How Duran Duran Played the Long Game and Won

Ahead of the band’s Friday night Hollywood Bowl show, LAMag spoke with bassist John Taylor about 44 years of Duran, his new artwork—and his pals, Harry and Meghan
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John Taylor is not only Duran Duran’s bass player but, as an informal survey of several hyperventilating women over 40 recently revealed, still the band’s hottest member. This is despite having disappointed many in 1999 by marrying Juicy Couture co-founder Gela Nash. Forty-two years after settling on the band lineup that made their megahit album, Rio, Taylor—now joined by three out of four of those original Durans—will perform at The Hollywood Bowl on Friday night.

In mid-August (which, we should note, long preceded the death of Queen Elizabeth II), Taylor hopped on the line to discuss the secret to the band’s longevity, snitty music critics, music’s stroppiest Mancunian and Meghan Markle. 

LAMag: So, you’re playing the Hollywood Bowl. None of us are 20 anymore. Candidly, tell me what sort of allure touring still holds for you. Do you do it for the dough, the adulation, the actual playing of music, the travel?

John Taylor: All of the above and then some. I think the lockdown has changed priorities a little bit. I actually feel it’s important right now to get out on the road and create a forum for people to be together, and to give them a place to dance and mindlessly sing along and clap, and just be. 

There were some performers who seemed to be driven somewhat nuts by the lockdown. Eric Clapton apparently went a bit crazy because he was unable to perform. Did lockdown drive you or anybody else in the band crazy? 

No. I mean, when it came, we were really on the final straight of making our new album, Future Past. Strangely, for us, the time out was really beneficial to our process. We’d never taken one before. We had two months to deliver the album and we were fighting over everything. I was working in London but I live in L.A., so I came back to L.A. on the 13th of March, and I think it was 10 months later, maybe, that we were finally back in the studio picking up the strands. We came back with a completely different attitude toward each other, toward the music. I think that timeout made Future Past a much better album. There was a lot more appreciation and gratitude for what we still get to do.

When you guys are considering recording an album and touring, is there one member that’s always most difficult to get on board? 

Oh my God, it’s all about band dynamics, really, at this stage. I mean, I tend to come down the middle, I would say. I mean, first of all, everybody else lives in London. So, when the band’s reassembling to do an album, that means I’m essentially going to be away from home for a long period of time. It’s all a compromise. We just have to find something that works for all of us. We used to think that if three of the four of us felt something strongly, then we would do that. But we’ve since found that if one person really doesn’t want to do something, we really try to avoid making them do it. I mean, you’ve really got to play the long game. 

The longevity of the band is remarkable. I found an Entertainment Tonight interview from 1986. You said, “Duran Duran has always been a fairly volatile situation because we have a very unnerving hierarchy in that we’re all massive egomaniacs.”

Well, it’s funny. I mean, I wouldn’t use those words today. I’d say we were all a little sensitive. Listen, we’re evolved to different degrees and I think we’ve gotten a lot better at trusting each other to take care of things. The great thing about a band is that we’ve got four heads that can run a lot of business, a lot of plays. And if Simon can take care of that and I don’t have to be a part of it—great. If Nick can do that and I don’t have to be a part of it—great. And it wasn’t like there was one person that secretly wanted to be a country singer or somebody over here that didn’t really like being in a band. I think by the time we got to the end of the 80s after our first decade in the business, we were two men down [after guitarist Andy Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor quit in 1986] and the three of us were bruised and battered. And then we went through a reunion [in 2001], where the two guys that had left the band in the 80s came back. That was really tricky.

Tricky how?  

I mean, it was just like the movies. It was just like Still Crazy or Spinal Tap  

I just read your 2012 memoir, In The Pleasure Groove, which I quite enjoyed. I thought Nick Rhodes’ intro was notable. At the end of it, he writes, “I should confess that I have not read this book. Only resisting the temptation thus far, because I too hope one day to deliver my version of events.” It’s 10 years later. Did Nick ever read your book?  

Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t ask him. I wouldn’t think so. I mean, I wouldn’t read his book either. 

You wouldn’t?  

Well, no, because I think it’s a—what’s that Japanese word? The Kurosawa film, where it’s like everybody has a different memory? Rashomon. I stress throughout my book, “This is how I remember it.” But I didn’t write it for Nick. I mean, I don’t expect Nick to listen to any solo music that I make. I don’t listen to Nick’s solo music. I know Nick well enough. I don’t need to know him any better.    

Funnily enough, I obsessively deep-dived into painting in lockdown. And Nick’s a very talented photographer. And I was asked to do a show of my paintings in Ibiza and I was like, “Yay, I’ll do it.” And then they were like, “Well, Nick’s going to do it as well…” And I was like, “Oh, f–king hell.” But actually, it was remarkable.

So it was OK?

It really was remarkable. The work was so different. And his work was crazy amazing, and mine was cool, too. And they were so different. Tell me one other band that could do that.

John Taylor ((Photo: John Swannell)

I have tickets to see Roxy Music’s reunion tour, and I just got word that they changed the venue from the former Boston Garden, which I think houses 18,000, to a venue of about 5,000. And I thought it must be incredibly difficult for a performer to realize that they can’t sell a venue they thought they could. Was there ever a moment like this for Duran Duran?

Yeah. I mean, we had it all taken away. And I went one stage further. I left the band [in 1997], I took myself into nightclubs where sometimes there were like, two dozen people there. I think anybody that’s in a situation where their brand is struggling, whether it’s your restaurant or your company or whatever, initially it’s attributed to market forces. “It’s the supply chain. MTV isn’t playing us anymore. Well, music’s moved on,” or “Well, there’s only three of us now, when there used to be five of us.” The important thing is, you’ve just got to keep on going, and you’ve got to believe. I’ve had an extraordinary life and I’ve gotten to tick many, many boxes that people like me dreamt about when they were teenagers. But one of the things I find about getting older is that things that were very important 10 or 20 years ago, a lot of them aren’t important to me anymore. Part of coming to terms with age is making adjustments to your expectations. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Your memoir dealt with kicking your addictions to alcohol and drugs in the late 90s. I personally find that when I’m traveling for work and away from my family, I tend to overindulge. We see all these middle-aged musicians, like Taylor Hawkins dying on tour. Does the road have any kind of effect—where you feel tempted to use? Or do you just feel like your sobriety is too solid for temptation?

Oh, well, it’s solid insofar as I don’t take it for granted, ever. I have to stay mindful of the traps. I mean, yeah, I know some beautiful, talented bass players, like [Chic’s] Bernard Edwards that just expired in a hotel room, a long way from their loved ones. And I hope that doesn’t happen to me, but I don’t want to live in cotton wool. I love to perform, and I want to do it while I can. 

So you don’t think the act of touring is specifically triggering?

I mean, you can get triggered around your wife, can’t you? In the kitchen. Yeah. For me, I mean, I take recovery super seriously, so I can’t f–-k around. 

Congratulations on Duran Duran’s upcoming induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In that 1986 [Entertainment Tonight] interview, you spoke about how critics didn’t take the band seriously at the time. Is Duran Duran finally getting its due? 

It’s funny when you say that, in a way, because we were so hugely successful out of the box. It was insane. But I think that it wasn’t quite the success that we had in mind. I think that I was almost like, “Yeah, but where’s the great review in the NME?” I haven’t felt that way for a long time. In actual fact that there was a point, maybe around about [the period of] the reunion, where we started to get a lot of good reviews, and they almost scared us because we’d had success without the reviews.

There are great bands like The Cars and Led Zeppelin that never received critical praise in their heyday, but then eventually were reappraised, right?

That’s true. I mean, we found an audience so quickly and nobody expected that to happen. Nobody. And I think the music press likes to be the arbiters. They like to do the finding. They like to be the ones to introduce the artists to their audience, and that didn’t happen with Duran. It was like we didn’t need it, and so they might have resented it a little bit. Listen, there were some critics that were really into it and wrote well of the band—just not the obvious gatekeepers. The NME and Rolling Stone were so powerful in the 70s but neither of them was really for Duran. Never. But I don’t care anymore. It doesn’t matter anymore. 

You performed at the Queen’s Jubilee at Buckingham Palace as well as the Commonwealth Games, so I assume you have some knowledge and some familiarity with these folks. So, Meghan Markle. Thoughts?

I love her. I love Harry too. I love the boys and we’ve got a little relationship with them because their mom was a fan and she used to play them—Duran. And so, we have a place in their story. I don’t know them well but I’m always saying to people, “They must be so much happier living in Montecito than if they were living in f–king Gloucestershire and subject to the constant f–king bulls–-t that goes on. 

So does that put you firmly in Camp Harry and Meghan?

I just want the best for them. And I think, maybe she hasn’t been entirely honest in the way that she’s described what happened to her. But equally, she was subject to this sort of racist, sexist bulls–-t  online and in the media. My God.

Since we didn’t see all that tabloid coverage in this country, it’s a little difficult to understand it all. I haven’t been able to figure out what I believe. It does seem as though The Crown has been incredibly active in planting a variety of stories. But the Oprah interview was a little much for me.

Yeah, me too.

Will you do me the honor of ranking these British bands: The Cure, Duran Duran, Roxy Music, Oasis, and The Police.

Well, Roxy Music I like. A symphony orchestra as far as I’m concerned, and they’ve only made nine albums, and four or five of them are masterpieces. And The Police were one of the most dynamic, one of the greatest bands of all time. I mean, again, they didn’t make a lot of albums and none of them are bad. The Cure is the band that is most reliant upon one man, who’s one of the greatest songwriters of our age. I’m not going to rank Duran. Who else was there? Oasis? Eh, I could take them or leave them, to be honest.  

I once interviewed Noel Gallagher and I think he ranked Oasis above The Who.  

Yeah, well, he’s a stroppy Mancunian, isn’t he? Of course he would! The Mancunians put themselves above London. You ask a Mancunian, “What’s the second city?”—because it’s always a fight around Britain because it’s assumed that London is the first. In Birmingham, where I’m from, they always say, “We’re the second city.” But you ask a Mancunian, they’ll say London.

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