In honour of John Taylor’s 50th birthday today, I thought I’d dig up the tape of the interview I did with him in April, 1995, just at the release of Thank You - a covers album now well-known for being named Q magazine’s worst album….ever.
I’d met JT a few times previously but this was my first opportunity to sit down with his cheekbones for one-on-one time. I was/am a major Durannie. John Taylor has been in my life in some way or another for about 26 years . How much of a Durannie? I nearly puked in the hotel lobby from nervousness. It was the first interview, but it wouldn’t be the last. I’d interview him again about a year or so later….when Taylor went solo.
Which is why I found the interview fascinating. Held at a pretty interesting and volatile time in Duran’s history, things weren’t going so well. It was three years after “Ordinary World” and the Wedding Album. The band had kicked at the coffin back in’ 92, climbed up through the dirt and was rediscovered by the mainstream market. The music had been good.
But it was now 1995. The top 10 Billboard Charts were filled with TLC, Coolio, Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey. In England, it was all about Oasis, a band Taylor raved about.
In his personal life, his marriage to his first wife, Amanda DeCadenet, was showing signs of strain and in our chat he took a few potshots – talking about how she only came on tour to cities that had Chanel shops in them.
He also mentioned how the band was working on new music. Little did we know at the time that two years from then, in 1997 when Medazzaland came out, John Taylor would no longer be a member of Duran Duran.
But he was relaxed and funny and generous with his time with me….even when I pulled out a picture of me at 10 years old, standing in front of a Cannes, France realtor agency called “John Taylor”. “I know where that is! It’s on the Croissette!” he exclaimed. He tried to push my thumb – covering up the tomboy in red trainers and what I called my “Roger Taylor shirt” – out of the way. “My, my Mikala…..” he said, his eyes glinting, “…how you’ve changed.” He laughed readily.
THANK YOU: WHAT THE FUCK?
And so…to Thank You. Oh, poor Thank You. What a mess that album was, sadly. It had covers of Public Enemy, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Sly & The Family Stone, Elvis Costello and The Doors on it. I know. You’re thinking: WHAT THE FUCK? DURAN DURAN? DOING “911 IS A JOKE? Seriously?”
(It must be said, however, that their cover of themselves – a reworking of their original classic “The Chauffeur”- and their take on Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and “White Lines” by Melle Mel were pretty good).
“Every week in the NME it’s been like a running gag up to the release of the album,” he sighed, curled up in his chair. “And finally, the week before the record came out, they gave two pages – two pages!!!- where they called up Led Zeppelin’s tour manager and asked him to review ‘Thank You’, and they called up this rap DJ and asked him to review ‘911 is a Joke’. And I think they expected it to be a unanimous trouncing, but it wasn’t. Even though the editorial slant was negative, it couldn’t fight the fact that some people actually liked the stuff we’d done.”
Thank You was supposed to Duran’s version of Bowie’s Pin Ups – a tribute to the bands that inspired them. Taylor acknowledged that releasing a covers-only album was a bit risky, especially after winning back their original fan base and gaining an new one.
“It’s such an achievement just getting an album finished and getting it out there. It really is difficult, so it gives you a tremendous amount of inertia. When you get it out, it’s like ‘Oh God, I don’t have to create for another two years now!’ You know, you get the right to lunch for another year,” he laughs. “And I was thinking, I’m sure Pin-Ups had bad reviews when it came out.”
“I’M WIDE AWAKE NOW, AND FEELING EVERYTHING…IT’S INTENSE”
“Henry Miller once said that music is a beautiful opiate as long as you don’t take it too seriously.” How serious are you right now about your music?”, I asked.
“Terribly, terribly serious,” said Taylor. “Yeah.”
How do you think that’s changed? It was fun for a while and now it seems like it’s work to you?
“It’s always been work,” he said. “It’s just that we were fucked up most of the time we were working. It’s like I’m in a mid-stage of recovery and I’m wide awake now and feeling everything. And I don’t know what to do with the feelings half the time. It’s really intense. It’s like I’m having to do a lot of things I don’t want to have to do anymore.”
He laughs. “No, I didn’t say that. I don’t like over-promoting. We’ve always fought about it. I don’t like spending lots and lots of money making records.”
It’s that kind of 80s debt to electronics that Duran have got. I think that the traditional band thing is really where musicians play and the whole thing just about hangs together and if something falls over, the whole thing falls apart. Our musical direction was really forged with a lot of Kraftwerk and Georgio Moroder stuff and we’ve always used sequencers on stage, tapes and click tracks. And it’s too sure of itself. It’s like a tram or a bus. You know it’s not going to break down. I learned that really early on. If something happened and I broke a string or my guitar went out of tune or whatever and I stopped playing, the beat kept going. Which is okay at first, because it means you can get completely fucked up and it wouldn’t make a difference. But actually, it’s not what a band’s about. I’d like to see us return to that primal thing. We’re trying to get there.”
So you can get back to playing funky basslines again?
“I’m not even into funky basslines anymore. And I went through SUCH a period of doing that and that’s why I’m so grateful for this new punk, because it’s like ‘oh god that’s where I’m from.”
“I HAVE NO FINISHING POWER”
So what does it mean, “trying to get there”? “We wanted to get a band feel to the writing so we did what we always tended to do, which is jam. We’ll do a few weeks and just play and Simon will lie on the couch and just wail and we’ll just jam. And then we’ll make up a tape, after a month, with all these fragments on it, and see which stuff really sticks. And that’s the bit I like the most, really. I’d be quite happy to do that every night.”
I called him on that. “But you’re a perfectionist, so…”
“Well, yeah, and the only point of real perfection is that initial moment [he snaps his fingers] when it’s all happening and everybody’s in the same key and then it immediately becomes pedantic. Then it’s all, like, ‘well, we’ve got to organize it.” I hate organizing, I’m really immature like that. I have no finishing power, I like the initial stimulus. I’ve never been really good with paperwork (laughs).”
But was there anyone you were really nervous about giving these songs to? Having, say, Ray Manzarek from the Doors listen to it? Or Lou?
“You know, I didn’t care. I didn’t give a damn. I thought it was really contrived, quite frankly. Have you got the press kit with all the quotes? I mean what are they gonna say? They’re not going to criticize it, are they? The cheque is in the post! Their manager’s got their arms behind their backs going ’say something nice about it.’ I don’t know. I thought it was milking it. It was a little lacking in humility. Like ‘come on! come! give us a quote!’. First it was, like, ‘Give us your song! Then it was ‘we can use your photograph to put on the cover, right?’ Then it was ‘we need a quote! On film please!’. Now they better come to our party in New York or they’ll be off the second pressing!’” Taylor giggled.
ON ROGER’S (BRIEF) RETURN
But JT got serious when asked about (original drummer) Roger Taylor returning to play on this album. “Well, we’d been asking him – we’ve always asked him – but this time out he was ready. He played on “Watching the Detectives” and “Perfect Day”. It was…..interesting. He actually learned a lesson, I think. He actually played on several other songs but his tracks ended up getting wiped. And I had to explain to him, ‘well, when you left, the dynamics of the band changed enormously.’ Everybody became a drummer, everybody’s a computer programmer and the way that we approached writing changed when Roger left.
If I’m the first one in the studio, I’d be tapping out a little rhythm and it’d be like, okay, well, that’s the groove. So there was this massive grey area. Then somebody would say: ‘I don’t think it’s the right drum vibe, let’s get someone else in’. And I think it was quite educational for him to see how things have changed. How much less spontenaiety there was. But for me the best aspect of what he did on Thank You was the video for ‘Perfect Day.’ The images that have stuck with me is me sitting around watching him on the monitor filming a close-up. And I felt really sad. And we just realized that it’d been 10 years since. I remember thinking ‘10 years? What have I done in 1o years? What have YOU done in 10 years? What the hell have we been doing in 10 years?”.
It’s fairly obvious to any music fan what TaylorTaylorTaylorRhodesLeBon were doing over the past 10 years. Does he ever resent the fact that the band are always now measured against their 80s successes rather than seeing the music as a continuum and change?
“IT WAS TOO HARD NOT TO PARTY”
“I do, but I think of us like misappropriated company funds at a very early age. We weren’t very responsible as artists and musicians. It was just too hard not to get down and party and do all sorts of bad things. We’d have to be like priests to side-step that. So I kind of understand why people had a hard time taking us seriously. And maybe I’m being spoiled to expect that. I don’t expect that, actually.”
How did it effect you to be written up in every 16 magazine, every month?
“I’M PISSED OFF ABOUT SPIN MAGAZINE”
“I never read 16 magazine so I never thought about it. But I’m pissed off about SPIN magazine, cos I like SPIN. So when they give us a two out of 10 now, I’m pissed off. And nobody else in the band understands that. Cos they don’t read SPIN. But I do. And the same goes for the NME. Why is that the fucking magazines that I like to read criticize us so much? Nobody else in the band feels that. And that’s probably because they’re more in denial than me. Or maybe they’re less interested in what’s happening in today’s music scene so they just shut off. The Sunday Times, in London, gave us a magnanimous review. It was review and it was the best thing that’s ever been written about the band…. but the Times sucks. I’m glad it’s out there people will read it the day before the album is released…but….I guess it’s part of my upbringing. It’s really easy to earn the failures but it’s harder to earn the successes.” \m/