Interview: John Taylor – Duran Duran – Past and Present
Article by Eric Larson, © Copyright 2017 FretlessBass.com
In the 1980s Duran Duran took the radio waves, television sets, and the world by storm. Platinum albums, Grammys, and multiple music video awards followed their gold record debut. Tens of millions of album sales and sold out venues worldwide became the norm for the newly dubbed “Fab Five”. Though some may have predicted that this band would not escape the ’80s and continue this kind of success, the band has shown decade after decade that they were here to stay, proving the point in 2015 with the Top 10 release of their latest album Paper Gods, and the multi-year, continually extended, world-wide tour that has supported it.
I spoke with bassist John Taylor during the recording of Paper Gods. He spoke by phone from his home in Los Angeles, California, on business in the US, away from the London recording studio for a brief moment.
I directed this part of the conversation to the few times that he has played fretless bass on Duran albums. Taylor was surprised that I wanted to speak with him about fretless bass, as he admits that he has not played it very often. But he expressed just how much he loves the bass guitar and was happy to have a conversation.
I explained my belief that even if a player only has one song with a great fretless bass line, to me it’s significant, relevant, and noteworthy. In some cases I am more intrigued by a song knowing it may be a rare fretless performance by that player. In Taylor’s career with Duran Duran there are only a few songs that he plays fretless bass on, but in my opinion they are worthy gems.
Three notable Duran Duran songs that feature John Taylor on fretless bass are “Lonely in your Nightmare” from the album Rio, and “Tiger Tiger” and “The Seventh Stranger” from the album Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
Click the video for the full audio of the interview or see the full text below:
The Past and Bass Guitar
FB: Hi John, this is Eric from FretlessBass.com. How are you doing?
John Taylor: I’m Good. Where are you?
FB: I am calling from Boston. You’re in LA right now?
John Taylor: I am.
FB: Well I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, about fretless bass and other things.
John Taylor: Yeah, I was kind of surprised, because I’m not really a fretless player. I’m like a lapsed fretless player. But you know, I love bass, so I thought I’d give you the opportunity to make your case (laughs).
FB: I’ve read that about you, that you don’t consider yourself a fretless bass player. But I guess there are a few songs that you did play fretless on in the past. And one that comes to mind is “Lonely in Your Nightmare” off of Rio. That’s a song that has really been an important one for me, and one that I always go back to. It has a great fretless bass line, and I feel like it’s a bass line that only would have been written the way that it was, just because it was done on fretless.
Something we try to emphasize on FretlessBass.com is that even if a player has only one or a few memorable fretless recordings, they’re still significant if they’re done well. “Lonely in Your Nightmare”, in particular, is such a great example of fretless in a mainstream song.
John Taylor: A shout-out to the fretless bass world.
FB: Yeah, and it just shows how unique the instrument is in that kind of setting.
John Taylor: It’s nice because at that age, one is just trying every trick in the book, to be noticed, to express something. And whereas I wasn’t a serious fretless player, I was aware of it. I liked Mick Karn a lot. I was a big fan of (the band) Japan. So I kind of knew what could be done. There is an emotional, harmonic thing that can be achieved on a fretless that can’t really be achieved with a fretted bass, and I think I just took the opportunity with that song to really work something out. There’s a little bit on the next album, but then after that I really left it alone, I think it’s the way the music went.
FB: So in addition to “Lonely in Your Nightmare” off of Rio, you played a couple of songs off of Seven and the Ragged Tiger, “Tiger Tiger” and “The Seventh Stranger”. What fretless bass were you using back then?
John Taylor: The Aria was the first bass – my first serious bass, and I used that on the first two albums, so it would have been the fretless equivalent. And I may have this completely wrong. It may have been, I think it’s the SB600, was the single pickup. So I think by the third album I’m using the (Aria) 1200.
FB: Have you had many fretless basses?
John Taylor: No, I haven’t. I’ve got a Nash here that I like. Do you know Philip Kubicki? Philip Kubicki was a designer at Fender, wasn’t he? Whether I still have it or not…I’ve been a bit cavalier with my guitars over the years, they’ve kind of come and gone, but for a while, I did have a fretless Kubicki. And I’ve got an old German upright. When I feel like punishing myself I’ll play for a while, you know.
But also, silly as it may sound, only just recently did I come to appreciate flatwound strings on fretless. And I always used roundwound back in the day. It was just a roundwound moment, the ’80s.
FB: I personally love flatwounds, but they’re definitely something you have to get used to.
John Taylor: Yeah, I think that it’s a transition. When I have an instrument with flatwounds I feel like, “Holy shit, I’m all at sea here”; you know, it’s a different experience. But recently I’ve come to enjoy it.
FB: “Lonely in Your Nightmare” – that has a really thick, strong, beautiful chorus effect to the bass line. Were you using pedals back then?
John Taylor: Yeah, I was using a chorus pedal. You know this was sort of before pedal boards really. But I had a flanger, and I had a phaser, and I had a chorus. They went together, you know, like Coke and fries; the fretless with that kind of softening chorus sound. To me those two sounds went together.
FB: I agree. It’s a sound of those times, really.
FB: I had seen a YouTube clip of you playing “Lonely In Your Nightmare” live, I think it was in 2007, and it looked like you were playing a Fender Precision with a maple neck.
John Taylor: That’s a guitar I’ve got in the studio at the moment. That’s my sort of go-to (fretless) instrument. I didn’t have the Aria anymore. It was a loner from an instrument rental, and it just had a really nice feel. So I think I bought it from the rental company. We were playing “Tiger Tiger” on that tour as well. That’s actually the fretless instrument that’s sitting in the studio at the moment.
FB: How do you like playing fretless live?
John Taylor: I enjoy it, you’ve just got to be on your toes, you know. I don’t play anything very complex, but whatever it is that you’re playing, you’ve got to be more mindful on fretless, you just have to be. Actually, talking about it, I’m thinking it was kind of nice and maybe something that I’d want to do again in the future.
FB: Well I hope you do.
2017 marks the 35th anniversary of Rio, the album that essentially solidified Duran Duran worldwide. With an impressive list of singles, including “My Own Way”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, “Save a Prayer”, “Rio”, and others, coupled with videos that lifted the bar for anyone appearing on MTV at the time, this multi-platinum selling album has stood the test of time.