"Nobody misses much in this band. It's like a comedy show all day, every day, with five smart-asses."
When it came time for Duran Duran to release its first greatest-hits collection, it couldn't have taken long to come up with the title: Decade. For a good stretch of the 1980s, the English quintet couldn't be avoided. Much of the credit has rightly gone to the band's commanding visual sense and use of music videos. Whether living the high life in "Rio," hunting supermodels in "Hungry Like The Wolf," or exploring a post-apocalyptic hellscape in "Wild Boys," the band members knew how to sell their songs with images, creating places where the wind always blew through their hair and everyone had a lot more sex than the average MTV viewer.
But it would be unfair to characterize Duran Duran as strictly a product of music videos' golden age. Few bands from that era wrote catchier songs or had a better sense of how edgy material could be while still appealing to the widest possible audience. As its heyday passed and key personnel departed, the group still found periodic success, particularly with its 1993 self-titled album. But the new Astronaut seeks a full-on return to the glory days by reuniting the classic lineup of Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, John Taylor, Andy Taylor, and Roger Taylor. The band has prepared for this moment since its 2001 reunion, though the process has had its complications, as keyboardist Nick Rhodes explained in a recent interview with The Onion A.V. Club.
The Onion: Shows like Bands Reunited give the impression that there's more to a reunion than putting everyone in the same room and making music. Has it been smooth for you so far?
Nick Rhodes: Well, yeah, it's been extraordinary for the last three years. We actually first spoke in 2000, then got together in 2001, sat in a room together, looked at each other, and talked about how we were going to do this. We decided that the most important thing was to write some new material and record an album. In June of 2001, we rented a house in the south of France, brought a truckload of gear over, got in a room, and started playing together. From that point onward, it's been amazing.
O: Was anyone particularly hard to coax back into the band?
NR: No. It all happened within 24 hours. That's why we could do it. We didn't really fall out in 1985; it's just one of those things that fell to bits. So there wasn't any huge animosity between any of us. I think we'd all had enough time in between to realize that this lineup had something special. It was always about the music. When we got in a room together, we all realized—I certainly realized immediately—how passionate the other four guys are about this lineup of Duran Duran and what we did together, and how much pride there is about what we do. A lot of bands, I suppose, when they do get back together, go out and think of it as a cash raid. All we did was start spending our own money. For three years, we just spent our own money making this record. We didn't do a deal with anyone at that stage, and we had the confidence to just forge ahead at our own speed, because we knew that that was how to make a great record.
O: You had trouble finding a label when you first got done with the album. Did that surprise you?
NR: Yes and no. When we first got back together, I'm sure we could have found a label that would have put the record out very easily. But to find the right label was a lot harder. We did speak to most of the major labels at some stage during negotiations. But every time we started speaking to people, the CEO would get fired, and we'd be back there two weeks later, and they'd go, "You've got to speak to this guy now." Or half the staff would get fired. Or the label would get cannibalized by another label. Or, in some cases, like in the case of Arista, we would be talking to them, and then a couple of months later, Arista didn't exist anymore. It was a real tough time, a real time of transition. Most of the people we were speaking to, even on the highest levels, were pretty terrified that they may lose their jobs, didn't know who was going to take them over, or whether they were going to survive the downloading and the job cuts and everything else. We took a step back and said, "You know what, this is chaos. This is going to take longer than we thought. We're not going to have an album out in the first 18 months." And we didn't. The album's just coming out, and it'll be three and a half years later.
O: One 1984 article about you was titled "Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran's Funny Man." Is that still a fair assessment of your role in the band, or was it even then?
NR: Well, I hope what it meant was that we thrive on humor in this band. I suppose that I'm fairly comfortable with the clown hat on. It's growing up here with things like Monty Python when you're a kid—it gets very deeply ingrained, and humor is really our way to get through the day. Nobody misses much in this band. It's like a comedy show all day, every day, with five smart-asses.
O: You and Simon LeBon kept Duran Duran going when you were the only two original members left. Were you ever tempted to pack it in?
NR: Not really, no. Because, actually, we love music, and we love performing and writing songs. I like collaborating with Simon, because he's one of the few true unique voices out there. There are a bunch of others, sure. There's Bono, David Bowie, Mick Jagger. But Simon really has a unique sound, and there's something about that. There aren't that many singers out there who are as adaptable, who can really go anywhere with songs. From really soft, beautiful, and choral to somewhere edgy and raunchy. I didn't really feel the need to move on, and we had a good working relationship. But we work with other people, too.
O: You were one of the first bands to realize the potential of music videos. How much of that was a conscious game plan, and how much of that was good timing?
NR: A bit of both. We were lucky enough to be around at the time when video was just getting started. MTV didn't exist in 1980, but by 1982, it had gotten to be a force to be reckoned with. We had no idea when we made the first video for "Planet Earth," in 1980, what use it was going to be. There was no way to get it played. In England, you might get 30 seconds of it on Top Of The Pops, once. In America, we probably wouldn't get played at all in any way. In Australia, you could get it played once on a show called Countdown. There were maybe 10 places in the world that you could get a video played on television. We thought, "When that single goes, that'll be it. It'll be gone. What do we do next? We do the next video." Nobody ever dreamt that MTV was going to turn into such a huge international corporation, and that advertising was going to come into play, and that airtime was going to be so hard to get. It was unthinkable. It was just really a bit of fun at the start, when somebody came to us and said, "Hey, guys, do you want to make a video?" "What? Are you asking us if we want to make a little film to go with our song? Of course we do, that's fantastic! Why wouldn't we? That's like being little art students, film-art students."
O: You have an 18-year-old daughter. How influenced are you by what she listens to?
NR: We're pals, so I play her things and introduce her to things, and she plays me things. She likes a lot of hip-hop. It's all about Missy [Elliott], and The Neptunes. She also likes really good rock. I played her the Killers record, and she liked that. The Justin Timberlake record, she loved that. It was a great pop record. I think he's a real talent. We bounce things around together. But what's interesting is, when I play her something that we've done to see if it fits in, she's very honest with me, I'm relieved to say. This album was great, because she was really saying, "Dad, this is the best stuff you guys have done for ages. I really, really like this one." She listened to my demos of things and started to understand how they change. So, yeah, it's good.