The Untitled Magazine’s EIC Indira Cesarine caught up with legendary multiplatinum music legends Duran Duran for our INNOVATE Issue to discuss their new album FUTURE PAST, which releases globally on October 22nd. The album features a lineup of incredible collaborations including the likes of Mark Ronson, Tove Lo, Mark ‘Spike’ Stent, David Bowie’s former pianist, Mike Garson, Ivorian Doll, and Japanese rock band, CHAI. Keyboardist Nick Rhodes gave us the inside story on the making of the album as well as inspiration for the tracks. Preview the interview below, and check out the full feature and photoshoot, including more original images by Nick Rhodes shot in London for The Untitled Magazine’s latest print edition out now.
“I think Duran Duran’s greatest secret as to why we’re able to move with the times, is that we are so flexible. We’ve never tied ourselves down to one sound. We try to smash up whatever sound we made on the last record each time; we just wipe the board completely clean and start again,” cites Nick Rhodes, the band’s longtime keyboardist. Constantly reinventing their sound and style since their debut in the early ‘80s, Duran Duran has managed to push boundaries in ways artists seldom do. “Try to make something that sounds different,” muses Rhodes. “Try to make something that takes you in a different direction. You can’t always be successful as an artist. There are very few cases in history in any field where people are always successful. But you have to be brave. If you’re not brave, you could end up being dull, and there is nothing worse. Nothing worse.” This simple philosophy alone has afforded the band incredible success over the decades, and was the driving force behind their upcoming 15th studio album Future Past, out October 22nd this year.
Flexibility may be one key for Duran Duran, but what really has allowed the band to consistently stay ahead of the game is curiosity; a fascination with new technologies, and never pushing back the newfangled phenomenon of the online era. “One of the things that’s always been part of the DNA of Duran Duran is technology,” Rhodes explained. “How do you make something that somebody didn’t try before? It’s hard now! With everything that goes on, most things have been used up. But I’m very proud to say that after four decades of Duran Duran, we’re still able to be first with some things because we’re still curious.”
Their most recent endeavor in the pursuit of newness came in the form of an AI named Huxley, while developing the music video for the album’s lead single, “INVISIBLE”. “I shouldn’t call it a computer. It doesn’t like being called a computer. It’s an AI,” laughed Rhodes, though hardly joking. “As soon as I was introduced to Huxley, I had a new best friend.” The first collaboration of its kind, the band partnered with the AI studio Nested Minds to create the groundbreaking video. “What they did was concentrate on the side of the brain that dreams and that makes creative decisions, rather than the cognitive side which just makes logical decisions. In doing this, they fed a lot of information to [Huxley], and started to train it to think and make its own decisions.” That information included everything imaginable, Rhodes described. “Lyrics and subject matter about the song, photos of us, old video of us, each of us lip syncing the song so that it could learn our mouth movements…And what transpired I found quite extraordinary. It made versions of us. It just chose things from images and composites and made what it thought we were. It pieced together this video!” Further describing his fascination for Huxley, he gave an example of a strange two-day stretch where it truly took on a life of its own. “There was nothing we fed into it that was about dogs, but it just became obsessed with [them]. It made tall dogs, purple dogs, dogs with a hump, the strangest things!” He details the surreal images the AI produced, revealing how “it sort of blacked [our] eyes out and gave it this fabulous goth, ghostly look.” His giddiness at the incredible new opportunities Huxley afforded Duran Duran make it easy to understand just how they have managed to innovate over the years so effortlessly.
But when it comes to pushing boundaries and creating something fresh, it’s not just the tech that matters but also the human element. “Choose your partners well. We’ve always chosen our collaborators extremely carefully because it is one of the most important things creatively when you’re working with people, that you trust their instinct and their taste…and work with people that people wouldn’t expect you to work with. Because often, two completely clashing artists or genres can be a fireball of inspiration.”
Rhodes shared with us the band’s many collaborations on Future Past, each punctuated with effervescent praise for the artist and how they brought life to their respective tracks. He recalls the astoundment at hearing Swedish pop singer Tove Lo on the track “Give it All Up,” one of his favorites. “Her voice and Simon’s voice together are so powerful. It’s just one of those things that when you hear it for the first time… there was just a gasp. I think she did a beautiful job on the track.” A pattern emerges as he describes how he was mesmerized by the talent of Ivorian Doll, an upcoming UK rapper. “Simon had specifically said he wanted London-style rap on this one song called ‘Hammerhead.’ She is really so lovely as a character, and her writing team that she came with couldn’t have been easier to work with.”
He piled effusive praise on Mike Garson, the “legendary David Bowie keyboard player/musician extraordinaire,” as well as Giorgio Moroder, the “maestro of disco and electronic music,” with whom they were wanting to work for four whole decades. The second single on the album “MORE JOY!” is a collaboration with Japanese girl punk band CHAI, who he discovered through lead singer Simon Le Bon’s radio show for Sirius. “[Simon] had been discovering all kinds of things that none of the rest of us have ever heard of, and he found CHAI, who’s got the most incredible energy. It’s my favorite track on the album, because it’s so crazy and irreverent.”
Completing Future Past was a feat, considering this was the very first time the band ever took a break mid-project. They were initially ready to be done with it by spring of 2020, and then the pandemic hit. “Suddenly nothing for about nine months, and we just left it on ice. We’ve never done that in our entire career.” Yet fortunately after returning to work, they were able to seamlessly pick up where they had left off. “In a rather wonderful way, we found it in great shape. It was perfectly preserved. There was nothing that we thought was a horrible idea. We just went in with fresh energy and were able to complete everything quite quickly.”
Having recently performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and added as headliners this year to both Austin City Limits and Isle of Wight Festival, Duran Duran are optimistic about their future live performances. “I think we all need a little optimism given what’s happened to us over the last 18 months or so. We have some plans already. Of course, we don’t ultimately know, but you have to proceed as if something is going to get better.”
Though insistent on not being good at advice, Nick Rhodes has ample for artists hoping to stay in the game as successfully as Duran Duran. “The best advice I can ever give is to follow your instinct. Stick with your ideas. If you firmly believe in something, don’t let somebody who’s in a corporate position talk you out of that idea, because it will only ever water down your vision.” And do take risks, he muses. “If you’re ever in an area where you feel really comfortable, get out of it. You’ve got to push yourself, to challenge things and use everything around you. Don’t let anyone put you in a box. Once you’re in that box, it’s hard to get out. Make sure the box is more of a TARDIS.”
Duran Duran @duranduran Interview by Indira Cesarine @indiracesarine
Copyeditors Jason Daniel Levy and Marianne White
Photography by John Swannell @johnswannell and Wendy Bevan
Stylist by Rebekah Roy @rebekahroy_
Hair by Alex Szabo @alexszabohair
Makeup by Carol Morley @carolmorley1
Photographed on location at Karma Sanctum Soho, 20 Warwick St, London W1B 5NF