s ditched social media.
On returning to playing arenas:
I think we can get away with it because we have an exceptional show with Chic and Shamir on the bill. It’s a very special event. I think “Paper Gods” has revitalized our fan base. Like when we’ve played Chastain it’s AMAZING. The Atlanta audiences have always been there for us. It’s going to be nice to bring an arena show to town.
On the spectacular visuals in the show:
It’s the most visually media integrated show we’ve ever done. Every song has a visual narrative. The songs are going from 1982 to 1995 to 2015, but the visual medium is all current. It gives the whole show a kind of currency, it feels fresh. Simon said recently, the people are paying a lot of money to see us. They want to hear “Planet Earth” and “Ordinary World,” but we don’t want to feel like they’re coming to see an oldies band. It’s not easy, but an older artist can pull something off that doesn’t feel like a nostalgia trip.
On physically preparing for a tour:
Every time I get out of bed I think, ‘How are you going to go on the road?!’ It just happens. I don’t like gyms. When it comes to being fit, I can be lazy, but I love to jump around on stage. I do look after myself. I do yoga regularly. You have to take care of yourself for sure. It’s not for sissies, being on the road. It’s challenging, but we all love performing.
On deciding upon the set list:
It’s an ongoing conversation – what are the songs that are best going to represent and best going to work together to make the best possible presentation? You’re really playing with the script almost nightly. You tend to, after a few nights of fiddling, find something that everyone feels good about. Then you get into a groove.
On getting legendary Nile Rodgers involved in the tour:
I mean, look, he’s one of the greatest living musician/producers. He’s one of those guys about who I say, he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. Having him on the road with us is such a gift, I’m really honored. I love being around him in the faint hope that some of it will rub off on me. He forces you to keep your game up. When he came to London a few years ago to work on the album with us, he floated the idea of doing a joint tour.
On the death of major Duran Duran influence, David Bowie:
He was like a creative parent, mentor, friend. We toured America with him. He was always such a great guy, positive and upbeat. The ‘70s was the rock decade, and he, more than anybody, showed what a limitless imagination could bring. He left us such an extraordinary legacy. You had this sequence of musical developments that had really fabulous visual imagery. That’s really what Bowie did that no one had really done. Prince and Madonna took Bowie on in the ‘80s. He was moving very quickly, he was very light on his feet. But that was back in the day before world tours and you had to put three years between album releases. I think the really compelling aspect of his journey, he became this rock star in Britain in ‘73, and then he was the first white singer to do “Soul Train,” then he let go of that identity and came to America and got an R&B band together and became this white soul singer. NOBODY did that. Jagger couldn’t do it. Rod Stewart couldn’t do it. Nobody has pulled that off. When I became a bass player, the two biggest influences were Chic and David Bowie’s rhythm section from the “Station to Station” album. (The song) “Stay,” that’s what Roger and I were trying to emulate.
On getting Janelle Monae to participate on “Pressure Off.”
We were playing our publishers some songs in Los Angeles and were thinking about one or two features. One of the guys suggested Janelle, and it was like “Ohmigod, she’d be amazing.” I loved her second album. From that idea to getting her in front of a mic, it took a little bit of arranging; these things don’t happen at the click of the switch. She liked the song, and she liked Duran and that Nile was going to produce the session. She’s just like, (expletive), what a pro, watching her do the video (for “Pressure Off”).
On the struggles of a veteran band releasing new music:
Are any of us ever entirely satisfied? Unless you are on the top, we all want more. I spent two years on an album, so I want it to reach the widest possible audience. The core fan base loved this album and it has been so deeply well received. Would I like it to sell more copies? Yeah. I’d like the music to get wider exposure. But I know there is no obvious radio format for Duran Duran. We had the best press ever on this album. We’ve never been a band that has been about getting good press, it’s never driven the success of this band. So how do we get our music out? It’s not the first time this has happened. Sometimes it’s out of your control, but you get out on the road and use that as an opportunity to broadcast. We all have things that drive us. There’s an objective. We don’t just want to be a legacy act, but new albums are challenging and there comes a point where it’s like, do I really want to go back in the studio for two years so I can tour for six months?
On the quirky album cover for “Paper Gods”:
It was certainly a group decision to ask (artist) Alex (Israel). He seemed like a really cool, young artist based out of L.A. He reminded us of early Andy Warhol, so we turned it over to him not knowing what he was going to do. When we saw it for the first time we were all a little nonplussed. It wasn’t what any of us had in mind, but we all came around to love it. There was a freshness to it. I thought it had a really contemporary feel to it.
On former guitarist Andy Taylor (who left in 2006):
I think Simon saw him last summer. I don’t know where he is. We got to have another go around (on the 2003 reunion tour), which was unexpected, and then it was exhausted. You can’t keep everybody happy. You make a lot of friends in your lifetime. Sometimes you just let go of old friends. I’m sure he feels the same way. He knows where I am, so what’s stopping him from reaching out to me? Andy and I worked together for a few years. Out of 30, it’s really not that much. We live in very different worlds.
On ditching social media:
It got a little uncomfortable and it wasn’t feeling good. I have such a poor attention span, anyway. I really struggle to be in the moment, and I wasn’t enjoying constantly having to monitor my own experience.
7 p.m. April 15. $29.95-$140. With Chic featuring Nile Rodgers and Shamir. Philips Arena, 1 Philips Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
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