Before Simon Le Bon became lead singer for the synthpop band Duran Duran in 1980, he had been in a punk band and an electronica band. But Duran Duran was looking for a new frontman, and a friend urged Le Bon, who was training in drama at University of Birmingham at the time, to audition for the spot. He passed that audition, his world was turned upside down, and the rest of the world was introduced to a band that, three-and-a-half decades later, is still creating fresh, innovative, and very danceable music.
Duran Duran, featuring Le Bon on vocals, the 1979 lineup of Nick Rhodes (keyboards), John Taylor (bass), and Roger Taylor (drums), and most recent member Dom Brown (guitar), is currently on a summer-long tour throughout the U.S. Le Bon, 57, recently spoke about his musical experiences by phone from his home in London.
Q: Do you recall when you first wanted to get up onstage and sing?
A: The first band I saw play live was the Stranglers, in 1976. I really liked bands, but I was a bit of a shy teenager, so I didn’t have that kind of drive at that point, and I would have been absolutely petrified if you’d have stuck me up onstage to do THAT. I was acting, and I needed a script, I needed to have my words written out for me, written by somebody else. But I started songwriting that year. And when I started doing that I realized that I could create the script, and if I could create the script, then I COULD actually get up and do it.
Q: You’ve mentioned in past interviews that influences in your writing include David Bowie, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Jim Morrison. Where do the Beatles fit in that picture?
A: If you’re British, the Beatles just figure in your life. They’re almost as much a part of life as the queen and the royal family is. A bigger part than the royal family, to be honest with you, certainly for my generation. I was born at the end of the 50s, so my very first memory of a pop song is “She Loves You.” I was crazy about that song. One time I was singing it, and I remember my grandmother, my father’s mum, Nana, said, “Simon, it would be so much nicer if it was ‘She loves you, yes, yes, yes’,” because yeah, yeah, yeah was considered slang (laughs).
Q: You were actually the fourth person to be the lead singer in Duran Duran. Do you recall your audition?
A: I remember so clearly. I’d been at university during the daytime. I put on clothes that I thought was the coolest for a daytime outfit. I was wearing a skinny pair of drainpipes which had leopard skin print on it. They were originally a dark burgundy color, but a lot of the color had been washed out and they were kind of a faded pink. And I squeezed into a double breasted brown suede lady’s jacket with a little half belt. It was a really cool piece of clothing. I left the university, got on the bus, took it into town, into Broad Street, found this place down an alley way, and I saw this guy who was painting the wall. I said, “Excuse me, is this where I’d find Duran Duran?” and he said, “Hello. My name’s Roger Taylor. I’m the drummer.” We sat in this nightclub, and they got my book of lyrics, which had 15 poems in there, or lyrics, whatever you want to call them. And they went crazy for my lyrics, because they didn’t have any. I thought these were cool guys. I could tell by the way they were dressed that we had the same attitude toward fashion. And we liked a lot of the same music. So I thought I could really be part of this. But I didn’t sing that day. I went away, and I came back a couple of days later. They played a couple of songs, and I said, well, I think I’ve got an idea for that one. So they played one of them again, and I started singing the melody, and I found some words in my book, and I started twisting them, and we pretty much had our fist song written that afternoon. It’s “The Sound of Thunder” and it’s on the first album.
A: There’s no mistaking that your most recent album, “Paper Gods,” is a Duran Duran album, yet it sounds and feels completely contemporary. And no one sticks you with that “just an MTV band” label anymore. How have you managed to remain so successful?
Q: I think we concentrated on the important things. We concentrated on the music, not the money. We concentrated on each other, not the glamour and the lifestyle. We’re really good friends. Every day when I wake up I think how wonderful it is to have a working relationship that’s more than 35 years old now. The joy that it is to work with people you care about, and the fun that we have, the excitement, the shared satisfaction, is a wonderful thing. Yeah, we concentrated on the things that were important. It took us a while to understand that, but once we got it, we didn’t let go.