S imon Le Bon has been the lead singer for Duran Duran for 30 years now. But he also serves as brash sex symbol, sulking poet-lyricist and even its spokesman when cornered on the telephone the night before opening a North American tour.
At this particular moment, Le Bon was busy trying to come up with a setlist of songs capable of satisfying several generations of Duran Duran fans, dating back to the early MTV days. I asked him how he goes about such a chore.
"That's very interesting as I'm just looking at a list now," he said. "We reckon the ratio of new songs to old can be one-third to two-thirds. … And then we look at it and play with it until we think the dynamics are right on paper. And then really all you can do is try it out on the audience."
The new songs are from All You Need Is Now, the band's 13th studio album, which was released in March. After a few sporadic appearances in major markets to promote the record, Duran Duran is finally getting around to a larger tour, including a stop Monday at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall.
It's an album Le Bon is particularly proud of, and it dominated our short conversation. Here are some highlights:
How important is it having fresh material to play live?
It stops us from being a greatest-hits band. It's as simple as that really. We don't want to be a band who just goes out and plays the old hits. We want to play new music because we get excited by it. Not only do we get excited by playing it live, because it makes the show more interesting for us, but it's also exciting to go into the studio to write it and record it.
Critics describe the new album as a sequel to 1982's Rio, which had hits like Hungry Like the Wolf and Save a Prayer. Was the creative energy similar?
Yeah! I think it was actually. We were very fired up. Some things took us a while; some things were very instant. I don't feel it's that much different.
Is getting radio play for All You Need Is Now still an important goal?
Absolutely. Of course it's a goal. You want to get on the radio because it's still the way people get turned onto music, especially in this country.
But does the corporate nature of the radio biz today hinder that?
We've got support from a lot of radio stations on this album. [But] you're right. Radio has become more corporate and much more analyzed. You used to get stations with DJs who played exactly what they wanted to play and that was it. … It has changed now. It's become much more rigid.
You've had a front seat to watch the music business evolve for three decades. What's the silver lining to the digital age?
I think it's the ability to reach a different audience. It's happening more and more. We're getting through to a younger audience who I think would not have got into us if they walked into a record store and looked at record sleeves. In the same way, my daughter listens to George Harrison and Joni Mitchell because it's downloading on the Internet. They don't attach any age to it. They don't attach any kind of time. When she listens to Nick Drake, it's not music from the '60s, it's not a guy with big '60s hair who looks a bit like your dad when he was young. It's just music.
In 30 years of being a fan myself, I've never seen you live …
Oh, wow. That's neat.
… So what advice to give to a fan seeing Duran Duran in concert for the first time?
Just go to enjoy it. Have no expectations. Just go and enjoy yourself.
Steve Spears is host of Stuck in the '80s. Read more at tampabay.com/blogs/80s.