Talking Trash With Duran Duran

Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran on surviving the Eighties

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Midway through a chat with Simon Le Bon, Donovan (son of Donovan) Leitch, who fronts his own gloriously retro-ensemble Nancy Boy, cruises through the lobby of New York's Mercer Hotel. Le Bon and Leitsch exchange pleasantries and the latter speaks of his recent trip to one of Mexico's hidden getaways. At the mention of the exotic locale, Le Bon's baby blues double and for an instant there's a flash of the screaming, young man who launched a thousand scrapbooks (and Trapper Keepers) with his feral video romp through the beautiful middle of nowhere in "Hungry Like the Wolf."

As Le Bon is quick to point out, Duran Duran aren't quite handsome young men anymore. Those baby blues sit comfortably between no small number of lines. The pop princes of the Eighties have become something of elder statesmen. Having weathered band turnover, Eighties backlash and some of the harshest press of the past two decades, Duran Duran have done what no one ever thought they could do: They've survived. Theirs has been a career that juggles reinvention with a formula that has worked for them. For every miscue, there is that out-of-leftfield return to form (i.e., "Ordinary World," "Electric Barbarella"). Pop Trash, their tenth studio release, finds DD offering their trademark blend of just about everything. From the weepy "Someone Else Not Me" to the guitar crunchiness of "Playing With Uranium" to the string-laden sweep of "Pop Trash Movie," Duran Duran again offer up their trademark blend of unrepentant digi-pop.

Did you ever think you'd be doing this twenty years down the road?
It never really crossed my mind. I mean, people asked what would I be doing in twenty years, and I thought lying on a beach. But I don't feel like we're in our autumn or anything like that. But there's always been old codgers around, you know, like Chuck Berry. Is he still going?

Still going.
Well, that's what you do. Music's a funny thing, you don't necessarily stop being creative as you get older. As long as you're not trying to come off like a teenager, then you're all right. You've got to accept reality. Because everybody else does. Mick Jagger is a really great frontman, and he doesn't seem to have a sell-by date on him at all. And I think, 'Well, if he can do it, why shouldn't I?'

Are you finding it more difficult to perform as you get older?
I can't come off in the same way as I did in the early Eighties. It would just be laughable. I think it kind of shows on this album, actually. I think we've made it quite a grownup sort of album. It's fresh, but it's not hanging onto the past.

It seems that fifteen years ago, DD hinted at the electronica that is so acclaimed today. Do you feel vindicated or irritated?
I'm more kind of bemused. I find it absurd that people slammed us so much in the past. It's so fashion-led today, and that's exactly what they slammed us for being. And it turns out that's exactly what they are.

You also took some heat for riding MTV. It seems like a more natural synergy today.
Well, we wrote songs that were massively catchy. I challenge anybody to deny that. I mean, don't tell me that "Hungry Like the Wolf" isn't catchy, or for that matter "Planet Earth", "Girls on Film." There was a string of really catchy memorable tunes. We were the right age to catch video. Because video was about looking great as well as sounding great. And we were very lucky because one way or another, we ended up looking bloody fantastic in our videos. And a bunch of artists just couldn't do that. Because they didn't have the physical attributes to be able to. We didn't go out to be a good-looking band, but we were all very conscious of the way we dressed. Young people care what they look like. They want to be attractive. It's all about getting fucked basically. We came along at the right time, but conversely MTV came around at the right time to have us.

Has MTV been receptive at all to your recent offerings?
If we gave them something to play right now, they wouldn't play it. But if it was a hit they probably would. I don't think they're really leading the field of music the way they once used to. They were very cutting edge at one time. It was wild and it was fresh. Now it's a multi-, multi-, multi-million-dollar corporate industry. They tend to run the ship a little differently when it's guys in suits and not guys in ripped-up jeans. They aim themselves at a particular demographic, and I don't expect to have a massive teen following for this album. But that doesn't mean I don't think a bunch of teenagers are gonna get into it.

Do you think video's grown tired?
You've seen it all. It's difficult to surprise people, so you spend more and more and more money. You know that you're going to see people wearing makeup, looking really good, wearing flashy clothes, doing something surreal. And that's your average pop video and it costs an average of half a fucking million dollars to make here, which is absurd. A modicum of exaggeration on my behalf here.

While you might not put up the "Rio" numbers, you still have a pretty dedicated audience.
We have a core audience for two reasons. One, they think they're gonna get their money's worth, whether it's on a record or whether it's a live show. And two, because we remind a lot of people of great times that they've had in their lives. Music has a great capacity for transporting you to a time. It's not a nostalgia trip necessarily. It's not like "Oh, those where the days." People have moments in their lives and they want to be able to remember them. But it's not misty.

What differences do you detect between your American and European audiences?
We had so many bad associations, certainly in the U.K., where the Eighties were completely demonized. It became this awful, dreadful, cold-hearted, Thatcher years. The dreadful Thatcher years! And we got lumped right in with that. Princess Di's favorite band, blah blah blah blah blah. We were stigmatized really. Well, fuck it, if they don't want us, we'll find some who do want us.

Did you ever think the Eighties would become hip again?
Look at any fashion magazine. It's so Eighties, it's unbelievable. And of course there's this huge music revival thing going on as well. Actually we were in Milan, and they said basically, "We want to take you to an Eighties night disco." Oh my god, I walked in there and just thought I'm in the wrong place. They're playing Dead or Alive, you know [sings] "You spin me right round baby right round," and I looked at these people in the audience, and these aren't people reliving their youths, man. These are kids doing it for the first time -- they want a bit too. They think, "I want some of that."

Were you ever tempted to lose the Duran Duran tag after some of the turnover?
It depends on how much of a purist you are, really. We kind of faced that one a long time ago, without Andy and Roger in the group. And our business manager talked about changing the name and we decided it was worth hanging onto, because number one, it's a brand and people pick up on it and it works in our favor. And number two, it's like a candle, you want to keep it burning. I don't want the flame to go out. We've been criticized of being a shadow of our former selves, well, fucking listen to this album. We're simply not about a box of candy jumping about on stage and turning the girls on. That might have been us a long time ago. But the same people who criticized us for being that are now kind of saying, "Well, it's not the same -- Andy and John and Roger are gone; it doesn't appeal to those teenagers anymore." What do you fucking expect? We're in our forties.