little Andy Taylor on big guitar sounds
Andy Taylor, Duran's six stringer, considers collections, remixing and production. Paul Colbert Reflects (Single Pens). Richard Haughton Reflex (Single Lens).
It had been a long night, was going to be an even longer day and Andy Taylor was stuck in the middle.
He'd arrived early at a certain West London rehearsal studio especially for our interview. The rest of the Duranies were due later that afternoon, so for the next three or four hours Mr Taylor was to be the Spam in a strange sandwich.
In the rehearsal room to the left were Frankie Goes to Hollywood, preparing for their stint on a Midsummer Night's Tube. To the right were Spandau Ballet. All together, three of the country's top chart acts, all in a line.
Normally that wouldn't be any great problem. But last night, or rather previously this morning, the unholy trio had all been at the same Thompson Twins party at the night club hostelry of Playboy Empire builder, Victor Lownes. Frankie and Spandau had not, it must be said, developed a lifelong friendship at the do, and for now, the Duranies' presence was providing more than just acoustic insulation.
Andy Taylor plonked himself on a chair round the corner from the Duran Duran Fairlight and treated himself to one, brief smile. "It's good working here, there's an element of... er... competition," he volunteered, "but we're still bigger on a world wide basis than both of them put together..."
Anyone who believes Duran Duran reached that point thanks to a clever make-up artist has never listened closely to an album, nor watched a stage show and witnessed the skill and effort that goes into both.
Guitarist Taylor, self confessed graduate of "tatty bands", has the sturdiest rock'n'roll roots of all five members. Early influences included Muddy Waters and BB King. Present favourites are Adrian Belew and Nile Rodgers the Chic guitarist, D. Bowie producer, re-mixer of 'The Reflex' and, unless the fates conspire, producer of the next Duran album.
What was the best gig you've seen lately, Andy? "I went to see Yes in Madison Square Gardens a few weeks ago and I was absolutely blown away.
"They were brilliant. I really appreciate great playing... all those little old values have been passed by for the sake of technology."
See what I mean? This is not the pop star you expected, is it?
Four years ago Andy Taylor had one guitar, now he has 30, most of which have materialised in the rehearsal studio for the delight of One Two aperturist, Richard Houghton. Let the listing commence.
"To begin with I always choose maple necks when I can because they feel smoother and look nicer; so what have I got? There are two Schecters, slightly modified from the standard shape, and a Roger Giffin; a Fender Squier Telecaster with Seymour Duncan pickups fitted; two Strats modified with just one DiMarzio Super Distortion pickup – a noisy Van Halen one for feedback and the other's a spare; a few Yamahas, including the black one which is the first good guitar I ever had, bought it when I was 15, it's an SG90, the first electric they ever made, but again it's been modified; there's also a Yamaha SG2000 which I use in the studio and a 335 type, which is nice for jazzy stuff; the Ibanez is a cheapo, but it's got a great out of phase sound, again good for funk; I've got a couple of Gibsons including a '76 Firebird which is when they re-issued them, and a couple of SGs, one with a tremolo arm. I had a really nice '61 Cherry SG but that got ripped off. It was in storage. Who ever did it took two Strats and this SG which had a really thin body, but they left the cases behind, so it wasn't until months later when we opened them that we found out they'd gone. If I ever find the bloke who did that, I'll stamp on his head."
Presently the Schecters and Giffin are the favourites, and the Yamaha SG90 still comes in for some use. There are acoustics as well such as a Martin D28, and 12-string Ovations – "the first acoustic I've ever heard with a pickup inside it that sounds as good as a mike." He does have a Roland GR300 guitar synth, "but I played it on the last album and ran out of things to do." The latest acquisition, a new GR700, is being evaluated by a mate.
Fame and travel have two great benefits for the guitarist. Not only do they expose him to many different instruments in scores of shops, they enable him to buy them. So Andy Taylor has turned the corner from being an accumulator to being a collector. "They are little pieces of art, good guitars. I've been looking for a Fender Broadcaster for ages, but it's easy to get ripped off. Someone offered me one which had an old neck, but the body definitely wasn't original. I've been looking for Gretsches as well. John got a really nice one in America... doesn't play it, but it looks beautiful on the wall."
Further questions about how the Duran person then handles his guitars produce near terrifying answers. "I use the heaviest gauge strings of anyone I know – 13, 15, 18, 28, 38 and 48... Ernie Balls. The guitars also have high actions and I use heavy picks. It's the most difficult way to play, fucks your fingers completely, but I'm just beginning to learn how to handle it and in years to come it will pay off.
"On tour you bleed a lot, but you get a very clean sound. The definition is better, especially if you're using something like a harmoniser where there's always a slight delay, 7ms or something. On good nights I take my knuckles down to the bone. I dip them in alcohol on stage, you never notice anyway.
"I like jazz technique where you pluck every note, even though there's not a lot of call in Duran Duran for 13ths..."
The strings are changed for every gig and for every day in the studio. Sounds extravagant, maybe, but Roger, Andy's guitar roadie, has a simple, economical explanation. One of the most common groans during recording is "why doesn't it sound like it did yesterday?" With new strings every day that's at least one element that can't be questioned. A fresh set of Ernie Balls is considerably cheaper than an hour's worth of studio time.
On stage all the guitars are fitted with Nady 700 radio transmitters and the received signal is then split, one half going direct to a Marshall JCM 800, 100 watt head, the other passing through a MXR pitch transposer and digital delay line before reaching its own JCM. In fact the rack contains four Marshalls in all, two as spares, and they're linked to four, standard Celestion Marshall cabs, housed in flight cases.
"They all go full blast... all on 11! That set up has been around the world twice and never broken down in stage. Falling out of the back of a truck in Australia is different.
"I change a lot of effects settings night by night. If you're not going to experiment, take a few risks, you might as well be a dummy. It's worth spending half an hour at the soundcheck pratting about, you might find something you like. I've been tempted to get the whole thing on computer footswitches but I think that's going a bit too far. I enjoy the physical side of it, running back from the front of the stage, putting ny foot on the switch and making the sound up."
In fact, apart from Nick Rhodes' Fairlight "good for stuff on stage, barking dogs, gunshots", Duran generally give the high tech instrumentation on a miss.
"I am into state of the art studio technology but for example, I think we've only ever used a drum machine on one track, 'Tiger, Tiger'. I like Linn drums to mess about with, but they don't move air. You still listen to Charlie Watts playing the drums after 20 years because it's a person doing it.
"On the last album some tracks had four different guitar parts on them. I use a lot of harmonisers and stereo delay and backwards reverb, all sorts of things. On 'Cracks In The Pavement' the guitar solo is through three fuzz boxes and they're all hooked up out of phase so you get this strange phasing effect. Then I put it out into the room so it had a direct and a room sound and then through a reverb... sometimes it's unnecessary, but it's interesting.
"You can spend so much time getting the sound, it overshadows the part you thought up three hours ago."
Mr Taylor's first love is rhythm playing — "not much of a solo man, me" – and at home he's got a Fostex 4-track and Linn, but hardly ever uses them. "I'd rather go into a proper studio, even though it's more expensive. In the past few years I've got used to 24 tracks, I've learnt how to work them. I'm pretty capable, and I can be left to my own devices."
And the next step? "We're recording everything digitally from now on." On that he's adamant. The conviction comes from the involvement with Nile who remixed 'The Reflex'... the first time Duran had ever given a track of theirs to an outsider and left him to it. "It was an experiment, we never thought 'The Reflex' would be that big a hit, but it went to number one in six countries... bizarre. It had never been so apparent to me what difference a mix makes. If so much was in that song, what could there be in the rest?"
There was even a suggestion that they go back and re-treat previously released tracks from 'Seven and the Ragged Tiger'. Nile's Synclavier had given 'The Reflex' a Brooklyn feel by sampling Simon Le Bon's lead vocal then snipping off the initial 't'... hence 'da Reflex.' What other strange accents could he find? The Duranies decided it would be cashing in and unfair on fans, but they resolved to use Nile and his engineer Jason on their next album.
"The good thing about those two is that they're state of the art geniuses, but they keep the feel and the groove there. Great groove sensibility.
"On the last tour we spent a lot of time in clubs because we hadn't been spending as much time there as we should have been, finding out what people were dancing to." Homework? "Yes, but a nice way to do it.
"On the last album every track was considered individually, that's why it took so bloody long to make.
"We'd never spend six months making a record again. You get on each other's nerves. It requires a great amount of self control, and if you don't feel in a good mood, it's better not to go anywhere near the studio. Perhaps it was that lengthy but lonesome stint away from it all in Nassau and Australia that made the Duranies re-think when there was some rehearsing to do. Usually they'd hide away somewhere grey, remote and utterly lifeless, like Holland, for example. Not this time.
"We're rehearsing for a new single, we'll be recording that at... oh, well, I could tell you but all that will happen is we'll get a load of fans outside. When you're touring, that's fine because it's all part of the show, but when you're recording, you've got to get your heads into it."
Andy is pushing hard for a digitally recorded single, but that might have to wait until they embark upon a full album. It was listening to Nile's 'Madonna' production that clinched his opinion. "The depth is incredible. You can crank the EQ and graphics right up because there's no noise, you don't need Dolby and you've got, I don't know, another 20dB of headroom which is a hell of a lot. Drum sounds are incredible. In five years time the desk and machine will be three feet square, it's only the speakers that'll stay big because there's no other way of shifting the air."
As for the album to come, the Duranies are making no predictions other than the promise it will be 'different'. One Two-ists have a sneaking suspicion that they'll be heading into far funkier territory, and not just because of the influence of Nile Rogers.
So what next for the sandwich man, stuck between Fairlight and Muddy Waters, jazz chords and Marshall cabs, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Spandau Ballet? "Well, to be honest, I do like playing pop songs."
Interview by Paul Colbert
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