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We had the extreme pleasure of speaking with Andy Taylor, former guitarist and founding member of the illustrious Duran Duran. Andy was kind enough to discuss his autobiography Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran, which we raved about here and shed some light into some of the juicier tales told in the book.

 

Andy Taylor

 

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Andy, one of the most interesting aspects of Wild Boy is the story of your childhood.  I thought your honesty recounting having your happy middle class family shattered when your mother walked out was incredible.  It seems like many of your coping mechanisms come from those experiences.

Andy Taylor:  Absolutely.

 

LMD:  Was there ever a consideration to write the book with more of a focus on your own journey and less of the fun with Duran Duran?

AT:  Well, I suppose, you’ve gotta take a slice of the whole truth.  I didn’t go into the personal, personal lives of others. It’s the personal life of a band and my personal life and how you get there.  But when you take a big slice of honesty of the whole thing, then it’s everything, warts and all, in the sense that you grow up quickly – we were quite responsible, we got on and understood things and we’re young.  You know, some of the contracts we didn’t do … we attended to it, but then we would go out and get completely bonkers. {Laughs}  You had this schizo kind of lifestyle where, “Let’s be serious, right, let’s not.”

 

LMD:  I think the word that is repeated most often throughout the book is “fun.”

AT:  Yeah, but then it was the TV escapism of the teenage dream and the kind of thing that happens when you meet everybody for the first time, that kind of sixth sense that you have when you meet someone and you’re gonna be friends or your lovers, fundamentally you’re gonna do what you wanna do with them.  Whether its business partners, architects, or whatever, you’re gonna do it with me.  It’s almost umbilical and it comes from loving the same music and growing up in the same time.  We were all working middle-class kids with much the same background, and one way or another we’ve probably all got something in our childhood that was different.

 

LMD:  I was impressed by your early business sense.  I recall reading that you were the first band member to have opened up a business.  I believe you had a restaurant in London?

AT:  The toughest business to ever try! {Laughs}  I think you also feel like you wanna be doing something responsible, as well.  Because when you’re young, the early 20’s, even though things were flying at one point, you’re never thinking about getting to near 50.  So, there is always a bit of insecurity in you that, well, maybe this will be and perhaps you have to invest your money and you know how wrong that always keeps going for everybody!

 

LMD:  I’m in America; I don’t know what you mean.

AT:  The funny thing is, when you write songs, you have hits that play on the radio, it’s all very legal and very good for the songwriters.  And in actual fact, if you write five or ten hit songs, you’ll have income for life!

 

LMD:  Really?

AT: Yeah, well, because the radio airplay. Paul Anka, the guy who wrote My Way for Frank Sinatra, that one song is all he’d need to live like a king.  But when you’re a young man, they don’t tell ya this, they sell ya pension funds and insurance.  And they try and take away your song rights! We were shrewd.  Me and Nick {Rhodes} were shrewder and so we managed to and, in fact we still do – unlike The Beatles - we still get our percentages for Girls on Film and Planet Earth and everything.

 

LMD:  I wondered if that shrewdness you have was born out of the tough times you faced growing up?  You mention how some of the other guys eventually face hard financial times, but you managed to keep afloat.  I wondered if that came from growing up having to watch every penny whereas most of your bandmates didn’t have that struggle?

AT:  Well, you do have your wilderness years.  People used to say to me, “Why aren’t you working more?” and I used to say, “Because the best bit’s free,” which is just being at home.  My kids didn’t know me as the guitarist in Duran Duran, they weren’t even born.  Until they saw in 2003, they were just like, “Dad, you bastard, you won’t give me any more money.” {Laughs}  I mean, I’ve had lean years, I’ve had very, very lean years, but the songwriting always has underpinned it and I’ve made records with other people, so it’s not disastrous.  But it’s a choice, if you wanna stay hard at it, hard at it, you make more, and if you don’t…  But I think you’ve just gotta be canny if you’re a songwriter, if bands are family, songs are children.  You take care of your songs because they will take care of your children.  And the closest things to you is those songs.  That was the bit that we were aware of even when we were very young.  I think at the beginning of the 80’s is when the music business began to get, can we call it “marginally legal.”  And also because of CD’s and the amount of money that came into the business, intellectual property became much more valuable, songs, everything.  Don’t forget, we gave all those videos to MTV for free!  They are the two billion dollar company and we give them the content for free.

 

LMD:  But the return was pretty good, wasn’t it?

AT:  Well, exactly!  The quid pro quo with top 40 radio and MTV, it was exposure the likes that no one had ever had before.  And being filmed young, it keeps you in the right place.  It’s like Elvis movies, you know?  You just see the young version.  But it was television, as well, MTV.  You know we had the naysayers and kind of the older artists were like ‘Uggghhh.’  Look, it’s called Music Television, and doesn’t everyone want to get on television?

 

LMD:  That hasn’t changed to this day everyone still wants to get on television.

AT:  Well, ya can’t get music on MTV, now. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Yeah they’re even shutting down TRL, which was the last show that played any videos.

AT:  I’ve got more chance of doing one of my kids' birthday parties than getting a track on MTV.

But at the time, there was an explosion and it had a lot of revenue and I guess in terms of being promoted, we benefited massively from the amount of money the music business had to promote artists, which it doesn’t really have now.  Young artists, it is just within their range of thinking now about “Well, yeah, if we get an album deal, can we do a TV deal, as well?”  It’s now something that’s just considered as necessary, the TV exposure, you need, and I think, “Yeah, but we used to get MTV exposure.”  And you know, everyone blames the internet, it’s so easy to blame the internet {Laughs}, but it’s not just down to that.  There’s a fundamental difference in what record companies produce and the support that MTV gives artists, and if you notice, when artists get lots of support like on American Idol and Pop Idol, they sell lots of records.  There’s a direct relationship between TV and selling records and if MTV was a music station, it would be very, very different.

But artists are not the consideration with labels; I think its more performer-based now, as opposed to artist-based.  We were allowed to write our own songs – imagine that one!  If you go to a record company now saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna write our material,’ they’d go, ‘No, you’re not.’  At least there was a margin of loyalty with the label they’d back you for two albums as opposed to one single.  It’s very, very hard on the young artists, now.  It’s very easy to blame the internet, but the real power lies in what you give to the public and the public’s appetite for music hasn’t gone anywhere.

 

LMD:  Between MySpace and Youtube, musicians are trying to find venues to expose their music.

AT:  Trying to find them, yeah, but it’s so difficult, because ultimately, the music business can’t exist on singles, but look how many records Nickelback sells.  So, ‘We can’t sell that many records online’, well hold on, you can!  But perhaps it’s people just saying, ‘No, this is what I want, I don’t want that other stuff. I don’t wanna be force-fed.’  That always astounds me, Nickelback, when I look at their sales, particularly there, you go, ‘Well you can sing the songs, it works on the radio it’s well-produced and god damn, they can actually play.’

Where I look at it I go, where is the ego of the people who have been running the business where they have to do what’s hip and doesn’t sell.

 

LMD:  Well, that kind of sounds like your take on the last album…

AT:  What?  It’s hip and doesn’t sell?  You could name a shop, couldn’t you?  It sounds like a shop in the Village in New York, “Hip and Don’t Sell!”

But you know what I think is the worst thing, is when you were hip, but then you’re looking for who’s hip, cos you ain’t no more.  I just refuse to take off the skin I’m in, {just to sell}.  “They did it first, so we can’t do it.”  Duran was always, just by pure virtue of spending a lot of time on it, digging deep and doing what we know we can do, we were always challenging or challenged.

 

LMD:  I think that was something that caused fans some concern when it was announced that Justin Timberlake and Timbaland were involved with the last album.  The band had never gone in for guest-producers or singers or rappers before.

AT:  Well, it’s the new package of the industry and it’s a kind of an Emperor’s New Clothes thing.  Look, we get called a “heritage band,” everyone hates the term, but that’s how people refer to us.  We’re ten years younger than the Stones, basically, just ten or fifteen years younger than the oldest band, right?  It’s just the Stones make Stones records, they don’t sell gazillions, but you can’t do it any other way.

 

LMD:  But they don’t seem bothered.

AT:  Well, because if you are lucky enough to get a break and get a sound that the public love, who the fuck are you to think you can just go wave your magic wand and change it and the public are gonna still love you?  Millions of kids can’t get a break and they’re geniuses, some of them.  You get a break, you’ve got a sound and it’s not good enough?

That’s why I get on my high horse; it’s like people forget who they are.  What it is about them that, y’know -- If you want somebody else’s record, go and get their record!  I ain’t a guy that likes to be put in a box, turned into a fucking machine and sit at the back of the room with me finger up me you-know-what.  You know, I’m a writer, I play guitar, I play drums, I play bass, I play keyboards, you know?  I can engineer a Pro-Tools rig, I can compute, I can programme, I can do every goddamned thing under the sun, yet, oh God, I need four other people in front of me doing that for me.

 

LMD:  You described a whole team of producers and engineers in the book.

AT:  Yeah, and I might pop in a have a listen.  You gotta ask yourself, ‘What are you doing?’

 

LMD:  One of the greatest things about Duran was how DiY it was.

AT:  Exactly.

 

LMD:  You guys came out of nowhere.  1970’s Birmingham wasn’t all that hip.

AT:  It wasn’t hip.  Birmingham wasn’t that hip.  It was all heavy metal, Ozzy Osbourne.

 

LMD:  Ozzy was the biggest thing to come out of Birmingham.  Then here come these five boys with this amazing blend of rock and funk that people have never heard.

AT:  You know, the first album, from day one, we laid out what our manifesto was.

 

LMD:  And what was that?

AT:  It was our material.  It was of our own invention and we were young enough and naïve enough to try things that were experimental and exciting and we had technology, lots of technology, cos digital technology was just coming around, and an amazing amount of self-belief between all of us.  Now, look, you can’t replicate it, you just have to get back into that self and do what you do, but it was always that.

In the 80’s, when I used to see bands coming back from the 70’s, you know, and they’d do the soft-focus video and they’d brought in the producer to put in the ding-ding-ding keyboard, and it’s like, “Man, you used to be a rock band!”  You know like, Heart, or something. {Does lounge singer act} Baarrracuuudaaa… that one’s gone.  Well, she might be your next Vice-President, but anyway, we won’t get into that.{Laughs}

I keep saying the public are much, much more intelligent and sussed than people in my business give them credit for and when they hear a turkey, they know it.  It’s a science, I can deconstruct it for hours, but people have an instinct, great records get to number one cos people put ‘em there!  Not clever bastards, and when ya take the clever away, what are ya left with?

 

LMD:  A lot of the criticism I’d read about Red Carpet Massacre was in how it was barely recognisable as a Duran Duran record and many felt that was due to the attempt to create an obviously commercial sound.

AT:  You know, the inverse of the respect you get from people is that you are fundamentally honest with them about what you do.  Performance, don’t have a problem with that, we have a problem with records.  Anyway, the biggest problem was we were supposed to do the album with Youth, and that would have worked.  And then the intellectually bereft people that some people would listen to had just… you know.  But Youth and Duran Duran that woulda worked.

And that what people say, “Well, what did you do, Andy?”  I say, “Well, you know, I did the same thing as you do, I didn’t buy into it!”  But actually, the record we should have made was the one with Youth when we had the meeting and he really, really understood what we were.

 

LMD:  Did Youth have anything to do with Reportage?

AT:  Well, we woulda took some of the basis of that and moved forward with him.  Sifted out the crap, got the good bits and worked on some more material with someone who was a real clean, smart producer who really had made some great records.

 

LMD:  Getting back the book, it’s being promoted as a tell-all, and there’s plenty of fun stuff in there, but I felt you were really judicious in the stories you tell and the names you named and I think out of anybody, you come out worst of all.  How did you balance making the book interesting and putting in those juicy bits, while keeping it from being trashy?

AT:  Good research, I think if you’re writing anything, research.  Even it’s about yourself and your own experiences.  So, I did an extensive amount of research what was in the public domain.  So, there is nothing in the book – nothing – about Duran Duran that wasn't already in the public domain.  That’s not an intellectual bar, that’s just a simple, plain statement of fact.  Every single story.  What I did was I had a journalist friend who worked on it with me and he’s a very senior kind of executive, he runs a very big newspaper and we went into everything and looked.  Particularly with the British press, God bless ‘em, who didn’t seem to miss a thing!  And then took out a lot of stuff that wasn’t relevant and left the underbelly of some of the shenanigans that were relevant, sometimes just plain funny, but things that were traumatic and that had made things take a turn for the better or the worse.  But every single thing, because I don’t want to get into the bean-spilling business, let me see what’s out there.

Now, if I was to get into the bean-spilling business, I probably could have taken ten times the advance and everyone would be changing their front door key.  But I’m not in the bean-spilling business; it’s like a recount of the high and the low in a way that actually, you’re specifically doing something: 'And in the hotel, there’s a whole lot of shit kicking off because there’s been a fight,' or, 'Someone’s blocked themselves from the room,' or, 'We’ve been up all night doing coke and no one can talk to each other.'  It’s like, ‘You saw the video, but what happened the morning before we got to Eiffel Tower?’  So, these things were relevant and mistakes were made and how certain things turned out, and of course, the public only see what’s presented.  But in terms of what’s in there, I think the only thing that might not have been in the press is a couple of bits about me and Rod {Stewart} getting thrown out of studio for puking up in the bucket.  A few drinking tales and I don’t think he’s got any problem with that!

But the whole thing is actually still incredibly well-dressed to what if it was laid bare.  I don’t go in for the private, private lives of individuals and many individuals which I don’t go into, just the private life of a band, the things that happened around it at the time.  For instance, if I’m talking about my wife being ill; I’m not talking about how ill everybody else is at the time.  And I looked at how everyone had positioned themselves in terms of what they said about their drug taking and even though perhaps it’s not…  I just respected the position they’d all taken in the press.  I may even be contradicting myself slightly at some points, but actually I looked at what people had said about themselves and thought, ‘Well, it would be unfair to use your name.  It would be unfair to…’  So, if it wasn’t salient, then sometimes you just say, ‘Well, you don’t need to put it in.’

 

LMD:  Yes, but there is an affection with which you do tell these stories about John Taylor and Simon Le Bon in particular.  With Simon, you show a side of him that the public would never see.  We see him as a young singer, very vulnerable, someone who is desperate to keep the band together…

AT:  Big brother complex!

 

LMD:  Is that what that is?

AT:  Yeah, well he’s the oldest, so he does.  He has some strange sort of attachment to the closeness of when we were young, which I suppose we all do in our own way, otherwise we wouldn’t keep fighting.

 

LMD:  What I love about your stories about Simon is you’re like his cheering squad, especially during the first album when the record company wanted to get rid of him as Duran’s lead singer.

AT:  Well, it was the first time I discovered what a nasty piece of work the music business could be.  And as I explain, the toughest gig in the world is putting a voice on a track, and I’ll give that to singers because I’ve tried it and I’ve done it and there’s only me and Simon that can sing in tune in the band.  And I’ve got a very strong rock voice, but because it was his words, and so therefore his delivery and his timing of expression, once he found that he could get comfortable with the notes, I mean his voice is stronger now than when he was a kid!  Of course, you can’t say he was the most natural rock singer, but he was a fantastic pop singer, and the very people that criticised him later were blowing smoke up his backside.  And there was that point, ‘What are you gonna do?  Okay, well let’s find some other one that’s got a streak of genius in that can write this stuff.’  My first encounter of the brutality of the music business.

 

LMD:  That had to be so crushing to his confidence as a young singer making his first album.

AT:  Well, I don’t think it was put to him in as stark a term as it was put to me.  But see, they’d have to come and talk to me about music people, and I’ve always been, ‘Look, if you don’t need to be in the room, get the fuck out of here.’  My dad used to come down the studio and say, “It’s like your own personal pub, where you do music.”  I said, "Yeah, but you only let a few people in," because otherwise the process gets polluted and it’s really, really important, it’s like producers, if you bring ‘em in at the wrong time, they can infect the process, influence it at the wrong time, sometimes too early, and then you take your foot off the gas because the producer’s here.  So, we always had a very strong work ethic of writing everything before anyone tinkered with it.  Once we’d got it all written, now you can have a look at it, and pretty much, the first album, the demos are very similar to the album.  So, then they started moaning on about Simon.  Well, Simon’s learning to make his first album, okay, so that’s where he’s at.  But Dave Ambrose, who signed us, he was a sweet guy and he knew his stuff cos he’d been in bands since the late sixties.  That was when you used to have people in record companies that have done music, it was fantastic! {Laughs}

 

LMD:  I wanted to ask about the frightening stories you tell about John Taylor and his drug use, because he reads more like a brother to you than a bandmate.

AT:  Well, you know if we went to school together, I would be good at sports and he’d be the one that’d be good at biology {Laughs}.  So, if we drank the same, my legs wouldn’t give way, his would.  He didn’t have quite the capacity.  But you know he was - John was subjected to the pin-up thing.  I mean, I would go and run and hide under a rock whenever they’d bring a camera “{Girly voice}  Ohhh, noo, it’s a pin up!”  But John was so naturally photogenic, so he got a massive amount of that teen attention personally, before the rest of us, and it had an affect on him.  No one did shit about it, just more drink and drugs.  It’s funny, actually, there’s a perverse way where you sometimes used to look at people, not the band, and think ‘They actually quite enjoy watching people go off the rails, so you can control them more.’  But he had that teen fame. I remember in Japan, all of a sudden, he was plastered all over the thing, he was so photogenic and it worked fantastic.  But it gave him a lot of exposure, even more than Simon, at first, and I don’t think anyone stopped to think about that at all.  And then when we did get into drug use, everybody around us was doing it, as well.  {Laughs} We were naïve in the belief that because it was expensive, it didn’t do you any harm.  There wasn’t a rehab then, no such thing.  I think you’d struggle to find an AA meeting.  There wasn’t the culture of taking care of yourself.  There wasn’t anybody, not one person that I can recall from the early 80’s who’d say, ‘You, or you, or you, you need to go away for a month.’  It just did not exist, therefore you’ve managed it within.  One of the funniest things Rod ever said to me, he said “Well, what’s the problem? If you’re getting drunk too much, just go home for a week.”  Well, that’s kind of my sort of way, ‘Just go home, stop drinking and behave yourself, you fool,’ but I know for some people, that’s not the case.  And at the time, I didn’t understand John’s addictive personality, and yeah me and him tore it up, but a lot of work.  We did masses of work!  And so you’re leading yourself to believe it’s okay, we’re working, a bit tired, but {There was} drink as much as drugs, the Jack Daniels and coke in the studio, I mean, there was plenty of that.  Not just the illegal things, its legal things; try smoking 40 cigarettes a day and see how ya feel the next day. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Well, kind of on the flip side of how judicious you are talking about John and Simon, the one who comes off a little off balance in the book is Nick Rhodes.  You make note about your differences, but I found a lot of similarities between you:  As you mentioned earlier, you both have a great business sense and in chapters when you join forces against a perceived wrong, the two of you are like an immoveable object.  However, in the book he comes off as a little dictator, and Andy, you don’t seem at all to have trouble expressing yourself, but Nick is charged with some of the wrong directions that the band has taken, and I wonder how he got away with that?

AT:  Well … {Laughs} the power struggles, band’s power struggles.  Sometimes, in fact generally, when we agree on things - and even music - and I suppose that was perhaps the…  We’d have a collision about things, but what used to come out of it was something that was different with the guitars and the keyboards and the way that songs were structured, and I really understood Nick when I first met him what he was trying to explain to me.  I could understand him musically, what he was doing – he didn’t.  And I say, the way he took keyboards and made them into … he was the first real programmer for pop music.  He programmes, Nick.  He didn’t even know what he was doing, and I say there’s a touch of genius in it.  But we have got very different …  You know, I will go and spill beer in the pub and watch soccer, and Nick doesn’t wanna do anything, you know?  Fundamentally, we’re different like that, but there’s a lot of things we agree on and when we do we can always work well together, but we’re different people in that respect.

And he, to his credit or discredit - and it’s a very subjective sort of thing, y’know - all he’s ever known is Duran Duran.  That's it!  All he’s ever known.  So, you can forgive him for screwing up sometimes.

 

LMD:  So you don’t hate him?

AT:  {Laughs} No, not at all.  But y’know, me and Nick can push each other’s buttons like nothing else and it’s one of the most productive things when it works and one of the most destructive things when it doesn’t, and that’s what bands ought to be.  Not those homogenised fuckers from Pop Idol. {Laughs}

 

LMD:  I wanted to ask about what you’re doing now?

AT:  Well, I’m sitting in my studio looking at piles and knobs and lights and equipment. {Laughs}  I’m still doing what I did 30 years ago, but I sort of have this thing now about you just do the job you do well, which is there’s lots of different components to it, writing, playing, performing, producing, but stick to the job you do well.  That might not be all of them; we might do the first gig on the moon, who knows?  But I’ve just got a very simple philosophy now, which I learned later in life, just do the thing that you do well and when you’re feeling down get off your ass and do the job that you do.  Whatever happens in the next however many years, yeah, I know I’ll bump into people who work with people, I’ll have hit records.  I might play Madison Square {Garden}, I dunno.  But there’s no reason, until the little voices stop happening, there’s no reason to do anything but what you do best in life.  And I’m sitting here with everything at my fingertips, to do what I love  doing.

 

LMD:  And you’ve got a little guitar god in your family {Andy, junior, who plays in the band The Electric City}?

AT:  Well, he’s got his own set up and his own deal and I let them get on with it.

 

LMD:  He doesn’t ask your advice?

AT:  Yeah, when he needs it and sometimes, you know, you can’t help but force it, but he’s got a good management, actually.  He’s got very good lawyers.  And you’ve gotta do it yourself!  There’s a point where you have to and actually he’s very independent in that respect and I think it’s very good that he understands it’s his own independence that’s gonna make him successful.  In a way it’s like, ‘Don’t be embarrassed, but yeah, you don’t have to work off the back of it.  Do your own thing.’  And I think it’s cool, actually.  He’s got the bug, you can’t take that away.  You don’t want them to crawl out from underneath your shadow, you want them to come along one day and see them shine brightly.

 

LMD:  Would you say no if Duran reached out to you again, Andy?

AT:  Well, you never say no, but what would you be saying yes to?  The band’s the band, but you do have a lot of ships in the night when it comes to people that have been around the band in its 30-year history and sometimes you’ve just gotta let the pirates get on with it.

But I shall come along swinging, swashbuckling! {Laughs}

 

LMD:  Andy, are you going to come back to New York and make up for the signing you missed?

AT:  Well, yeah, I was supposed to play on TV and the visas didn’t come through in time and I’m sure it’s Amy Winehouse’s fault!

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

September 22nd, 2008

 

Click Here for our review of Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran.

 

Special Blessings to the fabulous Renee Supriano, Tanisha Christie and Nick Small of the Hachette Book Group for making this chat possible.

 

 

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