The latest in our series of the fan interviews featured in the Dutch Go Duran fanzine in the 1990s.
Part 1: September 1990 (Simon, Nick, Warren, John, Sterling)
Part 2: November 1994 (Simon)
January 26th 1995, "Privacy", London, UK
"I got to know Warren reasonably well over the years and I can honestly say what a lovely guy he is. He has always been extremely friendly to me and I've seen little evidence of pretentious pop-star behaviour." (Cherry Lipstick, 2001)
"Two months after interviewing Simon, I was back at Warren's again, this time interviewing him for his Privacy fanzine. This time none of the other band members were there and Warren showed me around the studio. Unlike the hall and kitchen, which are very dark, the studio was light and full of keyboards, microphones and guitars. I spent over an hour with Warren, he continued talking once I'd turned the microphone off and told me that the attic in the house was full of Simon's junk as the house used to belong to him!" (The Dutch Go Duran, 2003)
And there's a bonus Mandy adventure at the end of the article!
How's Thank You going?
It's ready to go, all finished.
Do you think you ought to release a few more singles before you release the album?
With us it's usually one single and then an album. From a record company point of view, singles are out there to sell albums. If it's on the radio, people are going to wanna see if you've got the product out there, and then they'll buy the album. So...
I just thought that perhaps if you put a couple of singles out before the album, then those people who would normally buy the album and then not bother getting the singles would buy the singles because they weren't available on an album yet.
But record companies don't make money on singles, and artists don't make money on singles. The packaging for a single is the same as an LP, so it costs them a fortune as they can only sell it for a fraction of the price of an album. That's why.
Why did Thank You take so long to make?
Just logistics, you know, having some people in Francei, some people in L.A., some people in London, you know, doing it during the tour, heavy scrutinization of each track, having a lot of problems with the mixes, and that was the major problem, getting the right people to do the right songs. We did what we could do to them, and then it was ready for somebody to mix it, and we just... we struck out about three times before we found the right people.
How long do you think this new album [Medazzaland] will take to make?
Everything going as planned it should be probably the fastest one we ever do. I mean, we have sixteen songs written, ten tracks already recorded in the computer, so they're really more than skeletal, there's parts down that we can use, so it should be really quick. Hopefully we'll have it ready by the end of the year. Or ready for release early next year .
It surprised me when you were working on it last year that one week only Nick would be here, the next week only Simon and then John. You never seemed to all be here together.
We started out all together on the new stuff because we played a lot of it live, just jammed, and we came up with a lot of great things, and Simon would come over and work on some melodies, just me and him, or we had good keyboard parts or overdubs.
Has it got any lyrics?
Not the last time I spoke to Simon, no. Just some ideas, you know, because there's a huge body of material that needs to be written when you have sixteen blank songs. We have melodies, it's just like filling the blanks now. We know the basic rhythm of the melody, but we don't have the lyric, so it's going to be a lot of work.
Do you write lyrics as well?
Yeah. Sometimes. I don't like trying to put myself fully into it, you know. I used to do that and get a lot of books and steal lines and get ideas. I'm more into now just getting a good concept for a song or a title or something, a couple of little words, things like that.
Who decides which singles get released?
Well, we say what we think is good, and then the managers say, 'Oh, we can go all the way with this one.' It's a business, and you've got to let the business people really decide what the single's going to be, because we can't, on the strength of our name, go to radio and say play our record. It's the manager's job to go there and make sure it gets on the radio. They know what these different format stations will go for, they know what kind of mixes they want to have on the stations, and that's why they get paid to do what they do.
White Lines is being released in America, Italy and Japan, and everyone I've spoken to has said I don't understand why they're not releasing it in the rest of Europe, it should be a world-wide release - it's a dance song, it was a great song when it was originally done, it's a great song now. But some people, you know, they'll just live and die by the ballad.
I don't actually know the original of Perfect Day.
It's great, but I mean it's nowhere near as lush as what we did. Simon's voice is just beautiful on it. Lou Reed is very monotone. He loves it, Lou Reed, absolutely loves it.
Who chose the songs for Thank You?
We all chose different things, you know, we had lists, and we had long discussions as it went. Everything, just about everything got recorded. Not everything on the lists, but everything that we all wanted from those lists got recorded, but not everything got used on the album
How do you feel about bootlegs?
I don't think we really suffer by them; the only people who suffer by them are the people who buy things that are bad quality. Usually it's just like a collectors thing, it's a fan thing, and it's not like it's going to affect records sales because those people that want to buy bootlegs are definitely going to want to buy the real albums. Bootlegs really hurt you in South East Asia and countries like that, where they actually bootleg the real thing and sell pirate copies of it, but that's different. Actual bootleg tapes, that's all right. When I was a Zappa fan, I had everything he ever did, and I used to make my own tapes at shows just to hear the music, it wasn't to make a bootleg. One of the first things I told Frank when I met him was, 'I record your shows, but it's just for me because I have to hear all the new arrangements and the new songs.' So I can relate to that.
Why was there no Zappa stuff on Thank You?
Hey, there's no Beatles stuff on there either, you know, there's no Stones stuff. We played Watermelon In Easter Hay, which is kind of a signature song of Frank's that the Zappa Trust do not want anyone to record. I think they picked five songs out of his catalogue that no one can play, that no one can ever record. But we did play it live the day after he died, and then about five more times in different cities.iv There are a lot of artists that aren't on Thank You only because there are just too many of them, there are too many great songs.
Who are you aiming at with Thank You? You've chosen some obscure songs for the audience that you've got.
I think when you do covers, you want to be a little bit clever and find something that might be an interesting choice to do, even if it's just to you personally. There's the school of thought where, 'Oh, let's do a cover. OK, it has to be a number one from ten or twelve years ago,' and you hear that from a lot of really naff kind of bands. But then you get bands that covered songs like Soft Cell, who did Tainted Love. Now I never knew that Tainted Love was a cover. So, there's definitely an art to picking not necessarily obscure songs, but songs that need to be re-exposed to people, and we tried to do that on a few of these things. Some of them were big hits from the early Eighties, you know, the rap songs. John chose those two songsv, We're very influenced by black music anyway, so it would be nice to pay a little tribute to them. We re-did the songs anyway, re-wrote them, re-arranged them, re-mixed them.
Do you think there are any number one songs on Thank You?
I think Perfect Day is definitely a number one. White Lines might be too, because we have the original artists on it too, and their manager is also helping promote it, so we have them who'll get all the urban kind of black dance stuff in the States, and then we have our managers who are working it.
Did you shoot the video for that at Wembley [January 1994]?
We did a video for this company called Iwerks. They have these huge sixty-by-eighty screens, and they have like theme park things set up in the States. I'm not sure how many they're planning on having, but it's gonna be like a room you go in, and you have this amazing audio-visual experience. It's almost like a 360, and it's just there, it's giant. That's what that was shot for, and it doesn't really translate to regular television. When you see it on a videotape and you're just watching it, you go mmm, it's not that good. It's made to be big. That's something that we did for them, and it's finished.
So there's no live Wembley video planned?
No. We could use it, they did allow us to use it as well, but like I said, it doesn't really look that great. It might be good for something, you might see it in a video press kit or an infomercial or something like that, if we do any things like that this time, we might use a minute of it or something, or we might use the whole video.
We hoped it might get shown on television or released like Arena or something.
Right. You know, we had a big set last summer in America, no, two summers ago, wow! And that would have been a show to tape and do the whole thing with. We still have the set, so if somebody wants to pay for us to do it, it's pretty impressive.
Why did you decide to do some solo work?
Because I was going to New York on holiday, and the time before when I was there I jammed at a club with my brother, who plays drums, and I thought let's do that again, that was fun. So I called him up and said 'look, I want to book a gig when I get home, do you want to do it?' and he said 'yeah, definitely.' I said I'd see if this guy was available to play bass. It was real loose. I hung up the phone and started fooling around with the guitar, and I came up ...within the next ten days I came up with about twelve or fifteen different...either it was a song by somebody else like a couple of Zappa songs...
I put together a set. I wrote a bunch of new stuff that was structured to be played by three people, you know, bass, guitar and drums, so I worked it up and it was a lot of music. Then I lucked out because Nick Beggs, this bass player guy, was going to New York around that same time, and he lives in London, so he came by, and he said 'oh, I'll do the show with you,' and I said, 'oh man, miracle,’ so he came here for a few days, and we worked out bass parts for him. So I had a head start on getting this difficult material together, because in New York we only had two days rehearsal before the show. I booked it in a place called The Stone Pony. So, we get to New York, and Nick was familiar with his parts because he worked here, but my brother didn't have a clue. I'd made him a tape over the telephone, but it wasn't enough - he needed to be there with the bass player and me on guitar and really hear it. Even though we only had two days I wanted it to be as good as possible, so we had two 18-hour rehearsals at this club. My brother slept there and practiced all night - he had blood blisters on every finger, and had to wear gloves to do the gig, but we did it.
The next day I listened to a tape of it in the car with my friend, and he said it was the best show he'd ever seen - it had so much guitar, you know, and I said 'yeah, this sounds great, I've got to record this stuff, this is an album.' I just did it to have a show because I just thought it would be nice to go play. I accomplished that, and then when I heard the tape, I thought I really want to record this. So I had to line up the people who could do it, and I did it in two days with ex-Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and Pino Palladino and Nick Beggs on bass, and it was amazing. All live, no overdubs, nothing. Mixed, recorded, everything in a total of five days.
When's that due to be released then?
I hope I get it out by next summer- that would be great.
Does it frustrate you that Duran take so long to record an album when you do it in five days?
Well... this last album [the Wedding Album] was frustrating because we knew we could have got it out, only we had so many problems with the mixes and everything, and that was
It was on the radio a lot, and it helped because you were doing interviews at that time, too. You kind of stopped after that.
Well we had to go and do that acoustic tour, and we had a lot of commitments last time. Perfect Day might be number one here, yet, we don't know. When I hear the music that does succeed here, it's sickening, it really is, it's garbage. I guess America ain't no better, when I see the top ten, it's unbelievable. Every act is black, it's like Boyz To Men, Whitney Houston, it's all syrupy, ballady slow soul ballads. I like a lot of the rap stuff, but I don't like these soul ballads and there's always about three of them in the top five, and I'm going, 'what is going on?' But that's what people are going out and buying, it's not going to change the music we make, we'll just do what we do and if that winds up in those positions in the chart, that's great.
If you mention Duran Duran to people who don't know the band, they immediately think back to the hysteria of the eighties and associate you with bands like Take That, which is really annoying.
Yeah, of course. I tell them to think back another couple of decades to when bands like the Beatles and the Stones came out - it's more like that than it's like Take That and Bros.
How did you feel about the Brit Awards ruling that Duran Duran couldn't be nominated for anything because they weren't 100% British?
Total bullshit, I didn't even know about that. We're a British band, we're a fucking British band. So does that mean we must win the American Music Awards?
Did you find it easy to fit in with Duran when you first joined?
Oh yeah. All they needed was a guitar player. To work in a group as a writer is a completely different thing, there has to be a chemistry there, you have to know the people. A friendship has to develop, and a trust. That's what developed over the first two records that I played on as a guitarist.
Do you like playing the old stuff live?
Yeah, I like playing music. Period.
What's your favourite old Duran song?
Umm...Save A Prayer. It's just a really beautiful song, and people always respond to it, you know, the cigarette lighters come out. I can only really relate to it in a performance situation, it just looks so beautiful looking out into the audience playing that song, it's great.
Did you find it hard to be accepted by the fans when you first joined as a band member?
No, not at all. I had my fill, I had the rounds!
Which tracks did you play on Notorious?
I played on Hold Me, ummm, I don't remember the names of all the songs. I played on track one, side two, what's that? Oh. American Science was the first one I played on, then I played on Vertigo and Hold Me, and one or two more.
I was convinced Andy Taylor did Hold Me.
No, that was all me, that kind of echoey guitar. It was even better live, it had a really cool sound live.
Who decides the set list when you tour?
We all do. We go through things and decide if we want to go back that way or this way, there's so much to choose from. It's kind of a band thing, there are so many options. It doesn't take long, but it's a band decision.
The rearrangements you used on the last tourviii were so successful, when you tour again will you keep those arrangements or change them again?
If we do those songs, we'll probably go back to the original, because it hasn't been done for a while. I have some ideas for some other stuff, though. I think it's good to rearrange them. They'll be different, but they won't be acoustic. Who knows? I think we'll have a much smaller band next time, more computer and less people.
When are you likely to do any more live shows?
We might do some live TV shows promoting Thank You, but other than that I wouldn't think until 1996. I don't think we're going to promote past April anyway, and then the band plan is to go back and for once in our career put out a record within a year of the one that just came out. There was talk of touring the States in the summer, but if we do that, we won't be able to work on our current music until October, and then it won't be finished until March, which means it won't be out until the end of 1996. Then it won't be current, because the songs were written in October 1994. That is frustrating, it really is. You get excited about a song six months ago, and it won't be out for another eighteen months. That is frustrating.
Will you be doing any more solo shows?
No, not with promotion, I won't be able to.
Did the other members of the band support you when you decided to do solo work?
It was... some people aren't here, they're going through other things, you know. Simon came down, I was really happy when he came down for the last one. I invited everybody, but you know how it is, it's hard.
How did you feel about John working with Andy on The Power Station again?
Fine, it was great. I was surprised that they were going to do another one, but he'd been talking about it for years.
What was it like working with Roger?
I didn't work with him, I wasn't there. Nick said it was great, and he'd forgotten how good he could play, he always uses his tom toms a lot, you know. He said it was good.
Roger coming back was a bit of a surprise.
Well, the songs that were cut in Paris didn't have a drummer on them, and so Simon said 'let's see if Roger's around, he's just across the Channel,' and that's how it happened.
What happened with Sterling?
It just didn't work out. Personality, you know, that whole process I was telling you about. He just didn't get past that phase you have to get to. He did write some stuff with us, but it wasn't really his forte. He wasn't around at the beginning of the last album, and we were working so fast, it was nice to work without drums, as writers it was a lot easier to write without a drummer. Nothing personal to him. And also, I think it was a bit of too many cooks, that stuff comes into it. It's very easy to work the way we work now.
Whose idea was it for him to leave?
I think the four of us decided, I really don't remember the exact situation. I remember he just wasn't here, he was hanging out in Spain a lot. He was contacted a few times, and I think he was a little bit...I don't know if he felt this, I'm just saying, I think he was a bit taken that Liberty didn't do well. Maybe he thought he could get something better somewhere else. I don't know, I really don't know what was going through his head. It wasn't an easy decision for us to make, from what I remember we were working here every day, and he wasn't around. We don't really need a drummer in the band.
When you were doing Liberty, do you remember the tracks 'Worth Waiting For' and 'Bottleneck'?
Yeah, I remember them.
I asked Simon about them, and he'd forgotten them. They're all out on a demo tape.
You're kidding. Wow! What else is on the tape?
I've got a copy here. It's got remixes, and I think you and John on vocals occasionally. Wow. Money On Your Side. I remember that. We just never got very excited about them.
How do these things get into circulation?
I don't know. Maybe an engineer, a tape op or something. I don't know.
Where do you see Duran in five years time?
Five years with us, that's what, two more albums. Hopefully in five years, we'll be doing the same thing as we're doing now, hopefully a lot more successfully. I think what we're doing is, we're building ourselves as a musical entity, to get away from the whole 80's image. Hopefully the four or five albums we release in those years will really make a statement to the critics, to all of our fans, to everyone, that we are here to stay. We have babies, we're growing up, we're getting older, but we love doing it, and that's it. We're songwriters, we're performers, we're not the best in the world, but we do what we do.
So, how would you like to be remembered? As someone who gives 100%, all the time in every way.
If Simon said to you, 'sing this song on the album,' you wouldn't do it?
If it was really suited to me, and I sounded great on it, sure, I would do it. If it didn't suit him for some reason and it suited me, we probably wouldn't record it, but if it was that special, I'd do it. Singing is a weird thing, it really is. You have to be born with it, you have to have a certain kind of nasal cavity, you know? It's the tone. I guess that part of you is your musical instrument, your throat and chest, it makes it. That's why Barbra Streisand will never get a nose job, she's afraid to get a nose job, and she's got a fucking huge nose. She won't do it, because she's afraid it will change her voice. Now don't ask me what happened to Michael Jackson's voice! I think his voice has really changed a lot, and it wasn't puberty. It's changed a lot since he's been getting his face shaved apart. It's funny.
Can Nick sing?
Nick can impersonate David Sylvian, Bryan Ferry, and I think if we ever do a real punk song, Nick will have to sing at least a verse of it because he can really sing like a punk: out of tune and in the right accent. I always tell him that, we should do a punk song and he should sing it. That would be great.
Do you get pissed off with all the fans hanging around here when you're recording?
When we're recording, it's dangerous. It's not my job or anyone in the band's job to tell them to leave. We should have a security guard that's there and just says nobody can stay here, I'm very sorry. The neighbours never complain about the music, but they complain about people being in the street. I hate having to tell people to get out of here, it's not my fucking job, but I think people have got the message.
Generally, do you mind meeting fans?
No, I don't mind at all. As long as they don't have handguns! It's great, actually, getting letters and seeing people all over the world. I love getting fanzines and stuff, because it's so hard for us to take photos when you're travelling, but when you get the fanzines, you go, 'Oh, that was Spain '92.' I save them all, and you have like a photo album in the end. The photos to me are the best thing because it's nice to have memories of things, and I'm just so lazy when it comes to things like that. I've still got a film upstairs from about four years ago that I haven't developed.
How would you describe yourself?
I'm obsessive, determined, ultra hard-working, gentle, funny and starving. Constantly starving!
If Duran Duran finished tomorrow, what would you do?
Oh I'd be writing songs, playing guitar. I'd probably start another band.
What's your ambition?
I'm living my ambition. I just want to keep doing what I do and make people happy, and keep myself happy, too.
You can read the full unedited interview here
Next: Part 4: November 1995 - the Nick Rhodes interview (plus the story of Mandy's visit to the Perfect Day video shoot)
Photos on this page by Mandy:
Top: London, 1995
Middle: Nottingham, 20 December 2000
Bottom: Birmingham, June 1996
BONUS STORY FROM MANDY! As remembered for Cherry Lipstick in June 2001:
"In June 1996, Warren played solo at Edwards No 8 in Birmingham. So, with a car load of people I set off from Warren's house that morning to follow bass player Nick Beggs up to the venue. We got hopelessly lost navigating spaghetti junction but managed to ding the venue in the end, and spent the rest of the day helping to carry the gear in and watching Warren rehearse.. It was during this rehearsal that I first heard Warren sing - he has a great voice. Unfortunately the club goers that night didn't seem to appreciate his style of music so the set was cut short. Travelling home from the gig was an experience in itself, though. Not knowing my way around London very well I was relying on Nick to get us back home safely. What I hadn't banked on was his love of speed - trying to keep up by doing 120MPH down the M1 in a Clio carrying five people is probably not the safest way to get home!"