Timing is everything. Such was the case for British New Wave rocker’s Duran Duran. When they burst on the scene in the early 1980s with their groove-heavy sounds and stylist good looks, they arrived at the same time as another entertainment upstart: MTV. The band and the video channel were a match made in heaven.
Visually stunning music videos including “Girls on Film,” “Planet Earth,” “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” led to millions of album sales and sold-out tours. The band, singer Simon Le Bon, bassist John Taylor, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor became international superstars.
Their meteoric rise unleashed a wave of hysteria not seen since The Beatles, but after their appearance at Live Aid, it seemed Duran Duran was history. First guitarist Andy Taylor announced he was going solo and then drummer Roger Taylor “took a break” and disappeared. John Taylor, Mr. Le Bon and Mr. Rhodes soldiered on, releasing several solid albums but none with the impact of the original five.
An unlikely reunion in 2001 saw the full band return. The band has its first top 10 album in decades, the infectiously modern “Paper Gods.” Roger Taylor discussed why he left, how he returned and how he made peace with being known as “Roger from Duran Duran.”
Question: What do you attribute the recent surge in popularity to?
Answer: It’s hard to know, isn’t it? We don’t have any control over what happens around us. We can only control what we do: the music we produce, shows we do. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. At the moment it seems to be connecting with a wide audience, which is great. I think the last album [“Red Carpet Massacre”] set this up in a way. We kind of went back to the early days with the sound and the sonic architecture. This one [“Paper Gods”] we allowed to be a bit more contemporary and forward-thinking.
Q: It’s contemporary yet maintains the Duran Duran sound.
A: The greatest weapon we have is Simon [Le Bon]. No matter what we do behind him, we could be sounding like Daft Punk, and the minute Simon starts to sing, it’s instantly recognizable.
Q: How has the creative process between the four of you evolved?
A: It’s gotten tighter and tighter, actually. Since the reunion, which was in 2001, when we had to clearly feel each other out again to get used to our different personalities. And to work together again as a unit. I would say it has taken 10 years to become a creative unit again and really fire.
Q: Why did you leave Duran Duran in 1986?
A: I just didn’t feel comfortable with it anymore at that point. It happened a lot quicker than we ever thought it would happen. Got bigger than I ever imagined it could be. Around that time the band had split two ways with Power Station and Arcadia. I was kind of left in the middle.
I was also struggling with the fame side of it. I was really unprepared for that. I was a really shy kid. I wouldn’t say boo to a goose. When I got pulled from behind the kit to be part of this world-famous quintet, that was very difficult for me.
Q: There were so many rumors when you left that said you were a hermit, a recluse, a sheep farmer.
A: Well there were no sheep involved. [laughs] I lived a quiet existence. I bought this place in the countryside of Gloustershire with my then-wife. One hundred and fifty acres. We lived a very secluded, isolated existence. We had kids. A very simple life. It was exactly what I needed.
I never said, “I’m leaving the band.” I said, “I’m just gonna take some time to live a normal life.” It is actually very difficult to become another person after you’ve been in a band this big. You’re always gonna be known as “Roger from Duran Duran.”
Q: What brought you back into Duran Duran?
A: One day the phone rang and it was John. He said, “I’m by the pool in L.A. with Nick and Simon.” I said, “OK, great. Send them my love. Anyway, what do you want?” [laughs] He said, “We wanna put the band back together again.” What?
By then it was 2001, and I was almost thinking our time had past. I had to think if I really wanted to do it or not. I was living this easy life with my kids. Then I though, “Maybe it is time to go back and get a grasp of this thing again, embrace it.”
Q: Which do you prefer, live drums or programing?
A: Well I’m not afraid of electronic drums or programming. I love playing live drums. There is nothing more I love more than sitting behind the kit. There is also a part of me that has always loved electronic music. I saw Kraftwerk when I was 16 years old. I just happened to buy a ticket that night. I said, “What’s on tonight?” This was Birmingham Town Hall in my hometown. The guy said, “It’s a band called Kraftwerk from Germany. It’s all electronic.” I thought, “Sh**, that sounds really boring.” But I had nothing else to do. I was just blown away.
Q: A lot of drummers fear programming will replace them.
A: I kind of went through that in the ‘80s when the LinnDrum came out. I was a little bit scared. I thought it was going completely to take over. There is room for both.
Q: You seem at peace with being “Roger from Duran Duran.”
A: I think it is a great thing to have found peace with it. I did spend a few years trying to run as far away from it as I could, finding music that was as far away from Duran Duran as I could find, which was electronic. Which is, strangely enough, the base of the new album.
Duran Duran’s latest CD, “Paper Gods,” is out now.