Nick Rhodes, the musician, visual artist and founding member of legendary rock band Duran Duran has, over the course of his decades-long diverse and multidimensional career, staked his claim as a beacon of pop culture. Since his start back in the 80s, he’s worked on a host of side projects and collaborations, managing to stay in high demand despite a fickle and capricious music scene. His mammoth new work has been under construction since the mid-90s and is finally getting to see the light of day this year. TV Mania: Bored With Prozac and The Internet is a concept album that was recently dug out from the vaults of Duran Duran’s cavernous archive.
“We literally put it away in a drawer in 1996,” he said, regarding TV Mania. “We actually finished it, we completed everything. All the mixes, everything in 1996. And it hasn’t been touched since.” Finally this year, it’s getting its moment in the spotlight. For its creation, Rhodes and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo employed what was at the time an unconventional methodology for writing and producing an album. “What we did is we literally watched TV for a while, recorded it, and then sampled something, and said, ‘I like the way that sounds, the way that person said ‘beautiful, beautiful clothes.’ And so we took it and we tuned it to a melody that we would like on the keyboard, and then actually wrote the song to the melody that we’ve made from the TV sample. Which sounds sort of complicated, but actually it was quite a simple process, really. We’re just finding things that we liked that people had said, and then building songs around it. It was interesting because it’s a strange way round to do things, you know. It was quite an advanced idea for the time.”
Through this process, Rhodes and Cuccurullo crafted a vision of a strange future where voyeurism was woven into the fabric of everyday life—a prediction that has in fact materialized in the years since the project was started. The topics explored in the album cover a wide range of, what was at the time, novel and emerging cultural trends, from “pharmaceutical drugs, to clothes, fashion, films, the Internet, virtual holidays and virtual shopping.” When it seemed their predictions about what the future might hold were indeed coming to fruition, Rhodes knew that he was on to something. “Once Big Brother and The Truman Show came out, that sort of made us think, ‘Oh, okay. Well there was obviously a lot of people thinking the same sort of thing.’ It must have been in the air.” The concept album takes the form of a soundtrack in what the duo call “a bizarre TV cyber soap opera”—a conceptual piece of multimedia art as only Rhodes knows how.
“I think at the time, it probably would have been pretty obscure for most people to get their heads around a record made up of a bunch of samples. Since music moved very much in that electronic way – hip-hop, they use a lot of sampling – it doesn’t sound as obscure anymore. It sounds contemporary to me, for sure. But I think it fits in more now than I think it would have at the time. It sort of matured quite well, the things that we were trying out, the things we were doing have all sort of moved into the fabric of our pop music now. ”
The legendary musician has had his fair share of insight into the music industry as we know it, and is the founder of one of the few bands who have managed to withstand the tides of time – with Duran Duran still going strong after over three decades. Throughout his career, he has dabbled in quite a few side projects, although TV Mania is one of the few that was never actually released. “I started Duran Duran when I was 16 years old, and the band that made all the early records, we got a contract in 1980. We’re still very much together now. We finished an 18-month tour in September last year. We made the last album with Mark Ronson producing. It was actually kind of a lot of fun. I think it took us back in many ways to the first couple of albums, Duran Duran and Rio, which Mark was a particular fan of. He sort of re-established what the band was really about. But we’ve been on a lot of different rides over the three decades we’ve spent together. We’ve funk records and more ambient records and dance records. We did a record with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake a few years ago, which was a completely different route for us again. In between all of this, we’ve always done little side projects. I did a project called ‘Arcadia’ in the mid-’80s, and then in the ’90s, did another project under the name of ‘The Devils’, and this one was done in the late ’90s… Warren and I had a lot of time on our hands, and I like to keep busy and to keep creating things… We didn’t intend to make an album when we were just fiddling with that first track, but we realised we’d hit on something that was quite unusual. And in a way, it was its own little genre of music. I’d be very curious to see what people make of it now. It’ll be interesting for them to know that it’s been sitting there since 1996.”
In addition to being a trailblazing, boundary-pushing musical icon, Rhodes is also a talented photographer. For this issue, he collaborated with The Untitled Magazine, photographing English pop goddess Charli XCX for a six-page fashion story in London. “Photography is something that I’ve actually run parallel to making music since I was starting out. I always think of photography myself in a cinematic way. I look at each picture as if it were a frame from a movie.”
Rhodes will be spending the year polishing his own massive photography archive, in addition to finishing a musical project he has going with Duran Duran. “We’re going to go back in the studio and start writing a new Duran album, which we always say we’re gonna do it much quicker this time, and inevitably it takes much longer, but we’re starting with the right idea. I’m doing a small photography show for the opening, celebrating the release of the album, and I’m hoping later in the year to actually start putting together a string of books and shows… We’re not planning on doing any live work this year, because we’ve literally come off such a big tour. But, no doubt, somebody will get itchy before the end of the year to do something. There’s always a possibility.”
Regardless of what that possibility may hold for the music legend, Rhodes will undoubtedly stay true to the keen instincts that have led him to where he is now in his creative life. “I like to take chances artistically. I think it makes life much more interesting; and if you don’t, and you just do the same thing, it’s very easy to get stuck in it. So, my way of doing things is to tread a little bit further out on the ice each time and try not to fall through.”
– Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine “Music” Issue 6