Duran Duran came along in the early '80s with Adam and the Ants, ABC and Culture Club as part of a post-punk New Romantic movement tailor-made for the new MTV era.
People magazine would call them "the prettiest boys in rock," a title that can have its perks when trying to lure young fans but its drawbacks in being taken seriously as, you know, a band.
Roger Taylor, who replaced the original drum machine in the group, recalls that in the early days of Duran Duran, which performs at Stage AE Sunday, the reaction to the band was ... "it wasn't overwhelming, to be honest with you. We got some bad reviews and people were saying they didn't like us and we sounded like this other band or we weren't as good as some other band they'd seen that week. It wasn't overwhelming, the reaction. I think we were still learning at that point.
"We're all self-taught musicians," he adds. "None of us had a music lesson between us in our lives. We weren't from these wealthy families where they get taken off to have piano lessons and ballet lessons and Spanish guitar. We'd gotten none of that. So it took us a while to become good musicians and learn how to perform live. We grew up in the spotlight. Thirty years later, we're still learning."
Despite the cool reception from critics and connoisseurs of more substantial post-punk, Duran Duran, with its pampered look and cinematic videos, broke through with the college-rock singles "Planet Earth" and "Girls on Film" from its self-titled 1981 debut and then the mainstream hits "Hungry Like a Wolf" and "Rio" from the "Rio" album in 1982. (The band made its Pittsburgh debut on that second American tour with a packed show at the former Heaven in July 1982.)
"The Reflex," a chart-topping single from 1983's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger," launched Duran Duran to arena headliner status in the States, and the band rode that synth-pop wave through the late '80s before running into the usual internal conflicts followed by the rise of alt-rock and grunge.
Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor departed in 1986, leaving singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor (all the Taylors are unrelated) to carry on through most of the '90s. The original lineup reunited for a 2003 world tour and the 2004 album "Astronaut," followed by 2007's "Red Carpet Massacre," on which they parted ways with Andy once again and embraced the modern pop production of Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.
"That was a real departure," Roger says. "We went into hip-hop world. There was a lot of programming and it was all about Timbaland's beats and basslines and whatever."
Despite drawing some decent reviews, the album -- led by a single, "Falling Down," that didn't scream Duran Duran -- debuted at a dismal No. 36 and spent only three weeks on the charts. Released from Epic after two albums, the quartet got to work on "All You Need Is Now," its first independently released album, which was available initially as a download in late 2010.
"This was closer to our classic sound, if you like," the drummer says. "[Producer] Mark Ronson kind of turned up on our doorstep and said, 'I want to make a record that really sounds like Duran Duran,' where you can hear Roger playing the drums, where you can hear John on bass, where you can really hear Nick's analog's synths and Simon singing the way he used to sing. So Mark Ronson had a tremendous vision for this record where maybe we didn't. We spent a lot of time chasing down different avenues, trying to find new sounds, but he came in and kind of stated the obvious: 'You guys have to sound like yourselves.' That's what this album was all about."
The title track and "Girl Panic!," two of the featured singles, haven't burned up the charts, but they do sound like classic Duran Duran.
"We didn't have any huge massive expectations," he says of the album. "This record, it was done in a very kind of punk way. We released the record to the public though iTunes. We didn't have a major label involved in the release. We got involved in the digital online stuff. It was kind of between us and the fans. The record seemed to have hit home with the hardcore fans, and it grew from there. We've been to every corner of the globe, it seems. We've been to Australia, the Far East, the U.K. just before Christmas, we've been to Europe, Eastern Europe. It seems like there's nowhere we haven't been on the back of this record. It's been a total gift and surprise at this point in our career to have a record and tour that's been accepted so well all over the world."
The show at Stage AE on Sunday will be Duran Duran's first in Pittsburgh since 2005, and while it coincides with the 30th anniversary of "Rio," the drummer says, "We're not big on anniversaries. We're not like an old couple that gets out the champagne and wine goblets. We're so busy looking forward, and these things can pass us by a little bit. We're grateful we can celebrate 30 years in the music business. We thought it might last a year, two years, five years, when it got going. Grateful is the word you think of, 30 years of doing what you love and what you started out with as your passion in life."
While the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Queen of England might not be calling, Roger feels if Duran Duran has earned more respect with the passage of time, including an invitation last month to play a Hyde Park concert as part of the Olympic opening ceremonies.
"That's what happens when you stick around long enough. It's like actors, if they make movies for 40 years, they finally get the respect they deserve. Thank goodness, it's not like a painter, where they have to die before they get respect," he says laughing. "But it's great to feel that. We had so much spit from the critics early on, but we learned to survive despite the lack of critical acclaim. We were painted as plastic posers, a video band, clotheshorses and whatever. It's great to know that the songs have outlived the clothes, outlived the videos and what went with the packaging. It feels really good to have that respect, and I think we worked hard for it."
In October, fans will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Duran Duran's early days with the release of John Taylor's autobiography "In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran." Although the drummer claims to not know much about the book, the early word involves much detail about the band's hard-partying days.
"You give any bunch of 21-year-olds a million pounds in the bank and a world tour and a sports car and see what they do. It was normal behavior really for kids, but to have so much so young ... when I look back at myself, I can almost see a child -- so immature, so little life experience. It was a real journey. It was a quick journey. I like to say it was like being on a rocket ride -- zero to hero in 10 minutes."music
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.