When they reach a certain level of both success and maturity, some bands will take advantage of that status and rest on their laurels. They’ll play only the classic material at shows, coast along and bask in nostalgia.
Duran Duran will have none of that.
“You’re not kidding!” laughs vocalist Simon Le Bon, calling from California on the eve of the group’s Future Past North American tour’s opening date in late May.
Duran Duran is decades into a career that saw the new wave idols ride early MTV exposure to sales of over 100 million albums, a dizzying number of awards and induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year.
But the U.K. band is still constantly looking and pushing forward.
The group tests new sounds, tries new production techniques and works with an impressive array of collaborators from across the world. “Future Past,” its most recent album released in 2021, captures that spirit, with production from Erol Alkan and the legendary Giorgio Moroder plus guitar wizardry from guest Graham Coxon of both Blur and The Waeve.
What’s behind the relentless drive?
“Well I think firstly it’s a desire to be part of new music, to have something new that people haven’t heard before, to be involved,” frontman Le Bon says, “because as soon as you stop, you’re part of old music.”
The other reason will be on display when Duran Duran performs Thursday, June 15, at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena. “When we go out on the road, if you’ve got new songs to play, it’s exciting! It gives you something to aim for,” he says. “It keeps you sharp, in a way. I think that keeping it sharp is one of the reasons we’ve maintained our quality live.”
Duran Duran began in Birmingham, England, at the end of the 1970s, coalescing around childhood friends Nick Rhodes on keyboards and John Taylor on bass. Drummer Roger Taylor joined after several lineup changes, followed by guitarist Andy Taylor. (None of the Duran-affiliated Taylors is related.) The final piece of the puzzle was Le Bon, a Londoner. The group played with that lineup for the first time in July 1980. Debut single “Planet Earth” followed about six months later, and stardom beckoned.
Up to a third of the current tour’s set list will feature the newest material, including songs from the critically acclaimed “Future Past.” One is the anthem “Anniversary,” a track that perhaps more than any other on the album captures elements of Duran Duran’s original dance pop sound combined with whooshes from Rhodes’ always cutting edge synthesizer. Le Bon’s soaring vocals and John Taylor’s funk bass mark the song as a standout.
Another highlight is “Give It All Up,” Le Bon’s recent live favorite and “one of my favorite tracks on the album.” The “Future Past” version features Swedish vocalist Tove Lo and some booming percussion from Roger Taylor.
“It has a driving bass. I think that’s what gets people. It’s just amazing. That’s what inspired the whole song for me, actually,” Le Bon says. “It gets people moving, gets people dancing. It’s a fun song!”
One of the top “Future Past” tracks won’t be in the set list. The atmospheric album closer “Falling,” which features longtime David Bowie contributor Mike Garson on piano, just doesn’t fit.
“You know, we did try it,” says Le Bon, who loves the song. “We had Mike Garson on stage with us, and we tried it, but we never played it in a show. Just the way the set list was, we felt it was another slow song.”
Duran Duran’s first U.S. No. 1 single, “The Reflex,” will almost certainly be in the show. Chic co-founder and guitarist Nile Rodgers did the remix back in 1984 for the single. That was the beginning of a musical partnership and an enduring friendship with the band. Rodgers and the current Chic lineup are on this tour, alongside opener Bastille.
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Le Bon says. “Not just because he’s a mate and it’s going to be fun. He has such an incredible energy. He’s such a positive person. He’s wonderful to work with.”
Rodgers calls Duran Duran “his other band,” Le Bon says. “I’m so proud of that.”
The group’s second stateside chart topper is also still the only James Bond theme song to go to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “A View to a Kill” was written by Duran Duran and arranged by longtime Bond composer John Barry.
“He was an incredible talent,” says Le Bon about the late Barry. “There was a bit of a fight almost — not physical, but an intellectual battle — over the cadence at the end of the chorus of ‘A View to A Kill.’ John didn’t like that. He didn’t think it was strong enough. But time proved that Nick [Rhodes] was right.”
Over the decades, one constant for the band has been its support of independent record stores.
“Well, we all grew up going to record stores, and standing there for hours just flicking through the covers,” Le Bon says, describing the agony of only getting to pick one album. “It involves the music in a very special way, and we will support that,” he says.
Duran Duran has contributed several limited-edition releases for an annual event in support of independent record shops known as Record Store Day. The band’s most recent release for the event was this year’s “Rio Carnival,” a collection of alternative versions and remixes of tracks from the 1982 breakout album “Rio.”
At last year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Le Bon made the sobering announcement that original band member Andy Taylor is fighting prostate cancer and couldn’t attend the event. Duran Duran recently confirmed plans to release new material later this year that will include contributions from him.
In the meantime, the band is making its way across North America, delivering energetic sets with everything from “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Ordinary World” to “Anniversary” and “Give It All Up.”
The State Farm Arena will be the group’s landing spot here, but one Atlanta venue stands out for Le Bon.
“Chastain Park [now Cadence Bank Amphitheatre] is one of the best open-air venues in the world,” he says. “It’s fantastic! It has a very special feel to it. You know, you look up and you see the twinkling lights and the trees, then you see the houses behind. All those people who don’t have to pay for tickets who get to see your show,” he adds with a laugh.
“We’ve had amazing times,” the singer says of Duran Duran’s previous appearances in Atlanta. The June 15 show undoubtedly will add another dynamic chapter for a band that celebrates past and present and continues to forge a sonic path to the future.
7 p.m. Thursday, June 15. $30-$120. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta. statefarmarena.com.