Duran Duran at 40: Nick Rhodes Reflects on Group’s Evolving Fanbase

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the eponymous debut release of Duran Duran, with the iconic group also dropping its 15th studio album, “Future Past,” on Oct. 22. The aptly titled collection is referential of Duran Duran’s signature sounds, teased out by producer-of-the-moment Erol Alkan. Italian disco and EDM composer Giorgio Moroder lends a hand on a couple of songs, and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon brings his inventiveness to the mix. Featured guests on the album include Tove Lo, Ivorian Doll and Japanese band Chai. Duran Duran co-founder and resident tech visionary/image consultant Nick Rhodes talks then and now with Leak Herald.

What are your thoughts about “Duran Duran” and MTV turning 40 this year?

MTV feels so much older than us, don’t they? For the first 10 years or so of our career, it was an incredible channel, inspiring for musicians and fans. If you were in New York, you went to the studio and it was always fun. Simon [Le Bon] and I took Andy Warhol with us, had him sit between us taking photographs. Another time, we took Keith Haring, who painted the entire set. They never questioned anything. They were quite maverick. When MTV started to move away from music and into reality shows, it lost its focus for us. I haven’t really thought about it much since that point. But at the beginning, it was amazing.

That was the point when most teenagers, girls in particular, were Duran Duran devotees. You seemed like such adults then but you were only a few years older than your fans.

When I was 14 years old, I had David Bowie on my wall. By the time I was 19 years old, I was hanging out with him. It was very strange for me, but I was incredibly grateful to have such a creative and inspirational friend.

In the new documentary “Under the Volcano,” you recall recording at the height of your fame at George Martin’s isolated AIR Studios in the island Montserrat. Can you expound on that experience? 

At that point in our careers, we couldn’t record in London anymore. We were besieged by hundreds of people. You couldn’t call the police every time you needed to get out of a building. It was ridiculous and impractical. The idea of going to this secluded island in the Caribbean and having a state-of-the-art recording studio, on paper, seemed to be the most glorious fantasy any musician could have. We went there with every good intention. We got the seeds for “Union of the Snake,” “The Reflex” and “New Moon on Monday.” At the same time, we could never have finished the record there. I need the energy of a city around me. You don’t make albums when you’re on holiday.

Without YouTube tutorials, how did you learn to apply your flawless makeup as a teenager?

Practice. When I was 15, 16 years old and first putting on makeup, I was never going to go to somebody else, even one of my aunties and ask, “How exactly do you put that eyeshadow on?” I’d put things on my face and think, “I like the way that looks.” Everything about Duran Duran has always been handmade. People think we’ve got these armies behind us who help us do things. From the very beginning, it was me and John [Taylor] sitting on the floor with a sketch pad and a few records, coming up with ideas. We used to go to women’s clothing stores to buy girls’ jackets and fabulous scarves, because the only things for men were horrible acrylic suits and V-neck jumpers that your granddad would wear. John and I used to come home number 50 bus from Barbarella’s at midnight, 1AM on Friday night. It was not a lot of fun for the two of us with our bright red jackets, makeup and dyed hair.

Your popularity started with a primarily female fanbase and grew to a significant male fanbase. How do you feel about this change over time?

We started out as this art school cult band playing songs like “The Chauffeur” and “Night Boat” in nightclubs. Suddenly, we’re in front of 15,000 screaming girls. It was a culture shock. It was such a complete paradigm shift. I was confused by it. It was a little difficult for me. I watched footage of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Doors who were all pretty decent songwriters and they did okay and their records still sound great. That enabled us to somehow quantify it—not that we were particularly like any of those bands, nor am I comparing us to them. One of the first things that happened was the smart guys started to realize there’s an awful lot of very cute girls at Duran Duran shows. If you want to find a date, that’s the right place to meet them.