First published on 6 Feb 2012. Updated on 16 Aug 2013.
So John, you're in the middle of a world tour at the mo – how are you pacing yourself?
Your energy is really focused on the show, and everything that you do is for show day; even the day off is geared towards making sure the performance is as good as it can be. It’s quite good, because you tend to really look out for yourself – you eat well, you keep yourself fit, and then suddenly when you come off tour you’re kind of deprogrammed; you can just let it all hang out. But then everything starts going wrong, and you blame it on the wife. "It’s your fault I’ve put on eight pounds!"
Do you ever go back to your old ’hood of Birmingham… other than playing the NEC?
We played at the NEC on Friday and it was a great show, but my dad died almost two years ago now and I haven’t really been there since then. It’s always significant for us when we go to Birmingham, you know. Obviously there’s a lot of ownership with the audience, because they really feel that we are their band and we’re proud of that connection.
It’s not uncommon for jetsetting bands to whinge about playing the UK. How do you feel about it – would you rather be off somewhere more exotic?
Oh no, not at all actually, I love British audiences. I mean, I’m not crazy about a lot of the venues here, but the people themselves are just the best really. We’ve always been very fortunate; we get the most fantastic audiences pretty much everywhere we go.
In the ‘Girl Panic’ video you put paid to any banal questions you might get asked on this latest press jaunt by getting supermodels Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Helena Christensen, Eva Herzigova and Jasmin LeBon to answer them as Duran Duran. Do you find that the bigger you get the more inane the questions become?
It never seemed like we got asked questions of any real significance. I always used to bemoan the fact that we didn’t get asked the kind of questions that Pete Townshend would be asked. We never got asked for our views on governments and the world economic situation, but then when we do get asked those sort of questions we don’t really know how to answer them.
Well you don’t tend to cover them in your songs.
It’s just a dance that you have to go through really. I mean you always try to make an interview as positive an experience as you can make it. When you’re doing a lot in a row it does start to wear on you, but I think that’s one of those things that you have to be prepared to do if you want to be successful. You can’t really have an attitude about that sort of thing. One of the things that I’m not crazy about – and that none of us are crazy about – is being interviewed as a band.
How does that go?
It’s kind of like pass the parcel, you have to go around and take it in turns. So you can be sitting there for like ten minutes in between comments.
Trying not to roll your eyes.
Well you know, it’s not that everybody doesn’t have something valid to say, I just don’t think any of us really need to sit and listen to each other answer the same old question.
What’s fabulous about the video to ‘Girl Panic’ is that it’s so overtly decadent and over the top that it could be saying – with a wink – to every other act, “don’t even bother trying”.
Nick came up with the idea of getting the supermodels to play us, which was a cute idea – at one point we were thinking about playing ourselves. We connected with the director and he just took it to a whole new level… he just had this grand scheme. It was a monster, it was a monster to make and produce… to get everybody there, to get the finance… it broke every rule in terms of how we have been making videos for the last ten or 15 years. We couldn’t be happier with it. It was the first video that we’d done significantly in 15 years where we have not had any thoughts about, “Where are we going to place the video?” “Is MTV going to play it?” “Is the BBC going to play it?”
We knew the day that it launched it would go viral. It was on YouTube and that was it – it was in the public domain and out of our hands. There was something quite fresh about that, and it’s taken us a long time to come to terms with the new model of marketing, which is basically a free-for-all, but you have to have a really cool product. Nobody’s happy when you make a song, an album or a recording that goes viral because then it impacts on your sales. But with this, we could only benefit.
Having said that, we knew we weren’t going to get all of the money back in a direct sense. It was very much about brand enhancement… we knew a lot of people were going to rethink their views about us when they saw it.
What’s your stance on illegal downloading?
It’s never, ever bothered me. I’m a music fan that didn’t have a lot of pocket money when he was a kid. I bought what I could afford and taped the rest off radio or made a tape from my friend’s copy of the album.
We’ve always done well. We love to write, we’ve got a lot of songs out there and we love to perform. I’m not hurting. I don’t have an attachment to what I call ‘delivery systems’. We write songs and we perform them live – that’s what we do for a living. How the songs get out there into the public domain… it can go either way.
If you produce an album, you produce a CD. I have to think that the latest CD we’ve produced is worth the ten dollar asking price, so I think if you can afford it then it’s worth the money. I think if you buy music – good music – you still get the best value for your dollar. But I feel that a lot of music buyers were burnt a little bit by the CD age. The younger generation… it’s been so easy for them to get music free; I don’t know whether they’re ever going to get their heads around the idea of paying for music. I think songwriters and performers will survive. They just will. Maybe there isn’t as much money in the pot as there was in the mid-70s or mid-80s, but the good writers and the good performers will survive.
Rumour has it you had a bit of a nerdy side as a kid. Has that carried through to adulthood at all?
I’m letting my inner nerd breathe. I spend a lot of time in the country now and I took a walk around the country yesterday with a friend of mine who was telling me what all the trees were called, and what this was called, and I really enjoy that. I’m interested in a lot of things. As a kid I was into war and model soldiers and aeroplanes, but I think everybody in my generation was like that.
By all accounts, Mark Ronson is pretty fun to work with. Did you find that experience?
I love Mark. Mark is just one of the most lovely, smart and cool guys you would ever be lucky enough to work with. He’s old school, he’s actually kind of like an old-school producer in a new-school suit.
Duran Duran, Rod Laver Arena, Mon 19 Mar.