LOS ANGELES Duran Duran would be excused some pretensions after all, they've been pop icons for nearly two decades, becoming as famous for their glamour as they were for their music in the '80s.
Anyone expecting some stereotypic British pomposity or posturing, though, would be disappointed when meeting the current threesome original bandmates Simon LeBon (singer), Nick Rhodes (keyboardist) and former Frank Zappa and Missing Persons guitarist Warren Cuccurullo who will release the album Pop Trash on June 6.
Unlike other long-running British musical partnerships such as the Rolling Stones, who credit their longevity in part to artistic tension between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards Duran Duran share an obvious comfort with each other. "We don't have rules about who does what," the 41-year-old Simon LeBon said. "We don't have a set way of doing it. We're open to new ideas and new ways."
The trio, who even showed up early for the interview are sure of themselves and their music, perhaps even more so than in their early '80s heyday. Pop Trash will be their first album since 1997's Medazzaland and their 12th overall. Their 1981 self-titled debut spent more than two years on the U.K. charts and spawned the hit video "Girls on Film" (RealAudio excerpt) in the U.S.
The band was labeled as being among the "New Romantics," along with groups like Spandau Ballet, for their keyboard-driven, new-wave pop and pretty-boy appearance, which often included makeup and pirate shirts. Numerous hits followed, including "Hungry Like the Wolf" (RealAudio excerpt), "Rio" and "The Reflex."
Pop Trash Not Stale
One of the ironies of these early trendsetters is how they've managed to shun trends over the years. At the peak of their success, Duran Duran decided to wind down and venture into other projects, including the Power Station and Arcadia. Pop Trash irony only slightly intended, Rhodes said contains few surprises, which is not to say the band has grown stale. It's more guitar-driven, less reliant on the synthesizer and contains a mix of ballads and dance tracks.
The first single, "Someone Else Not Me," has summertime-hit written on it. "It's very personal, very relatable, simple really," LeBon said. "Sometimes I think, with poetry, you can make the most profound statement with the simplest words, the words you use every day."
"Someone Else" has a bit of a Western twang LeBon described it as "a drunken Cowboy Junkies sound which isn't exclusive to that track. There's also a bit of a Radiohead influence on the title track, which jibes with the classic Duran Duran new-wave sound.
"We wanted strong, melodic Duran Duran songs," said the 40-year-old Rhodes. "I don't think it's radical. On this one we've really concentrated on melodies and lyrics. We set a high standard for ourselves. We've always pushed our own boundaries; we just knew where to push them to."
Rhodes has been referred to as the "keeper of the Duran flame," a label that doesn't seem to fit when witnessing the band together. "We throw it around when our fingers get burned," LeBon joked.
Just The Three Of Us
"Now it works better than ever, 'cause there's only three of us and we've all defined the things we're best at, and we know our weaknesses, too," Rhodes said. "On this album, Simon wrote some really beautiful lyrics and then dried up. I was able to step in, and Warren came up with some really beautiful music. Now it's like a jigsaw [puzzle], making our records."
The British popsters face a challenge in mounting what will undoubtedly be referred to as yet another Duran Duran comeback. "A lot of younger kids come along to our shows out of curiosity, to see what it is they're brothers and sisters, even their parents, were listening to," Rhodes said. "And they say, 'Well, they're still around. If they survived, there must be something to it,' which is great for us."
"But our music is so different to what those ears are used to," said 43-year-old Cuccurullo, who joined the band 14 years ago. "I can imagine them telling their parents, 'But Daddy, they didn't even dance.'
"I think we were pretty lucky to have grown up when we did. Music was a lot more interesting back then. We had a lot better influences to draw from. I was born in '56. I've been through all of them: Elvis, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles."
LeBon is more diplomatic when it comes to today's pop landscape, dominated by boy bands and teenage girls. Maybe it's the influence of his daughters (ages 8 and 10).
"There's obviously a massive, massive kind of hunger for that kind of act," he said. "It's designed to appeal to hormones, and it does a very good job, thank you very much. There's nothing wrong with that."