Nick Rhodes is much more than the keyboardist and founding member of Duran Duran. Because beyond giving a very unique character to the band created in Birmingham 45 years ago, both from the sound of its synthesizers and from its image, the artist controls his finances and analyzes what direction to take in any aspect.
It happened once again with Danse Macabre, the 16th album of this project that has become, due to its irrepressible success, the maximum reference of the new romantic movement, derived from new wave with danceable projection and glam sophistication.
In that work, the group, which is completed by singer Simon Lebon, bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor, captured Rhodes’ idea of facing a Halloween show in Las Vegas with a definitive soundtrack for the liturgical commemoration of all our dead.
Rhodes is now on screen via Zoom to certify what was stated.
First, it reaffirms what was highlighted by the promotion of Danse Macabre; in other words, that Duran Duran “was always willing to revel in the shadows and play with artistic, aesthetic, and emotional extremes.” And that it was within that framework that “he unearthed brilliance and melody from the darkness to weave new songs, thematic versions and new ‘ghostly’ versions” of his own classics.
Las versiones de Halloween de Danse Macabre son Bury A Friend (Billie Eilish), Psycho Killer (Talking Heads), Paint It, Black (The Rolling Stones), Super Lonely Freak (de ellos mismos e inspirado por Rick James), Spellbound (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Supernature (Cerrone) y Ghost Town (The Specials).
Duran Duran has been in business for 45 years. For Nick Rhodes, if everything goes well, that brand can grow and grow. (Courtesy Stephanie Pistel)
Beyond the repertoire, the work stands out for having contributions from guitarists Andy Taylor and Warren Cuccurullo, former members of Duran Duran, and many others from Nile Rodgers (fundamental in reaffirming Duran Duran’s sound) and producers Josh Blair and Mr. Hudson.
–What was the selection criteria for the songs to cover?
–Well, the theme of the Danse Macabre album revolves around the Halloween type of period. The celebration of things that are a little darker and, in some cases, even macabre. So we started looking for songs to cover guided by the sole purpose of having fun. That started with Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, which we’ve all been big fans of. And then he continued with Spellbound, by Siouxsie And The Banshees, another classic song by a band I’m a fan of. Then Simon said, “I’d like to do Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones.” “OK, great song, okay,” we said. Billie Eilish’s was one of the last to be added when we entered the studio.
–They went to something more in tune with these times…
–I wanted to do something a little more contemporary, something from the last four or five years at least. And I love Billie’s first solo album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (2019). I think it was one of the biggest debuts for a new artist in many years. I loved how unique it sounded. And that song (Bury A Friend) stuck with me, frankly. Everyone in the band was familiar with this impression of mine and approved of my impulse: “Yes, let’s try it.” As I’ve always said about this album, we chose incredible songs. So it’s not difficult to make them sound good, unless you play them very badly. We didn’t want to try to fight with the original versions. We love you all just the way you are. What we wanted to do was do Duran Duran covers of those songs.
–No one can criticize them for not having had stylistic breadth…
–It was nice to choose between all those different things. At Duran Duran we love music. And it is so true that we did not discern between eras or styles, we did not say “let’s aim for this period” or “for this characteristic sound of that era.” There are many songs I like from the 1940s-1950s and also things I heard last week.
–In “Dance Macabre”, they reunited with Andy Taylor and Warren Cucurullo. Did you have anything pending with them when they left the band? Did they leave on good terms?
–We probably had more disagreements with Andy than with Warren. But at the same time, when you have an argument or a disagreement with someone, you forgive them. That’s what life is about. There is no point in holding a grudge or being angry with someone. It was a time when we wanted different things. Andy wanted to do different things in his life. We understood and we separated. We have never said horrible things about each other. There’s no reason for us to do it, because when we formed the band, when we were kids, we built this. Andy was a big part of that for the first five years. And then Warren was a part of it for the next 15. And he played a huge role in the continued success and longevity of Duran Duran. And having them both back on different tracks for the album was a real joy. I couldn’t believe when I received the tracks that Warren recorded in Los Angeles. I couldn’t believe what he was playing. I thought, “Wow, he’s so inventive!” It’s one of the most refreshing guitar parts I’ve heard in years. Something similar happened to me with Andy. In his case, I thought: “Well, yes, he is the guitarist that he always was.”
–The omnipresent Nile Rodgers is also on the album. How important was he to Duran Duran’s music, in your opinion?
–Without a doubt, Nile is a key figure throughout our career. He was with us 40 years ago now. In 1983, he remixed the song The Reflex, which became our first number one worldwide. He did The Wild Boys (1984) with us. He did Notorious (1986) with us. He was part of Astronaut (2004) with us. A few years ago we did a song called Pressure with Mark Ronson, Mr. Hudson and Janelle Monáe. And he’s been touring with us, fronting Chic, for the last few years, and you couldn’t expect a brighter support band. Incredible. And now we were together in London at the time of this album. We wrote Black Moonlight and he also played on Supernature, because that’s one of his favorite songs from that Duran Duran period. It is an ongoing collaboration. We respect each other a lot as musicians and artists. Nile is, quite simply, the best rhythm guitarist in the world. And as a producer, I think there are very few who have a hit list that matches his.
–Did you feel the pressure to be culturally relevant throughout the band’s history?
-No. Being relevant is a great thing, but you can never force things to be relevant. It is the audience who decides what is culturally relevant, not those of us who create it. I feel that with Duran Duran we achieved what we were looking for: writing some songs that will be remembered by many people and that in some way have touched their lives. At Duran Duran we are big fans of music, cinema and art, so we know how to appreciate and enjoy the work of other creators who may or may not be relevant. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to create something that strikes a chord with people.
Nick Rhodes, an icon
There are few things more iconic (and more photogenic) in English music from the ’80s than Nick Rhodes at the command of Duran Duran’s keyboards. His lush blonde hair held up by abundant mousse, his lined eyes and his body movements when things got funky, sedimented the idea of a definitively modern guy, always at the forefront at the intersection of music and technology.
Rhodes confirms that this last issue has always fascinated him and credits Duran Duran for having capitalized on it since their early years.
Closer in time, what was an investigation of the potential of such a synthesizer became flirtations with augmented reality, virtual reality and even the controversial artificial intelligence, with which they generated the Invisible clip, one of the high points of Future Past (2021), his previous album that played with the times.
–I take you to the zero level of this whole matter: how did you become a keyboardist?
–Well, I started playing the guitar when I was 13, 14 years old. And he did it quite badly. I learned some chords and basic things. I actually went to see a punk band when I was 14. I saw them on stage live and I was looking at the guitarist. And I realized I knew all the chords to that song. So I went home, sat in my room and played it. Because I knew what it was about, I had written the chords and I played them. And that made me realize that I could be in a band. All positive, except that, at that time, John Taylor, my dear friend and with whom I formed Duran Duran, was also playing guitar. We didn’t need two guitarists, that was the reality. And when I was 16, a synthesizer called WASP came out, made by a company called Electronic Dream Plant. It was a very small plastic instrument with keys, on which you could only play one note at a time. But for me it was a revolution.
–Did you buy it, did they give it to you?
–I worked and saved a couple of hundred pounds. I saved all the money I could to buy that synthesizer because I thought that was the future of music. I never looked back. I bought that and then a rhythm machine. And I was delighted when I discovered how easy it could be. He thought I had no idea. At that point I knew a little about how a guitar worked, but not a keyboard. I had never played piano. So I learned with synthesizers and then I trained academically towards piano and orchestral arrangements.
–Will Duran Duran have a long career like The Rolling Stones, in your opinion?
–Look, I am amazed that Duran Duran turns 45 years old. There aren’t many bands that reach that number. I don’t know who’s still around, other than the Rolling Stones. There are, of course, U2 would be the first one I would think of… Depeche Mode, perhaps. And, you know, as long as we’re all excited about it, want to do it, and still curious, I hope it continues. What I don’t want to happen is for everything to become stagnant and boring. In that case, I would like to stop.
Despite his complicated health condition, Andy Taylor will be on Duran Duran’s next album