by Josh Rotter
So Duran Duran were pretty, had big hair, wore plenty of makeup and had impeccable style. So they took their name from a character in the camp classic film “Barbarella,” counted Andy Warhol as a friend and appreciated the musical stylings of Grace Jones. And what was that they sang about swigging a 7-Up at that New York City gay bar on 45th between Sixth and Broadway?
But does any of that make the Fab Five gay? That’s been up for debate among fans and haters alike since the blockbuster band formed in Birmingham, England, 30 years ago.
Most-made-up keyboardist Nick Rhodes, who still maintains a blond Warholian shag, bore the brunt of the rumors through Double D’s ’80s heyday, which produced such chart-topping classics as “Girls On Film,” “Rio” and “Hungry Like The Wolf” and the highs and lows and band breakups and make-ups that ensued.
Now, after debuting their Timbaland/Timberlake-produced album “Red Carpet Massacre” on Broadway late last year, the Fab Five return this week for the 20-date U.S. leg of their Red Carpet Massacre Tour. Wild Boy Rhodes took a break from the band’s busy road schedule to chat with us and set the record straight about the new tour, working with “Timba-lake,” guitarist Andy Taylor’s recent departure — and all those gay associations.
Duran Duran-mania has hit the United States once again. But how is this tour different than the 2005 reunion show?
It’s a lot different. The show is in three acts. The first act is new material from “Red Carpet Massacre” and very familiar songs. Then we do the electro set, which is something we created for the two-week Broadway run. And we thought to do something different. Since rock bands do an acoustic breakdown, like when they break down their songs, this is what they sound like. Bringing electronic instruments and synth drums and rearranging songs and making them more simplistic is how we do it. In this 20-minute set, we’ll cover “Warm Leatherette” by The Normal. The third act is the uplifting part of the show, where we play more of the hits. The show is about two hours, and everyone will hear what they want.
It’s difficult to separate Duran Duran from their videos. What are you bringing visually on this tour?
Visually, we’ve brought out one of our biggest lighting shows. There’s no video and a hell of a lighting rig with a lot of firepower. We chose to omit video and use a lot more lights and different light sources. We’re using light bulbs, moving lights, strip lights and big scanners. It enables us to create a lot more moods with a variety of lighting. Hopefully people will like this show, because it’s very us. It’s a little more on the conceptual side. But our shows are about people having a great time. We want to see people dancing and leave with smiles on their faces. We want to create a party atmosphere.
One of the more danceable numbers and my favorite track on the new album is “Night Runner.” What can you tell us about it?
It’s fun and uplifting. A killer groove, the first one we did with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. The idea was to blend the Duran Duran sound with the Timbaland beats. If anything, I would say that the track “Skin Diver” is even more Duran Duran.
Speaking of Timbaland, what was it like working with him?
It was fascinating for us to work in a different way. It’s overwhelming at first. We finished three songs in five days, so it was very inspiring, too. We’re undoubtedly at the top of our game with what we’re doing right now. I’m a big fan of Tim’s work with Missy Elliot, and liked the Nelly Furtado album, so it seemed like a natural fit. We didn’t want to make a hip hop album, and we felt that we were moving much closer to our area of electro pop so it didn’t seem like such a stretch. When we walked in with a load of gear they seemed daunted at first, because they said they never saw that much equipment before. But once we started jamming and playing, everything was good.
One person whom the band apparently does not work well with is original guitarist Andy Taylor. When the original lineup reunited in 2003, a lot of fans were thrilled to see all five together again. But now some fans will be sad to hear that Andy is no longer with the band.
I could understand that. But it’s a very different thing for us. Some relationships don’t work. There was no big confrontation. It didn’t just happen one day. It slowly disintegrated, and it made it difficult for us to work together. I can completely understand fans feeling that it’s about the original five, not the original four. But our current guitarist, Dominic Brown, he’s been playing with us for quite a while. He’s absolutely terrific and has a slightly different style.
One individual and gay icon who was always a great supporter of the band was Princess Diana, who back in the ’80s often described the group as her favorite. What does that mean to you?
Aw shucks, she had fabulous taste. At that time, she had come to a couple shows and did say some kind things about us in the media. But the feeling is mutual. She was our favorite princess.
Do you ever get sick of being pigeonholed as an ’80s band?
I don’t think it’s so much as that. I could talk about the ’80s for a whole decade if you want. What happens is when we put out something new, that’s what we’re excited about and concentrating on. I understand why people are curious to hear tales about the ’80s and even the ’90s, so I never mind talking about it. But the longer you’re around as a band, it gets harder to draw focus to the newer material when you have a lot of hits, and they’re not as ready sometimes to listen to newer songs. But take a listen, and then let us know.
Duran Duran has always been adored by legions of screaming girls. But what about the screaming boys?
We have always had a big gay following right from the very beginning. The first time we played in San Francisco in ’81, we played a club called the I-Beam, and the first time, we played for a predominantly male and gay audience. I remember it being one of the hottest, sweatiest shows we had played. Boy, do those boys know how to dance.
Why do the gays love Duran Duran?
Because you can dance to the songs, and gay people have better taste than straight people. Also, we’re all very comfortable around the whole gay world and always have been, because gay people understand our desire to make things aesthetically pleasing, and they get the humor in Duran Duran. So we’ve always had a great relationship.
[Singer] Simon LeBon once said in an interview that if he were gay, he’d be interested in Russell Crowe.
Really? I would have expected Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp out of him.
And how about you?
That would be a tough one, wouldn’t it? What does Madonna count as? I definitely have to find the cutest one possible. I don’t know if it would be an actor, though. I would have to be a bit more inventive than that.
Although you’re admittedly straight, there’s always been something very “gay” about Duran Duran in terms of the hair, makeup and fashion.
Where I suppose it all came from is in the /70s, growing up in England, we had a musical movement called glam rock that included David Bowie, Roxy Music and Cockney Rebel — bands that wore fabulous, over-the-top clothes and good makeup. There was something hugely stylish about it — a great alternative to the doddering rock bands who would wear jeans and T-shirts and hid behind lights.
When we started the original lineup in 1980, the first thing we thought about was “OK, how are we going to present ourselves?” We wanted it to be something we were comfortable with. Once we started experimenting with different clothes at the time, we found Kahn and Bell. They were two girls, Jane Kahn and Patti Bell, the two most exquisite looking peacock girls in all of Birmingham. You saw them 10 streets away, they had such a huge charisma. Once we started wearing all the clothes from that period that they were making, it felt natural, and our identity developed from there. It was post-punk rock — what people often tainted as street and grungy. But let’s not forget the Sex Pistols and The Clash were very art-school and designed by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, the cutting edge of fashion at the time. They invented what was to come. And you can blame David Bowie for all the makeup.
Who are you wearing today?
On tour, we wear a lot of things that Juicy Couture made, because [bassist] John Taylor’s wife is part of that company. So we’ve managed to get our foot in the door and corrupt the process.
In general I still like Alexander McQueen very much, and Giorgio Armani for nice, simple, chic things. And I miss Helmut Lang, when he was making things, himself, before Prada took over.
What’s next for the Fab Five?
Well, we’re on tour for the rest of this year. We’ve done loads of remixes from the new album. The drummer of Arctic Monkeys did a remix of “Skin Diver” and we have a chill-out version of “Night-Runner,” which will come out as part of a separate product. Then I imagine we’ll go back to the studio and do some more material. We’re also working on a photographic book with the history of the band.
And there’s been a lot of talk about Duran Duran performing the first-ever concert on [3D online virtual world] Second Life.
We still haven’t done that, but we’ll finally launch our Second Life universe. It’s in testing at the moment. We’ve designed a whole universe, and I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to hear that our most giant building is a lipstick tower. There’s always something going on.
May 6, 2008
May 6, 2008