Simon LeBon and his ’80s pop-icon bandmates are no longer the young generation. But they’ve still got something to say.By Bryan Reesman
THIS COULD BE Duran Duran’s Davy Jones moment. It has, after all, been 26 years since the British bandmates released their first album, backed by racy videos and those handsome visages. Two and a half decades, plus a year and some months on top of that is a long time, long enough for young fans — especially all those young female fans who obsessed over Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, and the three unrelated Taylor boys, John, Andy, and Roger — to have grown up and given birth to even younger fans. Fans of Justin Timberlake, maybe.
So it’d be easy to imagine Duran Duran perpetually living out the scene from The Brady Bunch Movie, in which Davy Jones sings “Girl” to a bunch of breathless 40-something women who had idolized him when they were teenagers. (Except that Duran Duran would be singing “Girls on Film.”) Instead, the original bandmates, minus guitarist Andy Taylor, have decided to keep up with the musical times. Their new album, Red Carpet Massacre, a whimsical take on today’s celebrity culture, offers a new, more modern sound. And that sound, it turns out, was heavily influenced by none other than Justin Timberlake and producer Timbaland ,who has helped craft hits for Timberlake, Ludacris, and the Pussycat Dolls, among others.
American Way caught up with LeBon and Rhodes in England to talk about Timberlake’s role as well as wolf whistles and salty popcorn.
More than a few critics in the 1980s thought Duran Duran wouldn’t survive the decade, much less be releasing a new album in 2007. What do you think about such naysayers?
RHODES: It’s very tempting to just make a loud raspberry sound, isn’t it? I think it’s very hard for anyone to tell what’s going to happen. Artists themselves never have any idea. That’s why we’re always nervous wrecks.
LEBON : We’re lucky, because we’re still doing what we want to do. We’ve managed to maintain our career without a break, so it would be very easy to look at the people who were in the same class, so to speak, and feel superior. But I don’t.
LEBON: We’d met Justin and Timbaland on the night of the [MTV Video Music Awards] in 2003, when we received our Lifetime Achievement Award. I think Timbaland was having a chat with Justin over a pint of ale and mentioned that he was doing the Duran Duran project. Justin said, “You’re not doing it without me!”
RHODES: Clearly, he’s a successful international artist right now. And he’s from a completely different generation, so his musical references are completely different than ours. Justin grew up listening to different things. One of the fortunate coincidences was that he grew up listening to Duran Duran. He loved “Come Undone” and “Ordinary World” [from 1993’s The Wedding Album], and that is what attracted him to the band in the first place. I suppose it would be like us wanting to work with a lot of the people we grew up listening to. It’s perfectly natural.
Some might also think it’s natural to draw connections between Justin Timberlake’s early work and your band’s early work. You know, the whole boy-band thing.
LEBON: We were cited as one of the founders of boy bands, but that’s not quite how we feel about it.
Well, were there any ego issues in working with a producer who is so much younger than you?
RHODES: Often, older artists are wary of working with younger artists, thinking, What are they going to teach me that I don’t already know? But with us and Justin, that simply wasn’t the case. We thought it was a really interesting match. We loved his first solo album. It had killer grooves, and his sensibility was quite close to all the things we’ve always liked — a crossover of dance music, rock music, and electronics.
So why does Justin do only guest harmonies? Why not have him sing out front?
LEBON: I think that’s part of his approach to the whole project. He didn’t want it to necessarily be “featuring Justin Timberlake”; he wanted to do it on the terms of a producer. He hasn’t done any great big solos or been featured in that way, and it wouldn’t be right for us to try and say he had. He was very clear about that.
Where does the title come from?
LEBON: It’s just a bit of a fantasy. I think we all fantasize about chicks in cocktail dresses handbagging each other on the red carpet. We have a pretty normal view of these kinds of events. On the one hand, we’re fascinated by them, and on the other hand, they’re so contrived and ridiculous, you can’t help but laugh about it.
Duran Duran is back. The ’80s are back. So when will Arcadia — that short-lived, Duran Duran splinter group — come back?
RHODES: EMI is going to do a special version of that album [So Red the Rose]. I want to restore some of the tracks that were edited because there was [not enough] space on the vinyl. There is another instrumental that was untitled; I would like to restore it so that the full body of the Arcadia project is on one album. We are talking about potentially playing a song or two from Arcadia and Power Station on the next tour.
Duran Duran recently played at the Concert for Diana. Simon, I heard the late Princess of Wales checked you out at a gym years ago?
LEBON: She wolf whistled. I was bending down to tie my shoes, and she said, “I’d recognize those legs anywhere.” It made me laugh. She was a funny girl.
What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?
LEBON: I like salty popcorn when I go to the movies.
RHODES: When my [high school] chemistry teacher, who used to go and put bets on horses for us, left the classroom, it was not a good room to be in, because people lit up paper darts on Bunsen burners and threw them around the room. I’m amazed that the school never burned down. And I used to get left in charge.